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Oumuamua, is there anybody out there?

The Friday Speed Read

Sometime towards the end of October, a large, cigar-shaped piece of rock appeared in our tiny corner of the infinite blackness of the universe. 400 metres in length but only a tenth of this size wide, the rock was calculated to be travelling at 196,000 miles per hour and following a trajectory that suggested that it had originated somewhere beyond our own galaxy. The Hawaiian astronomers named this mysterious visitor “Oumuamua” (which is Hawaiian for “David Davis”) and this week this mysterious rock came close enough to Earth to allow humans to scan it for signs of intelligent life.

Maybe it wasn’t just a rock? Maybe the marketing campaign for The Last Jedi (released this week) had gone interstellar or maybe this was a spaceman who’d come travelling on his ship from afar, light years of time since his mission did start?

If Oumuamua was indeed transporting emissaries from another world (and for the answer you’re going to have to read to right to the end of this week’s TFSR; that or just Google it I guess) then you have to wonder what they would have made of the earthly events playing out beneath them this week.

Luckily you don’t have to wonder any further because we’ve just intercepted the following conversation via the massive radio telescope and coffee maker that we have on the roof here at Speed Towers.

Alien Natasha:                  Hells bells! Have you seen what’s going on down there?

Alien Stephen:                  Yeah. It’s a right old mess and no mistake.

Alien Natasha:                  You’re sure you want to stop? We could just press on to next inhabited world. We’ve still got tonnes of twiglets.

Alien Stephen:                  I really need the loo.

Alien Natasha:                  You sure you can’t hold it in?

Alien Stephen:                  Yeah alright. I’ll try. But if you put your bloody Ed Sheeran playlist on again, I am going to slap you on all four of your faces.

Alien Natasha:                  Deal. That one he’s done with Beyoncé is pants anyway. Let’s speed out of here using our advanced alien technology and Cuban-inspired ergonomics.

All of which is a needlessly arcane way of saying that it’s been another grim week in the UK media with little sign that the impending festive season has done much to stop people and institutions being horrible to each other. The week began with another slew of weather headlines: “Black Ice Monday” (The Star); “Colder than Moscow” (The Mirror) and “Big Freeze Chaos to get Worse” (The Express) – note: the chaos had ended by Wednesday; followed by some more panic about the inimical effects of social media – “Facebook is ripping society apart” (The Mail) and “Twitter is a playground for paedos” (The Sun, presumably intending this unedifying pun).

And if this grim parade wasn’t enough to send you scuttling for the Christmas sherry then how about “Gas shortage to put up bills” (The Telegraph)?; or the fact that we’re all too addicted to Candy Crush and Netflix to read books any more – “Literary fiction in crisis as sales drop dramatically” (The Guardian)? Or, just to push you over the edge, Prue Leith, fresh from her Bhutan-based BESMIRCHING of the Bake Off final, who was widely reported to have endorsed FROZEN STUFFING. Honestly, does the woman not have a fruitcake crumb of shame?

However, the biggest story of the week broke on Wednesday night when Theresa May suffered her first defeat on the Brexit bill as 11 of her own MPs voted with the opposition to give Parliament a legally-binding vote on the final Brexit deal before it becomes law. This was actually a relatively minor defeat and unless David “Oumuamua” Davis returns from Brussels with a trade deal that requires the UK to speak French on Fridays, dress its customs officials as Jean-Claude Junker and individually gift-wrap and label every item that’s exported to the EU, it’s almost inconceivable that Parliament will do anything other than approve the exit deal.

That didn’t stop all hell breaking loose in the right-wing press on Thursday morning. The Daily Mail led the charge with emboldened capital letters shouting from its front page. “Proud of yourselves?” it barked, alongside the names and faces of the Tory rebels, arranged as if they were wanted for high treason (which the Mail clearly believed they were). Inside, its rancour continued: “the rebels toasted their treachery with white wine and champagne” and on Friday Richard Littlejohn rattled off another of his trademark rants: “Sorry but ‘bastards’ doesn’t even begin to describe this despicable bunch of smug, self-absorbed saboteurs”.

One of the “traitors” Dominic Grieve said that he’d received death threats via Twitter and  . . . and . .. you know what, it’s all got too horrible. It’s hard to think of a time in which the country was this divided and the national debate so poisonous so we’re going to swerve the rest of the week’s depressing news and end this column with some GOOD THINGS that have happened (and to be fair have been widely reported) this week:

One: Drinking tea has been proved to combat blindness.

Two: Eating Marmite has been proved to reduce stress.

Three: Scientists appear to have developed a cure for Haemophilia.

Four: Scientists also appear to have developed a treatment for the previously unstoppable Huntington’s Disease.

Five: Scientists are ace

Six: Noted homophobe and Trump-endorsed candidate Roy Moore lost his seat in the US Senate to Democrat Doug Jones DESPITE arriving to vote for himself on horseback.

Seven: Blue Planet 2 ended (not good in itself) and was as great and timely a piece of television that you could possibly imagine. Our planet is genuinely astonishing. (Please can we stop destroying it?)

Eight: The final episode of BBC4 sitcom Detectorists was broadcast on Wednesday. For those in the know, this gem of a comedy has quietly made the world a better place over the course of its three series. Its final half hour was, without any hyperbole, perfect.

Nine: #Strictly final is merely hours away.

So that’s it for another week. Next week The Friday Speed Read will be not be published but dry your eyes mate, because around about Tuesday of what no one is calling Festive Countdown Week, we’ll be publishing THE SPEED READ REVIEW OF THE YEAR 2017!

Try to remain calm.

Oh yes, the big rock that might have been an alien spaceship? Turns out it was just a rock after all.

Sorry Chris (and get well soon):

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