This week with Brian 28 March to 4 April 2024

Further Afield the week according to Brian Quinn

This Week with Brian

Your Local Area

Including Alpha++, ULEZ, going underground, a poor start, more or less, the fear of statistics, water spills, dilution, blackmail, Alan Titchmarsh’s trousers, a moustache’s postcode, another Brexit penalty, a fair summary, three questions, three approaches, a broken embargo, a green brochure, rural exceptions, smart roads, town to town, up for adoption, Cardinal Puff, things in common and Westward Ho!.

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

Thursday 2 May will see a number of local elections (though not in the Vale or West Berkshire) one of which is the latest contest for the office of Mayor of London. We’re talking here about an urban area which is home to about 13% of the UK’s population and which is, according to the Globalization and World Cities Research Network the only city, apart from New York, which merits the top Alpha++ ranking. What happens here is clearly of more than purely local significance. The campaign is played out against the national backdrop of the very different fortunes and expectations of the two main parties, the alarming rise of Reform UK and the more specific issue of ULEZ, which was claimed to have been the main reason why the Conservatives were able to hang on to BoJo’s former Uxbridge seat last year.

[more below]

• Location, location

The mention of New York above is relevant. In one of the oddest bits in what was, in case, overall one of the most extraordinary election videos I’ve ever watched, one of the clips in this commentary on the state of London was actually from a stampede in a New York subway. This impression that some other city was being discussed was reinforced by the sinister mid-Atlantic delivery of the voiceover and the dark and brooding monochrome images, which called to mind, I’m sure not by co-incidence, some of the films of NYC during its dark days in the 1970s. Perhaps the creators figured that one Alpha++ city, past or present, was much like another.

The video also claims that ULEZ inspectors are forcing people to “stay inside or go underground.” It’s true that there are people protecting the cameras, nearly a thousand cases of vandalism against them having been reported in the seven months up to 1 November 2023 alone. Are these not crimes?

As a result of all this self-imposed lockdown, the video claims that the streets of London are now quite than they used to be. Not a bit of, the Evening Standard suggests in its own fact-checking exercise: “in 2022, the UN declared London one of the noisiest cities in Europe, with residents regularly being exposed to average levels of 86 decibels.”

The video also refers to fact the Sadiq Khan “seized power” in London. I think that “was elected (twice)” is the phrase the scriptwriter was groping for.

So, who on earth created this? Not, it seems, Tory candidate Susan Hall’s team (which claimed she had had nothing to do with it) but Conservative Central Office which, on being asked about it by the BBC, declined to comment. What a way to launch a campaign.

• Crime

The issue of crime – or “the tendrils of rising crime” as the video puts it – features prominently in the broadcast and in the Conservative’s campaign. The video has a brief shot of a graph which shows a general increase but there’s no source provided. One can measure crime in many different ways but this graph from Statistica – a source more trustworthy than many – does not suggest that police-recorded crime in the capital has skyrocketed: indeed, the 2022-23 figures are some way below those for three years earlier. The Guardian takes a look at some more specific issues including murders, anti-social behaviour and knife crime and concludes that London performs pretty well by most of these measures.

Then we have gun crime. The idiotic assumption that this had risen by about 2,500% over the last couple of years still appears to be doing the rounds. I had a look at this on 15 February (see “Guns and cats”) after hearing the claim being comprehensively debunked on BBC R4’s More or Less. It had its origin in a major statistical misunderstanding by the Daily Mail (which it since fessed up to) which was repeated by the Telegraph and then gleefully seized on by some of the Conservative candidates. In fact, gun crime in London increased by 1% between 2022 and 2023; a rise, certainly, but hardly one on which a campaign could be based. 2,500% sounds so much better, doesn’t it?

It seems that there are therefore three aspects of the matter we need to worry about: crime itself; the fear of crime; and the fear of crime statistics. Certainly the Conservatives in London seem to be doing their best to stoke up the third of these. This is fairly easy to do if you’re not too fussy about where you get your statistics from, or from what country you take your footage.

• Water

The BBC reported on 26 March that sewage spills into England’s rivers and seas by water companies more than doubled last year. “According to the Environment Agency there were 3.6 million hours of spills compared to 1.75 million hours in 2022. Water UK, the industry body for sewerage companies, said it was ‘unacceptable’ but the record levels were due to heavy rain. Sewage spilling can be legal but environmentalists say it should only happen in exceptional weather.”

The article also quoted the Environment Agency as saying that “it’s important to note that heavy rainfall does not affect water companies’ responsibility to manage storm overflows in line with legal requirements.”

This immediately left me with some questions. Foremost among these were if these rainfall claims were fair and how they’d been spun in the past; whether the actual amount of sewage had decreased or whether it was merely more diluted: and if, say, an hour or concentrated sewage was worse for a river than two hours of sewage that’s had the same amount of rainwater added to it.

In such cases, the shrewd writer will invoke the  views of experts and fortunately three such were at hand. I therefore contacted Charlotte Hitchmough of Action for the River Kennet, Newbury Clay Hill flood warden and widely acknowledged expert Paula Saunderdon and Martyn Wright from the Sewage Action Group for the Lambourn Upper Valley (SAGLUV). All of these cross swords with Thames Water and other bodies on pretty much a daily basis.

Paula Saunderson confirmed that in Clay Hill “the sewage is very much diluted by sources of water getting into the foul sewage pipes and this could be from three sources – leaky banks and overspills from the river, surface water or groundwater.” She also added that “So far I can find nothing that indicates there is an overall management arrangement (MA) or river board in place for the Lambourn,” the river that’s currently causing the most concern. She said that a river 26km long and of international significance would normally have some sort of MA. She pointed also to a number of specific problems, response delays and inadequate policies that have affected the whole of catchment, wet or dry or normal weather notwithstanding.

Martyn Wright pointed out that the EA had reported in March 2023 that 2022 spills were down from 2021, and that “a few water companies took the kudos from the headlines, whilst conveniently omitting to mention that it had been a severe drought year.” He also said that, in a very wet year, the spills shooting up was “not at all surprising.” He added that the fact that there were now more event duration monitors (EDMs) now in use must surely affect the numbers. As for the dilution, he suggested that a double scotch is sill just that no matter how much water you dilute it with.

Charlotte Hitchmough told me that “the increased sewer spills are due to the wet winter, which in our case on the chalk also raises the groundwater, so we battle both surface water and groundwater infiltration. In dry years the number of spills goes down. Volume isn’t measured – only frequency and duration.  Diluted spills are ‘less bad’ than undiluted spills, because they don’t cause an immediate catastrophic event such as a fish kill, but they do gradually increase nutrient loads in the river which has a long term impact, and there are the human health risks associated with completely untreated waste too, of course.”

The conclusion therefore seems to be that while diluted sewage is less bad than the concentrated stuff, it’s not great. If it weren’t for the rainwater then there would have been fewer spills (although those that happened would have been worse). Measuring how each discharge compares in terms of its sewage load – EDMs don’t measure this, nor the volume of water, merely whether the pipe is discharging or not – seems to be almost impossible. Their conclusions also point variously to significant environmental damage that may have long-term consequences we don’t yet understand, equally significant spinning by the water companies and a series of failures of local policies and plans. This is possibly not a great surprise.

• Blackmail

On 28 March, it was announced by The Guardian and others that investors in Thames Water have refused £500m of emergency funding “amid a standoff with the industry regulator over attempts to raise bills.” This brings us one step closer to the prospect that the debt-laden company may be nationalised. In essence, the shareholders wanted TW to raise its prices to increase dividends, something that the ailing water giant has so far failed to persuade Ofwat about. The GMB union has accused the company’s shareholders of “essentially blackmailing” customers and Ofwat.

Well, yes – that’s the way it works. If you place public assets into a private company then different priorities apply. Most of the shareholders don’t live in the Thames Water area so it’s supremely logical for them to demand that the pips be squeezed as much as possible. All they want is the best return on their investment. They don’t give a damn how much sewage is pouring onto our roads and into our rivers, nor what rules or policies are being offended, as long as these don’t eat into their profits. Why should they?

We’re all complicit in this. If we have an ISA or a pension or other investment, we are shareholders. We, or our pension fund managers on our behalf, will be moving investments around to maximise returns. For all I know, I – or you, or the GMB union – may have an interest in shares in a company somewhere on the other side of the world which is an even worse polluter than Thames Water. Who, therefore, are we to judge the motives of the “blackmailing” shareholders here? It’s called capitalism and we’re all caught in its net. Once it had been privatised, this was always on the cards.

Once something is privatised, two things happen. The first is that profit becomes the main motive. The second is that the local connection is broken. Thames Water may still be covering the same area but it’s owned, and thus under the influence of, a very different group of people. What possible other outcome could have been envisaged when the water firms were privatised in 1989? Individual customers, Ofwat and the GMB might be disappointed or even disgusted by what’s just happened. However none of us can seriously say that we’re surprised.

• What next?

No one knows what a re-nationalised water company looks like. This possibility has not come at a great time with sewage all over the place, an election looming and money seemingly tighter than ever. The election might work in favour of action as all the main parties will be keen to show that they have a plan and whoever gets elected will then be expected to follow through. However, decisions may need to be taken sooner than that. What are the choices?

I spoke to an expert researcher in the environmental area on 28 March and they suggested three possible outcomes.

  • The sensible approach. We re-nationalise Thames Water while the share price is low. Despite what the government might say, this is affordable. The government creates the money and we end up with a publicly owned asset.
  • The dumb approach. Ofwat allows TW to increase the price to consumers. This attracts new private sector investors who will demand a maximum return on their investment — big dividends, minimum allowable (by Ofwat) investment and maximum debt they can get away with. A better title might be the “rinse-and-repeat approach”, as it just kicks the can down the road and we’ll have the same problem again the next time TW’s cash is tight. This is the option that Thames Water is pushing for.
  • The just-got-away-with-it (for now) approach. TW might secure investment under current arrangements, but the work needed will not be completed in the time required. They’ll prioritise some schemes and delay the rest as usual. as with the dumb approach, this is essentially putting the problem off.

Place your bets now.

• And finally

• On a similar theme, the boss of Centrica, the owners of British Gas, has said that there’s “no point” in justifying his colossal pay increase of about £4m last year. Yahoo News reports that “Chris O’Shea was handed a £8.2 million pay packet in 202, up from £4.5 million the year before, according to the company’s annual report released on Tuesday. Much of this was due to the increase in the share price, over which Chris O’Shea probably had very little control. Supply fell; demand increased. It all seems a bit like paying weather forecasters based not on the accuracy of their predictions but on how much rain fell. None the less, that’s his deal. My reason for mentioning this, though, is because I kinda like the idea of a boss of his stature having such a prodigiously pointed moustache (even though I’ve never owned one myself). It probably has its own postcode. It may even have its own salary package: in which case, there are perhaps further allegations to emerge.

• And leading on neatly from that idea, this 28 March BBC article refers to a draft report which shows that the Post Office spent £100m fighting its cases agains the Postmasters even though it knew that its defence was untrue. Each revelation seems to mark in a new low in this story. It seems increasingly hard to see that those responsible will not themselves be prosecuted. I’m not a vindictive man but even so…

• As clickbait goers, the phrase “North Korea TV censors Alan Titchmarsh’s trousers” is right up there. This was what the BBC informed us about earlier this week, the story being that his jeans – seen as capitalist propaganda and Western dog-lackey corruption – were pixelated out on the broadcast. The effect, as The Guardian suggested, was that “Titchmarsh appears as a benign hovering wizard”. It’s possible, though not very likely, that this trouser-deletion was a sly reference to his racy novels, though I doubt they’ve found their way over there.

• The search for the elusive Brexit dividends continues. Yet another Brexit penalty emerged this week with news that “post-Brexit, EU countries will not accept passports issued more than 10 years ago.” Simon Calder, travel correspondent at the Independent, is quoted as saying that based on his own research “easily a couple of hundred people a day” are being turned away” at border control. Go and check now if yours is more than ten years old. If it is, will you remember to do something about it before the summer? Exactly. Book a holiday in sunny Margate instead.

• A week or so ago, I wrote a story based on the premise of ten of us turning up at some mutual friends’ house and, through a series of misadventures only some of which were of our making, trashing the place. One of the people mentioned fed the story into the Gemini AI thingy and, within half a minute, had a précis of it that, if a bit short of humour, caught all the essential details with alarming accuracy. I then asked hi to ask it what it could make with just cat litter, fish fingers and a digital alarm clock: snappy as elastic, it came back with instructions for an impromptu terrarium, an unconventional time capsule and a playful sculpture. I’m not entirely sure that I – or, increasingly any of us – have any purpose left.

• We’re normally punctilious about observing embargo dates on press releases but one from the Ministry of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities seemed sufficiently important to make us break our rule. If you want to play by Whitehall’s rules then wait until 9am on Monday 1 April before clicking here. If you’re of a less obedient persuasion then, as Michael Gove doesn’t seem to be looking this way, just go for it

Across the area

• Rural exceptions

It’s often said that there are, particularly in this part of the world, too few affordable or social-rent homes. There are a number of ways these can get built.

The first is as a consequence of private housebuilding. All developments of more than a certain size must have a certain percentage of “affordable” or social-rent homes. The problem is that these are not particularly profitable for developers to build and many feel that the mere presence of them on the estate depresses the value of the ones for sale. They will therefore expend money and energy once the application has been granted in trying to reduce their numbers. Viability assessments are generally invoked, proving that were the agreed percentage to be insisted upon the scheme would not be viable. Some consultancy firms exist for no other purpose than to write these and their attempts to reduce the numbers or modify the tenures are often successful. This may not seem like a societally beneficial attitude to take but, in a commercial terms, it’s a supremely logical one. Developers exist to make a profit.

These kind of homes are also built by housing associations which exist for just this purpose. In recent times some of them have, through mergers or acquisitions, become very large and in some ways uncomfortably more closely resemble large property firms than they do organisations designed to address local needs. They are, unlike developers, also saddled with the problem of needing to maintain the properties which they have built or acquired as a result of private developments.

In a very few cases, homes are also built by local authorities. This has, since the right to buy scheme, become a less attractive option and was for a long a practice which was seen as politically unpopular: a clear and local example of the heavy hand of the state. Many councils have completely lost any in-house skills in this area; if, indeed, they ever had them. West Berkshire, for instance, was created in 1998 but I don’t think has ever built a single house of its own.

In 1978-79, the respective proportions of homes completed by private companies, housing associations and local councils was 52%, 8% and 40%. In 2022-23, it was 79%, 19% and 2%. These figures paint a pretty clear picture of the extent to which the housing market has effectively been outsourced, with all the inevitable consequences.

Private homes are available to anyone who can afford them. Those built in the other two ways will be allocated on the basis of need from council waiting lists. They will provide local housing but only within the context of the whole district. Someone in, say, Theale who’s on the housing list could be offered a dwelling in, say, Lambourn (or vice versa): within the district, certainly, but hardly local as they might understand the term. Demographic changes being what they are, there will often be cases where the availability of suitable public housing in a community bears no relation to the number of people who want to stay in move back to it.

There is a fourth option,: rural exception sites. These were introduced in 1991. In essence these are sites outside but adjacent to the settlement boundary (or on the edge of the town or village if there isn’t one) which have not been allocated in the local plan and would not normally be considered favourably for development. Exceptions can be made, however, where there is a demonstrable need for affordable housing that addresses that community’s needs.

Rural exception sites need to be evidence-based and involve wide community engagement (in this respect they resemble neighbourhood development plans). Organisations and community groups such as parish councils, NDP working groups, co-operatives, community land trusts, charities and landowners can get involved in setting these up. That’s just the start, though. A number of obstacles, including a housing needs survey and the creation of a policy which be enshrined as a legally binding covenant, need to be navigated first. From where can help be obtained?

Fortunately, Connecting Communities in Berkshire (CCB) has recently employed two new Rural Housing Enablers who are keen to hear from Berkshire parish councils or rural community groups that think there may be a housing need in their village or parish. They can help such groups plot a route through the various processes and help put them in touch with others who might need to become involved.

“Building the homes people need brings vitality to rural communities and helps boost the rural economy at this difficult time,” CCB’s CEO Tim Parry observed. “This project will help rural communities in Berkshire carry out a housing needs survey and identify potential sites. We have already engaged with eight rural communities looking for advice and guidance about affordable housing and we have two housing needs surveys in the pipeline. Any rural community interested in exploring their options for meeting local need for affordable housing should contact our Rural Housing Enablers at the earliest opportunity.”

To find out more about this, please visit this page on the CCB website.

• The election leaflets

And still they come. This week it’s the turn of Steve Masters, Green Party candidate in the Newbury constituency, to make his case. The leaflet was sent to me on 28 February but I’ve been told that there’s not been one since. When there is, I’ll have a look at that too.

There’s not a lot to say about this. The front is mainly a photo collage of his time as a WBC Councillor (2019-23) and Newbury Town Councillor (which he still is) with the motto “hard-working, visible, genuine.” My coverage of the last five years of local life doesn’t make me disagree with any of this. The last claim also included his decision to take part in the arboreal HS2 protests in Buckinghamshire which perhaps disquieted enough local residents during the 2023 election. However, he assured me at the time that his mobile and wifi signal was if anything better fifty feel up a Wendover oak tree than it was in his canal boat in Newbury and so he was able to conduct ward and council business with little interruption.

The reverse includes his biography, including twenty years as an RAF engineer, as well as four policy pledges – fully funding the NHS, reversing government cuts to local councils, investing in green jobs and restoring the water companies to public ownership. Few would argue that these are laudable gains: as far as funding them is concerned, my view has always been not if we can afford to do so but if we can afford not to. The last of these points was made by Green WBC Councillor Carolyne Culver at the Full Council meeting this week. It earned her a round of applause so is clearly not a fringe concern. Certainly all of these are issues that we ignore at our peril. Whether the detail of the Greens’ policies on these (which the leaflet doesn’t explore) are correct is one thing. What isn’t is that they’re all serious issues that need to be directly addressed.

• Moving up

I’ve written about Sovereign Housing several times, mostly in connection with Chestnut Walk in Hungerford. Another issue has been mentioned to me by more than one person (including Richard Garvey in this FB post) which seems worth looking into. This concerns the disposal of some of its properties. It also asks the wider questions of the role that housing associations are expected to play; the roles that they do play; and to what extent these are the same thing.

As this timeline on its website explains, Sovereign (it’s now officially known as SNG) was set up in 1989 as a purely West Berkshire (although the district did not then exist) organisation when 7,109 homes were transferred to it by the then Newbury District Council. These are important points to which I’ll return in a moment. Through mergers and acquisitions it now has twelve times that number of properties in almost every part of southern England. It describes itself as “one of the largest housing associations in the country”. It may once have seen Newbury District/West Berkshire Council as its major municipal partner but that is clearly no longer the case.

To what extent this breakneck expansion has benefitted its tenants and the interests of the housing departments in the areas in which it owns property is debatable. Every organisation will all have detractors and there’s little to be gained from picking out individual cases and holding them up to be typical. I do not know how customer satisfaction is measured nor whether this might have fallen in recent years. None the less, scaling up causes problems as well as solving them. As I mentioned in the “Rural exceptions” section above, many housing associations now uncomfortably more closely resemble large property firms than they do organisations designed to address local needs.

Specifically, the suggestion has been made (see Richard Garvie’s FB post above) that a number of Sovereign’s homes are being sold off and others are empty. Any disposal obviously immediately leads one to ask how it’s decided what’s to be sold and what happens to the money. So far, I have more questions than answers. These seem to be the main issues that are worth looking into.

  • When the 7,109 homes were transferred in 1989, I believe there was an agreement (which might also be enshrined in law) that the proceeds of all homes that were sold needed to be re-invested. Was there, however, a condition that said they had to be re-invested in Newbury District, as it then was?
  • Is there any test that has to be met for a dwelling to be deemed too expensive to maintain or upgrade and thus put up for sale. or is this something that Sovereign can decide on its own?
  • Although Sovereign does if requested pass on details of properties its sold to the relevant council, it’s not obliged to. I imagine that it’s therefore not obliged to inform them if it’s considering doing this. Is that the case?

When I learn more, I suspect the answer will be that the lawyers at Newbury District never envisaged that Sovereign would expand out to the area, nor that it would want to sell homes to the extent it now does, nor that it would ever not be closely working with the council. How wrong all those assumptions proved to be. As well as needing to live with the consequences of what might prove to poor drafting, WBC is also in partnership with an organisation whose size and personality have, over the last 35 years, greatly changed and whose ambitions have expanded well beyond those envisaged by the council when the first properties were transferred.

As mentioned, Sovereign was established in 1989: the same year, as it happened, that Thames Water was privatised. Whatever benefits either of these may have brought, no one can deny that the interests of local residents now test far lower than many of them might like to believe. This is the reality we’re now living with. Many would wish that we could go back to 1989 and do rather better deals, or perhaps no deals at all. Unfortunately, we can’t.

• Smart roads

West Berkshire Council and highway maintenance partner, VolkerHighways, continue to be at the cutting edge of technological advancements in the highway industry. “Together,” a statement from WBC says, “the organisations are leading on a Berkshire wide initiative to invest £225k in state-of-the-art thermal sensors that are fixed to street lighting columns along winter maintenance routes and on winter gritting vehicles. The data from the new sensors will be integrated into the Council’s winter forecast process allowing more informed decisions to be made on when roads should be treated.

This project is a continuation of the Smart City Cluster project, which is a £2.1m Internet of Things (IoT) project funded through a Local Growth Fund capital grant from Thames Valley Berkshire Local Enterprise Partnership. The Thames Valley Berkshire Smart City Cluster is a collaboration between the six Berkshire authorities.

Oracle describes the internet of things as “the network of physical objects – “things” – that are embedded with sensors, software, and other technologies for the purpose of connecting and exchanging data with other devices and systems over the internet. These devices range from ordinary household objects to sophisticated industrial tools. With more than seven billion connected IoT devices today, experts are expecting this number to grow to 10 billion by 2020 and 22 billion by 2025.”

This move will thus add West Berkshire’s roads into the lengthening list of things that are already jabbering away to each other. So, the day may come – perhaps sooner than we think – when your TV and the A339 strike up a relationship; perhaps even produce offspring. The way things are going, I wouldn’t bet against it…

• Residents’ news

The latest Residents’ Bulletin from West Berkshire Council includes the Lido, flood grants, new homes, careers, the PCC election, local land charges, a digital planning service, a car-club offer, consultations, there great British Spring Clean, Easter activities, a film night, disco dragons and nature recovery.

News from your local councils

Most of the councils in the area we cover are single-tier with one municipal authority. The arrangements in Oxfordshire are different, with a County Council which is sub-divided into six district councils, of which the Vale of White Horse is one. In these two-tier authorities, the county and district have different responsibilities. In all cases, parish and town councils provide the first and most immediately accessible tier of local government.

West Berkshire Council

Click here for details of all current consultations being run by West Berkshire Council.

Click here to sign up to all or any of the wide range of  newsletters produced by West Berkshire Council.

Click here to see the latest West Berkshire Council Residents’ Bulletin (generally produced every week).

Click here for the latest news from West Berkshire Council.

Vale of White Horse Council

Click here for details of all current consultations being run by the Vale Council.

Click here for latest news from the Vale Council.

Click here for the South and Vale Business Support Newsletter archive (newsletters are generally produced each week).

Click here to sign up to any of the newsletters produced by the Vale’s parent authority, Oxfordshire County Council.

Wiltshire Council

Click here for details of all current consultations being run by Wiltshire Council.

Click here for the latest news from Wiltshire Council.

Swindon Council

Click here for details of all current consultations being run by Swindon Council.

Click here for the latest news from Swindon Council.

Parish and town councils

• Please see the News from your local council section in the respective weekly news columns (these also contain a wide range of other news stories and information on activities, events and local appeals and campaigns): Hungerford areaLambourn Valley; Marlborough area; Newbury area; Thatcham area; Compton and Downlands; Burghfield area; Wantage area

• Other news

• Councillors have backed a motion at the recent Full Council meeting to give people who’ve been in care greater protection.

• A reminder that grants are available for those who’ve been affected by flooding.

• West Berkshire Council has backed a bid to pick litter from streets and public spaces and is calling for residents across West Berkshire to “show their pride in their community by taking part in the mass action litter pick.”

• The Let’s Get Active Fund (LGAF) is back, with £40,000 available to improve access to physical activities in West Berkshire.

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.

• The animals of the week are any of these animals at the Living Rainforest at Hampstead Norreys that you can adopt.

• 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

• Time once more for the Song of the Week. My attention was drawn to the 1980s’ band Microdisney earlier this week. I’d never heard of them. Nor it seemed had many others aside from their die-hard fans. Shame. Town to Town is my pick of their stuff that I’ve listened to so far. Should have been bigger.

• And next is the Comedy Moment of the Week. A lovely scene from Dad’s Army in which Captain Mainwaring gets involved in a disastrous drinking game: Here’s to the Health of Cardinal Puff.

• Which only leaves the Quiz Question of the Week. This week’s question is: “What do fingerprinting, television, golf, the pneumatic tyre, penicillin and Dolly the cloned sheep have in common?” Last week’s question was: What is the only English town that has an exclamation mark as part of its name? The answer is Westward Ho!.

For weekly news sections for Hungerford areaLambourn 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