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Speed Read – reading the news today, oh boy . .

Every week The Friday Speed Read continues to exist. Whether it should or not is, for the moment, a moot point because we’re although we’re safely locked down we’re still writing long paragraphs for you to enjoy as much as possible in the circumstances.

To quote the Beatles (who officially broke up 50 years ago today), “I read the news today, oh boy”. And as much as this is an almost irresistibly tempting jumping off point for a paragraph comprised of Beatles song titles (something for all our Gen Z readers to really get excited about) what I’m clumsily trying to say is that this week I returned to the media. After a three week near-famine, during which time I all but blocked up the news pipe, restricting myself to a 5 minute catch-up each day in order to ensure that the Speed Read wouldn’t blithely be banging on about cheese and 90s indie music while the word burned, these past few days I’ve taken the opposite approach and read as much coverage about the current crisis as my sanity would allow.

I’m not sure I feel any better for having done so. Knowledge may well be power, but it can also be debilitating when the knowledge is so relentlessly upsetting. Whether it be the continuing lack of proper protection for frontline NHS workers or a death-toll that daily ticks upward with nearly 1,000 people dying of Covid-19 in a single day on Wednesday, you don’t need to read widely at all before your stomach begins to clench. The daily press conferences don’t do much to reassure either, with the otherwise competent Prof Chris Whitty suggesting in Tuesday’s edition that the UK has a lot to learn from Germany’s testing of its population for the virus with the government’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance admitting that “the German curve looks lower at the moment . . . and I don’t have a clear answer to exactly what is the reason for that.” Not exactly the kind of news we wanted to hear.

Talking of which, whatever one’s political views, you also don’t want to hear that the leader of your country has been admitted to intensive care. Putting aside the overwrought reaction from all the predictable places (“He stayed at work for you, now pray at home for him” – The Sun), the fact that Boris Johnson was clearly seriously ill and therefore the country was leaderless in a time of catastrophe was nothing short of terrifying. No one of any decent character would wish illness on anyone else and both on a human and a political level it’s gladdening to hear better news about the Prime Minister’s heath this morning. One interesting side note to this story is the ever-brilliant Emily Maitlis’ monologue that opened the BBC’s Newsnight programme on Wednesday night. If you’ve not seen it then I recommend that you Google right NOW but in short, Maitlis countered all the various claims by senior Tories made (in good faith) about Johnson this week that he’d beat the virus because he has a fighting spirit: “you do not survive the illness through fortitude and strength of character,” she said. Maitlis then went on to also debunk the idea that the virus is a social leveller, saying instead that it is the poorer people in our society who are on the front line and, therefore, far more vulnerable. Anyway, it’s great. You should watch it. And I now love Emily Maitlis more than I thought possible.

Thursday’s papers have been dominated by the news that the UK lockdown is set to continue: “No end in sight”; “Get set for weeks more lockdown”; “Britain told to brace for weeks more in lockdown.” And so on. I’m in no position to do any kind of survey on this (except for asking the people in my house and frankly, they’re a little tired of me by now) but I don’t know anyone who is going to be surprised by this. One nugget of good news among the dirt this week has been the rate of new infections beginning to drop, suggesting that the restrictions under which we’re all living are starting to work and as such, it was fantasy to think that they’d be lifted now.

But you know what, that’s okay . . .  I mean it’s not okay, it’s a million miles from okay and it’s clear that many more people are going to die and many more people will struggle with grief and financial worries as well as the ongoing pressure of living a confined life. Calls to domestic abuse charities are up by some frightening amount and there was a piece by a nurse in the Guardian this week working on a Covid-19 ward that made me weep and that’s to say nothing of America and its President’s ongoing and deadly buffoonery – “hey, why not take this unproven drug that might just work against the virus despite my own my own science advisors saying that it could actually be dangerous”  . . .  sorry, I feel sick again.

But, despite all of the above (and I realise that as caveats go this one is on a planetary scale) there are reasons to be cheerful, there is cause for hope.  And so, inspired by my colleague and friend Julia, here is The Speed Read Guide To Stopping and Smelling the Roses:

  • Look up. That big orange thing in the sky is the sunshine (don’t look at it directly kids). Scientific fact: exposure to the sun boots your immune system. Get on it.

  • The lockdown is working. New infections are dropping. They are also dropping in France, Spain and lots of other places too. In Wuhan in China, movement restrictions have been lifted. Clearly they are several weeks ahead of where we are in the UK (and their lockdown was imposed by a one-party state which you know, helps) but we’ll get there too. We honestly will.

  • Easter is great. Whether you’re religious or not, it’s a festival of hope, of overcoming the impossible, of rebirth, of life finding a way. Plus, the weather is usually really nice and you get FOUR DAYS holiday (if you count the weekend itself) without eating into your leave allowance.

  • Chocolate. Enough said.

  • A new series of Killing Eve is released on Monday. Now, I’m firmly of the opinion that the second series was a massive disappointment after the brilliance of the first (other opinions are available) but you never know, the third may end of being the best yet. (caution: it won’t be).

  • Living in the present. We’re all living in the moment more than perhaps we’ve ever done; it’s hard to plan, it’s hard to look beyond the four walls of our houses. And as much as that can at times feel claustrophobic, it can also be brilliant as we find new ways to savour every moment of time passing by like a rare treat. Like Turkish Delight. Or a Twiglet.
  • This week, Thursday is basically Friday so tonight you can have two glasses of wine (at least). And some crisps.
  • And finally, inevitably . .  . Dear Prudence. Good Morning Good Morning. I wanna hold your hand but we have to Wait. It’s a Long A Winding Road but you don’t need to Carry that Weight, it’s definitely Getting Better. Here Comes the Sun. P.S. I love you.


Have a great, long weekend. See you next week.

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