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Speed Read – a letter to ourselves one year ago

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The Friday Speed Read

Every once and a while the Friday Speed Read takes a break from summarising the week’s biggest news stories and decides to strike out with something a bit different. Sometimes it works but you can’t win them all.

1st May 2020

1st May 2019

Dear Jim One Year Ago,

If you’re reading this then you’ll have found the envelope that I left on your bedside table, propped up between the three novels of which you’ve read the first chapter but haven’t got any further. You’re going to have to hasten past the fact that I’ve apparently found a way to make objects travel through time (I’ll show you at some point; it’s not that hard: turns out if you can wire a plug then it’s not much of a leap to altering the temporal laws of the universe) but I’ve got some things I need to tell you about. And it’s important.

I realise that as you’re reading this you’re sitting on a train to London in order to attend the Brand Film Awards in a hard-to-find (you’ll see) corner of South East London; Speed has been nominated for one of the films you made last year which is good news. Now, don’t think me awful if I tell you that you’re not going to win. And it’s going to be a bit of a dull day but you’ll have a great time in the evening with your pal K just as you always do.

Why would I give you a spoiler like this? Why would I reveal the future like some middle-aged Marty McFly? Easy. Because I want you to savour every single second of the day. Drink in every moment like a top-drawer Malbec. Look around the train carriage you’re sitting in; glance at the stranger sitting next to you even if they catch you doing so. When you’re on the Tube later, smile as a big-collared woman snarls as you accidentally step on her foot; during the awards, talk to more people than the three you’ll sit with; high five strangers with a confidence that I know you find difficult. At the pub later on, enjoy K’s company of course but also take a moment to look around the shabby interior stuffed with people not baulking at paying £6.90 a pint. You don’t realise how glorious it all is. You don’t realise how fragile.

As I write to you now the UK is in a dark place. And it’s nothing to do with Brexit. And I know this is going to sound fanciful to the extreme but I’ve not thought about Brexit for weeks. Yes really, but not for the reasons you’re hoping for. Jim, the truth is that the country, and indeed the world, is in the middle of a pandemic. I know you understand what this word means but I also know that you’ve never taken the time to consider what a pandemic would mean for everything that you take for granted. In truth, it’s pretty terrifying and I should warn you now that this letter is going to get pretty bleak for a few paragraphs.

A new strain of coronavirus called Covid-19 emerged from China at the start of the year and has quickly spread around the world. To begin with, you along with most other people didn’t think much about it and even made jokes referencing 80s soft drinks (you were particularly guilty of this); then everyone began washing their hands all of the time but it was still fairly light-hearted. Until the point it wasn’t. Countries began to be “locked down” – China first, then Europe: Italy, Spain, France. The UK lagged behind many of these but eventually, and time will tell if it was too late, we were told just after your birthday in mid-March to stay in our homes. We can now only leave the house for exercise and food shopping. As I write this, I’ve lost count of the number of weeks we’ve been in lockdown

At the daily Government briefing yesterday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson . . . oh yes, I should probably have told you that earlier shouldn’t I? But yes, Johnson is the PM and don’t pretend to be surprised because you knew it was inevitable at some point. Anyway, the PM announced that the UK death toll from Covid-19 currently stands at 26,771. In just days from now Covid-19 will have killed more UK citizens than the Blitz. And while I’m at it, I should probably also tell you that Johnson himself nearly died of the disease and this week his girlfriend gave birth to his son. Another one. And if all this sounds like the plot of a glossy but badly acted and shabbily-plotted Netflix production then you’re not the first to point this out. Not by a long way.

All the schools are closed, exams cancelled; most shops are closed; you have to stand in queues outside supermarkets keeping two metres away from anyone else; there are no pubs; you can’t go and visit your friends nor can you visit your family (and this really, really hurts); there’s no sport, not even football and as a Liverpool fan you’re going to have a bit of a rollercoaster of emotions in the coming year; frontline healthcare staff are dying of the virus and, although there has been some progress made, we’re some way off from finding a vaccine for this horror.

And Donald Trump? Well . . let’s just say you ain’t seen nothing yet.

It couldn’t be more serious.

But let me get to the point Jim. I can’t stop you being scared by all of this; I’ve been living in this new world for weeks now but I’m still terrified when I allow myself to think about it. But I want to reassure you that in the midst of so much that is strange and unsettling, there is also much that is positive. You’re still working: you meet with your colleagues online and you miss the office but the work you and the agency are doing has evolved to meet the new challenges; you’re talking to your friends more than you’ve done in years; you’re doing remote quizzes; sharing film recommendations; listening to so much wonderful music; you’re taking the time to cook; to exercise properly and to read. You’re locked down with your family and although there are challenges it’s wonderful to be facing these challenges together: your bond is stronger than ever before. Neighbours are helping each other out; Facebook has become useful; everyone claps and hits saucepans on their doorsteps every Thursday evening in support of the NHS; a hundred-year-old man called Captain Tom has become a national hero. I can’t wait for you to hear his story.

And outside, the air is cleaner. The cars are fewer. There are deer walking through the streets. Nature is loving this.

So, what I’m saying Jim is brace yourself. Covid-19 will challenge you in ways that you don’t yet know. 2020 will not be the year you thought you needed after the strain of 2019. It’s going to be really, really tough at times but please believe me when I tell you that you’ll be okay.  

By the time you reach May 1st 2020, I’m not sure what my world will be like. I’m hoping that it will be better than the world you know now. It’s certainly going to be different. But whatever it brings, I know the only way to deal with life is to live it. And that’s what I plan to do.

Love Jim

P.S. Your French road trip in summer 2019 will be the best holiday you’ve ever had

P.P.S. You’ve not heard of it, but I suggest you quickly invest big in a company called Zoom. You’ll thank me for it.

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