Speed 19 January 2018

There are all too few occasions in life when you can begin your arch and often overly- lengthy roundup of the week’s news with a reference to the oeuvre of Simon and Garfunkel; so when one does appear don’t be surprised when The Friday Speed Read grabs it with both of its rather chilly hands.

Hence, we open this week’s column with the news that comedy’s Boris Johnson has had a really big think and come up with the perfect way of repairing Anglo-French relations in the age of Brexit: a blimmin’ great bridge over troubled water or “un pont au-dessus d’une eau agitée”. Mais oui! C’est une bonne idée ca! What better way to span the physical and political distance between these two neighbours and erstwhile foes than a massive bridge placed over one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes? There’s literally nothing wrong with this plan.

BoJo’s moment of brilliance occurred during President Macron’s visit to the UK on Thursday; a visit that was greeted with great warmth by sections of the press. “Le stitch-up!” shouted the Daily Mail at the news that TM the PM had promised France another £45M to shore up border security at the port of Calais. There was also widespread coverage of Marcon’s offer to lend the UK the priceless, irreplaceable and generally very long Bayeux Tapestry (pedant’s corner: not actually a tapestry; it’s an embroidery), the first time that the 70m, nearly 1000 year old piece will leave France since its creation. The Daily Mail, in full anti-French chagrin greeted the news with an article headlined: “Why the masterpiece really belongs to us”.

In more serious national developments this week, the collapse of the construction company Carillion garnered much coverage with many papers, including The Times, FT and Guardian all of which asked how much the government knew about the frankly terrible state of its finances; a particularly prescient question given Carillion’s involvement in megaprojects such as HS2. The government says it thought everything was fine; others begged to differ. Carillion’s failure has also flagged the amount of taxpayers’ money tied up in other PFI contracts: “Billions lost by taxpayers on wasteful PFI contacts” said the Times on Thursday and in Friday’s Guardian, 2017’s Jeremy Corbyn vowed that Labour would halt the PFI outsourcing “racket” if his party wins the next election. And that’s a big if.

Time for royal news! Friday’s papers take a very close interest in the Duke of Cambridge’s very close shave. William’s newly cropped barnet has made several front pages: “One’s No1 cost £180” says the Sun, alongside the middling pun: “hairless to the throne”. The Mirror joins in the fun with “God Shave the King” which scores a disappointing 6 on the Pun-ometer.

However, Mr Kate Middleton has had to share the front pages with his future sister-in-law as nearly every paper goes a little bit gaga over Meghan Markle’s latest walk alongside some security barriers. The Daily Mail has an annotated photograph of MM’s “rather right on” outfit on its Friday front page, noting her choice of a bag that helps charity and earrings that “empower women”. All of these intelligent and wilfully liberal ticks that MM is bringing to her nascent royal duties is putting papers like the Mail in bit of an ideological pickle: leaving aside her clothing choices, MM yesterday told crowds that Prince Harry was a feminist, just like she was. A feminist! Of all things. It’s all very confusing for them.

In last week’s news this week, storms are still going to bring the country to its knees. We know this because The Daily Star keeps telling us with headlines such as “Chaos as monster storm lashes UK: 95 weather bomb nightmare”, it salivates. And if the storm doesn’t get you then the flu most certainly will: “Flu epidemic in 2 weeks” said The Daily Mirror, with the Guardian reporting that the scramble for NHS has led to over 100,000 patients waiting for at least 30 minutes in an ambulance before being seen this winter.

Other news canapes served to us this week included the ongoing story of Ant Not Dec’s divorce, with Monday’s tabloids getting all excited about the amount of money he may have to pay his soon-to-be-ex wife; TM the PM promising to appoint a Minister “for the lonely” and the escape of an American couple’s 13 children from the family home in which they were kept starving and chained to bedframes: “House of Horrors” said The Star without hyperbole. Elsewhere, the supermarket Iceland has promised to ban plastic from its stores; Facebook is being used to sell drugs to children (claims The Daily Mail) and, oh yes, life expectancy in the UK has fallen again. Lovely.

On Planet Trump, the leader of the free world used Twitter to announce his “Fake News Awards” which was essentially a list of everyone who’s criticised him in the past year (it’s a long list) while his ex-buddy Steve Bannon was subpoenaed to testify to the House Intelligence Committee that’s investigating alleged Russian fiddling in the US election. Not that it did much good it would seem as Bannon refused to answer any questions because the White House had told him not to. Not that they’re hiding anything of course; absolutely not. And in a leap from Trump to S and M, The Daily Star this week revealed that “Donald Trump” is now the UK’s favourite safe word to be shouted when Fifty Shades of Grey-inspired bedroom shenanigans get a bit too intense. A guaranteed passion killer.

Finally, size matters. Well, at least according to the Telegraph that responded to Monday’s unveiling of newly-shrunken Guardian, with a boast that it alone remained as the “biggest and best quality paper”; a claim that might well rile the publishers of the Financial Times. The new Guardian, its reduced dimensions a consequence of the need to cut cost, is colourful (a bit too colourful), consciously stylish (trying too hard?) and surely its last throw of the design dice before printed daily newspapers go the way of cassettes, milkmen and liberal politics. And that will be a sad day indeed.

Sad too the untimely death this week of Dolores O’Riordan, lead singer of Irish band The Cranberries who were very big for a bit in the 90s. Readers of a certain age will recall with ease the song Zombie, “with their tanks and their bombs and their bombs and their guns  . . . in your he-ad, in your he-ad . . etc) but here’s another of their massive hits. The video’s a bit odd but the song is lovely:

Have a great weekend.