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Speed Read – the Yahtzee renaissance and other positives

Every Friday, The Speed Read is wrestled into existence to bring you the week’s biggest news stories in a readable and distracting way. Occasionally it succeeds in fulfilling this remit.

Mice have facial expressions. There I’ve said it. And not just the two that you might imagine “hungry mouse” and “Mickey mouse” but according to researchers at The University of Rodentry and Twitchy-nosed Science (actually The Max Planck Institute of Neurobiology) mice have a palette of six basic “mousemotions” (my term) which is a full five more than I have most mornings when going against all good sense opening the BBC News homepage. It’s grim isn’t it? And I’m not just talking about my face, which is beginning to take on a pallor of a minor character in a Dostoevsky novel, but the news itself. And I realise that this is hardly a revelation and I also realise that, once again, you’re unlikely to embark on a thousand-word journey around headlines attesting to just how horrible everything is right now BUT I’m going to do my best to provide some light among the darkness and if that means opening with an inconsequential story about mice then I’m just going to go ahead and do it. In fact, I’ve done it. It’s already done. Move on.

That said, I am first going to toss around a few words about how quickly we’ve adapted to the new (and temporary, let’s not forget that) reality that has been thrust upon us these past three weeks. Just this morning I spent half an hour in a perfectly socially-distanced queue outside a local shop; the shop itself was admitting only four people at any one time and they were literally timing each customer with stop watches to ensure we didn’t exceed a maximum of ten minutes in the shop, a policy introduced to reduce the size of the queue outside. At no point in this process did I think that any of this was outlandish or unreasonable. Quite the opposite in fact, it felt normal. So normal in fact I allowed myself a few moments to enjoy the spring sunshine that was dappling my fictional C19th Russian complexion.

And then, shopping successfully completed, as I was scuttling back to the relative sanctuary of my house, I passed Steve from up the road sporting a pair of yellow rubber gloves, a purple bandana as if he provided the catering for Bon Jovi in 1987 and a full DIY dusk mask with some sort of tube and filter arrangement that looked more complex than I’d be able to cope with. And what did I think when presented with the sight? Absolutely nothing. I just lifted my hand and said “Steve” in that way that British men do when acknowledging an acquaintance. “Jim”, came the reply, and then Steve moved on.  And let me clear, thinking about it now, Steve looked utterly, utterly absurd but there you go, the extraordinary has become banal; the unprecedented has become, for now, a footnote and whereas once there would have been analysis, commentary and social-media outcry about the madness of the word, there’s now just a list of things we have to do to get through the day. And if we reach bed feeling not utterly wretched, exhausted and scared then the day will have been a good one.

Back in the actual world rather than the world of my head, it’s been, as you know, a pretty bleak week. As predicted, the number of deaths from Covid-19 has increased, if not exponentially, but quicker than anyone would like. When the government says that keeping deaths below 20,000 would be a “good result” then things are indeed as bad as everyone feared they might be. There’s all manner of competing theories as to what exactly is happening with infection rates: some say that the speed of infection is slowing whereas others say that we’re in a worse position than Spain was at the same point in the outbreak and things there are really bad; a report this morning suggests that the virus has been in the UK longer than previously thought which means that deaths may hasten further before the, hopefully, ameliorative impact of the lockdown are felt. To be honest, it’s a wormhole you’d probably do well to avoid and instead just focus your attention on yourselves and those around you. Hold on. We’ll get there.

In another measure of how the world has been upended, the most vocal critics of the government’s failure to increase testing capacity for NHS and other frontline workers, have been found in the right wing press. When the Daily Mail calls the lack of action by a Tory government “unforgivable” then you can be sure we’re in a new reality. “500,000” NHS staff. Only 2,000 tested” said its Thursday front page, in a sentiment echoed by all papers, including the usually Boris-worshipping Telegraph. Clearly, there’s a massive problem and it was left to Health Secretary Matt Hancock to squirm behind the dais on Thursday afternoon and promise that there will be 100,000 tests carried out daily by the end of the month. Let’s hope he’s right.

Meanwhile, the news is filled with photos of the NHS staff who have died after contracting Covid-19. Hancock said on Question Time last night (in comments that he would certainly rephrase given the chance) that “four doctors have died and some nurses”. This provoked a chilling response by fellow panellist Donna Kinnair from the Royal College of Nursing who said “they’re not even counting the nurses.”

At 8 o clock last night, millions of people emerged from their houses for a second week running to express their support for the NHS. Their courage is surely never going to be forgotten.

Anyway, I’ve just scratched the surface of recent developments and by the time you read this then there will have been more so I think, with your blessing, I’m going to move towards a more positive tone that I promised in the opening paragraph as I nudge the outer fringes of the word count. And so, with no recourse to asking anyone apart from myself about their views on the matter, here’s a social-media friendly list:

Some Things that are better in lockdown

  1. Exercise. When the government only gives you an hour, you make use of the hour. When we (I say “we” as if I’m not talking about myself!) had all the time we wanted in order to exercise, we tended to choose cheese. Conclusion: freedom is wasted on the free.

  2. Yahtzee. (substitute your own equivalent if you like). I’d forgotten just how TENSE rolling five dice three times can be. What a game! It’s a metaphor for LIFE ITSELF and I’ve definitely not been thinking too much about it. Definitely.

  3. Cooking. More time to cook means better, more outlandish dishes. My wife cooked a leek and chorizo quiche on Wednesday. Sounded odd on paper. Tasted extraordinary.

  4. My social life. I’ve never talked so often to my friends. In fact last weekend, my list of calls grew so long I had to pretend that our broadband had stopped working just to have time to go to the loo.

  5. Little stuff. A tulip coming into flower. A joke shared electronically by a colleague. A first sip of Friday cider. All very small. All now very big impact. Not quite seeing the world in a grain of sand but pretty close.

Right, that’s your lot. As ever, take care of yourself and each other and I hope you can find ways of making the weekend feel like a weekend. For me, there will be jigsaws and it will be wild.

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