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Speed Read: I’ll do anything for Xanthoparmelia scabrosa but I won’t do that

Every week, The Friday Speed Read climbs into a barrel and is pushed by an assistant over the waterfall of the biggest news stories of the past five days before then reporting back to a small crowd of perplexed onlookers who were really just there for a nice walk in the countryside. 

After two blissful weeks spent beneath the warm sun of the European Union, having whiled away the long, languorous hours via a Sisyphean attempt to make a dent in France’s reserves of excellent cheese (result: a valiant and slightly gassy failure), the rear door of The Friday Speed Read’s Ryanair return flight has been thrown open and it’s time to squint through the lashing winds and hectoring rains in attempt to see what we’ve missed . . . .

*turns around, barrels down the fuselage and, on bended knee, begs the pilot to take us anywhere, anywhere but here*

But no, stop it. That’s just the sort of lazy, gloom-sodden mithering that has no place in the New Johnson Era (NJE). It’s time to end the pessimism and start backing Britain as we skip through the rain towards a no deal exit from the dastardly EU and a future that’s going to be so damn incredible that even the considerable might of the English language lacks the resources to adequately describe it.

Everything is going to be okay. Everything. Just keep smiling.

So, how do you want to do this? Shall we get the Brexit stuff out of the way now? Or shall we save it for a treat at the end of this week’s column? Yeah, not even a question is it? Right, we’ll try to rattle through it then. As you know, due to some hideous malfunction in all of our realities, Boris Johnson is currently Prime Minister and he’s VERY KEEN to “deliver” Brexit by the 31st of October, not least for the fact that if he doesn’t then Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party is likely to all but wipe out the Conservative Party at a subsequent general election. And that would be terrible. Clearly.

The Prime Minister’s main (and only) tactic seems to be telling the EU that it really must remove the Irish backstop from the withdrawal agreement even though the EU has said multiple times that this isn’t going to happen. Therefore, it’s all the EU’s fault that the Pound is crashing and that we’re going to leave the EU in the least orderly and most destructive way possible. Meanwhile, Johnson and his Cabinet have all had “B-R-E-X-I-T” tattooed on their knuckles (with the two final spaces taken up with the heart and aubergine emojis) and are spoiling for a fight with anyone who thinks, however they voted in the referendum, that it shouldn’t have ended up like this.

But who is this coming over the hill? Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s a collation of Remainer and anti-no-deal MPs led by a slight man with a greying beard. It’s the Average-engers, here to oust Johnson and prevent No Deal via a vote of no confidence and an interim government: “Corbyn’s Number 10 coup” (The Mail); “Corbyn in bid to oust Johnson over Brexit” (Telegraph); “Corbyn urges opposition leaders and Tory rebels to help oust PM” (Guardian). Whether or not this new team of superheroes succeeds in their attempt will be documented via this column in the coming weeks (and you’ve got to think that it’s fairly unlikely) but in the meantime we can enjoy two linguistic flourishes that have emerged from the week’s chaos.

One – a welcome return to the front pages for the word “oust”. Rescued from domestic obscurity, it’s good to see this relic of Anglo-Norman French back in the common parlance.

Two – the phrase “Meatloaf Remainers” to describe Lib Dem MPs who’d “do anything” to stop a No Deal Brexit but “won’t do that” – i.e. support Corbyn as an interim PM. Okay, it loses something in the explanation but in a time of comic scarcity, we’ll take our laughs wherever we can, no matter how contrived.

Elsewhere in the NJE, things have (also) been a bit grim. Friday’s front pages are filled with the story of the murder of a Newcastle solicitor by a group of children (the eldest being 17) with a screwdriver and in Malaysia the body of missing schoolgirl Nora Quorin was found. She’d apparently starved to death wandering lost around the forest. Different stories, different contexts but both share an ability to place that feeling of sadness in your stomach that’s difficult to shake.

While acknowledging the unfortunate juxtaposition with the above, the former Meghan Markle has had another rubbish week. Now, it’s going to be a little hard to muster much sympathy for the wife of a member the Royal Family but after taking a kicking from right-wing types over her guest-editing of Vogue last week (? – maybe the week before, we’re a little cheese-hazy) The Duchess of Sussex (and her husband) was the subject of a spiteful and small-cocked attack from Nigel Farage via a speech in Australia. Then on Thursday, The Sun used its front page to denounce the royal couple as “Heir Heads” for taking a holiday on a private jet while continuing to speak out about climate change. Which is, you know, fair enough but we do wonder how much of this sudden Meghan-baiting is a genuine attempt to hold privilege to account and how much speaks of a shifting orthodoxy in which “liberalism” is as dirty a word for some as “Farage” is for others.

A quick rifle through the discarded wrappers of other news this week finds calls for hands-free mobile conversations to be made illegal while driving; Millennials are being financially ruined by a packed roster of hen-dos, stag-dos and weddings (with some being forced, apparently, to sell their possessions in order to fund their celebration of other people’s nuptials); train fares are to rise again; a woman won big after popping to the shop for cat food and a lottery scratch card (“£1M in the kitty” – The Mirror, in a typically August-ish front page) and an analysis of Bronze Age poo found near Peterborough revealed that the average East Anglian resident 3000 years ago lived on a diet of raw frogs that gave him / her kidney worms of up to a meter long.

And Donald Trump wants to buy Greenland from the Danish.

Finally, in comfortably the week’s most eccentric story, men in New Zealand are being warned not to eat what’s been called “sexy pavement lichen” (Xanthoparmelia scabrosa) following reports that it has Viagra-like properties. While acknowledging that the lichen can have a mild, stimulating effect “downstairs”, the fact that it’s likely to be tainted with exhaust fumes, arsenic and dog faeces means that the bedroom doors of any potential lovers are likely to remain shut. And there’s nothing that erotic about being in hospital.

That said, Sexy Pavement Lichen is a great name for a band and while we go and record our first single please enjoy this song by awkward indie legends Belle and Sebastian about a woman who licks railings. Genuinely.

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