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Speed Read – Wallflowers and Domestos

Every Friday, the Speed Read begins with the very best intentions to be pithy, brief and fleet of paragraph. At the time of writing this remains an aspiration rather than a reality and we’re not even sorry.

How are we all today? It’s a rhetorical question of course, unless you’re keen to email me with an update on your physical and mental health which, now I think of it, would be a fairly decent distraction from my own yo-yoing moods. There have been moments in the past week where I was on the cusp of crowning myself ‘King of Lockdown’ as a I sat beneath the warm Westcountry sun in my pocket square of a garden, eating homemade pizza and admiring the multi-coloured sweep of wallflowers that line one of my walls. (Horticulture tip: turns out that WALLflowers grow best along WALLS – who knew?). But then at other moments, especially when in proximity to the news, I’ve found myself plummeting again: despite so much discussion in the past week about how we emerge from lockdown the only consensus seems to be that ‘things will never be the same again’. Which is the kind of cliché that in normal times would have subeditors reaching for their blue pencil faster than a thing so quick I don’t have time to render it in words but now, well, it’s just sounds like a reasonable prediction.

Problem is, I quite liked things the way they were. I know ‘things’ were a very long way from perfect and maybe this is now the chance we needed to start again in all sorts of areas as we forge a new, better world based on sensible ecology, benign economics and restructured communities. But it’s still scary. And I don’t think we’ve even begun to grieve for what we have lost. Many people haven’t yet realised that we’ve lost it. And so yes, sometimes I am sad.

But I’ve got it good. I still have a job. My family is safe. There’s a beach at the end of our road upon which we can take our daily exercise in perfect compliance with social distancing rules. I’m also not working on the front line of medical or social care and you only need glance at the nightly news to understand the incredible sacrifices that incredible people are making every single minute of the day to care for the sick and dying. It’s utterly humbling. Clapping at 8pm on a Thursday doesn’t come close to what we should be doing for them, but I guess it’s something.

Well, that was supposed to be a short, pithy introduction and it seems to have spilled into 400 words. That’s the thing about spending long periods in the same place: time begins to wrap around itself, morphing and dividing like a lava lamp during the Great Lava Lamp Revival of the mid-90s. What is long is short, what’s short is long and I really need to get on with the next topic. Which is DONALD TRUMP.

I absolutely realise that reality has rendered Trump-based satire as inert as (quick Google) purified Argon and to lob arch remarks in his direction is as easy as shooting fish in a barrel (Shooting Fish is an average film from Kate Beckinsale and a young Peter Capaldi and has no relevance here aside from the fact that I’ve just remembered it). However, we simply can’t ignore the fact that yesterday the President of the United States mused that injecting disinfectant may be good way of treating Covid-19.

I am going to quote directly now: “And then I see the disinfectant where it knocks it out in a minute. One minute. And is there a way we can do something like that, by injection inside or almost a cleaning? So it’d be interesting to check that.”

By the same logic, drink rocket fuel to run faster; block dental cavities with cement and heat your home by refining Plutonium on your coffee table . . . . .  CAPS LOCK IS THE ONLY REASONABLE WAY TO RESPOND TO THIS IDIOCY. Caps Lock and a profound sense that Trump is catastrophically the wrong person to be in charge of the world’s single superpower at this time of unprecedented horror. You know this. I know this. But millions of people will vote for him in November regardless. I just can’t . . .

Diametrically opposite to the Trump “hey, what not try bleach?” school of quackery, real scientists, amazing scientists all over the world are collaborating like never before to find a vaccine for coronavirus. Incredibly, human trials of potential vaccines have commenced in several countries, UK included, this week compressing a process that usually spans years into a handful of weeks. There’s clearly a need for both caution and realism in terms of when an effective vaccine will emerge let alone be administered to nearly 8 billion people around the world however, it’s certainly encouraging. You can understand why Wednesday’s front pages were keen to talk it up: “Hope as human vaccine trials begin” – The Express, amongst others.

Elsewhere this week, the government continued to flail. With the PM not due back at work until Monday, his deputies tried to swat away multiple stories about multiple procurement failures, limited testing and the much bigger question of why the UK death rate is so high compared to somewhere like Germany. On Wednesday, new Labour leader Keir Starmer eviscerated Dominic Raab at PMQs with the deftness of a Japanese sushi chef; it was such a ruthless act that one almost felt sorry for Raab. You don’t become head of the Crown Prosecution Service without being very, very good at interrogating an argument and whatever your politics the fact that Starmer will hold the government to account in such a highly competent fashion is very healthy indeed.

In other encouraging news, there’s a growing consensus that the virus peaked in the UK on April 8th and so we’re now waiting to see how steep (hopefully very steep) the declining curve will be in infection and death rates. There’s been proper, reasonable discussion (in Scotland at least) about how we begin to emerge from the lockdown (caveat – pubs and hairdressers won’t be open for a very long time yet) but also protect against a second infection wave and, well, the sun’s been shining. Which has been lovely.

We’re getting there.

So to finish, an entirely unsolicited list of things to watch during the continuing lockdown. No one’s really interested in what I think so please feel free to walk away at this point but for what it’s worth here’s: THE FRIDAY SPEED WATCH – USA EDITION (which fails as a title on multiple levels).

  1. Parks and Recreation (Amazon Prime)

My friend Jimmy said that this was the best sit com of all time. For several years I ignored Jimmy. Turns out Jimmy was right. It’s utterly, utterly glorious. The first series takes a few episodes to find its feet but then it soars. Ron Swanson is my new god.

  • Devs (BBC iPlayer)   

Not just because it features an evil Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman) but because it’s slow and smart and intriguing. Caveat – I’ve only watched two episodes far and I fell asleep during the first of them BUT I really, really like, it. Cerebral Sci-fi (which is also my new band).

  • The Mandalorian (Disney Plus)

Unlike the most recent film in which they were clearly making it up as they went along, this is deliberate, brooding and tense. While still being Star Wars. But good Star Wars.

  • Love (Netflix)

Now long banished from Netflix’s front pages, Love is a, er love story with a brain. Get through the first episode which only makes sense at its conclusion and you’re in for a treat. Especially if you like swearing.

  • The Big Sick (Amazon Prime)

I meant to watch this when it came out but I didn’t. I watched it the other day and it’s outstanding. It lulls you into thinking that it’s just another rom com before then adroitly becoming something more profound. While still making you laugh. Hat tip to Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon for a deft piece of screenwriting.

  • The West Wing (borrow the DVDs from me)

A story about a fictional Democratic president making good-hearted decisions in a near-impossible job. “Two Cathedrals” from Series 2 is one of the finest pieces of television ever made. The West Wing should be available on prescription and no, I’m not exaggerating.

Oh blimmin’ heck, look at the time. I have to go. Take care of yourselves, stay safe and see you next week.

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