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Speed Read: Cummings and (not) goings

Every week The Friday Speed Read tests its eyesight before sitting down and composing a summary of the biggest stories of the past five days. How it conducts this test is a personal matter and we won’t explain or discuss it.

Zoom Quiz! How many songs can you name that allude to the fact that as I sit at my home desk looking out towards my garden it’s another very sunny morning? GO!  . . . “Beautiful Day” by U2; “It’s a Beautiful Day” by The Levellers; “Lovely Daaaaaaaaaay” by Bill Withers; “Here Comes the Sun” by The Beatles; “Lucky Day in Hell” by Eels .  . okay, not so much that last one which is more of bleak musing on self-loathing than a barbecue soundtrack although it is brightened by the line “waking up with an ugly face / Winston Churchill in drag”. Anyway, the point is that it’s been another week of fine, strong sunshine with wide blue skies unfettered by clouds or vapor trails. It’s been lovely.

And if you think that’s a weaker jumping off point for this week’s Speed Read than you’ve come to expect then you’d be correct, but in rare moment of preparation, I’d had a whole bit worked out based around the SpaceX rocket launch (the first manned spaceflight from the US for nearly a decade) on Wednesday. But then the launch was rained off (oh the irony) rendering my opening paragraph moot. So instead we’re going to have to talk about the weather (tick) and then we’re going to have to talk Dominic Cummings.

There can’t be many subjects in recent years that have united the front pages of The Daily Mail, The Guardian and The Daily Star. Harry Kane scoring goals at the World Cup maybe, but I’m struggling to think of anything else. The Daily Star is usually intent on ploughing its own very particular furrow – ghosts, seagulls, boobs, “snowflakes” being responsible for the decline of all that’s good and proper in our world etc but this week it very niftily joined in the widespread outrage at Dominic Cummings’ ‘unique’ method for testing his eyesight. Its Tuesday front page featured a cut-out mask of Mr Cummings (a “do what you want” mask) alongside a story about police telling people not to drive if they’re blind PLUS a photo of Steve Wonder behind the wheel of a car.

So that’s a right-wing title, a left-wing title and an utterly bonkers title all gunning for the same target (albeit unsuccessfully but more of that in a moment). From a media studies perspective at least, this makes an interesting case study but from a sociological view, it also shows (I think) that the Covid-19 pandemic has indeed seen a resurgence of a largely singular national view on several issues. Captain Tom = good. Clapping on doorsteps = good. Dominic Cummings = one rule for them, another for us.

I’ll spare you a recap of the details but let’s just say that Barnard Castle has never been Googled so frequently as it has been these past few days. The Prime Minister must have wished upon every star in the firmament that the story would dissipate in the haze of a sunny bank holiday weekend but in fact the opposite occurred and so on Monday, Mr Cummings himself was shoved in front of the media to “explain” his alleged lockdown breach. Sat behind a trestle table in the Downing Street garden, looking like a steward at the world’s worst jumble sale, the Prime Minister’s chief advisor gave his explanation for why he made the journey he did while the rest of the country was told to stay in their own homes. You’ll have your own opinions about his actions, you’ll have the own opinions about the man but ‘sorry’ does indeed seem to have been the hardest word.

Politics has changed. This debacle feels very 2020, or at least very post-2016. It wasn’t that long ago that the names of political advisors would be obscure even to those with a keen interest in politics (an exception perhaps being Alastair Campbell back in the days of Blair) but now everyone knows who Dominic Cummings is and what’s gained in transparency is definitely lost in accountability. What’s also changed is that in previous eras Cummings would have been sacked / asked to resign. No doubt about it. But now, (and forgive the use of this adjective) Trumpian rules apply: if you want to get your own way in politics you just go ahead and get your own way. You simply ignore all criticism, refuse to answer any questions and repeatedly say you want to “move on”. The Prime Minister employed this method very effectively this week and seems to have got his way. One final question remains: either Boris Johnson loves his chief advisor with a Romeo and Juliet level ferocity, or he simply can’t operate without him; either way, it’s a worry that one man holds such sway.

Talking of “moving on”, welcome to the Age of the Barbecue. That’s right, following the Prime Minister’s announcement on Thursday afternoon that people in England can now gather in gardens in groups up to 6, it’s now time to root around in the shed for half a bag of charcoal that you know is there somewhere and get ready to party! Except that you will have to maintain a two-metre distance from anyone not in your household and your guests are going to have to bring their own plates and pee in the bushes because they can’t use your loo. So, it’s going to be a bit odd (and I wonder once you chuck a few ciders into the mix, how resolutely people will stick to the two metre rule) but for many it’s clearly going to be significantly better than not seeing people at all. The Friday papers mostly celebrated: “It’s Happy Monday” (the Mail); “Can’t wait until we meet again” (The Express) and, pleasingly, “Form an orderly barbecue” (The Metro).

Despite the glorious weather forecast for the upcoming weekend, the rule change doesn’t apply until Monday at which point you know that the heavens are going to open and these warm sunny days will become just another memory of the seemingly-endless weeks of lockdown. As symbols of progress in battling the virus standing in a garden with friends eating a burnt sausage while being rained on and needing to go to loo lacks a certain poetry. But after everything, we’ll take it, my goodness we’ll take it.

Anyway, it’s been a long time since we ended with a song and so in tribute to my very good friend who has taken the whole day off work to listen to Lady Gaga’s new album which is released today. Click on the picture on some sausages below for some much-needed summer pop relief.

Not Lady Gaga

See you next week. Happy barbecuing (although not until Monday, obvs).

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