Every week, The Friday Speed Read hacks off the best bits from the past five days of UK journalism, stitches them back together again and then reanimates them like a newsprint Frankenstein’s monster for both your edification and pleasure.
Without wanting to lay a cold, damp tea towel over the nation’s mood in this PPSO (Post-Penalty Shoot Out) age, we’re going to begin this week’s Friday Speed Read by not talking about England at the World Cup (at least not until around the 700-word mark and then we’ll let rip with a loud refrain of “It’s coming home” on our red and white vuvuzela). It would appear, aside from those three sweaty hours on Tuesday evening, that OTHER THINGS have occurred this week and therefore it’s our duty and pleasure to collate them for you.
So Brexit then. After two long years of civil war in the Conservative Party, TM the PM has called a Cabinet meeting at Chequers today in which attendees will have their phones confiscated (true); the doors will be locked (also true) and the Remain and Brexiteer factions will be forced to wrestle to the death (possibly untrue) in order to reach agreement over a post-Brexit trade model that will then be rejected by Brussels. The Brexit Troops have been feeling punchy all week, with their threats to the PM given plenty of coverage by all the usual suspects: “Mogg warns May: Give us a real Brexit or else!” (The Telegraph); “Brexit rebels threaten to topple PM” (Express) “Brexiteers horrified as May finally reveals her hand” (The Telegraph, again).
Another significant UK employer waded into the debate on Wednesday, with Jaguar Land Rover warning of the dangers of a “hard Brexit” on its ability to operate successfully and profitably. Naturally these claims (by the CEO who, clearly knows nothing) were rubbished by everyone who’d you’d imagine would be doing the rubbishing but regardless of their validity or otherwise, they’ve made the febrile atmosphere yet more febrile. If Brexit was a Western, then Friday would be the climactic showdown . . . . .two shots crack the silence of the Buckingham countryside; only one Tory is left standing.
Elsewhere the world’s attention has been captured by the story of a boys’ football team and their coach who are trapped 2.5 miles into a flooded cave system in Thailand. The whole saga has been a procession of secular (or non-secular depending on your point of view) miracles: that they were found at all is extraordinary and testament to the skill of the search teams working in complete darkness but the fact that they were all still alive and relatively well is, well yes, miraculous. However, the news that broke this morning that a diver working to get air tanks to the boys has died in the attempt is a reminder that a good number more miracles will be required before this story has a happy ending.
Many of Thursday’s front pages featured the news that two more people in the Salisbury area have been poisoned by the nerve agent Novichok. “How could it happen again?” asked The Mail; “Couple poisoned by Russian nerve agent” reported the Times, once again quick to blame Russia for the incident; a conclusion shared and voiced by Home Secretary Sajid Javid in the Commons later in the day. It seems that this latest poisoning, rather than being a new attack, was caused by an extant residue of the substance used in the attempted murder of Sergei and Yulia Skripal in March; not that this is likely to reassure residents and visitors to Salisbury and Amesbury.
A quick, pre-football round up of other news this week finds widespread and deserved celebration of the 70th birthday of the NHS (an event and an organisation that deserves far more than a mention in passing); threats of a hosepipe ban due to the ongoing hot weather (“Let Us Spray” – The Star); a nurse arrested on suspicion of the murder of several babies and the Treasury planning to raise fuel duty to pay for increased funding for the NHS.
Okay then; below is a line; if you cross it you’ll be entering an area where men who really shouldn’t be removing their t-shirts remove their t-shirts; Saint Harry of Kane is venerated with gifts of lager and crisps and the breaking of Ye Olde Curse of the Penalty Shoot Out curse will be ranked alongside the moon-landings and the discovery of Penicillin in the pantheon of human achievement. You have been warned.
Ahead of England’s Last 16 bun-fight with Columbia on Tuesday, The Sun did the decent thing and hit us with a front page of old-fashioned xenophobia: “As 3 Lions face the nation that gave the world Shakira, great coffee and, er, other stuff, we say GO KANE!” This was the pun (and to be fair, it is darkly brilliant) that sparked an international incident with an official complaint made by the Columbian embassy in London.
The game itself arrived; 24 million watched at home, with many, many more watching in pubs; Saint Harry scored; the Columbians equalised in the game’s dying moments and after 30 turgid minutes of extra time, England was faced with the prospect of a penalty shoot-out. And everyone knows what happens to England in a penalty shoot-out.
Except this time was different. Cue national celebrations and Wednesday’s headlines:
SPOT ON! (Star)
HAND OF JORD! (Sun, with full page picture of England goal keeper Jordan Pickford)
AT LAST! (Mirror)
NEVER IN DOUBT! (Express)
MIRACLE – England win on penalties and the explosion of relief must have been heard in space (The Mail)
Safe to say, everyone was pretty chuffed.
And we realise that, for some, these scenes are entirely baffling, the emotions foreign and unfathomable, but, as the Sun rightly predicted with its Thursday headline (“Football’s staying home”), on Saturday at 3pm when England play Sweden in a World Cup semi-final, the nation will stop, shops and streets will be empty, motorways will be silent, guests will go missing from weddings as the whole ridiculous, wonderful charade begins all over again.
As the inscription written by Charles I in his copy of The Faerie Queen as he awaited execution (and discovered this week) said: DUM SPIRO SPERO.
While I breathe, I hope.
See you next week.