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Speed Read – a long, short twelve weeks

Every week The Friday Speed Read spends longer on these introductory italics than is justified by either their purpose or quality. Let’s hope that this isn’t some sort of metaphor.

The UK lockdown is twelve weeks old this week. Maybe we’d be in a better place if it had been thirteen or fourteen weeks old but that’s a debate for another time. That’s said Professor Neil Ferguson’s assertion on Wednesday that UK deaths from Covid-19 would have been half what they are had lockdown been put into a place just seven days earlier certainly caused a few headlines and more than a few awkward questions for the government this week. Anyway, maybe it’s my increasing age but back in the pre-Covid days three months could often pass in the blink of a dark-ringed eye: one moment you’re pushing your head into the mouth of a 60 mile-an-hour wind in February and the next it’s late April and you’re scrabbling around trying to find your sunglasses and battling to slip into your summer t-shirt that you’re sure wasn’t that tight when you last tried it on. Tempus flippin’ fugit.

But as has been noted by many people more eloquent than this column (and indeed more than once by this column) the strings and fibres of time have been twisted into new shapes by the lockdown. Even though we can run our fingers along the calendar to count the passing weeks and end up with a total of twelve, sometimes it really does feel like fifty and at other times it can feel like four. Sometimes it’s hard to imagine that everything we took for granted before anyone had heard of the R-rate ever existed at all; I was watching telly yesterday evening and stumbled across a wedding. People were squeezed into a beautiful venue and there was dancing and there was drinking and there were long tables laden with communal food and there was a huge amount of hugging. Everyone was hugging. It was glorious and, from the viewpoint of my blue sofa in June 2020, it felt as fantastical as a scene from Lord of the Rings. But with fewer orcs. And substantially more interesting.

Packaged alongside a shifting view of the past is also an altered sense of what is now normal. If indeed anything that we’re experiencing is any way normal. Just this morning, it was announced that in April the UK’s GDP fell by 20.4%. That’s a figure not only without even a remotely tangential precedent but in economic terms is something akin to the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs slamming into the Earth. However, what’s the general, informed view circulating the media this morning? Well it’s not that we’re all as screwed as a stegosaurus no, it’s something along the lines of well, it could be worse. Or, well, what do you expect? All the shops were shut for all of April so of course the GDP would crash. Which I suppose is true. I did my best to help but there’s only so much red wine even I can drink.

Catastrophic GDP figures aside, there have been some brighter moments this week (albeit only metaphorically given the weather’s considerable turn for the worse). The biggest of these may well have been the further relaxation of the lockdown rules in England which will permit single people to form a “social bubble” with another household and even stay the night – which, again, seems like something only people in films can do. Great news for single parents, for people living on their own, for single grandparents who can now see their grandchildren and of course it’s also great news for another subset of society: the horny. “Crack open the bubbly” shouted Metro’s Wednesday front page, “Singletons can hook up at last.” Have fun guys. In less sexual news, numbers of Covid-19 infections and deaths continue to drop with some areas reporting no new deaths for several days in a row. Are we winning the battle? Is there room for hope? Will anyone want to go “non-essential” shopping next week? Is football without a crowd really going to be worth watching even though it’s on proper telly? Time will tell. But be warned, time is drunk and irrational right now so best not to make any predictions.

And let’s not get started on the discussion of a potential second wave and whether 2 metres is safer than 1 metre. Or if quarantining all international arrivals to the UK is going to be any help at all or will just destroy the already sugar-glass fragile travel industry.

The impact of the murder of George Floyd continued to be felt this week in both the US and abroad. Here in the UK, last weekend’s protests that saw the toppling of the statue of slave trader Edward Colston and its subsequent dumping into the harbour exposed once again the divisions in our society, divisions that maybe we’ve all been complicit in ignoring these past decades. Reaction to the dunking of Colston was roughly divided into three categories – 1) people celebrating the removal of a monument to a man made vastly rich by trading in human beings; 2) people sympathetic to the argument that it was offensive to venerate a slave trader but who also condemned the direct action that resulted in the statue’s removal (this the Government line) and 3) people who felt that British history is under attack and that it’s wrong to apply modern morality to historical figures especially those who gave a lot of money to charity.

Pick your side I guess. Although I can’t help but think that this is a pretty easy debate to find yourself on the right side of. Just this morning, statues of Winston Churchill, Nelson Mandela and Ghandi have been boarded up for fear that they may be attacked by one side or the other. In Bristol, a statue of Jamaican poet and playwright Alfred Fagon has been doused in bleach. At a time when we had more than enough to worry about then it seems that there’s more worrying to be done.

But to end in a more positive manner, the three months of lockdown have seen countless stories of heroism, bravery, kindness, resourcefulness, benevolence, laughter, empathy and generosity. We’ve baked, we’ve clapped, we’ve Zoomed, we’ve gardened, we’ve walked, we’ve jogged, we’ve laughed, we’ve been resolute and stoic. And we’re still here. And even though we’re not yet close to the end of all this we are still going. And for that we should be very proud of ourselves.

Have a great weekend. And go easy on the Marmite. It’s in very short supply and I for one might be tipped over the edge if it runs out . . .

BONUS CONTENT – To mark the milestone of three months in lockdown, our resident music (and fashion) guru Mr Shaun Hickman has selected the BEST song of the past twelve weeks. This is what he says about it:

Babylon is a call-to-arms to accept the babble you’re surrounded by on a daily basis and keep on moving through it. In these strange times, it’s a good reminder that if you’re going to talk the talk you have to walk the walk.

CLICK HERE TO PLAY

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