Every week, The Friday Speed Read sets out across the news desert on its camel in search of oases of interest among the barren sands of reportage. It then returns to base to weave these stories into a tapestry that is then digitised and published here for your entertainment.
We’ve all been there. It’s late and you’ve somehow wound up in the bowels of some flea-pit of a nightclub. Your head is throbbing in time to the bass-line of a forgettable dance hit and, for the purposes of a better class of imaginative writing, let’s assume this fiction is occurring pre-2007 so hanging above your head is a thick pall of smoke from the fags and the weed and the sweat. You know you can’t dance. You’ve been told a million times over that you can’t dance. That girl you tried to impress with your dancing told you unequivocally that you can’t dance (and please could you leave the street beneath her window). But that beat, it pulls you. Compels you. A limb twitches. You slap it back into place. But it won’t be quelled. You’re being worked by the gods of rhythm and there’s not a damn thing you can do about it. And before you know it, before reason, fate or the authorities can intervene, you’re dancing to Abba as you make your way onto stage at the Tory Party Conference.
It turns out that TM the PM awkwardly moving her legs and arms in rough time to one of the greatest pieces of contemporary music ever produced (Dancing Queen, if you weren’t paying attention) might just have been the smartest move (pardon the pun) of her blighted premiership. The days leading up to the conference speech had been toxic: the television news was full of pictures of last year’s disaster, with its coughs, intruders and cascading letters, and then Boris Johnson had trolled his former boss by running through a wheat field (although it wasn’t wheat). He then rocked up in Birmingham to make a garrulous, simplistic and shouty speech in which he whipped up his acolytes into a frenzy by waving his arms and shouting “chuck Chequers”. The papers lapped it up: “Now it’s uncivil war” (The Mirror); “Party rivals go on the offensive” (The Guardian) and The Telegraph splashed their two faces across the sizable girth of its front page like a playbill for the worst boxing match in history.
And then the Prime Minster danced. She also made a speech. A long speech, arguably too long but a speech in which she promised to continue the freeze on fuel duty, build more council houses and . . . well, no one really remembers. She must have talked about Brexit; she said something about the UK’s best days are ahead but none of really mattered, none of it stuck because all anyone wanted to talk about the following day was the dancing. And so with a few awkward moves, TM the PM might just have bought herself a stay of execution: “Mama Maya!” (The Mail); “May moves to end austerity” (Times); “Dancing to a new beat” (Telegraph); “Let’s all dance to May’s tune” (Express); and WINNER – “Poll Dancer” (The Metro).
Moving on, and providing a vital and shocking bit of perspective this week, were the images from the aftermath of the tsunami in Indonesia. Once again, the awesome and destructive power of nature was on full-show as whole communities were literally swept off the face of the planet by the wave. As ever, the quality of the UK’s foreign correspondents was repeatedly demonstrated as they scrabbled around in the mud and death to find testimony from those that survived. One man, interviewed on a twisted slither of asphalt that was once a road, looked blankly at the BBC correspondent and just shook his head. He could speak English but he had no words.
Nicely coinciding with the release of the 2019 official Vladimir Putin calendar (January Vlad: bare chested in frozen water; May Vlad: cuddling a leopard while nobbling a foreign election; November Vlad: lifting up dissenters in a sack while having baby oil rubbed into his perfect flesh by an oligarch), Friday’s papers were dominated by the story of a failed attempt by Russian spies to hack into the headquarters of the international chemical weapons watchdog in The Hague. They were discovered sitting in a car outside the building, with laptops and Russian passports, a wifi panel hidden under a coat and a search history with queries such as “how to hack into the headquarters of chemical weapons watchdogs”; “how not to be caught while spying” and “funny videos of cats”. It’s funny. It’s scary. It made for some good headlines: “caught in the act” (The Times); “humiliation for Putin” (The Telegraph); “Carry on Spying” (i). The laurels, however, go to the Sun for what might be our favourite headline of the year so far and for which we’re going to dedicate a line all of its own.
The Novichokle Brothers.
10/10. Exemplary work. Take the weekend off.
A visit to the “other news this week” buffet finds the following nibbles: Manchester University Students Union has banned clapping in favour of “jazz hands” (a lot of people are cross about this); civil partnerships will be soon available as an alternative to marriage for heterosexual couples as well as gay couples in the UK; the average cost of domestic chores (if you were to pay for them) has been revealed as £18,932 per person; there have been protests on the streets of Washington DC against the expected confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh as a Supreme Court judge with dozens arrested, including comedian Amy Schumer, in scenes that scarily echo those in The Handmaid’s Tale; Scottish GPs are to begin prescribing walks in the countryside and birdwatching for people with chronic illnesses; The Apprentice is back on TV and everyone thinks it’s rubbish; post-Brexit immigration laws will remove preferential treatment for EU citizens and should you ever bump into Kanye West in Lidl (or anywhere else) make sure you call him by his new name – “Ye” or he’ll get the hump.
And finally, a bar in Chantilly, France had the chance to write itself into the annals of comedy history when a horse with no name (so let’s call him Monsieur Cheval) walked in. But instead of anyone asking the horse “Pourquoi vous avez un visage long?” (why the long face?), the startled patrons just ran away. And the whole world sighed at a chance missed.
Talking of France, singer Charles Aznavour died this week aged 94 after a career that saw him record over 1200 songs. And here’s one of the best of them:
See you next week.