Speed 07 April 2017

There’s a danger when compiling a news roundup such as The Friday Speed Read, that its structure, its listing of events, leads to the juxtaposing of themes and emotions that really have no right to share the same page, let alone the same paragraph. Sometimes this works in the writer’s favour, particularly when you’re able to place a story about, for example, Theresa May’s latest attempt to convince us that everything’s going to be alright post-Brexit next to one about a woman who’s made house out of jammy dodgers. It’s one of the oldest tricks in the comedy book but it works. And it’s fun.

But then someone ignites a sky-full of chemicals over a small town in Syria, killing at least 70 people, including children and babies, most of whom died not from the impact of the explosion but from the lung-crushing effects of the cloud of poisonous gasses, gasses so strong that they could be smelt from over a kilometre away.

When someone does something like this and let’s remember, for all the talk of “an attack” or “The Syrian army”, these were the actions of living, breathing human beings with families, hobbies and favourite football teams, but presumably no consciences, then all other events of the week are rendered trivial by comparison.

As we are writing this, the world is waking up to Donald Trump’s response to the Syrian attack: the firing of 59 missiles at the airport from which Bashar al-Assad launched the chemical attack. This represents a volte-face on Trump’s part of considerable significance. It wasn’t long ago that Assad, long-time ally of Trump’s BFF Vladimir Putin was “part of the solution” to the war in Syria. You could argue that a chemical weapons attack on innocent families is likely to change the mind of all but the most extreme and delusional, and Trump may not think like a president but we have to assume that he’s imbued with a basic humanity, but is it worrying that a foreign policy can shift so suddenly?

In public at least, the Russians are predictably angry about the attack, although The Pentagon says that they were told about it beforehand; but whatever was or wasn’t known before the missiles were launched, it’s safe to assume that the contradictory, tangled and secretive relationship between Washington and Moscow has just become even more volatile.

And that’s very scary indeed.

****

The early days of the week were dominated by a depressing attack on a teenage asylum seeker by a group of young people at a Croydon bus stop, witnessed by a large crowd that did little to intervene.  The attack drew wide-ranging condemnation in the press, including from The Daily Mail, which, seemingly without irony, wondered how such hatred for foreigners could exist in modern Britain.

The Sun got very hot under the collar about Gibraltar; worried that it might be lost to the UK during Brexit negotiations. Never one to step away from a fight, The Sun’s front page on Tuesday featured the rock of Gibraltar, painted red, white and blue, alongside the headline “Up Yours Senors!” Inside they printed a special poster with the slogan “Hands off our rock” in both English and Spanish. (“Nuestra Roca no se toca” – should you ever need the phrase when holidaying.)

Elsewhere, football manager David Moyes was in a bit of bother after jovially telling a BBC reporter that next time she “might get a slap” if she asks a difficult question in a post-match interview, even though “she’s a woman” and TM the PM decided to weigh-in on The Telegraph’s story of the Church of England’s complaint that the National Trust had removed the word “Easter” from the marketing for their annual chocolate egg hunt. As both a vicar’s daughter and a paid-up member of the NT, TM the PM said the whole affair was “absolutely ridiculous” as she got on with the job in hand of promoting British weapons manufacturers to those nice men in charge of Saudi Arabia.

In other pre-Easter news, an offer to give those willing to pay £750 a “full crucifixion experience” in Manchester centre was withdrawn after clergy had suggested that it might be “a bit blasphemous”.

And finally, Selfridges in London have come up with a cunning wheeze to cleanse Millennials of their digital addictions: peeling potatoes. Hosted in “a conceptual farmhouse” by two “food anthropologists” (no, we don’t know either), participants are required to hand over their smartphones and are then presented with a large pile of Maris Pipers and a peeler and then told to get busy. One Peeler said: “I’ve never peeled a potato before in my life but now I’m finally doing it I am finding it a very meditative experience”. Another said that “I’ve forgotten about checking my emails  . . . because I can’t.”

One wonders if the Vikings had similar feedback from their rowing slaves: “Despite being manacled to a boat for six months, made to row 20 hours a day around the freezing waters of the North Sea, and fed so infrequently that I’ve been reduced to a living skeleton, I’ve at least stopped mindlessly thumbing through the banal Instagram posts of someone I once snogged at a party.”

Have a good weekend. The sun is scheduled to shine. And we’re just a hop, skip and a jump away from a four-day week.

(Subtitling by The Sun)