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Speed Read – Sin while you’re (not) winning

Every week The Friday Speed Read declares itself the winner of a whole host national events that it has not in reality actually won (yet). It is particularly proud of its victory in Strictly Come Dancing 2022 during which its Argentine Tango was a sight both exotic and exciting.

Well it was never going to be straightforward was it? I mean come on, it’s 2020: the new touchstone for horror, fear, misinformation and misery. In years to come, “2020” will adopt adjectival properties and be used for inappropriately banal observations on life, love and fashion choice. “Oh”, people will say to a friend emerging from a changing room (remember those?), “I’m not sure that top and skirt work in combination. It’s all a bit 2020”. Or, Hollywood’s hot new couple will prance their way along red carpet at the premiere of the latest blockbuster (remember them?) and commentators and cynics around will sigh and say that the relationship has “2020” written all over it.

But most of those who’ll be casually tossing around the adjectival “2020” in the future have not yet been born. And when they are, we’re the ones, the ones who’ve lived through every bedevilled second of this terrible year, who’ll be able to shake our wizened locks, narrow our dark-ringed eyes and say to these young pretenders, these skittish upstarts in the full flush of youth: “you weren’t there; you don’t know what it was like.”

And who knows, maybe in the future, the image of an American president claiming victory in an election that he had not won, alleging fraud where there was no fraud, demanding that the count of legitimately cast votes should cease immediately in states where he was losing but continue in those in which he was ahead will be the norm? But for now, the events in America this week could not have been more 2020 unless Trump had been baking banana bread and injecting bleach into his behind at the same time as lying to the world.  

As I write this on Friday morning, there is still no victor in the American election (the candidates are called Joe and Donald – sorry, couldn’t help myself) with counting ongoing in a handful of key states. There’s a cautious optimism (if you’ll forgive a biased reading of events) that although many of these undeclared counts are incredibly close Biden may just scrape over the line and become the 46th President of the United States of America. But it’s going to be close. Far, far, closer than most observers had predicted.

I think, given the year, it’s best to raise a few caveats at this point. Firstly, it’s perfectly possible that Trump could still win (and indeed may have won by the time you read this); secondly, even if Biden is victorious, it seems that the Republicans will still have the majority in the Senate, making it very problematic for the new President to achieve anything even vaguely radical; thirdly, and this point has been made by multiple commentators in recent days in ways far more coherent and expert that those bashed out be me this Friday morning, even though Trump may well lose, the Trump legacy will endure.

Over here on the liberal side of the fence, we’ve spent the past four years wincing, beating our brows and working ourselves into a funk about the lies, corruption and general sneering demeanour of the Trump administration and all this before the world was overtaken by Covid-19. But in November 2020, in the country with the highest death toll in the world, a country led by a man who has consistently underplayed the deadly nature of the disease and even publicly endorsed dangerous quackery about how it might be cured, despite ALL OF THIS, millions upon millions of Americans, even more that last time, believe that Donald Trump is the man they want leading their country. This is absurd. This is darkly hilarious perhaps. This is, without doubt, terrifying but unlike so much that Trump has stood for during his presidency, it’s also true.

Back here in the UK, you’ve probably noticed that England has entered its second lockdown of the year. I don’t know about you but it doesn’t feel like first time around. The first time was such a profound shock, such a wrenching away of so much that we took for granted that for the first week or so it felt like as a nation we were slumped over the ropes of a boxing ring trying to shake ourselves back to consciousness following a massive upper-cut from er . . . listen, I don’t really know about boxing so that analogy is falling apart to such an extent that I am going to abandon it. The point is that it was deeply unsettling to say the least. This second time around is no less serious, indeed if some observers are to be believed then it may even be worse, but it does feel more familiar and as such, we know the knacks and rhythms that got us through the dark days of March and April and so we can just roll them out again.

Lockdown 2.0 also an end point. At least a notional one. Remember in March when everyone was worrying that lockdown might last “even to June”? Oh how naïve we were. But I do worry that we’re in danger of being beguiled again, holding on to the Prime Minister’s promise that four weeks of full lockdown will be enough to get the virus back under control and allow us to have a vaguely normal, albeit distantly so, December. I want to believe that. You want to be believe that. We’d all like a festive period in which we could mix with at least a few more people than those of our household. Let’s be honest, we’ve seen quite enough of them this year. But I am steeling myself for disappointment. I think it’s the only way right now.

The start of the new lockdown prompted the announcement of a significant extension to the furlough scheme by future Prime Minister Rishi Sunak. After weeks of fear about the winding down of the previous scheme and a concomitant torrent of job losses (and there’s been an enormous amount already so let’s not pretend that everyone’s going to be rejoicing at this news), the Chancellor has extended the scheme until March next year. For some, this will mean that they’ll have spent an entire year on furlough. It’s going cost billions, we’ll be paying for it for decades to come, but it’s going to come as a huge relief, if maybe only a temporary one, for many millions of people in the country and right now that feels priceless.

I was going to end this week’s column with some ways of making the new lockdown a little more joyful than the last one – i.e. don’t bake banana bread, bake banana AND CHOCOLATE bread. But the last thing you need right now is a string of badly formed jokes that you’ll have heard already and in more erudite and amusing forms elsewhere. Plus, what on earth do I know? But I will share that in this house, we’re already sneaking a few subtle Christmas decorations onto the mantlepiece (and I’m the kind of guy who’d usually be in favour of a law preventing Christmas trees in houses before December 23rd); we’ve got a virtual stack of great films lined up to watch and we have some cheese. Right now, all three of these things are making me feel a little better about everything.

Have a great weekend. Stay positive if you can and I’ll sign off with a BANGER curated for you by our doyenne of musical taste Professor Shaun “The Beat” Hickman.

Shaun says: “Brilliant song, message and video. I just watched it again and it made me a bit teary”.

Listen here.

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