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The Friday Speed Read
Every Friday, The Speed Read scans the shelves for strong white flour in order to bake a loaf of the week’s biggest stories. In these trying times, it’s often forced to use a substitute – this week: semolina. Yum.
Last night I dreamed of Kate Bush. Actually, that’s not completely true. It was the night before last that I dreamed of Kate Bush but “Last night I dreamed of Kate Bush” has such a pleasing metre that I’m choosing poetry over strict facts, much like Donald Trump. Anyway, it’s been noted many times during the past couple of months that people are dreaming more than they did before all of “this” began. A quick survey of myself and the two other people I live with suggests that this may well be true. It’s certainly true for me. My dreams are not all that interesting and I’m certain they’re not prophetic, but they are lucid and, for the first time in my life, I remember them. So yes, I dreamed of Kate Bush. Kate was standing in our unfinished kitchen (the renovation project postponed indefinitely in the middle of March) and rather disappointingly when you consider the dancing she gifted us in the videos she made during her 1980s pomp, Kate was unpacking the dishwasher. And she opened the French doors and left. How do you like them apples Dr Freud?
The next morning, and bear with me on this, I came downstairs to said kitchen to find that Kate Bush hadn’t emptied the dishwasher (gee, thanks Kate) but in thrall to my dream I popped in my headphones, went outside to embark on the next round of my daily war against the gastropods intent on destroying my garden and asked Siri to play some Kate. But, in a sure sign that Siri is a MASSIVE misogynist, he/she/it chose to play “Don’t Give Up” by Peter Gabriel, in which Kate Bush is on duet duties. If you don’t know the song then you may want to play it now for any of this to have been worth your time.
The song floored me. Something about Gabriel’s husky tones (like a blanket but made of iron filings), sodden with sadness as he tells of a life falling apart. But then Kate arrives; her voice rich and wise: “don’t give up, you still have friends / don’t give up, you’re not beaten yet . . . “ It’s absolutely beautiful. Almost too much so. I sat down on the small bench in the garden and cried. It had been a tough week, in a tough month in an unbelievably tough year. And Kate telling me that “it will be alright” was enough to both calm me but also break the seal on some much-needed tears. And it felt really good.
As a British middle-aged man, my mental health policy has largely been “well, just get on with it.” This was almost bred into to me as it was bred into hundreds of thousands of my generation; that blend of Victorian work ethics and wartime stoicism that seems to make a lot of sense until such a point when you’re really tested and then it’s largely useless. Thankfully, Speed has always been a huge advocate of progressive mental health in the workplace and we have an internal team who are responsible for making sure we’re all okay. I’m going to suggest Kate Bush is added to our list of wellness activities.
Anyway, away from the world of my garden and the inside of my head (isn’t it odd how all of our horizons have become so much narrower of late?) this week saw the first few tweaks to the lockdown restrictions, in England at least. Before the bank holiday, some of the papers had been whipping readers into a frenzy of expectation that Boris Johnson was going to remove the padlock and chain and send us all charging back to the pub to kiss strangers. Well, odd is it may seem that anyone would think that, the changes were minimal. Which of course you know as Johnson’s Sunday evening speech was watched by 27.5 million people, among the highest viewing figures in history. Given the response, it’s possible that the PM may have wished more people had been watching Netflix instead. The “stay alert and go back to work but stay at home” speech will have its place its history no doubt but not for the reasons that the government would have wanted. If you’re one of the few who didn’t see Matt Lucas’s response via Twitter, well here you go.
But progress is progress and whatever you think of the government’s handling of the Covid-19 crisis are we wrong to look for the good news among the carnage? I don’t think so. I am also trying VERY hard not to be cynical about the fact that you can now have a cleaner come back to your house (or play golf) but you still can’t go and visit your loved ones. This seems, how shall I put it, slightly off? Although I suppose for the most part, people don’t kiss their cleaners. But that’s another story.
Future Prime Minister Rishi Sunak (place your bets now) brought relief to many this week with an extension to the furlough scheme. It’s going to cost an incredibly large amount of money but it will mean that in the short term at least, millions of workers aren’t going to spend every waking hour worrying about paying rents and mortgages. In extraordinary times, the most extraordinary thing of all is perhaps the fact that the government (and a Conservative one too) is essentially employing a large percentage of the workforce. And thank goodness they are.
But let’s not forget that people are still dying daily from Covid-19, that the UK has the worst death toll in Europe and that the situation in care homes is still dire BUT, as I sit here on a Friday morning and mindful of the excellent advice to “be kind to yourself” I’m going to allow myself a bit of hope. The papers this morning are full of the news of the antibody test that’s just been approved for use in the UK. And yes, there are some huge caveats to this ‘good news’ (not least that no one knows for sure that having Covid-19 once gives you immunity against catching it again) but this method of finding out whether or not you’ve had the disease is going to accelerate our journey to whatever kind of world we want to build when all of this is over. So yes, tentatively, it is good news.
The Daily Express’ front page this morning read: “So far so good! – Scientists hope to have virus jab by the summer.” Wow. Do we allow ourselves to believe that? Or is the potential dashing of hope more painful than having hope at all? Let’s ask Kate:
Don’t give up
You know it’s never been easy
Don’t give up
‘Cause I believe there’s a place
There’s a place where we belong
Oh goodness, I am going again . . . see you next week.