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Best in Show
We don’t know about you, but we feel a little fragile. As 2018 moves towards its conclusion like a lump of meat being slowly turned and pulverised by one of those old-fashioned iron grinders, we can’t imagine there will many people in the UK who’ll think back with fuzzy nostalgia about the year just ending. Harry Kane maybe. (Other) Harry and Meghan. You if you got married, had children, nailed a massive promotion, won the lottery, became unopposed leader of your own micro-state etc but for most, 2018 will be remembered as one of the most testing, unsettling and acrimonious years since, well pick your own analogy. The point is, it’s been bleak.
And the way things currently stand, 2019 may well be bleaker still.
Okay, let’s pull ourselves together. Christmas is hovering (not hoovering, although if your house is anything like ours then there’ll be plenty of that too) close-by with all the warmth, food and good cheer we can cram into ourselves and here at Speed towers, we’ve also got a party to look forward to. And goodness, we just love a party. So, in contrast with previous incarnations of our Review of the Year (this is the third if you’re counting), we’re going to front-load this summary of 12-months- –of-stuff-happening with JOY. Here we go:
The summer was good wasn’t it? Aside from the water shortages, hosepipe bans and failing crops, we did have a long, sexy summer with widescreen 4K sunshine. Temperatures soared, thousands of otherwise-normal people removed the majority of their clothes and sat next to water, newspapers were able to play one of their favourite games in which they list all the places in the world that Shrewsbury is hotter than (The Sahara, Other bits of Africa, the planet Mercury). As the air thickened with the smell of barbecues, we were able to stick on sunglasses, sit in the garden and try our hardest to dispel any nagging fears that the accelerating pace of climate change might not be a reason to celebrate.
And for many, the memories of the sizzling summer of 2018 will be forever associated with four long weeks of football played under the gaze of a semi-authoritarian state. Yes that’s right, it was the World Cup in Russia and, breaking with long-established tradition, the England football team opted for a radical policy of not playing really poorly. And as a result, the nation (or large parts of it at least) went absolutely barmy. Led by the modest, erudite and waistcoat-embracing Gareth Southgate, England not only put mighty footballing nations like Panama to the metaphorical sword, they also won a penalty shoot-out for the first time since the battle of Agincourt and then found themselves in, of all places, an actual semi-final. Harry Kane became a national love totem; The Friday Speed Read got all woozy and proclaimed an outbreak of national unity as football salved our Brexit-inflicted wounds and then eleven brave millionaires stepped onto a Russian field to play the biggest match for decades, a nation’s hopes resting on their waxed shoulders. Destiny awaited. Football was coming home.
And then they lost.
Elsewhere, the “Blue Planet” effect seemed to be gathering momentum as single-use plastics took a kicking from all sides; indeed, even HM Government took a break from doing nothing other than tearing itself apart to promise a ban on plastic straws, stirrers and cotton-buds. In other good news for the planet, Pakistan promised to plant a billion new trees, NASA said the hole in the ozone layer is shrinking and . . . . .um . . . well, as we’re in the “good news” section we best hasten on.
In July, a potentially terrible story turned out to have the very happiest of endings when the world’s attention was grabbed by the dramatic rescue of the boys’ football team in Thailand. As you of course remember, the boys and their coach were trapped three kilometres into a cave system by rising water and, frankly, things looked pretty grim. However, an international rescue effort was mobilised and thanks to some impressive planning and some even more impressive bravery, a team of divers rescued the team, bringing the final boy safety a few hours before the water pumps holding the water back failed. It was so much like a film narrative that in the week after the rescue, it was announced that two film versions of the story were already in production.
Elon Musk is an odd man. There we’ve said it. We still don’t know if it’s brilliant or megalomanic to launch your sportscar into space on the top of a massive rocket; the car “piloted” by a dummy in white overalls and playing Space Oddity by David Bowie on the stereo. Actually, having written it down it’s clear that it’s definitely the sort of thing some crazed leader of a failing state would do if only he had the cash. But still, the photos were incredible and anything that raised our gaze from our navels to the stars for a few hours was probably a good thing.
It was a massive year for ROYAL NEWS! Meghan Markle arrived on the royal scene like an exotic gift from another world (which in a sense she was) and the papers nigh-on combusted with the excitement. Day after day they published pictures of MM: walking, waving, hand-holding, hugging, smiling and, to her credit, working with survivors of the Grenfell tragedy. They loved her. We loved her. Even the weather loved her as the sun beat down on her Windsor wedding to the Ginger Prince, made all the more memorable by the address by Bishop Michael Curry who punctured the po-faced, white, English mores stuffed into that ancient chapel by sending the word “love” tumbling out into the crowd. And goodness we could all have done with a a bit more of that as the year wore on.
Elsewhere, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge had their third child, with the Daily Mail deferentially bowing so low in its souvenir issue that its 36 PAGES OF COVERAGE were barely enough to contain the scale and depth of its fealty.
The Winter Olympics took place in South Korea and we all enjoyed a fortnight of people plummeting out of the sky onto hard surfaces in pursuit of a medal. Lizzie Yarnold became the most successful British Winter Olympian ever after winning a second gold medal in her sport of hurtling down an ice track head first on a piece of plastic. The world also had its first ever view of the terrifyingly smiley and synchronised Elite North Korean Cheerleading Squad who were bussed around the various venues to perform their all-too-perfect routines. It was like a scene from The Handmaid’s Tale but with more plot.
Talking of North Korea, Donald Trump met and had a coffee with Kim Jong-Un, which does seem like progress after spending so much of the previous year promising to erase the North Korean state from the face of the earth. Even in the run-up to the summit, Trump and Kim engaged in a war (of words, thankfully) about who had the biggest nuclear button. When the meeting did finally occur, there were some nice photos of the two leaders looking slightly baffled as they sat opposite each other and then KJU made some scarcely-believable promises about not building any more nuclear weapons and DJT nominated himself for the Nobel Peace Prize.
We’re not going to linger too long in this section; we’ve all lived it, we all know what’s gone wrong. But aside from the ongoing Netflix Original series that is the Trump presidency, 2018 will be remembered for the attempt by the Russian state (Hello Russia if you’re reading this) to execute Sergei and Yulia Skripal on the streets of Salisbury with a lethal cold-war-era nerve agent called Novichok. The attempt failed (although a residue of the poison did kill an innocent woman a few months later) but prompted a massive international furore and a worsening of already terrible relations between the UK and Russia. When the two Russian agents were revealed in CCTV pictures released by the UK, they appeared on Russian television and claimed to be tourists, in Salisbury to visit the “world-famous” cathedral spire.
The attack indirectly inspired the best headline of the year when a Russian attempt to sabotage the headquarters of the international chemical weapons watchdog in The Hague was bungled so badly that we don’t have time to list the specifics here. The Sun’s take on the story: The Novichokle Brothers – 10 / 10, unbeatable. (And rest in peace Barry Chuckle, who died in August).
Elsewhere, it snowed a LOT in February and, as ever in these moments, the UK completely shut down. Around the world, extreme weather events happened with increasing frequency, few more spectacularly than the savage wild fires in California that razed several communities to the ground.
So, Trump then. We’re not sure about you but we’re not minded to linger over the litany of chaos that continues to accompany the president’s every move but just for the record, this was the year that his personal lawyer was sent to prison for fraud; that his second nomination for the Supreme Court was accused of attempted rape; that he started a trade war with China; that he pulled out of the international agreement on Iran’s nuclear programme; that he visited the UK and (wisely perhaps) stayed out of the way of the thousands of people who assembled to show their antipathy . . . . and so on and so on (we’ve barely scratched the surface here). Let’s move on but before we do, let’s take a moment to remember that none of this is normal. Trump has not so much ripped up the rule book of accepted Presidential behaviour but exploded it in a blur of nuclear armaments.
Facebook has also had a very bad year. In February it was revealed that a company called Cambridge Analytica “harvested” millions of people’s data and then sold it to people wanting to influence such happy events as the 2016 US Election and the Brexit referendum. Mark Zuckerberg appeared in front of Congress and promised to do better. It’s hard to see how he could have done much worse.
There’s scarcely been a Friday this year when the Speed Read hasn’t been dominated by Brexit. Just as the papers have been dominated by Brexit. Just as our national consciousness has been dominated, cleaved and rendered incapable by Brexit. There’s far too much to deal with here but when the Brexit history books are written, 2018 will be a long chapter that politics students will attempt to skip. In attempt to help future scholars of the UK’s collapse into nonsense, here are the subheadings to this particular chronicle:
It’s been an extraordinary year. We’re living through a time for which there is no precedent; where the country seems irreconcilably divided and our politicians are flailing around in search of a seemingly-impossible solution that pleases everyone and in doing so are pleasing absolutely no one. We’re getting closer to leaving the EU with no deal, a situation that Jacob Rees-Mogg suggests will work out just fine while Mark Carney of the Bank of England warns could be near-catastrophic for our economy. Who do you believe?
What’s certain is that not since Christmas 1939 has it been less possible to predict what our country will be like twelve months hence. And that’s scary. It really is.
But let’s with the good stuff. The holiday approaches. A time to hunker down beneath a blanket of good food, good wine, good telly and the love of those closest to us. Surely our final Christmas as a member of the EU is a decent excuse for going in hard on the French red wine? (Well, that’ll be our excuse anyway).
And whatever next year brings, you can be sure of one thing: here at Speed, a company stuffed to the rafters with talented, kind and hard-working people, we’ll be ready.
The Friday Speed Read is published every Friday on the Speed website. It contains a wry summary of the week’s news, views and absurdities and is almost always too long.