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Speed Read – Get column, read column, nod at column, move on

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The Friday Speed Read

Every Friday the Speed Read deposits all the week’s news stories in barrel of cold tea and then “bobs” for the best and brightest which are then dried via the hand-drier in the men’s toilets and presented for your pleasure below. 

In something of a swerve into the long grass of obscurity, we’re going to commence this 97th rendering of The Friday Speed Read with a quotation from everyone’s favourite early 20th Century Malian mystic and Sufi sage, who else? It’s Tierno Bokar. Bokar, who was brought to Western attention in the 70s by theatre director Peter Brook, once said: “There are three truths: my truth, your truth and the truth” (although he said it in French so it sounded sexier: “Il y a trois vérités : Ta vérité, ma vérité et la vérité”) and, better than anything else we could cobble together with a tired brain on a Friday morning, this wry observation feels particularly apt this week.

Who won the American mid-term election? Everyone won the American mid-term election. Billed by both sides as a referendum on the first two years of the Trump presidency (and we use this term loosely), the election saw the biggest voter turn-out for a mid-term ballot in decades. The campaign had been predictably bilious, with Trump deliberately invoking the ‘threat’ posed by illegal immigrants at every given opportunity and the Democrats hoping that America was tiring of such divisive rhetoric. As it turned out, the Democrats won back control of the House of Representatives while Trump’s Republicans increased their majority in the Senate. A score draw. Pick the truth that best suits your narrative.

Even by his own extraordinary standards, the press conference Trump gave in the wake of the election was unlike anything most people had seen in a western democracy. For one, Trump answered questions from the press for 90 minutes (and you can’t imagine TM the PM reaching even half that length without exploding in a puff of frustration and paradox) but secondly, the president took exception to a line of questioning from CNN’s Jim Acosta (and boy does he hate CNN), shutting him down, calling him a “terrible person” and declaring that his employer was “an enemy of the people”. You might be interested to know that other world leaders who took a similarly strident position on the media included the guest list at the world’s worst dinner party: Stalin, Goebbels and Mao Zedong.

Oh yes, for a final sprinkling of “what the hell have we become?” Jim Acosta’s press credentials were revoked and, via a doctored video, he was accused of assaulting the White House intern who tried to remove his microphone. He denies the charges and says the White House is lying. His truth. Their truth. Again, choose your own version.

And let’s not pretend everything’s rosy this side of the Atlantic: the front pages this week painted a pretty grim picture of life in the UK right now. “What have we become?” asked The Mirror on Thursday alongside a photo of 98-year-old war veteran Peter Gouldstone who’d been savagely beaten by burglars; and on the night of November the 5th, a 16 year-old was murdered in Tulse Hill in South London, bringing the number of people killed by knives so far this year in the UK to 250. “We’re on a knife edge” said the Sun in what was a fairly weak headline but we knew what it meant. Oh yes, there was widespread coverage of a group of Bonfire Night revellers who thought it hilarious to burn a model of Grenfell Tower, complete with cut outs of brown-paper-faced victims waving from the windows. And then film themselves doing so. Great Britain indeed.

Gosh, we need some cheering up. Let’s talk about Brexit. Rumours of a deal with the EU continue to bubble to the surface before being popped by various “spokesmen” from either side. The Guardian reported that the EU puts the chances of a deal at “50 / 50” (which feels about right) while The Telegraph stumbled across TM the PM’s plan to sell any deal to the British public, a plan that involves such dazzling tactics as “an interview on the telly” and “saying that it’s a good plan”. Oh yes, just to reassure you that we’re in safe hands, Brexit Secretary and bin monitor Dominic Raab admitted yesterday that he “hadn’t quite understood” how important the port of Dover (the busiest in the UK and closest to our largest export market -the EU) was for the UK economy. Sigh.

Okay, let’s really cheer ourselves up. Um, the Sun this week had great fun laying into YouTube star Zoella for her new book “Cordially Invited”. According to the paper (and let us stress this is all from them, we’ve not read the tome) Zoella provides handy advice to Millennials including how to make a sandwich as well as crucial lifestyle tips such as eating chocolate at Easter and how it’s a good idea to wear a coat when it’s cold. The Sun has its own advice for readers tempted by Zoella’s literary efforts: “1 – Replace on bookshelf. 2 – Put £20 back in wallet. 3 – Walk out of bookshop”.

Being a millionaire, we’re sure Zoella couldn’t care less what the Sun thinks.

Quickly skipping to the “other news this week” paragraph and we find a 69 year-old Dutchman going to court to attempt to legally remove 20 years from his age so he can have “more success on Tinder”; HRH The Prince of Wales isn’t on Tinder (we assume) but he was on many front pages this week to coincide with a BBC documentary that slickly portrayed the our future monarch as a decent, funny and committed man, “I won’t be a meddling king, I’m not that stupid” was the quote that most papers picked up upon; women who get up early have a 40% lower chance of developing breast cancer say scientists in Bristol; and, accompanied by an excess of “five become four” headlines, The Spice Girls But Not Posh Spice will be performing concerts next summer in exchange for large sums of money. Everyone’s a winner.

Finally, as you know, this Sunday marks 100 years since the end of the First World War. To coincide with this anniversary, Director Peter Jackson and his team have restored, coloured and added sound to black and white footage from the war . The finished work, They Shall Not Grow Old, is currently in cinemas and will be shown this Sunday evening on the BBC. Even from the trailer (which doesn’t need the Elgar that’s been slapped on top), the impact of seeing these century-old scenes in colour is profound. Here is a truth that brooks no space for nuance: these were normal blokes, all of them now dead, participating in the most gruesome mutual slaughter in history.

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