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Speed Read – all I know is that I don’t know

Every week, The Friday Speed Read tugs at your sleeve and asks for a few minutes of your time in order for it to tell you about the biggest news stories from the past five days. If you ignore it for long enough, it might just leave you alone but we can’t guarantee it

If a Friday Speed Read opens with a scree of meta-analysis or a post-modern deconstruction of the process of actually writing the Friday Speed Read then it’s unusually a reliable indicator that I am struggling. Struggling to hit the prose sweet-spot, struggling to conjure an opening sentence that might propel the reader towards the delights that are to follow rather than them thinking, ‘nah, this isn’t for me’. It’s often easier to write something about coffee or dressing gowns, the weather or the plague of snails currently running a successful nightclub in my modest garden (it’s called “Munch” – dress code: shells only, no trainers,) than it is to find a jumping-off point into the week’s news. Some might find this tendency endearing; many will find it profoundly irritating but sometimes I find it necessary in order not to spend most of Friday morning staring at a blank Word document.

This week is a little different. Different because I’m not obfuscating simply to hot-wire my brain into coherence but rather that I’ve been away on a job this week and so I’m actually a little hazy on the details of what’s actually happened.

One thing I do know for sure is that the weather has been rubbish, unless you’re a snail in the queue for Munch in which case it’s been glorious. There’s of course nothing so quintessentially British as wanging on about the weather but really, it’s been terrible and I’m fed up with it. It is May. It should be decent. And this year of all years, when the beleaguered hospitality sector has been forced to depend entirely on outdoor eating and drinking, we’ve needed sunshine more than ever. Maybe it’s climate change, maybe it’s just bad luck but whatever it is and in the words of a woman I was talking to yesterday in the queue outside the post office, “if I wanted more rain I’d go and live in a shower”. This didn’t make much sense when I heard it yesterday and, to be honest, writing it down here hasn’t rendered it much more coherent. But I know what she means.

I did spend a little time last evening before I fell asleep in front of Kirsty and Phil (as in ‘Location Location Location’, not two random people who were illegally taking up space in my sitting room) reading about the worrying spread of the “Indian Variant” of Covid-19 which is causing an increasing amount of concern amongst epidemiologists. Cases have doubled in a week and although vaccines seem to be effective against it, the fact that it’s spreading with such speed has definitely caused much unease as we approach the next waypoints on the PM’s roadmap out of the pandemic. Headlines this morning don’t make for much reassurance: “Race to stop Indian strain” (The Times); “Jabs blitz to save summer” (The Mirror); “Faster jabs for millions to combat variant”. It’s all so gut-punchingly familiar: the slow build of hope as infections, hospitalisations and deaths decline, the cautious optimism about a life post-pandemic, shops and restaurants reopening, seeing friends and loved ones, even a thought or two about holidays and then Covid mutates, side-steps and evades and the whole straw-house of recovery is blown over once again. We’re not at that stage yet and of course last time this happened we didn’t have vaccines and now well over 50% of the population has had at least one dose so maybe the slow shuffle away from Covid can continue but it is a lesson in expectation management: hope but don’t expect; be positive but don’t presumptuous; keep holding on.

But goodness me, don’t we all wish with every fibre, every sinew, every cell that all of this horror will be over soon?

It’s been a grim week in the Middle East. The exchange of rockets between Israel and Gaza has been relentless and the death toll continues to climb. Israel’s overwhelmingly superior military power is matched only by its determination to prove itself willing to take whatever steps it deems appropriate in the face of “terrorist” attacks but no good will come out of this. Only more death. On both sides. And these aren’t military deaths and they’re mostly civilian deaths. They are children.

David Cameron has been back in the news this week and how he must wish that he wasn’t? Ex-Prime Minster and referendum loser, Mr Cameron has been caught doing what untold numbers of well-connected people have done before him: tried to persuade his mates to do him a favour. But in this case, his mates were government ministers and the favour was to get his new employer (a bank run by another mate) onto a government-backed scheme that allowed money-lending to firms struggling in the pandemic. But despite a volley of increasingly WhatsApp messages to Sunak and Gove, Cameron’s wish was not granted and the bank collapsed and he was hauled in front of the Treasury Select Committee and asked what on earth he thought he was doing. Cameron’s response? He was doing it for the good of the country. Well, we’ve heard that line from him before . . .

And so finally to the Brit Awards. Staged as one of the government’s test events exploring how crowds can safely assemble post-Covid, the UK’s music industry’s annual shindig was notable for several thousand people (many of whom were key workers invited as a thank you for their recent heroics) actually being in the room to watch. People in a room together: it seems so unlikely, so exotic after so many months of atomisation. Anyway, after decades of under-valuing the contribution and achievements of women in the music industry, the Brits this year began to make amends with wins for a parade of brilliant female artists: Dua Lipa, Arlo Parks, Taylor Swift, Billie Eilish, Haim . . . . about time too. My love of Elton John / Pet Shop Boys / It’s a Sin (by Russell T Davies) was rewarded with this marvellous performance but the night belonged to Dua Lipa and her performance was ace – tube trains, Winehouse references and what’s more it was a medley. And who doesn’t love a medley? Plus she demanded a pay rise for NHS workers. In short, she’s a legend.

It won’t materially affect your life, but next week will see the 200th edition of the Friday Speed Read. I shall spend the next seven days worrying about what to include in it before making a panic decision at 7.30am next Friday morning. Tune in next week to see what I’ve come up with.

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