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In the gutter, looking at the stars

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Without a hint of an apology, this week’s Friday Speed Read is setting out its overly-stuffed stall with an invocation of Oscar Wilde: “We’re all the gutter,” says the character of Lord Darlington in Wilde’s play ‘Lady Windermere’s Fan’, “but some of us are looking at the stars”. Well, we don’t know about you but to us it feels like the past couple of years have seen an excess of gutter and precious few glimpses of the stars, at least in the political realm. However, in the week that a billionaire launched a car into space on the nose of a blimmin’ great rocket, maybe we can look to the heavens once again. And hope.

Or maybe that’s nonsense (it’s probably nonsense). But whether you think of Elon Musk as a pioneer, ushering in a new era of interplanetary exploration or a hubristic narcissist using his tech billions to show off simply because he can, the successful launch this week of the Falcon Heavy rocket must surely rank as the most successful PR stunt of all time. Every paper, every news channel on the planet, carried photos and footage of both the Earth-shaking power of the launch, evoking images of a different age when Saturn V rockets were blasting humanity to the moon, and also the shiny red Tesla roadster, piloted by a dummy in a space suit with a soundtrack of David Bowie’s Life on Mars.

The science was impressive, hugely so. The sight of the two side booster rockets landing back on the launchpad on their ends was straight out of Thunderbirds (ask your parents) but, you know, real; and alongside this, the fact that the whole thing was achieved at a fraction of cost of Nasa’s efforts, making manned spaceflight beyond the Earth conceivable for the first time since the 60s, it all adds up to something genuinely amazing. But for all that, all we can really think about is that there’s now a red sports car, driven by a dummy listening to David Bowie, orbiting the Earth and it will be doing so for millions of years.

In non-space news, the week began with the nation’s media telling us how cold it was going to be. The Express (of course) led the hyperbole charge with “Killer Freeze to Last 10 Days” and was followed by The Mirror “temperatures plummet” (not much else ‘plummets’ in English does it? Lifts. Lemmings. Temperatures. That’s your plummeting lot) and the Star more prosaically suggested that “the coldest week” was on the way. And lo, it came to pass. It has been cold. So much for Fake News.

Tuesday’s centenary of (some) women winning the right to vote was marked with appropriate fanfare by many papers, with the recent #MeToo movement giving the event an added piquancy. There’s clearly work still to be done. The Telegraph reported on the growing campaign to win posthumous justice for the Suffragettes: “Suffragettes should be pardoned” and the Sun’s front page celebrated “100 Years, 100 Women” alongside a large photograph of a skimpily dressed Kate Moss looking like she was, and forgive the prudish euphemism but it’s only 9am, scratching her lady parts.

Let’s corral all this week’s Trump News into a single paragraph in order to preserve the word limit for more salubrious topics. Right, so via his Twitter trump-et (that almost works) the leader of the free world cited a pro NHS demonstration as evidence that universal health care was wildly unpopular. This utter missing-of-the-point drew furious contradiction from all sides and sent left wing types into ideological meltdown when one of the snappiest and smartest put downs of DJT came from Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt. These are indeed strange days. Elsewhere in Trump land, the President has decided he wants a massive military parade through the streets of Washington DC to prove that his missile really is bigger than anybody else’s missile and the world laughed when a gust of wind revealed the perilous state of the presidential hair – “Hair Force One” was a missed headline opportunity – which really shouldn’t have been funny but it was.

In case you’d forgotten, Brexit is still happening and this week TM the PM categorically stated that the UK will be leaving the much-discussed Customs Union once we’re no longer in hock to those meddlesome foreigners with their food and their culture and their impressive levels of productivity. Most right-wing titles were predictably enthused by the news while also reporting that Brussels was preparing to bash the UK over its head with a sack-load of new regulations during a post-Brexit transition period. “We’ll use sanctions to punish you”, paraphrased the Times; “EU still trying to rule Britain,” shouted the Express. Meanwhile the government finally showed MPs the much-discussed reports on the potential economic consequences of Brexit; the reports suggested that whatever the “flavour” of Brexit we end up stumbling into, it’s going to be pretty rubbish for the economy. “The £80bn cost of Brexit,” reported the Guardian.

Everyone’s second favourite Davis (first place of course going to 80s snooker man Steve), David Davis, downplayed the gloomy forecasts with a metaphor about cars. You wouldn’t drive a car that wasn’t finished, reasoned DD, so therefore don’t believe economic reports that are likewise unfinished and with that he dispatched his team to go away and come back when they had reports that said what he wanted them to say.

Other stories to rattle around inside the news maraca this week included widespread dismay about forthcoming rises in council tax for nearly everyone; the revelation that Cheddar Man, the preserved body of a man who lived in Somerset around 10,000 years ago, when alive would have had dark curly hair and “dark to black skin” (we think he looked “gorge-ous” – a Cheddar joke that for some reason was overlooked by headline writers); stock markets around the world fell sharply; interest rates in the UK remained at 0.5% but are likely to rise soon; The Duchess of Cambridge momentarily got her heel stuck in a drain and made the front page of the Express (“Catherine the Grate”) and scientists have successfully grown human eggs in a laboratory. Which is incredible. And maybe a little scary too.

Finally, fans of broken limbs are eagerly anticipating the start of the Winter Olympics in South Korea later today. The build-up to, let’s face it, the second-best type of Olympics, has been dominated by two massive stories: the first being the presence of Kim Jung Un’s sister Kim Yo-Jong at the opening ceremony; she’s the first member of the ruling Kim family to step foot on South Korean soil since the Korean war. However, even this moment of history pales when set against the biggest story of the wintry Olympiad: the news that chefs to the Norwegian team mistakenly ordered 15,000 eggs instead of the more reasonable amount of 1,500. Chef Stale Johansen said, “there was no end to the delivery” and that it was “absolutely unbelievable”.

Here’s Stale and colleagues sitting next to some of the eggs.

Every get the thought that it might be a lot more fun being Norwegian?

We play out this week with a tribute to one of the absolute greats of popular music. Paul Simon, songwriter, poet, genius, announced his retirement this week and we are all poorer as a result.  Here’s The Boxer – a masterpiece. And no one can tell us otherwise.

See you next week.

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