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Speed Read – good news doesn’t tarnish

Every week The Friday Speed Read threads the biggest and best stories of the past seven days together with lights ready for them be hung over the high street and turned on by a minor Soap star. This year all of the above is happening via Zoom

Good news is like a precious metal. Not just in terms of value (although its value is high) and not just because of your instinct to fold into the palm of your hand, wrapping it so tightly in the protective curves of your fingers that your knuckles whiten (although of course you want to do this) but good news is like a precious metal because it endures. It retains its value, its impact, its allure in spite of whatever is happening around it. Gold does not tarnish nor rust.

Whether or not, to borrow a phrase from my younger, cooler, colleagues, you’re “here” for the early eruption of figurative language above (and I hope that you are) what I am trying to say is that the story of this week has been one of supremely good news followed by various cack-handed and ill-judged bunglings that tested its mettle.

When the news alert beeped onto phones on Wednesday this week that the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine had been approved by UK regulators it was all too easy to under-react. After all, the efficacy of the vaccine was by now relatively old news and in this year of misery most of us have developed a kind of emotional carapace to protect ourselves from becoming seduced by such pesky emotions as hope. But as this news sank in, the carapace began to slip. Perhaps this was a time for joy. For optimism. Scientists, by nature and necessity clear-eyed and stoic, appeared on news programmes and told us that yes, this was a moment for celebration. This was the beginning of the end. Be happy, they said. Admit hope.

It’s going to take time and it’s going to take more than this one vaccine but symbolically and literally, the fact that people in the UK from next week will begin to be inoculated, with an efficacy rate of over 90%, against a disease that barely existed a year ago is staggering. I mean, there are other words available but ‘staggering’ seems to fit the bill for the moment.

Newspaper headlines were understandably celebratory: The Mail unashamedly punned that it was “a shot in the arm for Britain”; the Mirror carried a large photo of a lorry apparently full of vaccine shots alongside the headline “on its way”; The Express couldn’t stop itself from a bit of EU-bashing – “guess who’s having a dig at us?” and the Sun wheeled-out what’s now a positively archaic reference to a piece of early 80s football commentary: “Bog roll bandits, empty pubs, no footie fans  . . . Covid – you’re about to take one helluva beating.”

Skip forward 24 hours and this gloriously good news was being squabbled over and claimed for causes for which it had no place. It’s undoubtedly a fine thing that the UK is the first country in the world to award regulatory approval for the Pfizer vaccine and it was canny of the government to buy a huge number of doses months ago, long before it was known if would work; in fact, more than canny, it’s been proven to be a stoke of brilliance. Credit where credit’s due. But to imply that British exceptionalism had a role to play in the development of a vaccine created in the US and manufactured in Belgium is nonsense. It’s also nonsense that Brexit made the approval process quicker as claimed by Matt Hancock (you can Google the reasons if you want them, I’ve not got the time or the desire to go into here) but the gold medal for absurd political posturing goes to man who has some impressive form in this category, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson. I do have both the time and the desire to quote what he said in a radio interview on Thursday morning:

“Well I just reckon we’ve got the very best people in this country, and we’ve obviously got the best medical regulator, much better than the French have, much better than the Belgians have, much better than the Americans have. That doesn’t surprise me at all because we’re a much better country than every single one of them.”

We’re a much better country than every single one of them. Other countries are smelly and stupid and not cool like we are. They’re rubbish. We’re like really the best ever. So there.

Lockdown in England ended on Wednesday this week and, despite a significant number of MPs voting against its imposition, the revamped 3-Tier system became law. Sitting here at a desk in Tier 3 means that little has changed for me (although I did go to Boots yesterday which is not, I admit, one of my better anecdotes) so I looked on with detached amusement at the mini-row that erupted about Scotch Eggs. Now let me be absolutely clear if I were an Instagram influencer then I’d be a Scotch Egg influencer particularly as I’ve been known to actually make them myself (although my sister’s are better) but as to whether or not one of these balls of meaty-egg beauty constitutes a full meal then I’d have to come down on the side of “it’s clearly a starter.” Not the first time this means I am ideologically opposed to Michael Gove who claimed this week that a Scotch Egg IS indeed a substantial meal and therefore can be used to allow booze to be served alongside it in a Tier 2 pub.

That took longer to explain that I was anticipating and makes me wonder whether it was worth the effort but then I remembered the Sun’s Wednesday front page that depicted Michael Gove’s face AS A SCOTCH EGG and the paragraph above now seems entirely justified.

There was more bad news for the High Street this week with the demise of Debenhams and then the Arcadia Group, meaning more iconic retail names consigned to history, thousands more job losses and yet more empty buildings in towns and cities all over the country. It’s bleak out there. As everyone knows, the High Street’s decline was well underway before the pandemic but now, it’s carnage. What is to be done with all those empty buildings? I don’t have the answer which, thankfully, doesn’t matter because nobody’s asked me. But someone needs to come up with one and soon.

Let’s hang a small garland of “other news” around the week’s Christmas tree and remark upon the fact that the Bank of England has “lost” a £50bn stash of banknotes which is a problem I can honestly say I’ve never had; talks on a Brexit deal with the EU continue to limp towards a conclusion and yes it’s absolutely far more important to be shoved into this paragraph like an ill-conceived sandwich filling but it’s also depressing and scary and I don’t want to talk about it; a Namibian politician called Adolf Hitler has won a massive victory in a local election – he says he “has no plans for world domination.” (Thanks to Ben for the story tip).

Finally, Spotify presented its annual “wrapped” data to its subscribers in expertly designed and social-media friendly form this week and the digital airwaves have been filled with people showing off their expertly curated musical tastes. To which I say two things: – One – Spotify please can you pay artists properly for streaming their work and – Two – I make no apologies for spending the pandemic listening to little else, it seems, than the soundtrack from Hamilton.

Here’s Speed’s musical supremo Shaun Hickman’s most played song of 2020. Trust Shaun on these things. Shaun knows.

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