This week with Brian 12 to 19 January 2023

Further Afield the week according to Brian Quinn

This Week with Brian

Including the heir and the spare, the longest drunk text, younger sons down the ages, dynastic importance, nineteen children, vaccine deniers again, dirty water again, defender or hypocrite, getting Brexit not done, another delay, a gong from Lord Gnome, two looks back, the great Jeff Beck, prescient ducks, Peter Kay and the letter Q.

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

• Prince Harry has clearly not had a normal life. Royals have always lived in a fishbowl, not necessarily of their own devising; but for him, the magnification increased massively following his mother’s death in 1997. This created a national emotional firestorm that the more reserved reaction following Elizabeth II’s death last year did not come close to matching. To be the child – and, more importantly, the younger child – of probably the most famous woman in the world who met her death in a high-speed Parisian car chase with the international paparazzi in hot pursuit is not a legacy that any of us could easily come to terms with.

[more below] 

His way of doing this, after a series of well-publicised spats with other members of family including his brother and sister-in-law, was to write a book, Spare. This is, according to Sky News, “the fastest-selling non-fiction book ever, recording figures of 400,000 copies so far across hardback, e-book and audio formats on its first day of publication.” The various leaks, allegedly unintentional, will have helped these figures. The BBC’s royal correspondent Sean Coughlan called it “the strangest book ever written by a royal…part confession, part rant and part love letter. In places it feels like the longest angry drunk text ever sent…”

I’ve not read it, although if I were to see a copy lying around I’d probably flick through it, starting with the index. He clearly has many reasons to feel that his life has not been how he would like it to be. On one level, this is absurd a it’s hard to think of someone who, by dint of contacts and inherited wealth, has been dealt a stronger hand. A more charitable view is that all experiences are subjective. He was born into the life he lives. He seems to be trying to change it but he will always be the younger son of a King and of a fragile but engaging celebrity. Like his mother, he has a massive love-hate relationship with the media. Both see it as the author or amplifier of their misfortunes but both have shown themselves to be adept at using it for their own purposes. Ultimately, all these opinions cancel out.

The titbits are certainly intriguing: losing his virginity in a field to an older woman who spanked him and treated him like a young stallion; killing 25 Taliban fighters in Afghanistan; suffering from debilitating panic attacks and thoughts of self-harm; taking so many hallucinogenic drugs that he believed his dustbin was talking to him – all this is fabulous raw material. One wonders what, were the great man still to be alive, Hunter S Thompson would have been made of the commission for ghost-writing Spare.

“An heir and a spare” – that seems to be the thing that haunts him. Upstaged, both by his mother and his brother; within touching distance of something remarkable but probably destined never to attain it; all in all, a mere high-profile insurance policy against disaster. Let’s have a look at some of his ancestors and see how they match up.

The record of younger sons of monarchs isn’t great. William I’s youngest son, who became Henry I and reigned for 35 years, was probably involved in murdering his elder brother William II and certainly locked up his eldest brother Robert Duke of Normandy for the last 28 years of his life. Henry’s grandson, Henry II, was equally cursed. He had four surviving sons, all of whom engaged in rebellions against him almost as soon as they were able to hold a sword, which in those days was in advance of the onset of puberty. As 1066 And All That memorably observes, “Henry II died when he discovered all this sons were revolting.”

Two of these survived him. Richard I found the future king John to be less than reliable deputy during his frequent absences. King John himself had two sons, the elder being Henry III. Henry’s younger brother Richard was a thorn in his side for most of his troubled reign, frequently needing to bought off from outright revolt with expensive gifts, particularly during the de Montfort crisis .

Edward III had eight sons, a situation which caused a dynastic conflict which dominated 15th century England. The Yorkists, one of the offshoots of this massive and tangled family tree, fared little better. Edward IV had two younger brothers. One, George of Clarence, changed sides so often in the Wars of the Roses that he was eventually sentenced to death and, allegedly, drowned in a butt of Malmsey wine by order of the king. The other, Richard III, probably murdered both his nephews including the young Edward V in the Tower of London. Wind forward a century from there and you have Charles II’s younger brother James II, a king who became so unpopular – his just being Catholic was perhaps almost enough – that he had to flee the country, the upshot of which was the largely bloodless revolution of 1689 that established the political system under which we still largely live.

Thereafter, younger sons behaved rather better, perhaps because as a result of this revolution, there was less power at stake: merely prestige and an over inflated sense or amour propre that could be satisfied by titles or sinecures or, increasingly as Britain became a world power, by sending them on foreign trips. The tradition of troublesome younger sons was reversed by George VI, who showed himself to be a far more diligent monarch than his abdicating brother Edward VIII, with his dubious political sympathies, would ever have done.

Then, in our own times, we run up against the hideous example of the over-entitled and sleazy Prince Andrew; which makes one wonder if the younger-son problem isn’t about to re-set itself to the 1090s. Some claim that is what Harry’s book is trying to do. Others say that he’s just trying to be honest. It’s uncertain in the monarchy is ready for this; or if, as a bedrock of emotional restraint, it ever will be.

The idea of a spare is, dynastically, an important one. One can make a number of arguments against a hereditary monarchy but many of the worst periods of unrest in the middle ages were caused by a disputed succession. The miseries of the Hundred Years’ War were unleashed on France in early 14th century as a direct result of the house of Capet finally, after over three centuries, failing to produce an direct heir.

English monarchs have been well aware of this, producing children on a massive scale. Edward I had nineteen legitimate children, Edward III thirteen and Henry II eight. The illegitimate offspring (William I was one himself) will never be known. In a later age, where such matters were perhaps less critical, George II had eight children and Victoria nine. Spare a thought also for Anne who had eighteen births: twelve were miscarriages and none of the others survived her.

It also proved prudent. On the 42 monarchs since the Norman Conquest, only a third succeeded to the throne as a result of being the eldest son (or, in more recent times, eldest child). Most monarchs did their best to ensure that their line would continue. Of those who were old enough to or inclined to marry, only six – Richard I, Richard II, Mary I, Charles II, Mary II and William III (the last two were married joint monarchs) – had no legitimate children. For most, continuity was both a biological and a political imperative. Few felt this more keenly than Henry VIII, whose desire for a legitimate son led to the break with Rome. The irony of all this talk of primogeniture and male succession is that that the throne eventually passed to his younger daughter who, as Elizabeth I, was the most intelligent and effective monarch the country has ever had (and didn’t marry).

Few of these motives, problems or aspirations apply to Harry. I get it that he’s bitter, frustrated and trapped and feels that the family he was born into constrains him and fails to realise his inate talents and desire for self-expression. So are so many of us. Perhaps by writing what he has done he will help many others challenge the shackles which they endure which, though less public than his, are nevertheless real. Or perhaps it will just make a rich and privileged young man richer. As I said earlier, I haven’t read the book. However, as I’ve tried to describe, if his complaint is, as the title suggests, because he’s a royal spare then plenty of others before him have caused even more grief and with even more consequences. His complaints seem purely personal. With an institution like the royal family, personal considerations don’t cut a great deal of ice – as his mother discovered.

• I thought the days of vaccine denial were behind us: it seems not. Conservative MP Andrew Bridgen was this week deprived on the party whip for making a number of disparaging remarks about the safety of the Covid vaccine, some of which were different from his previous positions. The trouble with this argument seems to me to me to be that about 80% of the population of the UK have had at least one jab and if there have been massive side-effects then no one seems to be talking about it. The other point is that if you want to attack governments or big corporations for doing nasty things then there are so many better places to start than Covid jabs.

• Last weekend, the magical return of the upper reaches of the River Lambourn, which flows past our house, took place. This is a river that is about as environmentally protected as can be but this doesn’t stop it being a source of untreated sewage discharge when the need arises, mainly because the rising groundwater levels force water through the cracks in the sewerage pipes  and overwhelm the system. This map provides information as to when and where Thames Water is making such discharges.

It’s recently been widely accepted that it’s appalling that this should happen and a lot of pressure has been applied on water companies to do more work on repairing these pipes. Thames Water did a good deal in the Lambourn Valley in 2021 but 2020’s groundwater levels were low and so the work was not tested. This might be about to change. Various flood forums and other pressure groups are, like the river, now re-activating themselves and, as we have in the past, we’ll be bringing you information about what happens. It’s always good to reduce the amount of water that you use but if you live in an area, like the Lambourn Valley, where the sewerage popes are likely to be infiltrated by groundwater, this is particularly important. This post has some information on what you can do to help thew situation.

There are two almost unanswerable arguments that water companies have to defend these discharges. The first is that the alternative to easing the pressure on the system into watercourses, SSSI-protected or not, is having sewage erupting onto streets or into homes. The other is that the discharge system is doing exactly what it was designed to do, back in the day when hardly anyone cared about such things. Our waterways are effectively open sewers and it’s only recently been something we’ve bothered about. In this time the water companies have been privatised – how was that allowed to happen? – which has resulted in many of the profits disappearing offshore. We are where we are, sadly.

Fixing this will cost a vast amount of money. As this article in The Guardian considers, opinions differ as to how much. The fact the the government’s own estimates range from £150bn to £650bn suggest, as the River Trust points out, a low level of confidence in the methodology. It seems clear from this that (a) the water companies’ dividends have been ill-used for this purpose; and (b) that a number of local and also blue-green schemes could be employed more or less immediately which would improve the situation. Until then, we’re left checking the above-mentioned map and waiting for the effluent to start bubbling up from our toilets.

• Opinions differ as to whether Australian Catholic Cardinal George Pell, who died this week, was a fearless defender of virtue or a craven hypocrite. Certainly he stands accused of turning a blind eye to accusations of abuse in his diocese, a depressingly regular charge against a number of people now these stories are starting to get told. I’m inclined the believe his accusers, the Roman Catholic Church being quite manifestly a deeply sleazy organisation. So are the rest of them, mind you. 

• Finally, to those who believed our mendacious last PM-but-two that he had “got Brexit done“, the wrangles about the Northern Ireland Protocol still continue. Don’t ask me to explain it: I can’t. Nor can anyone else. The shocking discovery of a land border between the UK and the EU during the Brexit debate back in 2016 seems to have taken everyone by surprise. And here we still are, Brexit not done at all…

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

The West Berkshire Health and Wellbeing Conference

This is being held on 31 January from 2pm to 5pm, and everyone is invited to take part.

A recent statement from WBC says that “this year’s conference is themed around the local response to the challenges posed by the rising cost of living and is open to anyone in West Berkshire who has an interest in Health and Wellbeing. In addition there will be a ‘marketplace’ where voluntary sector organisations and service providers will be available to discuss what they do.

“The conference will take place as a hybrid meeting with face-to-face places in the Council Chamber in Newbury limited to 70 attendees, and the option the attend virtually via Zoom. Early booking is advised, particularly if you would like to attend in person.”

For more information and to book your place (which is free), please click here.

The local plan delayed again

The public consultation on this important document was to due to start on 6 January and run to 17 February but has been delayed again: this should be active from Friday 20 January, perhaps a more auspicious date that the one of Friday 13 January that was proposed last week.

Staff shortages, formatting challenges and issues with the Housing and Economic Land Availability Assessment (HELAA) have all been suggested as reasons (the latter surprises me as this was published two years ago). Several people to whom I’ve spoken today have suggested that there’s a feeling that parts of it are still being written. It certainly seems unfortunate that possibly the most important document that WBC will have produced these last 15 years is having such a bumpy landing.

The clock is in many ways ticking as the election looms up on 4 May with a six-week pre-election purdah period (during which time policy announcements which could be regarded as politically beneficial are barred) preceding that. This means that the end of the Regulation 19 consultation is getting uncomfortably close to the start of purdah. The final decision to send the plan for external examination – which will be made after all the work of analysing the responses has been done – should normally be taken by WBC’s Full Council but it’s already been decided, to avoid the purdah restrictions, to delegate this to an officer. Indeed, this will be one of the first jobs for the new Director of Place. If the plan had been produced according to its original schedule then matters would be able to be done in the conventional way, by allowing the elected members to examine and vote on the final decision to send the plan off on its final journey to the Planning Inspector.

The current administration wants to get matters sorted as quickly as possible, an aspiration these delays haven’t helped. The opposition Lib Dems  team would like the opposite to happen and has already said that, if it wins power on 4 May, that it would review the plan. This could be high-risk plan, however. This was tried by South Oxfordshire in 2019 and backfired when the Housing Minister stepped in and threatened to strip the council of its planning functions unless it passed the unadopted plan it had inherited from the previous administration. One imagines that the housing allocations for NE Thatcham would be at the top of the local Lib Dem’s list.

This ups the stakes as it encourages anyone who opposes any aspect of the plan, but doubts that Reg 19 consultation will change these, to vote orange in May. This has therefore further politicised something which need not be this way and, in so doing, has deepened divisions that already exist between the parties.

One way of de-politicising the process would be to divide the plan process in two; do the policies first (which, on this occasion, were it seems worked on in a largely co-operative cross-party way) and get those consulted on under Regulation 18; then turn to any site allocations (which is always likely to be more divisive).

The advantage would be that the council would, through having done the policies, know what it was looking for. It could then identify the sites that met the district’s needs, not be driven by developers coming forward with sites that mainly only met theirs. There are probably huge obstacles to such a suggestion. None the less, it’s hard to make a strong case that the current process is working as well as it might do.

Some councils whose plans are at a similar stage have decided to pause work, partly because of the mixed signals coming from Whitehall. Not having a local plan is a particular risk if a planning authority can’t demonstrate at least a five-year housing-land supply, as unwelcome developments which are refused stand a better chance of succeeding on appeal. West Berkshire, however, has over seven and a half years in the bank so that isn’t an immediate concern. A pause does not, however, appear to be part of the thinking at WBC HQ.

You can click on this page on WBC’s site to see the current documentation. Once the formal consultation starts, whenever that is, there’ll be six weeks for comments to be made. It’s very important but also very long and very technical – so, in this post we’ve suggested a few people and organisations you might want to contact to help set the scene before making your views known (which everyone is urged to do).

Two looks back at 2022

I mentioned last week that I had recently written my own look back at 2022 from a local point of view: you can click here to read it.

Then, blow me down, WBC Leader Lynne Doherty sent me her review of 2022. Having done one of my own I could hardly not publish hers – Penny Post is a wide and inclusive church, after all – so here it is. You’ll see that we both cover many of the same things though not always in exactly the same way.

You may have your own views on either or both of these summaries. You can add your own comments by either using the “leave a reply” box at the foot of each post or by emailing me at brian@pennypost.org.uk. You may also feel moved to write your own review of MMXXII. If so, let me know – there’s no law that says we have to stop at just two.

A gong from Lord Gnome

Private Eye’s “Rotten Boroughs” column always makes for a good, if somewhat depressing, read and does an excellent job of chronicling some of the more awful failings and excesses of our local government machinery and the men and women who operate it. At the start of the year it makes a number of “awards” to various councils and individuals, all of whom have demonstrated levels of corruption, incompetence or hypocrisy which the magazine deems worthy of special mention.

The first award this time is the Man of the Year, which the Eye has given to former publican Geoff Monks who was, as the High Court has recently determined, subjected to nearly twenty years of sustained persecution by the former East Northants District Council which started with “trumped-up allegations of food-safety offences” at his pubs and included the launching of a series of persecutions that “cost Monks his home, his business and his health.” East Northant’s successor, North Northamptonshire Council, has recently made a settlement to him of £4m. The Eye can be excused for referring to the fact that it has supported him in his fight since 2003: indeed, without this, the man may well have thrown in the towel years ago.

It must be truly awful to be persecuted by a local council in this way. Imagine being hounded and vilified, and by an organisation that should be there to help you, over an offence that you haven’t committed or, perhaps for non-payment of a charge that was wrongly or improperly levied. It must be very easy to become crushed by the municipal system. Surely that kind of thing couldn’t happen round here: could it…?

Other news

• Health and care partners across the Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire and Berkshire West Integrated Care Partnership (BOB ICP) are asking for the public’s views on a set of proposed priorities to support improved health and wellbeing.

• West Berkshire Council has launched a sustainable warmth scheme which offers help “to make homes cheaper, warmer and greener through funded energy-saving improvements.” More details here.

Advice here from WBC on keeping safe and warm during a cold snap and protecting the most vulnerable people in our communities.

Click here for information about help available with the cost of living crisis in West Berkshire, the Vale and Wiltshire.

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 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 animals of the week are the ducks which returned to our stretch of the magically-returning River Lambourn last weekend within – and I mean this literally – minutes of the water surfacing from the chalk aquifer. How do they know? Where have they been for the last five months?

• The letters section of the Newbury Weekly News includes, as well as ones referred to elsewhere, communications on the subjects of CIL, Sandleford, a QC, Covid, dangerous dogs and unwanted gifts.

• 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

• And so it’s the Song of the Week. Jeff Beck, just possibly the most amazing guitarist ever, has just died. Here is at Ronnie Scott’s with his version of The Beatles’ A Day in the Life. Utterly amazing.

• Which means that next must be the Comedy Sketch of the Week. I’ve never really followed Peter Kay but he seems to be, as they say, a thing. Here’s a clip I caught and I can kind of see what all the fuss is about.

• And so we wind up with the Quiz Question of the Week. This week’s question (which you can answer easily if you’ve been paying attention so far) is: How many legitimate children did King Edward I have? Last week’s question was: Which is the only letter that doesn’t appear in the name of any of the 50 US States? That will be the letter Q (as in Anon).

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