Every week The Friday Speed Read walks the mossy paths of the News Forest in search of only the best stories to tuck into its hessian sack. Once home, these are then fried lightly in garlic and stirred into a current affairs risotto and served to you with love.
What’s the least plausible excuse you’ve ever served up to someone? What if you told your lover that you were popping for a “a quick drink after work” only to find yourself at 2am propping up the bar at Rizty’s, a glass of Baileys in each hand (and you don’t even like Baileys) trying to convince a Portuguese exchange student called Marianna that she’s only pretending to not to understand Spanish because basically Portuguese and Spanish are the same language. So how do you get out of that one? This relationship-troubling haze of bad booze, bad chat and near-hospitalising lateness?
Easy. You play the “Salisbury Card” and tell your lover that you “had to pop to Salisbury to see its 123 metre spire”. And all will be forgiven. Your lover will laugh, tell you that she believes you implicitly and then suggest an early night. Or an episode of Queer Eye. Or, if you can take that much pleasure, both.
This flight of fantasy (and let me stress, it is indeed fantasy) is of course in response to the appearance on Russian television of the two suspects named by the UK a week ago as the likely perpetrators of the Novichok attack on the Skripals. Asked by the interviewer why the pair had been caught on CCTV travelling to and from Salisbury on the day of the attempted murder, the pair answered that they’d wanted to see the world-famous cathedral, its spire and its clock, the oldest working clock in the world. Even the interviewer, in the pay of the Russian state let’s remember, interjected and asked with incredulity “Salisbury?” as if to clarify that they didn’t mean York or Paris or Rome. But no, they did mean Salisbury, famous with horologists and secret government assassins (hello Russian hackers by the way!) the world over. The Telegraph front page quoted TM the PM in calling the interview “an insult to our intelligence” while the Metro admirably attempted to win the prize for the year’s best pun (only to fall some way short): “For Your Spires Only”.
Back at the top end of the week, we were forced to endure ubiquitous coverage of the marital woes of Boris Johnson, a man who has clearly played the Salisbury Card so often that it’s lost its mojo (its Bojo). For many, the fact that Johnson’s wife announced she has filed for divorce is worth no more than a shrug and a shudder at the thought of what it must have been like having to share a bathroom with him; but for the large numbers of Tories who, without laughing, think that Boris has all the necessary attributes required to lead our glorious post-Brexit nation, the story put them on the defensive. “Boris triggers Tory mayhem” (The Mail); “Johnson’s allies accuse Downing Street of smears” (The Times); “Wife knifes bonking Boris” (The Sun, of course).
Talking of Brexit (and who doesn’t love talking about Brexit?), it’s been another baffling week of claim and counterclaim as time continues its relentless march towards next March. Tuesday saw a press conference hosted by The European Research Group, that collection of Tory Brexit-lovers led by Jacob “The Ringmaster” Rees-Mogg. The group gathered behind a trestle table looking for all the world like a pop group who’d had a minor hit in 1981 announcing a comeback tour of Conservative clubs in the South Hams and revealed their plan to avoid “hard border” in Ireland while also telling anyone who would listen that they desperately want TM to remain PM even though they don’t . In other Brexit news, Michel “Non” Barnier said that a Brexit deal was likely in October (really?) and Mark Carney of the Bank of England said that “no-deal” would be as bad for the economy as the financial crash of 2008 (celebrating its birthday this week) and the government released the next instalments of its bestselling series of “what the hell is going to happen in the case of No Deal?” books. The plot of which is a bit like the Choose Your Own Adventure Books from the 1980s, except that every possible ending reads “It’s going to be rubbish. But at least we’ll have our country back”.
Time to plunge into the waters of “other news” of which there’s been quite a lot this week. So, all the papers are talking about Bodyguard which is not on Netflix and is only shown once a week but is still the most-watched drama for a decade. Probably because (SPOLIER ALERT) it’s really good. Women in the UK are dying younger than nearly anyone else in Europe (“Obesity Britain” – The Mail); The Archbishop of Canterbury took a pop at Amazon for not paying enough tax for which he took a lot of flak from some quarters (“Tories blast Wellby for ‘parroting’ Labour view” – The Times); Jamie Oliver tacked a burglar; Apple announced bigger, better iPhones priced to serve the oligarch market; provincial towns are struggling with “Britain’s zombie drug epidemic” (The Mirror) as Spice users stumble around the streets in scenes that are both filmic and thoroughly depressing and Gregg Wallace from Masterchef now lives with his mother-in-law and yes, this was front page NEWS.
In Trump news, the President of the United States of America greeted the oncoming Hurricane Florence by claiming that the 3000 people who had died in recent hurricanes in Puerto Rico did in fact not die at all, the deaths being made up by the Democrats to “make me look bad”. Meanwhile the biggest-selling book in the US this week is “Fear” by Bob Woodward; a portrait of Trump as a mendacious, disinterest leader whose staff intervene without his knowledge to stop him blowing up the world. Almost literally.
Back in the UK, The Sun’s punning game has been in trough of late but it did make a brave effort to get back up to speed with its Wednesday front page: “The Bionic Manhood”. While a long way from a classic, the story of 45 year-old Andrew Wardle who was born without a penis having sex for the first time after being fitted with a “£50,000 manually inflated, bionic willy” did at least mean the paper could wheel out some of its favourite phrases including “bedded” and “twenty minute session”. But you know what, we shouldn’t sneer, this is a good news story and we’re genuinely chuffed with Andrew’s “ridiculously big new todger”. But probably not as chuffed as he is.
And there we go. Another week comes to a close. Well done for making it through unscathed. We’re off to Salisbury to look at the cathedral (wink wink); to play us out, in the week that Elton John embarked on his farewell tour, here’s surely his greatest song.