Speed 02 February 2018

Hello there February; we can’t tell you how happy we are to see you. Can we take your coat? Would you like something to eat? To drink? How about a bloodied steak and a glass of excellent claret? Or a perhaps a triple whiskey? Neat.

Here at The Friday Speed Read we spared ourselves the puritanical challenge of Dry January (or indeed Veganuary) but we’re still grateful that the influenza apocalypse that many of the shoutier newspapers were predicting with absolute certainty for most of January turned out to be a tad exaggerated. That’s said, we didn’t completely escape a mild painting by the germ brush and indeed, The Friday Speed Read, has spent three days this week under a duvet rather than with ear pressed to the beating heart of news.

As a result, the perspicacity (yes, we went there) of our analysis this week will be somewhat diminished. What we can tell you with certainty is that The End of the F***ing World on Netflix is as dark, stylish and compelling as everyone says it is (and the soundtrack is nothing short of brilliant) and also that the ceiling in the bedroom could do with a coat of paint.

Meanwhile in the non-quarantined world, stuff kept happening and the newspapers kept reporting it in ways that felt not only familiar but, at times, thuddingly predictable. The Sun kicked off the week with some good old traditional German-baiting: “Wish you were Herr?” it punned, alongside a picture of a deckchair and a story about a new app developed by a travel company (no names; their PR team have already had a killer week) which allows plucky Brits to book sun loungers in advance, thus foiling those dastardly Germans and their underhand tactics of getting up early and not being hungover like a dog in order to bag a place by the pool.

The perilous state of the UK’s health was flagged by several papers with The Telegraph reporting that “half of children are obese in parts of the UK” and the i suggesting that the “British have the worst diet in Europe”, alongside statistics pointing out that we eat four times as much junk food as France, Greece and Italy.

Talking of perilous states, the next act in the satirical drama that is Brexit hit the stage this week and the Express marked the occasion by being cross about it: “Battle to save a full Brexit” it shouted on Monday, worried that liberal forces are at work, determined to dilute our exit from the EU. All its fears were realised on Wednesday when Buzzfeed (taking a break from its increasingly specific list articles – sorry, we can’t bring ourselves to use the word “listicle” – such as “12 things 43 people from Exeter bought in Trago Mills in 1991) published a leaked government report on the likely economic impact of various Brexit scenarios. The analysis suggested that in every model, across every sector Brexit was going to make the UK worse off.

The next day in the Commons, Junior Brexit Minister Steve Baker batted away questions from the Opposition about such worrying conclusions with the assertion that economic forecasts like these that the government’s own staff had compiled were “always wrong”. A comment for which he apologised a day later.

Two very different takes on women’s rights dominated the papers in the middle of the week. The Sun was in high chagrin over the decision by the Professional Darts Corporation to stop using busty women in short dresses to accompany beer-bellied, dart-playing athletes onto the oche at matches. It has started a petition against what it sees as the worst excesses of “snowflake” Britain threatening the jobs of these women. When Formula 1 announced a few days later that it too would be stopping the “tradition” of leggy models standing next to racing cars with signs that say “this is a nice racing car” (or something), the Sun almost combusted in rage: “Formula Dumb” it shouted and, on its inside page, it went further with “You Silly Prix”. The Daily Express was equally exasperated at such woolly-minded, liberal attitudes towards the objectification of women: “PC culture is driving the world mad”, it said morosely.

Meanwhile, the BBC continued to tie itself into knots over the plainly very simple fact that it’s been paying its male and female staff unequally for years. Former China editor Carrie Gracie appeared before a committee of MPs in the week saying she was “very angry” about the BBC’s behaviour. Gracie was supported by a whole squad of female colleagues who stood next to her outside the building, providing a photo opportunity that was seized upon by most newspapers. An internal pay review released the following by the BBC reported that there was no gender pay inequality at the Corporation. Even though there clearly is.

In case you’d forgotten, Donald Trump is still president of United States and this week delivered the annual State of the Union address to the joint houses of Congress and to a TV audience that Trump claimed via Twitter was the “highest number in history”. Even though it wasn’t. In fact, the TV audience was amongst the lowest of all time. And yes we could of course laugh this off; after all, we’re all becoming (worryingly) immune to eccentric excesses of the most powerful man in the world but hang on, the specifics of the lie don’t matter, the fact is that IT WAS A LIE. This is the world we live in now: if you say it, it’s true. Even if it’s not.

Other stories making it through the germ haze this week included another, smaller scale, act of digital hubris, this time by Tory MP Matt Hancock who has launched an app called “Matt Hancock” which features a video of the new culture secretary talking to you when you open it and a number of amusing / alarming notifications:

Elsewhere, the Daily Mail got cross about comments by the chief of road policing that even a 1mph foray above the speed limit should be seen as a criminal offence; The Sun bemoaned the UK’s declining naval power (“We’re in the ship”); The Express revealed research that people who snore at night are more likely to develop dementia; The Star warned Victoria Beckham that husband David had gone out to a nightclub owned by a gangster and accompanied by a ‘brunette’ (“best get out there now Posh”) and TM the PM went to China, wisely putting a few thousand miles between her and the latest furore over EU citizens’ rights post Brexit and was praised by her hosts for not worrying about pesky irrelevances such as human rights.

Finally, Orcas can talk. Well, not quite talk as such but they can imitate human speech. Wilkie, an orca-formally-known-as-a-killer-whale, has been recorded saying “Hello”, “Goodbye”, “Amy” and also blowing a raspberry; a vocabulary broad enough to suggest that he could run a viable YouTube channel or contribute expert opinion to the Today Programme on Radio 4.

And there we go. We’re pretty sure that everything above happened this week but of course it could all just have been a paracetamol-inspired nightmare. Either way, it’s the weekend so we can be glad for that.

Here’s an extract Graham Coxon (from Blur, from the 90s)’s soundtrack to the aforementioned The End of the F***ing World. It’s ace because of course it is.

See you next week.