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The Trident of Misery

In keeping with its reputation for hedonism, last night The Friday Speed Read opted for a crazy night of bacchanalian excess involving a sofa and a television (for our younger readers, “television” is a bit like YouTube but the videos last longer and you can’t quickly skip forward to the next one – ask your parents) and in doing so stumbled across the Ten o’clock news. Midway through the programme, newsreader Huw Edwards paused for a moment, flicked his keen Welsh eyes towards the camera and gave a look that wordlessly spoke of a profound sadness; it was as if the nightly parade of horror, stupidity and abuse had become just too grotesque a spectacle and the lovely Huw could stomach not a single second more of it.

Either that or he was hungry.

But Huw’s right. It’s been one of those weeks. In Parkland, Florida, a 19-year-old man killed 17 people, most them children, at a school with an AR-15 rifle that he’d legally purchased in a shop. After wandering around the corridors and classrooms casually murdering his victims with seemingly no particular plan in mind, he then went to McDonalds for some food. Twenty hours after the event, President Trump offered his prayers for the victims’ families and promised to get tough on “mental health” but made no mention of gun control. This of course in a country in which there’s been 1,624 mass shootings in 1,870 days, guns are clearly not the problem.

Closer to home, the week’s news has been dominated by two stories, neither of which did anything to lighten the mood. On Monday the weekend’s revelations about the actions of various ex-Oxfam workers who used prostitutes during their mission in Haiti continued to make the front pages: “Oxfam Crisis places £34m of government funding in doubt”, said the Guardian; “The shaming of Oxfam” said The Mail, accurately. By Tuesday the story had grown bigger still and as high-profile celebrity ambassadors quickly resigned their positions, the headlines continued to toll the bells for its, potentially fatal, fall: “Oxfam workers offered aid for sex” (Telegraph); “Oxfam chief knew of sex claims” (Times); “Abuse rife in Oxfam shops” (Mail).

As the scandal accelerated, The Daily Express gladly took the opportunity to repeat its call for huge cuts to the UK’s foreign aid budget, a view that it holds vehemently and, it must be said, singularly. Conversely, commentators with diverse political leanings shared a lament for the double victims of this scandal: those that were abused by Oxfam’s staff and the hundreds of thousands of the world’s most vulnerable people who’ll suffer as a result of what, it is presumed, will be a catastrophic drop in donations to the charity.

Let’s hasten then to consider the third prong of this week’s trident of misery, not because it’s in any less worthy of the word count but because the grim details are probably best implied in a review such as this. Thursday saw the conviction of ex-football coach Barry Bennell on 50 counts of abuse of young boys. There’s suggestions that the true number of victims is much higher and all of the papers this week have asked how he could have continued to wreak such evil on those in his charge for so long without intervention. Bennell is yet to be sentenced but he will clearly die in prison. A fate that some have argued seems pretty mild in circumstances.

So then, some good news from the week . . .  *TFSR thumbs through its notebook* . . .  er, bad food is going to kill us all (“Processed foods are driving up rates of cancer” – The Mail, among many others); no that’s not entirely jolly is it? How about “Household cleaners as bad for the lungs as 20 cigarettes a day” (The Telegraph); well, we’ve read brighter headlines. Hang on, here’s one: “Middle class millennials priced out of housing” (Telegraph, along with of all the other ‘broadsheets’); no, that’s hardly bursting with Friday fun either.

Thank goodness then for the Daily Express: “Yoghurt stops heart attacks”. Yep. It’s that simple. Eat yoghurt and your heart will go on. And on. And on. That’s a completely scientific and demonstrable fact.

Elsewhere this week, Boris Johnson gave a speech about Brexit (yes, it’s still happening) in which he argued that we should all stop arguing and start being hopeful about the amazing opportunities that will come our way once we’re free of the European shackles. The speech was a little light on the detail about how exactly this promised land will be reached (and by ‘a little light’ we mean entirely lacking) but BoJo did endear himself to people across the country with his use of such user-friendly and accessible vocabulary as “autarkic”, “murrain”, “recondite”, “sundered”, “irenic” and also a gag about sex tourism to Thailand. Clearly a man of the people.

Light relief’s Meghan Markle walked alongside some more railings this week wearing an expensive coat and cuddling people on the other side of the railings. On Tuesday, The Mirror reported that MM has been making secret visits to comfort victims of the Grenfell fire. “The new People’s Princess” shouted The Mirror, seemingly unwilling to learn the lessons of history.

Valentine’s Day arrived; people put smug photos of themselves and their partners on Facebook and the ‘Gram and the tabloids printed a story about “uproar” in the Women’s Institute over an advert in their WI Life magazine for the £39.99 PicoBong Zizo vibrator. One member of the august organisation was quoted: “I turned the page and there was a pink vibrator staring back at me”, she raged. “There have been letters”, she added ominously.

And finally, the Winter Olympics are ongoing and it’s all been pretty entertaining stuff. The snowboarding is a particular highlight; insane but compelling (much like the PicoBong Zizo) but drawing most coverage has been the hypnotic totalitarian synchronicity of the North Korean cheerleaders that are being bussed from venue to venue. There’s something bleakly beautiful yet coldly terrifying about this near-identical troupe of women; every routine, every smile is rehearsed to inch-perfect precision and the whole effect is akin to scenes from The Handmaid’s Tale. But with better moves.

And real.

Oh, we’re depressed again.

Have a great weekend. See you next week.

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