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Speed Read: The dark arts of the satirical ornithologist

Every week The Friday Speed Read brings a large mixed salad of the week’s news stories to the barbecue of a friend and then scoops modest servings onto the plates of all in attendance while slowly getting sozzled on cheap French lager in tiny bottles.

Aside from early-to-mid-90s indie music (ask your parents) and the unaccountable lushness of Michael Heseltine’s hair (ask your grandparents) one of the more nagging of our obsessions here at The Friday Speed Read is how things get their names. And we don’t necessarily mean the naming of children, although one does wonder how in the first flush of parenthood an exhausted, euphoric mother looks into into the tear-streaked eyes of her proud partner and between them they decide to bestow up their brand-new human miracle the name Troy. Or Boris.  Nope, we mean how a group of furniture designers in Sweden can sit around a table (with one leg that never attached properly) and decide that “Billy” would be a good name for a bookcase; or how five lithe Frenchmen alighted upon the moniker “Chunk! No, Captain Chunk!” for their new band (important note: this is not an endorsement of the music of Chunk! No, Captain Chunk! – proceed with caution). We always feel we’d like to have been in the room when such decisions were reached.

In this spirit, in another (spoiler alert) Brexit-heavy week, we do wonder which wag in it was in the Civil Service who, when tasked with naming the secret, doom-laden report about the consequences including FOOD SHORTAGES of a no deal exit from the EU (a report that was leaked to the press last weekend), decided that it should be called “Operation Yellowhammer”. Now, as EVERYONE knows, the yellowhammer (Emberiza citrinella) is a bunting in the order of Passeriform native to Eurasia. Obvs. A quick Google also reveals that the distinctive rhythm of the yellowhammer’s song is often characterised by the phrase “A little bit of bread and no cheese”.

Coincidence? WE THINK NOT.

Anyway, that’s 300 words spent on the revelation that at least one member of the Civil Service is both an ornithologist and a satirist. A point we probably could have made in far fewer words but where’s the fun in that? You’ve not got anything better to do have you?

Monday’s papers were full of angry leavers blaming the Yellowhammer leak on weak-minded ex-Ministers from the Theresa May era (remember her?) – “Project Fear bit to block Boris” (Express); “No deal leak blamed on Hammond’s Remainers” (The Telegraph). The Government’s chief optimist Michael Gove toured the television studios and while admitting that the report and the assessments it contained were genuine, it was (to paraphrase) really, really, really, totally, completely and very very very so much out of date.  The date on the front of the Operation Yellowhammer report was August 1st 2019.

Meanwhile, the Prime Minister has spent the week writing letters to Donald Tusk and turning up at the houses of Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron like a troubling relative with whom your familial ties oblige you to ask them in and make them dinner and then sit patiently while they put their feet on your furniture and launch into a monologue about their woes. And Boris Johnson’s woe remained the much-discussed Irish backstop which he told his German and French hosts is intolerable and must be replaced by “something else” or no deal Brexit will be both inevitable and the fault of the EU.

But then something odd happened. And we realise that in our deeply strange times the concept of oddness has been thrown way out of kilter BUT despite both Merkel and Macron sticking to the EU line and telling Johnson that the backstop is both essential and non-negotiable unless he has  a better idea (which currently he doesn’t), this immovability was spun, mostly by the PM himself, as the EU caving in. Which it really wasn’t. But regardless, Merkel’s offer of 30 days grace to come up with a new solution was greeted as a mighty victory with the PM cast in his favourite role as a new Churchill whose pluck and verve will lead us to the promised land after all. “30 days to do a deal” (Express); “Show us what you’ve got, Boris” (Mirror) and, oddly, “Can we do it? Ja, we can!” (The Mail).

On Friday morning, The Express’s front page carried a long-lens photograph of Johnson arriving back at Downing Street following his European trip with both arms pushed up to the heavens like a victorious boxer. “Brexit victory salute” it shouted, prematurely. Out of the frame, the Prime Minister has almost certainly dropped his trousers too.

Away from Brexit, the press continues to give Harry and Meghan a hard time for their use of a private jet, not least on Friday morning as two papers printed photographs of his brother and family boarding a cheap flight to Scotland. “Wills gives Harry flying lessons”, sniped the Sun; “Wills and Kate’s £73 hols flight” copied the Mirror. It must be said that the Duke of Cambridge isn’t going to be staying at a Holiday Inn in Glasgow during the family holiday but at his Grandmother’s multi-multi-million-pound private estate but, again, it’s interesting to note how even token decisions can have a huge impact in both media and public perception of the Royals.

Talking of which we’re not going to talk about Prince Andrew. We’re just not.

A quick peek in the barrel of “other news this week” reveals that Apple have told users of their new metal credit card not to keep it in their wallets because it scratches easily; the HS2 project may yet be scrapped despite previously being given the go-ahead and many many millions already spent; the cast of this year’s Great British Bake Off was revealed and immediately criticised for being ageist given the average age of the contestants is just 31; the Chief Constable of Northamptonshire Police is going to offer all of his officers a taser to tackle the “soaring violence” on the streets and, in equally depressing news, large parts of the Amazon rainforest are on fire.

Film fans this week were treated to the reveal of the title of the new, troubled, James Bond adventure, due for release next year. It’s called “No Time to Die”, a title which is, frankly, a bit rubbish. Here are some better ones which we are offering to EON Productions for free:

Die now. Pay later.

Ob La De Ob La Die

Die my shoelaces.

Dress down Die Day.

Died Breakfast.

Listen, we’ve all got to die at some point, I don’t know why you’re bloody going on about it.

You’re welcome.

Right, that’s it! It’s a Bank Holiday weekend and it’s GOING TO BE SUNNY. That’s all you need to know. Here’s a summery song from Haim which we really (warning – bras visible at points in video).

See you next week.

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