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Speed Read – the summer getaway that wasn’t in the boxfresh quotidian

Every week The Friday Speed Read begins a ring-around all of its friends at 5am to ask them what they’d like to see in this week’s column. Very rarely do any of their suggestions make it into print as most contain multiple profanities and threats of physical retribution. Oh well, there’s always next week.

Given everything we’ve been through, it seems almost cruel to begin with a hypothesis. After months of our collective mental health taking the kind of bashing usually only witnessed in the throes of a bad-tempered round of Whack-A-Mole in your local ‘amusement’ arcade – oh I’m feeling a bit better today . . . WHACK! – oh there’s some been some encouraging news about a vaccine …WHACK! – oh, the government seems to have handle on things now and the advice it’s giving is both consistent and easy-to-follow . . . WHACK! – it’s probably unhelpful  to point out that had this been a ‘normal’ year then the upcoming weekend would have seen the start of the “Great British Getaway” (©every newspaper every July).

Schools would be out for summer; the M5 would have been throbbing with traffic; spokespeople from the RAC would have been appearing on every news outlet counselling early starts and bottled water (advice ignored by most); airport bars would have lined with holidaymakers partaking in the uniquely British tradition of drinking lager at 6am as they wait for flights to Europe’s sunspots; out-of-office replies would have been arcing across the digital skies – “Hi  – I am on annual leave for two weeks with no access to email or my work phone and, no offence or anything but I can’t stress how much I am going to try to forget you ever existed. See ya . . !” and there would have been a few of those lovely moments when the office windows are open on a Friday afternoon, you’d not be hugely busy and a warm breeze smelling of flowers and hints of barbecue would ruffle the papers on your desk. And you’d feel happy.

If the virus doesn’t get you then the conditional tense will, or would (grammar joke).

Looking back over that opening paragraph, I’m not sure I can muster much nostalgia for the summer getaway (apart from the hazy Friday afternoons and barbecue smoke and I can get that in my own back garden if only this brisk wind would abate) and there’s been a renewed debate this week about just what life could be like when this damned virus is finally vanquished. As I write this, the Prime Minister is about to give a press conference outlining a plan for the next few months that will see extra money given the NHS to prepare for the dreaded second wave while also encouraging businesses to reopen offices and to bring their staff out of their dining rooms, bedrooms and kitchens and back to their desks. To say that some are nervous about reconciling these twin objectives is to state the obvious but whatever the reality of the post-Covid workplace, the post-Covid world even, then there’s a collective hope that it will not only be different to what we knew before but better. We could all do with it being better.

This was the week of the mask. On Sunday, Michael Gove blinked his way through a BBC interview and suggested that such was the good sense of the British people it would be unnecessary to make masks obligatory in indoor public spaces. Then on Monday, Matt Hancock announced that masks would indeed be obligatory in indoor public spaces but not in pubs or restaurants and not until Friday 24th of July. And if you don’t wear one then you could be fined £100 although it’s unclear who is going to fine you. Does all that make sense? Once again, it’s hard not to think that the UK is significantly behind other countries when it comes to the mandating of masks and you do wonder if as a nation we’re sensible enough to reach the 80% level of compliance of Spain, France and Italy? (answer: probably not)

Even before Tuesday’s newspapers had been published (“You WILL have to wear a mask” – The Express; “It’s about bleedin’ time” – The Star, picturing the Prime Minister as a clown) the complaining had begun. In the Commons, Tory MP Sir Desmond Swayne described the wearing of masks as a “monstrous imposition” and there were many, many people on Twitter who agreed with him. If you’ve been even vaguely aware of news from America in the past few weeks, you’ll have seen that the anti-mask movement is motivated, vocal and, I’m going to say it, insane. The correlation between being asked to wear a mask and a fundamental attack on basic human rights is as bizarre as it is depressing. For some, those mandating masks are fascists and those wearing them are sheep. A man in Texas attended a “Covid party” held to prove that the virus was a hoax. He got ill. He told nurses that “I think I made a mistake”. And then he died.

That’s not to say that people in the UK are quite so credulous of crackpot theories and hysterical misinformation (you’d hope) but after everything we’ve been through, the lockdown, the mass job losses, an unprecedented economic downturn, you’d think that even if a mask might help prevent a resurgence of the virus then it would be worth wearing. As it is, when science proves that masks reduce infection rates then it really does become a no-brainer. And I hate the phrase “no brainer” but I’m using it anyway because that’s how strongly I feel about this.

Did you see Banksy’s stunt on the tube this week? Of course you did.

Anyway, let’s spend a few moments enjoying Thursday’s headlines: “Vaccine hopes raise”; “Hopes of jabs before the end of the year”; “Success of early trials lifts hope for vaccine”. We’ve been here before of course and it would be naïve to think that the world will be Covid-free anytime soon but it’s Friday, we’ve made it through another week and I think we should always make room in our brains for hope. I’m just going to pour myself another coffee and settle down to enjoy this morning’s papers: “Russia spies try to steal our vaccine”; “Russia tried to steal virus research and interfere in election”; “Russian hackers looting vaccine research” . . . . sigh, is it too early for a cider?

As we edge closer to the “new normal” I thought it might be useful to provide a few alternative phrases for the moment that’s arriving very soon when you feel like you can’t hear the phrase “new normal” again without slapping yourself in the face. How about “emergent reality”? Or “contemporary median” or “now this” or, my personal favourite, “boxfresh quotidien.” Feel free to use it today in conversation with a friend or lover.

Finally, here’s quite a funny video from Apple that comes close to nailing the working-from-home experience (and also makes you think yes, perhaps I do need a new iPad . . . . .).

Have a good weekend. You deserve it.

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