This week with Brian 22 to 29 September 2022

Further Afield the week according to Brian Quinn

This Week with Brian

Including the end of the queue, the worst except for all the others, a community response, a partial mobilisation, off the front page, goodies and baddies, the most pressing issue, a personal banking crisis, food caddies, an angry vicar, Elkie Brooks, Newcastle Utd and nipplewort.

Click on the appropriate buttons to the right to see the local news from your area (updated every Thursday evening)

If there’s anything you’d like to see covered for your area or anything that you’d like to add to something that we’ve covered already, drop me a line at brian@pennypost.org.uk

Further afield

• So the queue has come to an end with about a quarter of a million people – about the population of Plymouth – having participated in it. Then there was the funeral itself which was conducted, it seems, flawlessly and without any terrorist incidents (the possibility of which must have been at the back of most people’s minds and been the over-riding pre-occupation of quite a few). Click here to see some impressive photos from the BBC website. So, finally, that is that.

[more below] 

• As Private Eye 1582 points out – the cover of which was spot-on – the new King has a few decisions to make about the size and nature of his household, who will stay and who will not from the old regime, what arrangements he will make for the problem members of his immediate family (Andrew and Harry) and who he needs to shed now that he is Charles III rather than a seemingly perpetual heir-in-waiting.

One thing that he probably won’t have to worry about immediately is any debate as to the continued existence of the monarchy. To misquote Churchill’s remark about democracy, it is the worst method of selecting a head of state apart from all the others. Any new arrangement – and the lord knows how such a divided country could ever decide it – would surely lead to a situation where presidential influence would insidiously intrude into political life. Then we’d need to agree a constitution, documents which are often held up as the supreme guarantor of liberty but which are often anything but. Who would draft it? Who would appoint the person or people ro draft it? Who would appoint the people to appoint the person or people to draft it? Would we need a referendum? Asking what question? Decided by whom? And so it goes on.

Of all the parts of the machinery of the legislature – the other two parts being the government-dominated House of Commons and the bloated anachronistic compromise of the House of Lords – only the monarchy works in exactly the way it is meant to. Changing this can hardly be high on any rational list of urgent fixes. There are many worse problems to solve.

• Yes there are. The cost of living crisis hasn’t yet really started to bite but an event I attended on 21 September in Newbury organised by Steve Masters, a councillor in West Berkshire – not the most deprived part of the country – showed my just how stretched local charities and voluntary groups are: see A community response below.” The government has, after its eight-week pause to elect a new leader, announced a number of measures to help businesses and individuals. Do they go far enough? Some say not. This may change. See also this post on our website regarding regional and local responses.

There there’s Ukraine. Putin is not stupid. He has recently announced that a referendum will be held in the eastern parts of the country to see if these wish to join Russia. The results are unlikely to be negative. This will mean that any attempts to re-take these areas will be regarded as as an attack on Russia itself, in which case any retaliation, including a nuclear one, suddenly becomes logical. So we’ve got that to look forward to, which is nice. He’s also announced a partial mobilisation to get some more boots on the ground, though this doesn’t seem to have received unanimous domestic support.

• The there’s Covid. Well, no, there isn’t. Not really. There was, and it still has its own tab on the BBC website’s homepage, but it’s not a proper actual thing any more, even though people are still dying from it. Sic transit gloria mundi. A year ago, it was front-page news everywhere and we weren’t talking about anything else. But that’s the point, isn’t it? If it’s not front-page news  or top of whatever trending list, we can easily believe that it’s gone away. A Google search might reveal 134m matches in o.8 seconds but of you’re not in the first two or three, forget it.

• Which brings us to the huge elephant in the room that is climate change. Over the last six years there has been in the UK a succession of crises which, without any break between them, have produced more immediately eye-catching narratives. Brexit, Covid, partygate, Ukraine and the cost-of-living crisis are all in their own ways important: but add them together and multiply them by ten and they are still nothing compared to the existential threat from the revenge of the planet. There are two main reasons for this.

The first is that, as suggested above, climate change is not news-sexy. Other things are. An arcane debate about political procedure involving political resignations; a queue of ambulances outside a hospital; the PM at a boozy party during lockdown; a bombed primary school in Ukraine; a crowd of people at  a food bank; a leadership election – these are eye-catching and can also generally be presented in an adversarial light. Each one will have goodies and baddies which makes for a compelling narrative. With climate change, however, the whole human race is the baddie and also the victim, depending on how you look at it. Photos of wildfires, floods and droughts are shocking but don’t tell a story in which we’re invited to take sides. A wetter or dryer or colder period can be remembered from personal experience and so we can convince ourselves that this is just part of a natural cycle of variations. Each catastrophe is considered in isolation and then, once the dials return towards normal, forgotten about. After all, we’re all used to bitching about the weather.

More importantly, combatting climate change requires massive changes to the way we live. A huge number of widely accepted norms need to be ditched if we are to make any real impact on the problems. These are just too massive for us to grapple with, particularly given all the other stuff that’s going on. So far, no government I’m aware of has been able to find the courage or conviction to say that we’re going to have change big-time and that, if we as a country do it first, we may be economically inconvenienced for a long time if others don’t do likewise.

At present, the right thing for the new UK government to do is to re-enable onshore wind turbines, promote solar farms (as a 20-year temporary measure), encourage tidal generation  and invest serious money in investigating  solutions such as cold nuclear fusion  and hydrogen power, all with the aim of having energy solutions which are as sustainable and as local as possible. In fact, the political imperative is keeping enough people warm until the next election, which might involve fracking, more extraction for the North Sea and deals with countries for gas or oil supply which will be only slightly less unreliable than relying on Russia. The infrastructure for providing energy in this way already exists. The new methods are lagging far behind. This is only set to continue when you reflect that Jacob Rees-Mogg has been put in charge of this matter.

• One should always be careful what one wishes for. As I suggested a few months ago, many successors to the mendacious blond philander could prove to be even worse. My fears were then centred on the possibility of the Mysteron Home Secretary Priti Patel  taking over: but Liz “let me try to read that again so it makes sense” Truss hasn’t impressed me greatly so far. Hats off to her, however, for immediately deciding to deal with surely the most pressing issue facing the country and lifting the cap on bankers’ bonuses. That was what was really holding the country back. After all, if bankers are paid more then, as the trickle-down logic runs, we will all do better as the rest of us clean their homes, change their children’s nappies and chauffeur-drive their cars.

There’s also another point of view, expressed in this article in The Conversation, that bankers with higher bonuses were more likely to take risks and that companies which took such a short-terms view suffered more during the 2008 financial crisis.

• Speaking of banks, if you tried to reach me between 8.55 and 11.06 on 22 September than you wouldn’t have been able to as I was on the phone to a high-street bank. I won’t name it because I’m still so incensed that I don’t think it deserves even bad publicity. There were several problems it had recently visited upon me. By far the worse was deciding that one recent transaction was fraudulent and, without contacting me, going into the recipient’s account and taking the money out again. I never knew banks could do this. They can; they do. It also decided to bounce two payments for which there were ample funds and then froze the account – and all this before breakfast. 

The phone conversations that followed were a kind of mental torture. There were long periods spent listening to tinny music and regular assurances of the importance of my call before a connection to an often hard-to-understand person whose manner combined fawning servility and procedural menace; and always the risk (as happened at 9.46) of being disconnected and having to start the whole ghastly business from scratch. No one person was able to do everything I wanted or answer every question, so I needed to get transferred (this happened five times): sometimes to people who could actually help; sometimes not; once to thin air.

Probably the worst aspect was the feeling of utter impotence in the face of an organisation which had both the power and, it increasingly seemed, the desire to make my life as difficult as possible. Of course, many people around the world every day find themselves in this position with regard to their governments, landlords, employers, partners or whoever. All suffering being subjective, however, this insight didn’t provide me much consolation at the time.

Round about 10.35, I was asked what the person whose account the bank had ransacked was going to do with the money. I said that was none of my business nor, frankly,  the bank’s. “But are they going to re-pay it to you?” he perplexingly asked. “The question doesn’t arise,” I replied, “because you’ve already taken the money back out of his account. That’s why I’m calling you.” The man said he didn’t understand what I meant. It was that bad.

Perhaps, I reflected when I hung up at the end of all this and waited for my pulse rate to come down into double figures, this was the latest financial crisis – all the money in the world had vanished, spent on fuel bills, stolen by Putin or paid to senior bankers. The only bit that had escaped was this money I was trying to transfer; and now the bank was trying to take that too. I think from now on I’m going to not bother with banks at all but just keep what’s left of my dosh in a shoebox under the bed…

Across the area

• News from your local council if you live in the Vale of White Horse, Wiltshire, Swindon or West Berkshire.

• Further information on your district, county or borough council’s activities is referred to in the respective Weekly News sections for the nine areas that Penny Post covers – Hungerford areaLambourn Valley; Marlborough area; Newbury area; Thatcham area; Compton and Downlands; Burghfield area; Wantage area

Your caddy: a goodie or a baddie?

Houses in West Berkshire will recently have received a squat green food caddie this week. It’s about the size of a cat (though, of course, a different shape) and its food-waste contents will be collected weekly as part of the normal kerbside service. You can read more about this on WBC’s website here.

A couple of letters to the Newbury Weekly News in recent weeks have suggested that this is a waste of money. I thought I’d put this objection to those responsible at West Berkshire Council to see what they thought about it.

“Contrary to what is asserted in the letter, food caddies and liners are emphatically not a ‘waste of money’,” Environment portfolio-holder Steve Ardagh-Walter told me. “By encouraging more residents to separate their food waste, WBC will save money as well as reducing its carbon footprint.  More food waste will be composted locally at Padworth, instead of being transported to Energy for Waste facilities (where we also pay per tonne of waste which is processed.) Currently, around 25% of black bin waste in the district is food waste. We are asking all residents to help reduce this number by using the weekly food-waste collection service when it is introduced at the end of October.”

Kofi Adu-Gyamfi, WBC’s Waste Manager, added a further point. “The introduction of separate weekly collection of food waste from households will help WBC comply with a statutory requirement which has been set out by the government in the Environment Act 2021 [see Section 57 (45A-(8)]. Therefore, this is not only a beneficial change but a necessary one.”

A community response

Last night I and about 80 other people attended an event in St John’s Church organised by WBC Councillor Steve Masters. Its main aim was “to coordinate the community response to the looming cost-of-living crisis and develop a network of support hubs across the district.” A number of front-line organisations (including West Berkshire Homeless, Age Concern, the Newbury Soup Kitchen, Connecting Communities in Berkshire and Loose Ends) made brief statements about the problems they were currently facing.

There were two main things I got from this, both of  which I was only able to because of hearing them speak one after the other at this event.

The first was that in the past many had a fairly stable number of service users who fitted predictable demographics. In general, these people had one underlying problem or challenge (such as addiction) which necessitated their reliance and in general required one kind of help (such as food). Now, however, that’s changing fast. A wider range of people, and a lot more of them, are needing assistance, often for more than one reason and requiring help with more than one aspect of their lives.

When you have a situation where people who a few years ago were donating supplies to the charity but are now recipients and where an organisation that’s only really geared up to supplying food being asked to help people with electricity costs you have what a consultant would call an unsustainable business model. These organisations are doing all they can but many are in danger of running out of cash. Remember also that most rent commercial space for their activities and so their costs are going up just like everyone else’s.

The second point is that, although this happens a good deal anyway, these groups need to work together even more closely to share expertise, ideas and, in many cases, supplies such as food. This was to a large extent what this meeting was designed to foster. There was also a representative from West Berkshire Council there who explained some of the work that the Council is doing. The most visible sign of this is, or will be, the hub, an online portal which will signpost the help WBC and others can provide. This will be based on the ones previously used for Covid and Ukrainian refugees and so would, we were assured, be finalised quite soon. You can click here to see the advice and information that WBC currently provides.

“I was really encouraged by the numbers attending last night’s community meeting,” Steve Masters told Penny Post. “It was clear from the many testimonials from the charitable sector that the situation is getting worse and is expected get even more so. What was also clear was some groups are already working collaboratively. This is very encouraging but there remains lots of work to be done if we are to prevent what Martin Lewis described as a potential catastrophe. I would like to thank all who made this event possible. I am hopeful we as a community can come together and support the growing numbers affected by the cost of living crisis.”

Other news

• Primary school pupils across West Berkshire are being asked to help name WBC’s new food-waste collection vehicles. “The competition is being run through schools,” a WBC statement says, “and we’re looking forward to seeing some fun suggestions to put a smile on residents’ faces as they venture out across the district.” More information on the new food waste service can be found here.

Please click here for information about what local councils are doing to help support refugees from Ukraine and how you can help.

• Local charity Connecting Communities in Berkshire (CCB) has stressed that help is available for those struggling with rising energy bills. CCB has been running a project tackling fuel poverty for 10 years and can provide expertise in supporting low-income families that are struggling with the recently confirmed price rises. For more information, contact Helen Dean on helen.dean@ccberks.org.uk or visit www.ccberks.org.uk.

Click here for the best coverage we’ve seen of all things football-related in Berkshire.

Click here for the latest museums newsletter from WBC.

• Click here for the latest news from West Berkshire Council.

Click here to visit WBC’s business website.

Click here for details of consultations currently being run by WBC.

Click here for the latest libraries newsletter from WBC.

Click here for the latest Covid newsletter from WBC.

Click here for the latest waste and recycling newsletter from WBC.

Click here for the latest residents’ newsletter from WBC.

Click here for the latest business newsletter from WBC.

Click here for the latest environmental newsletter from WBC.

• You can click here to choose to receive all or any of West Berkshire Council’s e-newsletters.

• See also the sections for Wantage, Marlborough and Swindon for initiatives from Vale of White Horse Council, Wiltshire Council and Swindon Council and the various towns and parishes.

• Click here for a post listing the various places which are offering a takeaway and/or delivery service. If you are aware of any others, let us know.

• The animal of the week is this 10-metre-tall mechanical bull which is about to be moved from its location in the centre of Birmingham.

• The letters section of the Newbury Weekly News includes, as well as ones referred to elsewhere, communications on the subjects of re-naming a park, Greenest, fireworks and nipplewort.

• A number of good causes have received valuable support recently: see the various news area sections (links above) for further details.

The quiz, the sketch and the song

• So, here we are at the Song of the Week. Once again, Prof JC has come up with the musical goods, sending me a link to this rip-roaring version of the old Muddy Waters song He Moves Me performed by Elkie Brooks. Her voice goes right through you and up and down your spine (but in a good way). The three soloists aren’t too shabby, either. Top stuff.

• Which brings up the Comedy Sketch of the Week. Mark Steele is a very funny man and his Mark Steele’s in Town programmes, in which he visits somewhere he’s never been before, immerses himself in the place for a week and then does a stand-up routine about it, are inspired. In this clip – not sure if it’s from that series or not – he meets an angry vicar in Taunton.

• And so it must finally be the Quiz Question of the Week. This week’s question is: If you have a conventional Rubik Cube and make one turn every second, how many years would it take you to get through every possible combination? Last week’s question was: Which team won the FA Cup in 1952, the year Queen Elizabeth II became Queen? The answer was Newcastle United who beat Arsenal 1-0. I think that was about the last proper trophy Newcastle won.

For weekly news sections for Lambourn Valley; Marlborough area; Newbury area; Thatcham area; Compton and Downlands; Burghfield area; Wantage area please click on the appropriate link

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Covering: Newbury, Thatcham, Hungerford, Marlborough, Wantage, Lambourn, Compton, Swindon & Theale