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Speed Read: The Barmaid’s Reckoning

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The Friday Speed Read

Every week The Friday Speed Read is forced by the Supreme Court to compile a summary of the biggest news stories and then write them up in roughly 1000 words which are then published on the website of Speed Communications. All of which begs the question, who is REALLY running the country? 

It’s been a quiet week hasn’t it? Very little to report really . . . just flicking through our Snoopy notebook here trying to find something of interest to justify the 1000 or so words that are lined up and primed for your entertainment and edification; um . . . oh yes, a woman in Sunderland returned from holiday in the Algarve to find she’d left a bottle of milk half opened in the fridge, the liquid inside was a thick yellow colour but she tipped it out into the garden and then washed the bottle and all was fine; two friends were pipped into second place in the weekly quiz at the Old White Lie and Fiction pub in Ynysybwl after confidently (and incorrectly) answering that John Lennon’s middle name was “Joanne” (it was Winston); a man in Godmanchester was so revved up by the final episode in the series of Peaky Blinders that he donned a tweed cap, and vowed to spend all of Monday at work walking around in slow motion while glumly smoking a cigarette, a plan later scuppered by his boss who said that an NHS operating theatre was no place for tweed  . . . oh yes, eleven judges in the Supreme Court ruled that a serving Prime Minister had illegally prorogued parliament and misled the Queen in order to do it. No biggie.

No that’s wrong. It’s definitely a biggie. A really big biggie. Perhaps the biggest of constitutional biggies since, well, pick your own analogy, the point is it’s BIG. So big in fact that we’re going to have to be another two coffees into the morning before making an illegally high rugby tackle on the subject so for a paragraph or two let’s wander elsewhere.

There was no wandering for customers of Thomas Cook after the company went bust in the early hours of Monday morning. Some 165,000 people (one of them was called Thomas Cook much to the newspapers’ delight) were left in holiday resorts around the world with no means to get home apart from walking and it’s a pretty long way from Skiathos to Chipping Sodbury (which, coincidentally, is also the name of our autobiography) and there’s a fair amount of water in the way. However, the demise of the venerable (and as it turned out, vulnerable) travel firm had been, to an extent, expected and the Civil Aviation Authority had put in place a plan to bring all the customers home. And hats tipped to the CAA because the plan worked an absolutely treat (with a few minor exceptions) and the biggest peacetime repatriation in UK history  looks like it will be a (expensive) success. Tuesday’s papers carried stories about the huge bonuses that Thomas Cook’s “fat cat” (and this was a text book use of the phrase) bosses were paid despite being patently rubbish at running Thomas Cook – “Thomas Cook fat cats had creamed off £47M” (The Mail). No one was surprised.

The Labour Party conference took place in the trenches of Brighton with battles still raging amongst members, MPs and supporters about what the party’s position on Brexit might be. Thankfully 2017’s Jeremy Corbyn was on hand to deliver clarity like a chef skimming foamy proteins from the surface of melted butter; The Labour Party’s position on Brexit was actually very simple, Jez reassured us, and it was this: x: 5x^2 – 34x + 24 = 0 and let that be an end to it.

In saner times the shenanigans at the Labour Party conference would have received far greater attention, after all, policies such as abolishing private schools and renationalising the rail, water and postal industries are hardly low-key or without controversy BUT (and you know what’s coming here), on Tuesday morning a 74 year-old woman wearing a large broach in she shape of a spider made an announcement. And all hell broke loose.

Lady Hale, or to give her full title, Brenda Marjorie Hale, Baroness Hale of Richmond DBE, PC and President of the Supreme Court (unless you read the Daily Mail which won’t stop telling you that she’s an “ex-barmaid” as if this somehow reduces the validity of her judgements) blew every other story well-clear of the news agenda when she reported that a football team’s worth of judges had ruled that the Prime Minister had acted illegally when proroguing parliament. Johnson himself was in New York at the UN and after making a terrible speech that we’ve not got the space or desire to reflect on here, flew back, as the Times put it, “to chaos”. Other newspapers reacted in exactly the way you’d expect them to react: “He misled the Queen, the people and parliament” (The Guardian); “Unlawful? What’s lawful about denying 17.4m people Brexit?” (The Express, conflating two separate points because it can) while the art department at the Mirror had a fun morning with its gallery of shortest-serving PMs in history alongside the headline – “There’s a special place in history waiting for you Prime Minister”.

And so parliament returned on Wednesday because legally there had been no prorogation and MPs from both sides of the argument set about the task of screaming at each other for several inglorious hours. Boris Johnson, knackered, humiliated (except in his own eyes) had clearly decided that the best form of defence was wild-eyed attack and stood at the dispatch box, his body stiff with rage, arms flailing, as he batted away demands for an apology like a school boy on the cricket fields of Eton fending off bouncers. The air was thick with hate and the language was the language of war: traitor, surrender, betrayal and following the hoarse-throated condemnation of such vocabulary by Labour MP Paul Sherriff, including worries about the safety of MPs in, Johnson barked that he’d “never heard so much humbug” in his life and that the best way to honour murdered MP Jo Cox was to deliver Brexit.

If there was any sound in space then you’d have heard the noise from the chamber on the moon; The Times’ front page on Thursday observed that “Commons hits boiling point” but this doesn’t come close; it had gone far beyond boiling point and was now rapidly evaporating, leaving only a residue of dense, toxic sludge with a half-life of decades.

Elsewhere in the world, the Democrats launched an impeachment inquiry into President Trump in the light of claims that he urged the Ukrainian president to nobble (technical term) Joe Biden; Greta Thunberg gave an extraordinary speech to the UN in which she called out politicians for their inaction in talking the climate emergency and the fact that both of these stories are relegated to a rushed final paragraph tells you everything about where we are in the UK right now.

Last weekend, the Mercury Music Prize was won by Dave (not Cameron). Listen to his track Funky Friday by clicking on the picture of a £14 Kit Kat that Nestle want to see you this Christmastide.

We hope your Friday is indeed funky and that your weekend is funkier still.

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