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Despite everything, we’re still going. And we’re pleased to be so.
String out the bunting! Press play on your favourite mix tape! Tumble some frozen sausage rolls onto a baking tray and then put them in the oven at 180C for around 20 minutes before then taking them out and eating them with a relish of your choice! It’s time to party. And if you don’t know what there is to celebrate then you’ve clearly not been somewhat obsessively keeping count in the back your work notebook because today’s Friday Speed Read is the 200th EDITION of what many people describe as “often too long” and “I thought it was meant to be about the news?”.
Look, after a week of pondering whether I should even acknowledge this somewhat arbitrary anniversary and changing my mind several times, I hope you can excuse smidgen of self-indulgence as I make a few observations. If you want to skip to the actual news paragraph that I’ll label clearly below then I won’t hold it against you. In fact, I might actually recommend it.
The first Friday Speed Read (working title: The Hand that Feeds – i.e. biting the hand that feeds; i.e. talking about newspapers in a PR company; i.e. a really bad title that was quickly dropped) was written and published on the 16th of September 2016 when we were still in the “OMG” phase post-Brexit referendum; Boris Johnson was known mostly for lending his name to a bicycle hire scheme and the generic term ‘coronavirus’ was meaningful to only a handful of scientists. The subsequent 199 editions have been published mostly once a week since then, with gaps at times for holidays, crises and times when I’ve just had too much actual work to do to justify the time spent composing it. There have been some very skilled locum Speed Read-Writers over the years and I am grateful to every one of them for helping out and giving the reader a welcome change in tone every now and then.
Some stats! 200 editions equate to something like a 700-page novel that would take 14.4 hours to read, assuming that you were really into it. That’s approximately 260,000 words or using the international standard Austen Scale, it’s equivalent to 1.4 Jane Eyres. And I say this not to bracket my nonsense with the greats of English literature but more to suggest that if nothing else, the Speed Read is an exercise in belligerence. Most rational people would have surely got bored and moved on to something else.
But the truth is I really enjoy writing it. Actually, that’s not quite true. I really enjoy writing it once I’ve completed the first paragraph. And the first paragraph that you read at 3pm on a Friday is often the fourth or fifth iteration and still is often just a means to write my way into wakefulness and some sort of inspiration. Very occasionally an idea on how to begin will arrive fully formed in my head but more often than not it’s a struggle. But once I get going I am almost always having a ball.
I’ve always loved news and newspapers and having a reason to spend the week flagging stories and collating them on a Friday morning is nothing short of a privilege. And yes, I know I could slake this particular thirst with a blog but that feels a little self-indulgent so to be able to write each week under the pretext of it being “actual work” is very special indeed. And I am grateful.
Sometimes I can justify being silly, sometimes I must be rightly serious; sometimes I can write the “Secret Diary of Teresa May” or a nonsense play about ravens at the Tower of London or a scene in which Boris Johnson and Dominic Cummings share a bath and still it sort of counts as valid content for the Speed Read. During the first Coronavirus lockdown, when I had to start using the first-person pronoun for the first time in Speed Read history just to try and respond honestly to the terrifying situation into which we’d be plunged, writing the column each week wasn’t a form of therapy. It was therapy. And it helped.
I do have a few thanks to make which I’ll mostly do safely out of the way at the very bottom of the page but one person needs thanks up front. Speed MD Kelly Pepworth, whose idea it was in the first place and every week takes time to edit, suggest and generally make what you come to read much better than it otherwise would have been. I am so grateful for her patience and excellent judgement (that has saved me on more on than one occasion) as well as her understanding that sometimes, just sometimes the Friday Speed Read needs to be written in poetry or via a fan-fiction piece imagining Teresa and Philip May getting squiffy after taking out the bins. Kelly. Thank you.
THE ACTUAL NEWS PARAGRAPH
Last night a ceasefire came into force in Israel and Gaza after 11 days of fighting that killed 230 Palestinians and 12 Israelis. Both sides claimed victory. World leaders praised the efforts to find peace and urged both sides to take steps to ensure such an outbreak of deadly violence doesn’t reoccur. No one is particularly hopeful that any such steps will be taken.
You can go on holiday abroad! Except you can’t. Except you can. Well, it’s not illegal. But you still can’t. Although you can for some reasons. But not those reasons. Only other reasons. Which ones? Look, I’ve already told you. Why can’t you understand? It’s perfectly clear.
The above is taken from the Foreign Office’s official advice to travellers and if you’ve got any questions then you’ve clearly not being paying good enough attention and any confusion about the rules is your fault.
In other news, the so-called “Indian variant” is continuing to spread across the UK, troubling scientists and putting the full relaxation of Covid restrictions in the UK in June in some serious doubt. The good news is that the vaccines seem to be effective against it; the challenge now is to vaccinate as many people as possible in the worst-affected areas and pretty much just hope for the best. Anyone else have a dull ache in their stomach alongside memories of last year? When it was all going so well until the Kent version of the virus showed up and then everything went very, very bad? Yeah, me too.
Quickly then. Thanks to my friend and colleague Shaun Hickman for regularly supplying actual contemporary music for the closing video; listening to his Roisin Murphy pick on a warm Friday with a cider last year actually made the world a better place for a little while; thanks to anyone who has ever sent me a message to say they’ve enjoyed the column or pressed the like button on LinkedIn but thanks mostly to anyone who actual reads the thing. By any sensible metric, it’s a very small number but I am very grateful indeed.
Here’s to the next 100. Although somewhat anticlimactically, there may well not be a Speed Read next week as I am away filming. But whenever vol.201 appears, it would be great to have you with me.
And here’s one of my favourite songs by one of my favourite (old) bands. Please indulge me.