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Best in Show
Each week The Friday Speed Read pitches its tent in the news field and toasts the most interesting stories of the past seven days over a camp fire of analysis and summary.
As The Friday Speed Read reaches its 80th edition, meaning that something in the region of 90,000 words have, to date, been committed to electronic paper in our weekly attempt to summarise the news for your edification and pleasure (only 40,000 of these have been strictly necessary; the others have been wasted in parenthetical side-tracks such as this), we must admit that some weeks are definitely newsier than others. But there’s been no scrabbling around in the muck and peelings of the inside pages this week; this week has been one of the big ones.
Let’s begin in Thailand with the story that developed in such a narrative-friendly fashion that TWO film versions have already gone into production (true). The rescue of 12 young boys and their football coach from flooded caves 2.5 miles underground received universal media coverage, not least for the fact that it was an unfathomably dangerous operation. Perhaps only afterwards, when it was revealed that shortly after the rescue of the final boy the pumps holding back the water had failed (and the rescue team had to, literally, swim for their lives), did the global audience realise how fine the margins were between success and tragedy. Let’s also remember that a former Thai Navy Seal died while returning from taking oxygen supplies to the boys shortly after they were found. However, the story of the lost football team and their miraculous rescue will be retold for generations; a reminder of the incredible feats of bravery and brilliance of which our much-maligned race is capable.
Talking of much-maligned (and there’s really no other way to segue from the above), it’s been a hell of a week for TM the PM. Bloodied and weary after last Friday’s lock-in at Chequers with her warring Cabinet, TM limped into the weekend comforted by the fact that there was now at least a plan for the UK’s trade relationship with the EU post-Brexit. Okay, it was plan that pleased precisely no one, Leavers and Remainers were briefly united by the thought that the “Chequers Deal” was entirely unworkable, but at least it was A PLAN and TM the PM could have a couple of beers and watch the football, forgetting her woes for a couple of hours and punching the air as Dele Alli headed England’s second goal against Sweden.
But then in waning hours of Sunday evening, Brexit Secretary David Davis decided that he couldn’t publicly support a plan he privately hated and resigned from the government. A nation shrugged and by Monday lunchtime had forgotten who David Davis was. However, a much larger wave of CRISIS was about to crash over the PM’s head with the resignation of Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs And Making Tasteless Jokes About Dead Syrians – Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson. On Tuesday, Bor-exit was the only story in town with many papers quoting from his immaculately composed (say what you want about him, but he’s one hell of a writer) resignation letter: “Brexit Dream is Dying” (Express, Times. Telegraph); “Boris goes in for the kill” (Mail) and, in an appropriately Shakespearean allusion, “Et tu, Boris?” (i).
But unlike Julius Caesar, TM survived the metaphorical knife attack, published her Brexit white paper (which, as predicted, everyone hated) and prepared herself for both England’s World Cup semi-final and the imminent arrival of President Trump to the UK. Surely nothing else could go wrong now?
(NOTE- Regular readers might be expecting to stumble across our traditional and much-loved “Other news this week” paragraph sometime around now. Well, due to an excess of BIG STUFF HAPPENING this paragraph has been given the week off is currently camping just outside Mousehole in Cornwall. It will return next week).
We’ll put the football aside for a moment (Spoiler alert: it’s not coming home) and marvel in slack-jawed horror at the arrival of the 45th President of the United States of America in the UK. Now, it’s long been known that Trump’s particular brand of diplomacy is less about nuance, tact and expert knowledge and more about cudgelling friends and allies alike with a giant stick until he gets his own way; but even by his own standards, Trump’s interview with the Sun published on Friday morning takes some beating. Here are the highlights:
“Donald Thump” said The Mirror; “May has wrecked Brexit” said The Sun, “I thought you wanted Brexit” said the Mail.
Meanwhile, protests against Trump’s visit are taking place across the country including the flying of the giant Trump-lampooning “Baby Blimp” of which you’ll all have seen pictures by now. These are strange, uncertain times and if you’ve even the faintest idea what’s going to happen next then you’re both incredibly insightful and fictional.
And so, for the last time for the foreseeable future, to the football. On Wednesday morning ahead of the Semi-Final, the papers were full of hope: “Give us tears of Joy”; “One Moore step, Harry”; “Make history!” but then, as you well know, after an encouraging first half, England slowly yielded to the Croatian superiority and it was all over. Among sore heads and heavy hearts, the Thursday headlines united behind a single message: “You did us proud”; “Pride of Lions”; “Thank you England”; and “Stop using tap water on your garden” (The Mail, singular as ever).
There’s many that don’t understand the appeal of competitive sport, football particularly, but it’s simple really: it’s just storytelling. It has its heroes (Saint Harry of Kane), its villains, its plots and subplots; its disasters and triumphs; joy, hatred, revenge and, very occasionally, it throws up the prospect of fantastical, fairy tale endings. And there’s nothing more human, more universal, than the hope for a happy ending. That’s what people buy into and that’s what has united the country at a time when we we’ve been in dire need of some unity.
And for that reason alone, it’s been a great World Cup. See you next week.