Speed 12 January 2018

For as long as the human race has possessed the ability for existential thought, it has been waylaid by a series of questions as imponderable as they are ancient: if the world was created in six days, did God do a quick nip around Lidl on the Sunday for a few essentials? If Nigel Farage did not exist, would we have to invent him? If a minor soap star falls over in a forest and no one is watching, will ITV still run a companion programme hosted by someone we had to ask a younger colleague who on earth they were? (Joe Swash . . . . thanks Ellie).

To these profound philosophical musings, we can now add another poser:  What came first? The tabloid news story or the pun? The Sun began this week boldly breathing new life into this debate by eschewing the more predictable news agenda (more of which anon) and plumping for a front-page splash about a breakthrough in the treatment of impotence. The new gel has been developed by “boffins” and is notable for containing a significant amount of nitro-glycerine; the Sun fired up its pun cannon and gave us the entirely wonderful headline: Sex Bomb. (10/10 – exemplary).

The other papers didn’t seem to have received the memo about just another manic Punday and began the week in more a more literal frame of mind. The Star pressed the big red hyperbole button and went with “Killer Flu Red Alert” alongside a graphic showing a map of the UK entirely in red (meaning “affected”) save for a two tiny specs of green in the City of London and Dorchester. So unless you were the Governor of the Bank of England or lived just north of the A35, you were doomed.

By Tuesday, the Star was predicting that the flu epidemic would “kill 750,000” but many of the other papers turned their attention to TM the PM’s reshuffle of her ministerial team which, being kind, could perhaps have gone just a little bit better. Several reported on the alleged meeting between TM and Jeremy “Homeopathy” Hunt which apparently ran along the following lines.

TM:                       Hello Jeremy. Now look here, we’ve got patients piling up in corridors, cancelled operations and senior NHS staff telling the papers that this is the worst crisis that the NHS has ever known. My plan is keep smiling and say everything’s fine but in the circumstances, I am going to move you to a different department. Your time as Health Secretary is over.

JH:                         I’m not going anywhere.

TM:                       Right you are. I’m sorry to have bothered you.

In fact, none of TM the PM’s senior ministers lost their jobs, although several middle-ranking ones did, and the reviews from the press were two-star at best: “No, Prime Minister” said the Mail; “Night of the blunt stiletto” snorted the Telegraph (and requiring readers to remember as far back as Harold Macmillan in 1962 in order to appreciate the joke), while the Guardian said that TM was in “disarray”.

In such troubling times, then thank goodness for Meghan Markle. Already the run-away winner of “Woman of the Year 2018”, MM and that posh bloke she’s been hanging around with lately visited a South London community radio station and the entire UK media fainted with the emotion of it all. Wednesday’s papers were wall-to-wall Markle (W2WM – not sure this abbreviation will stick); look there she is smiling at someone; and look, she’s laughing in that one and OMG! SHE’S ACTUALLY TRYING ON HEADPHONES AND STILL LOOKS AMAZING. Listen, we don’t mean to be cynical. Meg’s alright as far as TFSR is concerned and we’ll strip to the waist and fight anyone who says to the contrary. And in the UK right at this moment, that’s a total of zero people.

Elsewhere this week, we can all sleep a bit easier at the news that President Trump has “loosened” the rules on when the US can use nuclear weapons. The list of acceptable reasons for raining unimaginable and irreversible radioactive horror down on countless thousands of innocent men, women and children is now as follows: pre-emption of a nuclear strike by an enemy; retaliation at a nuclear strike by an enemy; an enemy making jokes about the size of your hands and / or your nuclear button; an enemy spilling your coffee; an enemy with a more accurate 9 iron into the green. Yes. We’re all going to die.

The Daily Mail’s “war on plastic” bore fruit (wrapped in paper) as TM the PM gave a speech about future environmental policy in the UK. The speech was full of good ideas including plastic-free aisles in supermarkets, a deposit scheme for plastic bottles, extending national parks and planting lots and lots of trees. No cynical quips from us: this was all excellent stuff. Now let’s just hope it happens; it’s not like there’s much else going on at the moment to distract the government is there

The week ends with more flu stories with most of Friday’s front pages featuring a photograph of 18-year-old Bethany Walker who became the 85th person to die from the current “epidemic”. Still some way short of the Star’s predicted three quarters of a million victims but obviously unbearably sad for her friends and family (and also the loved ones of the other 84 victims not pretty enough to make the front page).

Oh yes, Nigel Farage wants a second referendum. Friday’s Mirror cuts to the quick of the story with its headline: “Farage: I want a 2nd referendum”. Everyone’s favourite real ale drinker wants to shut “whingeing remoaners” up for good by winning a rerun of the 2016 vote. Wouldn’t that be fun? Remember how great it was last time? All that joy. That unity. The envy of the world. The Mirror suggests that NF should be careful what he wishes for and publishes a new opinion poll suggesting that if there was to be a re-run, the UK would vote to remain.

And finally, a rare mention for the Western Daily Press for its stunning riposte to Veganuary. “Black Pudding Saves trapped butcher’s life” says its headline, accompanying a story about butcher Chris McCabe in Totnes in Devon bludgeoning himself free from inside locked freezer room at a temperature that would have killed him: “He battered the lock with the breakfast staple and it eventually gave way, allowing him to walk free”, says the paper.

Vegans take note of the WDP’s use of “breakfast staple”; here’s a paper that has no time for your chickpea pancakes or oatmeal waffles. “Black pudding saved my life”, says McCabe putting the case for carnivorousness beyond discussion.

And there we end another week of news-sieving and it’s almost time to wish you a happy weekend. However, could you quickly indulge a personal hijacking of this final paragraph to wish our colleague and friend Harriet “HD” Dixon well as her final day at Speed draws to a close? HD will be missed for her professionalism, skill and the imaginative and surprising way she employs profanities when attempting to work the coffee machine. She’s kind, funny and the very best of sorts.

This is her favourite song; so HD, this is for you: