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Best in Show
Every week, The Friday Speed Read ascends the news mountain in search of the biggest stories from the past five days, carves them into stone tablets and then lugs them back down again for your edification and pleasure (which probably explains our bad back).
Здравствуйте! Добрый день! (Я плохо говорю по-русски) Don’t worry, this week’s edition of your favourite weekly satirical news round-up isn’t going to be delivered entirely in the Cyrillic alphabet, it’s just that we’re so damn pumped up with excitement at the festival of football that kicked off (metaphor ©every single UK newspaper ever) in Mother Russia yesterday. And what says “Welcome to four long weeks of football played under the gaze a semi-authoritarian state!” than noted Russophile and Chekhov-lover Robbie Williamski shaking his now-skinny bottom in a stadium?
Meanwhile, Chuckles Putin looked down at the opening “ceremony” from his presidential perch and for a moment hesitated, wondering if $11 billion dollars might have been better spent elsewhere. But then, thankfully, R. Williamski defiantly flicked his middle finger at the camera, and Vlad was back on home turf. He smiled; the erstwhile member of Take That was going to get the Novi-shock of his life. Robbie Williamski won’t be troubling us again.
Away from men kicking a ball around a field, the most significant moment of the geo-political week was undoubtedly what some wags dubbed as the meeting of two of the world’s worst haircuts. And so it came to pass that after the longest game of “Will they / won’t they” since Scott and Charlene in Neighbours (ask your parents) President Trump and Kim Jong Un (“a smart guy”) met and shook hands in Singapore. The pair went for a walk, watched a video and then signed a vague agreement that North Korea would begin dismantling its nuclear weapons (and in the world of nuclear weapons even a vague agreement is significantly better than no agreement). Even the staunchest of Trump-haters would have to admit that this was a pretty impressive move by the president even if, when pressed on the horrendous cruelty to which Kim subjects his people (gulags, torture, lifetimes of hard-labour, mass public executions, planned starvation etc) Trump’s response was “Yeah, but so have a lot of other people done some really bad things”.
President Trudeau of Canada on the other hand is “very dishonest and weak” according to DJT.
Despite its global import, the Trump-Kim love-in failed to make the front pages of many UK newspapers, not least for the fact that the more Brexity titles had some serious sabre-rattling to be getting on with. The truth was, they were worried. For a while at the start of the week there seemed to be every possibility that TM the PM’s government could lose an important vote on the EU Withdrawal Bill, one that would have turned the Lord’s requirement for parliament to have a “meaningful vote” on whatever deal the PM manages to negotiate (if any) into law. In short, parliament would have had the power to stop Brexit; a prospect that, for many, would be intolerable. The Daily Express chose the respected and time-honoured method of outright threat to persuade Tory MPs to support the government: “Ignore the will of the people at your peril”, it snarled, alongside a picture of, predictably, the union jack. The Sun, meanwhile, found a considerably more original (and considerably more eccentric) way of warding off a potential Brexit defeat.
The headline followed the standard post-referendum blend of hyperbole and intimidation: “Great Britain or Great Betrayal” but it was accompanied by a collage of British icons that had been chosen with the presumed intention of making our collective loins twitch with nationalistic pride. And of course, nothing says “Glorious Albion free of the shackles of those untrustworthy foreigners” like a seagull. Or a roller coaster. Or a coal-fired power station. Or a sheep. Or Qatari-funded and half empty The Shard.
In the end, the government won the vote and the next day the Mail took it upon itself to do a job on Dominic Grieve, the perceived leader of the Tory Brexit rebels. Quentin Letts packed his bile-cannon with gunpowder and fired off the following salvo: “Arrogant and vain (no wonder the French gave him the Legion D’honneur, Grieve is a bitter egomaniac”. Note how he’s cleverly spiced up the traditional character assassination with a bonus helping of racism. What a nice man.
The Daily Telegraph has spent the week warning about the mental health dangers for young people of a life spent online, with stories such as one that suggested that games such as Fortnite can have a similar effect on children’s brains as drugs and alcohol. In possibly related news, the Times reported on a large-scale study in Norway that suggests male IQ levels have been dropping with each new generation since the 1970s, reversing the upward trend that had been seen up until this point. In other words, had this been 1950, you’d be reading The Friday Speed Read in Latin (Veneris celeritate legisse) and in a few generations’ time, men will be reduced to three basic functions: providing sperm, putting the bins out and listening to Robbie Williams (RIP).
Let’s add a few stickers to the “Other News This Week” page of our album: the one-year anniversary of the Grenfell fire was marked with appropriate solemnity and dignity; The Star promised that this summer would see temperatures of 30C for weeks on end; the England football team boarded plane; the England football team disembarked from a plane; Wetherspoons announced it would only be serving British booze in its pubs; postmen have been banned from attaching crosses of St George to their trolleys (“health and safety gone mad” etc – various); the pollen count is about to hit a ten-year high; midwives have been told to treat new mothers who bottle-feed their babies as reasonable people rather than parental failures; Rolls Royce is making 4,600 job cuts in the UK and the visa cap for foreign doctors and nurses is being removed, partly because so many EU-trained medical staff don’t want to work here anymore for some reason.
Finally, The Times reported on a study from America that ‘proved’ that those with faith lived longer than beastly heathens with none. Accompanied by the excellent headline “Churchgoers get six more years before the afterlife”, the paper suggested that the reasons for the extra time on earth could include not smoking, very moderate drinking and a “considerably better social life”.
To finish, here’s the BBC’s world cup trailer; it took 6 months and 600 individual tapestries, which were then animated to create the final piece. And the result is pretty spectacular even if you’ve no idea what’s being depicted. If you look very carefully you can see Vladimir Putin quietly laughing as Zabivaka, the world cup mascot, silently approaches the hotel room of a former boy band idol, his wolfy face etched with menace and intent.