Every week, The Friday Speed Read sets up its stall on a Bristol street corner, taking out recent news stories from its faun valise and laying them out upon a tartan blanket hoping to tempt passers-by with the promise of one careful gentleman owner and reasonable pricing.
While many news stories are a gift for headline writers, a few are wrapped delicately in skeins of the finest silk, cradled in down from the world’s most pampered ducks, placed in an exquisite wooden box crafted by wizards and then triple tied with ribbons woven from threads of gold, rhodium and the scudding white clouds of a perfect summer’s day. So, step forward then enthusiastic Brexit advocate James Dyson’s and his decision this week to shift the headquarters of his hoover business (apparently it really riles him when you use the H word) to Singapore. A decision that, “was not driven by Brexit” but one that nonetheless succeeded in briefly uniting the mutually-contemptuous factions of Leave and Remain.
Oh, but what was fun was had. Dyson displayed a “moral vacuum”; was full of “hot air”; his decision “sucked”; could not be “swept under the carpet”; he’d “sucked the life” out of the pro-Brexit argument; and although he wanted to keep his business “upright”, many people now think he’s a “dirt bag” (or plastic cylinder).
Not that it’s really a laughing matter of course. Nothing like. This was the week that the business world got its act together and, with a No Deal Brexit looming like a fat thundercloud (or a glorious new dawn, depending on your opinion and fragility of mind) repeatedly made the case that leaving the EU at the end of March without an agreement would be a mess too big even for an entire fleet of Dyson’s hoovers to baglessly suck-up. Sony announced this week that it too was moving its HQ out of the UK; Airbus said that it was also considering its future in this country; even the BBC suggested that it would have to set up a base in Belgium so it could continue broadcasting in Europe post B-Day.
In Davos this week, economists and world leaders gathered for the annual Word Economic Forum and, as they stumbled back to their hotel rooms of an evening, drunk on hard cheese and Kirsch, they passed various members of the UK Cabinet, busking on snowy street corners. Each had a small tin nestled in front of them along with a sign reading “Cold and homeless. Any spare Free Trade Deals please?” as they strummed through the back-catalogue of Dire Straits.
Meanwhile, TM the PM sat chain-smoking in the basement of Number 10, receiving visitor after visitor, from the Left, from the Right, from business, from trade unions, all urging her, through the dirt yellow-clouds of a hundred Marlboro reds, to adopt a reasonable, non-suicidal position and take “No Deal off the table”. TM the PM smiled wanly at each of these callers, shook her head and sent them packing. The UK is going to leave the EU on the 29th of March and to hell with the consequences.
And if all that sounds a bit too much like “Project Fear” for you Jacob then maybe it’s because the whole thing is so damn terrifying.
Unusually for this column, we’ve not tossed you any newspaper headlines so far this week. Well, what do you imagine they were? “Do not hijack our Brexit” (Express); “May rules out second vote as a threat to social cohesion” (Guardian); “Dozens of ministers ready to quit over Brexit” (Times) and “COLDER THAN MOSCOW! – 5 Week Chill blasts in” (The Star. It’s currently 9C outside).
Okay, time to bring back the “other news this week” paragraph from its Brexit-enforced exile. Some of the other stories distracting the nation these past five days included Prince Philip still not saying sorry for rolling his Range Rover into a subject; Ant and Dec winning the “Best People on the Telly” award for the 85th year in succession despite Ant not being on the telly this year; a £5000 reward being offered to catch the delightful individual who has covered memorials around London in white paint; and the driver of a speed boat who’d been convicted in his absence of the manslaughter of his girlfriend finally giving himself up in Georgia – “Got him!” shouted the Mail, having been running a campaign to locate the fugitive and return him to the UK.
The Sun had some headline fun this week following the heart-warming story that a driver passing across the Sandringham estate successfully avoided being barrelled into by any old men in Range Rovers only to be thwacked over the head by an irate, be-tweeded gamekeeper with a large stick who shouted “MIND MY DOGS YOU F_ING PEASANT!” in his face. The Sun stepped up and gave us:
“Peasant” rucker is an unpleasant pheasant plucker – which probably deserves to be hung in the National Gallery as one of the nation’s artistic treasures. (Incidentally, the headline was deemed too potentially hazardous to be read aloud by Nick Robinson on the Today Programme, a wise decision given the programme’s record on malapropism).
News from the Food Desk now and there was widespread coverage of “shrinkflation” in popular supermarket products. Statistics from the ONS showed that hundreds of products, from cereals to bread to chocolate, have reduced in size since 2015 while remaining the same price or, in many cases, becoming more expensive. Also this week, scientists in Iowa published a report suggesting that, shockingly, eating fried food too frequently is really bad for you and may increase the risk of heart disease. We await with some anticipation the Iowan scientists’ findings about smoking, injecting heroin and sharing your bath with box jellyfish.
And finally, in a story that’s probably a metaphor for our times if only someone could make it work (we’ve tried and failed), it was revealed this week that a circle of standing stones discovered in Aberdeenshire in December and hailed as “the Scottish Stonehenge” by archaeologists, was actually built by a farmer in the 1990s. The whole story can be retold via two quotations from council archaeologist Neil Ackerman:
Ackerman in December – “This amazing new site adds to our knowledge of these unique monuments and of the prehistoric archaeology of the area”
Ackerman this week – “It’s obviously disappointing to learn of this development”.
But let’s give Mr Ackerman huge credit for being able to laugh at himself:
If you are having an awkward day at work at least you're not that guy who identified a new prehistoric stone circle to the press that now turns out to be about 20 years old. https://t.co/9EGmb9H3pO
— Neil Ackerman (@ncackerman) January 21, 2019
So, there we go. Another week passes. Next week, more Brexit drama in the Commons as backbench MPs try to force TM the PM’s hand and block a No Deal outcome . . . but for now, let’s have a weekend and let’s have Weezer’s cover of an 80s classic, taken from a whole albums of covers that the band released this week just because they could.
See you next week.