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Black Holes and Reputations

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The Friday Speed Read

Every Friday, our Speed Read takes a stroll through the fields of this week’s national and international news and harvests the juiciest stories for your reading pleasure.  

There’s little doubt where we should begin this week given the potentially world-order-rattling nature of the events: yes, that’s right, an ex-professional footballer spitting at a child from the window of his Range Rover while on in a queue on a motorway. The Sun captured the unsavoury essence of this story with its literal Monday headline: “Carragher spits at girl, 14”. Jamie Carragher (for it was he) quickly apologised but a day later he was suspended from his usual job of talking on subscription television about rich men chasing a ball around a field until the end of the season. Lest you be in any confusion about the morality of spitting as a pastime, the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme hosted an hour’s debate on the issue that concluded that gobbing at other people wasn’t very nice at all. So now we all know.

Flippancy aside, the news this week has been understandably subjugated by the continued geopolitical tidal waves created by the attempted assassination of Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia via a “military grade” nerve agent called Novichock. Just in case you weren’t yet panicking about the consequences of the attack, The Mirror’s front page on Thursday gave a nuanced and reflective take on events: “Cold War II” it shouted.

TM the PM stood up in parliament on Monday and pointed a spindly, accusative finger in the direction of Moscow and, in particular, everyone’s favourite semi-naked calendar star Vladimir Putin. A huge majority of MPs and every front page rallied behind the Prime Minister: The Telegraph told it like it was – “May gives Putin until Midnight to answer for nerve agent attack” while the Sun warmed up its pun gun with the rather middling effort of “We’ve Vlad enough”. Meanwhile, many papers raised the suggestion that sending a team to the forthcoming in the World Cup in Russia might be, well, kind of awkward. “How can we go to Putin’s world cup now?” wondered the Mail.

Seemingly the single voice urging caution amongst the spiky rhetoric and expulsions of Russian “diplomats” was 2017’s Jeremy Corbyn who suggested that a Russian military grade chemical weapon developed exclusively by Russian scientists in Russian laboratories in Russia might not necessarily have been deployed by Russia. To be fair, Corbyn’s point that there wasn’t yet proof that the Kremlin was behind the attacks was actually true but that didn’t stop the Labour leader taking a kicking from both the right-wing press, who were very happy to return to a favourite theme (“Putin’s Puppet” – The Sun; “Corbyn, the Kremlin stooge” – The Mail) and also his own MPs.

Finally, we must tip our satirical hat to Defence Secretary, Gavin “Tarantula” Williamson who was clearly deploying an arcane and brilliant piece of counter-espionage yesterday with his comments that Russia should “shut up and go away”. It’s reassuring to know that such dazzling minds are in charge of the military in these fractious and uncertain times.

In other news, President Trump sacked his Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and made Gina Haspel, whose hobbies include waterboarding the destruction of security tapes the first woman to lead the CIA. Back in the UK, Chancellor Philip “Chuckles” Hammond gave his spring statement to parliament in which he said he was feeling “Tigger-like” about the economy and that if Brexit was a game of Poohsticks then our stick would emerge first from the bridge while the EU’s would most likely get stuck in the brambles. He also announced various consultations, including one on single use plastics (widespread applause) and one on the future of copper coinage (Mirror –“Pennies dropped”).

A day later, Number 10 said that the days of pennies were, in fact, unspent and end-of-pier-pusher-machine manufacturers everywhere rejoiced.

Finally, with due respect to Ken Dodd (“I haven’t spoken to my mother-in-law for eighteen months; I don’t like to interrupt her”) who died on Monday, the death of Stephen Hawking filled pages of coverage this week. A scientist of a stature to rival Einstein, his work will remain unintelligible to nearly all of us (“name two properties of a black hole: er, one, it’s black and two . . .”) but his tenacity, brilliance and good humour despite the ravages of disability are nothing short of a galaxy-sized inspiration.

Professor Hawking. Here’s to you sir.

(and plus you were ace in The Simpsons).

See you next week.

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