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Speed Read – the brief return of a Starman (just when we needed him)

Every Friday the Speed Read assembles its small army of news warriors and sends them out to do battle with week’s biggest stories for your edification and distraction. Their victory is your victory and we salute their efforts.

Let’s kick off with this week’s edition of our prescient, topical and bang-up-to-date news summary with a few observations about an event that occurred twenty years ago. What were you doing in summer 2000? I imagine it was likely more entertaining that whatever has been keeping you out of mischief during what’s passing for summer in 2020. Perhaps you were playing Snake on your Nokia 3210? Punching the air as another majestic winning forehand from Pete Sampras kissed the manicured grass of Centre Court on his way to a seventh Wimbledon title? Queuing in the Greenwich sunshine for the entrance to Millennium Dome wondering if its contents really are as arcane and ill-conceived as the papers are making out? (answer: they were). Shaking your box-pleated skirt to the Gallic harmonies of The Corrs and their hit Breathless that briefly troubled the singles chart that summer?

Or maybe you were lucky enough to have scaled the fence at Glastonbury and were able to watch David Bowie’s headline set which was repeated on the BBC last weekend (and is still available on iPlayer)? I should say now that the following points about Bowie’s performance are scarcely more nuanced or relevant to current times than “I really liked watching him” and / or “Wasn’t he really good?” but goodness me, both those things are true to the power of ten. Given that only fragments of the set had been broadcast at the time and since, it felt a little like twenty years had been erased and we were watching Bowie live but with two key differences: one – nobody was filming the set on a phone and two – no one had a massive flag on a pole that made the wide shot little more than a forest of signs reading “We love sausages” and “Wigan lads + cider = party time.” Not that there’s anything inherently wrong with those two mainstays of modern festivals but it’s funny how it’s the little details that date something.

Anyway, Bowie appeared on stage with long blond locks tousled by the Somerset breeze and wearing a coat that looked as though it cost more than my house and delivered a show for the ages. His band was immense; his voice was sexy and strong and long before he reached “Heroes” in the set list, I felt lifted from the mire of worry and fear that has been dragging us all downwards these past few months. And yes, it was probably also to do with the cider but even Thatchers Gold can’t refresh you in the way that great art can and for a couple of hours on Sunday evening, I felt something that was a lot like happiness.

Anyway, the reality is of course that Bowie is dead and we’re still floundering in the midst of pandemic for which there is not yet a vaccine. Indeed, there’ve been times this past week that I’ve reverted to the survival tactics that I employed in March that involved quarantining myself from all news outlets and watching old episodes of The IT Crowd on 4OD. But stuff keeps on happening whether we’re looking or not and after the disturbing scenes on the UK’s sun-bleached beaches last week, this week has seen the skies darken and a few significant steps taken towards whatever the future will be. Economically speaking, I am going to put a lot of faith in a chap from the Bank of England (name obscured in my notebook by a coffee cup ring) who this week said that he expected a “V-shape” recovery from this horror – i.e. a massive drop-off in economic activity (April etc) followed by a steep, swift return to something more prosperous. He also observed that the economy was returning to health far quicker than had been anticipated. Cold comfort I’m certain for the hundreds upon hundreds of people who’ve found out this week that they’re being made redundant but in a bigger-picture sense then cautiously good news. If he’s right. Which I’m really hoping he is.

Talking of the economy, tomorrow is the day some of the more enthusiastic members of the government’s PR department have dubbed “Super Saturday” on which pubs, restaurants and cinemas are allowed to reopen, albeit with some understandably strict social distancing measures in place. The thought of enjoying a pint in a pub again should be a very happy one; after all, what better symbol of British resilience after months of lockdown could there be than raising a glass of ale and nibbling from a packet of pork scratchings? It’s been tough, it’s been bloody tough but hey, we made it. Cheers! Except there’s widespread concern that it could very well be chaos in town centres over the weekend. Only this morning, the Prime Minister urged people once again to “enjoy summer sensibly” but you don’t have to be the most ardent of cynics to wonder if this is the same good sense that has seen people attending illegal raves, carpeting towns and countryside with litter and defecating in woodlands. Many pubs are not going to open this weekend for fear that it’s going to impossible to manage people’s behaviour in even vaguely safe ways.

Let’s hope it all passes well and that this weekend will be happy one as people are allowed to stay over at each other’s houses, book holidays abroad in anticipation of the quarantine rules for travel to dozens of countries being relaxed next week (in England only it should be said), share a pizza outside a restaurant with a friend, all the while hoping with every cell in our bodies that we’re through the worst of this.

But I can’t help think about George W. Bush standing on the USS Abraham Lincoln in 2003 in front of a massive banner that read “Mission Accomplished” and announcing an end to the war in Iraq. More people, both military and civilian, died in Iraq after this speech than before it. This week, on the cusp of the mass-reopening and announcement that all pupils will return to school in September, the entire city of Leicester was locked down after a significant spike in Coronavirus cases. Sometimes there’s little more damning than juxtaposition.

Other news!

Kim Kardashian is now a billionaire – THANK GOD!

Tony Blair hasn’t done any housework, laundry or cooking since 1997!

Bee populations are increasing in many areas after years of decline!

Hamilton is on Disney+ from today!

And let’s give the final word to our old friend Science. If anything is going to get is through (apart from red wine) then it’s not going to be Boris Johnson’s plan to build lots of stuff – although that may well help – it’s going to be the brilliance of the world’s scientists. So, let’s dedicate this week’s column to Professor Robin Shattock from Imperial College who, along with his team, is currently working on a vaccine for Covid-19. And, as much as a scientist ever can, he’s pretty bullish about the chances of success: “Of course I am, or I wouldn’t be doing it” You can read the full interview in the Guardian. It’s, you know, encouraging.

And with that, have a both a Super Saturday and a Super Sunday and I’ll see you next week.

To play us out? Well, that’s not even a conversation.

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