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Speed Read: Gin-soaked and loose-tongued in the dead of a Brussels night

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The Friday Speed Read

Every week, The Friday Speed Read is prescribed by GPs up and down the land to anyone in need of a news injection (but is afraid of needles) as long as they’ve booked an appointment three months in advance. If you’ve not booked then try calling  your surgery at 8am but you probably won’t get  through. 

We’ve all been there. It’s late and after the long, prickly day you’ve just about survived you should be slumped in the back of a taxi, sullenly flicking through the Instagram stories of people you used to fancy but who now just make you a little bilious at the sight of their near-perfect lives. Problem is, you’re not in a taxi are you? You’re not on a night bus nor, having decided to walk, are you striding the gum-flecked pavements towards home with the greatest hits of The Wonder Stuff filling your ears and soothing your brain. Where are you? You’re in a hotel bar. You’ve inhaled two packets of dry-roasted peanuts and, in double-quick time, you’re on your third double gin. Your head is spinning and your tongue is loose. At a volume that, in sobriety, you save for shouting at the more witless contestants on Pointless you’re firing off verbal salvos, happy like a warm-gunned Republican.

And where’s the harm in that? What’s the likely damage of a chatty night on the sauce? Well, for a start your name is Olly Robbins and you’re a senior Brexit negotiator for HM Government. And you’re not in Chiswick anymore, you’re in Brussels and that bloke in the corner who you mistook for a member of the waiting staff actually works for ITV. Not as a waiter. But as a journalist. And when, now four gins in, you start banging on about TM the PM’s secret plan to wait as long as possible in order to force MPs into choosing either her deal or a long extension to Article 50 (i.e. Brexit delayed) then your words might, just might come back to haunt you in the thin grey of the forthcoming Belgian morning.

But we’re not going to talk about Brexit. Not talking about Brexit is the new talking about Brexit.

Fans of the apocalypse had a great start to the week, with widespread reports about “plummeting” numbers amongst the planet’s insect population. Climate change, pollution and intensive farming have all been cited as contributory factors but, whatever the reason, scientists have been quick to point out that humanity doesn’t live as an isolated, insulated part of the animal kingdom and the collapse of the insect numbers will only hasten our own demise. Fair play then to the many thousands of UK school children who today are walking out of lessons to protest at the government’s ineffective attempts at tackling climate change. Despite some grumblings from the usual grumblers that such actions are not only pointless but self-defeating, the young people involved seem to have different ideas. As one school-striker said on the radio this morning: “nothing was ever changed by people doing nothing”. Simplistic perhaps. But also, you know, correct.

On Wednesday, there was universal sadness at the death of Gordon Banks, England’s goalkeeper during its as-yet singular World Cup victory in 1966. By all accounts a gentle, kind man, his life was celebrated in a series of front pages: “The Hero Who Could Fly” said the Mirror, alongside a photograph of the save he made in the 1970 World Cup against Brazil (and reckoned by many to be the greatest save of all time); “He had the whole world in his hands” said The Sun with a photo of a grinning Banks holding the Jules Rimet trophy and looking like a moment captured from a different age altogether. Which of course it was. Rest in Peace Mr Banks.

On Thursday night, TM the PM had better things to do than show up to Parliament to witness another defeat for her current tactic of banging on the windows of the EU pleading for concessions on the Irish backstop while inside the EU negotiating team sip good wine, compare summer holiday plans and turn up the Sonos to disguise that annoying tapping sound that no one can quite identify. This new defeat was inflicted in large-part by the decision by those fun-loving hipsters of the European Research Group to abstain from voting, sensing that a pin-striped future of a No Deal Brexit is within their grasp. Some papers this morning reckon that No Deal is now even more likely; others take the contrary view, suggesting that the non-double-breasted majority of MPs will now force “No Deal” off the table via an amendment to be voted upon on February 28th.

But we’re not talking about Brexit. There is nothing more to say about Brexit. What is “Brexit”?

On Thursday, The Times broke the biggest story of the week with an interview with one of the three schoolgirls from Bethnal Green who run away aged 15 in 2015 to join Islamic State. Now 9 months pregnant, Shamima Begum wants to return to the UK following the death of her two previous children; she says she has “no regrets” but “would like to come home”. It was a great piece of journalism from The Times, one that’s provoked a range of responses as predictable as they are diverse: “No regrets, no remorse, no entry”, said the Sun, taking a position seemingly shared by the Home Secretary.

A quick equine-flu-free gallop through other news this week finds Harry Potter making headlines for all the wrong reasons as it was reported that inmates at HMP Nottingham have been smoking pages of the trillion-selling novels that have been covered in a “psychoactive substance”. Yes, it’s true; this is a Sirius story (apologies). Elsewhere, The Sun celebrated Valentines Day by reflecting on the troubled marriage of Wayne Rooney via the gift of doggerel verse (Google it if you must, life’s too short to type it out);  life’s peak happiness was revealed to arrive at the ages of 17 and 70 and The Daily Star on Tuesday was preoccupied by a “Jesus ID riddle” but by Wednesday was distracted by Katy Perry’s “racist” shoes.

Finally, spare a thought for the entrepreneurs behind “Sausage World”, a North Yorkshire attraction dedicated to all things sausagey, plans for which have been shelved after the EU withdrew its promised funding. Head of Marketing James Keeble is scratching his head: “We weren’t given a reason for the decision but we THINK these funds have stopped because we’re not going to be part of the EU anymore”.

Welcome to the future. Not that we’re talking about Brexit.

No time for Trump News (so best declare a State of Emergency) and we know we’ve posted lots of their videos previously but if Bad Lip Reading’s version of the recent State of the Union address isn’t the funniest thing you watch today then we can’t be friends anymore.

Have a great weekend.

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