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Speed Read – an autumn return nudges us closer to whatever’s next

Every week, The Friday Speed Read refuses to throw away its shot at summarising the biggest news stories in a way that leaves us all satisfied. What comes next?

It feels as if the switch marked “autumn” has been flicked this week. Whereas the other three seasonal shifts are more nuanced, with meteorological hints about what’s on its way dropped a few weeks before arrival – an unexpectedly warm day in February, a crisp, sharp frost in late October – it’s always seemed to me that autumn arrives overnight. There’s that knock at the door in the dog days of August or in the nervous first steps of September and when you answer in rushes a breeze, a scent, a feeling, and yep, there’s autumn fully formed on the doorstep. It’s also the law that you have to greet the first person you meet with the observation that “it feels like autumn today” to which they reply that “yes it does” and often “oh well, it will soon be Christmas”. Which isn’t true but that’s got nothing to do with it.

And in this year of all years, this annus covidius, the sudden arrival of autumn seems more portentous than ever. The change in the air has been matched for some by a change in routine and (this might just be the overly-strong coffee that’s currently causing my temples to throb) an outbreak of something that feels a little like optimism. The fact that I’m writing the Speed Read at a desk in the office (to which we’ve returned part-time) for the first time since (I think) March 13th feels like a moment; a minor one admittedly, one of no relevance to anyone except myself perhaps, but still it feels like something. Something good.

This week has seen the creeping return of something a little more like normality in the UK, albeit it’s still a long way how things used to be. It’s a bit like your favourite TV show has been rebooted after several years with a remixed theme tune and a new cast. Think Only Fools and Horses with Del Boy played by Michael Gove or Friends in which Monica is now portrayed by the lady from the corner shop who somehow knows your name even though you’ve no memory of ever introducing yourself while buying emergency loo roll. But school uniforms have been dug out of the bottom of cupboards, wrap-around care has been improvised, commuting routes have been remembered and (some) colleagues have seen the whites of each other’s eyes rather (from a safe distance) rather than just a jumble of strobing pixels on a video call. It’s normal-ish. It’s normal-esque. Although it’s right to remember that for many, those grieving for lost family, lost friends, lost livelihoods, lost courage, there’s nothing remotely normal about the world right now.

Let’s talk then about Matt Hancock whose appearance on Sky News on Thursday morning revealed the kind of grammatical and moral car crash that makes you want to weep about life in the UK in mid-2020. You’ll have seen this of course but when discussing the (widely trailed) appointment of ex-Australian PM Tony Abbott to a post-Brexit trade post, Kay Burley’s conversation with the Health Secretary reached the following nadir:

KB: Tony Abbott is a homophobe and a misogynist.

MH: He’s also an expert on trade.

Okay, sometimes we all say colossally stupid things out loud and live TV which is going to bring its own pressures. I’m relatively decent at quizzes but I’m sure if I ever appeared on Mastermind I’d suggest that the capital of Austria was “Ian Rush” or some such flustered knowledge. But REALLY . .  . it’s the use of “also” that’s so damning. Genghis Khan was also good at skittles. Lucrezia Borgia was also your go-to Italian noblewoman for knowledge about lower league football. Donald Trump also once befriended a lost duck and named him “Mickey”. It seems that Matt Hancock is also the Heath Secretary.

Moving on. You’ve lived the entirety of your life in the public eye; every utterance scrutinised; every mistake, both honest and the idiotic, has been debated; everyone has an opinion on your relationships, your lovers, your family; journalists camp on your lawns; headlines damn you, praise you and then damn you again. You need to escape. You need to leave all this behind. You need to find a way to get your life back, to protect your family, to gain, for the first time in ever, some privacy, some space, some sanctuary. Surely the ONLY logical way of achieving this is by signing a £75M deal to make television programmes for Netflix.

Such sarcasm was rife on Thursday this week with the announcement of Harry and Meghan’s not-too-shabby payday and you can, to an extent, understand why. That said, it’s a little baffling to see how some areas of the media continue to hound the couple for a perceived disloyalty to the Crown; for a dereliction of duty; for a failure to act, think and speak in the way that they’d like them to. It seems a very British obsession. And not in a good way.

Anyway, also returning this week is the much-missed “other news” paragraph. So here we go! The BBC continued to receive a kicking from all the usual places, with the Daily Express punching the air (“Rule Britannia!”) at the corporation’s decision to reinstate the lyrics to the “national songs” during the Last Night of the Proms; Apple is now worth more money than the entire rota of FTSE100 companies combined; ex-Olympic boxer Nicola Adams is going to be 50% of Strictly’s first same-sex couple; Gary Lineker is offering a room at his home to a refugee; Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny was poisoned with Novichok say the German medics treating him; scientists have detected the noise of two black holes colliding 7 billion years ago – “it sounds just like a thud”, said one bathetically, before explaining that we’re only just hearing it now because space is so impossibly large; and 100 million meals were claimed in August under the government’s “Eat Out to Help Out” scheme.

And finally (talking of food), in a world without international air travel, you’re probably missing the epicurean delights of airline cuisine. Worry not! Simply purchase your own airline meal to eat in the comfort of your own sitting room (or “First Class Lounge” as you likely call it) from a growing number of airlines. Yes! In exchange for actual money you can poke at a plastic pot of lumpy liquid while asking “what’s that?” And if you do it while another member of your family sits on your lap, you’ll have that unmistakable hit of “we’re flying to Florida” holiday joy in no time.

With our agency musical impresario on holiday this week, we’re left without his impeccable and contemporary musical curation to end the column so rather than just play something by REM I will just leave you to drop the needle (literally or metaphorically) on the song that’s currently in your head and hope that gets you ready for the weekend.

See you next week.

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