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Best in Show
Every week The Friday Speed Read is a bag of nerves and twitches as it sits down with several large coffees, a small notebook and good intentions to create a summary of the biggest stories in order to share with its (not quite) millions of readers. Only when finished does it allow itself the luxury of a sandwich and a brief dance to 80s synth pop.
There’s an innate human need even amongst the most strongly avowed anarchists for a sense of order and place. It’s the hand-rail on which we clutch to steady ourselves as we totter through this increasingly strange parade that we call Real Life (anyone else hoping that they might wake up at some point soon and realise that it’s still May 2016 and everything that’s happened since has simply been the result of too much cheese?). You see and feel it everywhere: the wincing agony of a missing final piece of an otherwise complete jigsaw or the exquisite pleasure of a resolving chord at the end of your favourite pop-banger (try Cm-G-Eb-G and you’ll sleep well tonight feeling that everything really is going to be alright). We need ends so we can have beginnings.
Back in March when I sat down in my house to write the first “lockdown” Speed Read after our office had been closed, I suppose I thought that there’d be a time when I’d writing the last one. In other words, if there had been a first Covid-19 column then the rules of order would mean that at some point there’d be a final one before we could get back to normal. And this week, at first glance at least, could well have been the moment that we began to talk about something else; the time when the special collector’s set of ‘Covid-19 Speed Reads’ would reach the final edition with a special souvenir cover and a long list of thanks to friends and family for their support (don’t worry, this only exists in my head). After all, Boris Johnson told us on Tuesday that our “hibernation” is coming to an end and that soon we’ll be able to sit in beer gardens, get our silly hair cut at last, visit cinemas, museums and even eat in restaurants. Remember all those things? Remember how much we enjoyed them? They’re coming back, said Boris. Normal life is coming home. And just to add to the sense of closure, the PM also announced that there’d be no more daily briefings; so goodbye to the parade of ministers and experts gamely trying to reassure us that everything was going to be okay despite the soaring number of deaths. The book on Covid-19 in the UK was being closed; British common sense would see us through. Order restored.
Except that it wasn’t. Not even close. As the sun returned and beat down in record-troubling fashion, a madness set in. There were scenes of victory for a war ongoing, for an enemy undefeated; scenes that could in fact embolden this enemy to return stronger, more devastating than before. A mix of heat, hard-won freedom and booze combined in a cocktail that was sickly-sweet, volatile and, frankly, dangerous. A party in Brixton fractured into running battles with police: bottles thrown, vehicles smashed; more minor incidents were seen in Hove, Edinburgh, Exmouth with police called to disperse large groups. And in the aftermath, in the blue-tint of photographs taken at all these places the morning after the night before it was always the same picture: slews of rubbish, cans, endless plastic, dozens of those mini canisters of laughing gas lying around like spent shells on a battlefield. If we thought that we were winning the environmental war then we should probably think again.
And that’s just the night. In daylight hours hundreds of thousands of people headed for the beach. Councils in Dorset on Thursday said they were “completely overwhelmed” as roads blocked and an estimated half a million people crammed themselves on the sands, cheek-by-jowl. The images in the papers this morning are extraordinary: a sea of baking flesh; a forest of parasols and long winding lines of wind-breaks; the British on the beach may lack the elegance of some our European friends but my goodness, we know how to make use of every grain of sand available. Social distancing? In places there seemed to be barely six inches, let alone two metres.
“Where isn’t Wally?” asked Metro; “Chaos on the beach” said i; “Boiling Point” was the Mirror’s take; the Star asked the littering masses “Were you raised by wolves?” and the Mail, pleaded plaintively, “Don’t throw it all away”. And wouldn’t it be absolutely, perhaps irredeemably depressing if we did? What if two days on the beach hastened the arrival of the much-discussed ‘second wave’ of Covid-19 and we were all locked back down for another three or more months? No amount of Zoom calls, sour dough or Joe Wicks could lift our spirts. I’m not sure how we’d cope.
Maybe what we need now is some rain to douse the madness.
Let’s change the subject. What else you fancy talking about from the news this week? Relaxation of more lockdown measures aside there’s not a huge amount of pleasure to be found. Whether it was the murders in a Reading park that dominated Monday’s front pages, the accusations of favouritism against Tory housing minister Robert Jenrick, the sacking of Shadow Education Secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey by Kier Starmer for retweeting anti-Semitic material, the steadily rising death toll from Covid-19 in the USA, it’s not been a joyful week.
So, shall we just retreat into our sitting rooms once again with a couple of watching recommendations? I’ll take your lack of response as a resounding “YES PLEASE”.
The Glastonbury Festival should have been happening right now and even though nothing can replace the experience of being there in person, BBC iPlayer has made a large number of classic sets available for the weekend. So grab a cider, don’t go to the toilet for eight hours, make a giant flag that blocks the view of the TV for the rest of the family and enjoy some incredible performances: Stormzy, Bowie, REM, Billie Eilish, The Chemical Brothers, Radiohead, Lady Gaga . . . . the list goes on. You need not do anything else for the next three days.
I’d also like to point you in the direction of the final National Theatre Live broadcast that’s on YouTube until Thursday. The Bridge Theatre’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is all kinds of magnificent: sexy, innovative, modern and at times very, very funny. There’s a few twists that director Nicholas Hytner has made to the plot that makes this 400 year old play feel as fresh as the wild flowers that are woven into its imagery. Glorious stuff.
And finally, well done Liverpool. Premier League champions. What a team, right Ben?
See you next week.