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Speed Read: when all we need is a bit of empathy

Every week The Friday Speed Read summarises the week’s news. Often it’s the source of some silliness. This isn’t one of those weeks. 

In the small hours of Wednesday morning this week, an ambulance was called to Waterglade Industrial Park in Essex. There the ambulance crew opened the back doors of a refrigerated trailer  attached to a truck and found 39 people dead inside. The police were called; the driver of the truck was arrested on suspicion of murder and, for a few hours at least, the noxious hyperbole, lies and bullying of the endless Brexit debacle was put into some sort of perspective.

During the next few hours, more details of what happened began to be reported. The dead were all Chinese: 31 were men; eight were women. The lorry had entered the UK via the Belgian port of Zeebrugge and, although post-mortem investigations are ongoing, the cause of the death for every victim is likely to be prolonged exposure to extremely cold temperatures. No one knows for certain when the group boarded the lorry, but it’s reckoned that the 39 would have been sitting in temperatures of minus 25C for up to ten hours. Simply put, they froze to death.

When the papers caught up with the story on Thursday morning, the headlines rang with the poetry of epitaph: “The Tomb of Steel” said the Mirror, alongside an aerial photograph of the truck; “Human cargo driven to frozen fate” said the Telegraph. “Why were the warnings ignored?” asked the Mail.  Only the Express (ignoring the unfathomable editorial policies of the Star) chose not to make the deaths its lead story, instead choosing to stay within its chosen metier of disparaging the vile plots and betrayals that it imagines are being regularly perpetrated by the EU. We say this not in judgement but in observation.

News is (or should be) about facts. And the facts of this horrible event were reported with accuracy and acuity by the British media which, despite sustained attacks and paranoid suspicion of its motives (often with reason it must be said) continues to be at its best when times are darkest. But facts are one thing and empathy is another and, if you allowed yourself to do so, it didn’t take much of an imaginative leap to put yourself in the back of that freezing trailer.

Who knows how desperate you need to be to travel half way across the world and attempt to illegally enter a country in the back of a lorry? How many of the 31 had said goodbye to parents, siblings and friends and promised that everything would be alright and they’d find a way to call them when they arrived safely? How many said nothing at all and left behind just a memory and a space where they once had been? How much money did they pay the smugglers to put them in the truck? And how do the smugglers greet their friends, go to the shops, watch their big televisions and go to bed at night with their hearts as black as hell? Insomnia is the very mildest of reckonings that you’d wish upon them.

And who knows what ran through the mind of the last to lose consciousness? What did they think when looking weakly around the bodies of their travelling companions, hopes extinguished, journeys ended?

We’ll never know. But maybe we shouldn’t ever stop wondering.


Let’s get this week’s Brexit developments over with as swiftly as possible shall we? Not that’s it’s been a quiet few days in the UK’s journey to a bright new future, far from it but we imagine we could all do with a canter towards happier thoughts at the end of this column and the weekend that it heralds.

On Saturday night Prime Minister Boris Johnson wrote two letters to the EU; one requesting an extension to the Brexit deadline (as he was compelled so to do by the Benn act) and another saying IGNORE MY FIRST LETTER I DIDN’T MEAN ANY OF IT. On Tuesday night, MPs voted in favour of Johnson’s Brexit deal but voted against his timetable for making it into law (which essentially was to involve holding it in the air for a few seconds and then assuming no one had any questions before whipping it away and not getting it out again until Brexit had happened). On Thursday, the PM was back with a new gambit: allow MPs more time to scrutinise his deal but ONLY if they agree to a General Election on December the 12th. We’ll find out what MPs think about this on Monday.

Some observations:

1.We are not leaving the EU on October 31st

2. The government has spent £100 million pounds on an advertising campaign telling people to get ready for Brexit on October 31st

3. The EU will grant some sort of extension to the deadline, despite Johnson saying that he’d rather “die in a ditch” than ask for one.

4. At the time of writing, Boris Johnson is to the best of our knowledge not dead in a ditch.

5. Brexit on October 31st “do or die” said Johnson on June 25th. See point 4

6. A General Election in the run up to Christmas? WON’T THAT BE FUN AND FESTIVE??

And one last kick to your sense of what’s right and proper in the world, an academic survey published this week found that the majority voters in the UK believed that some level of violence against MPs is a “price worth paying” to get the Brexit outcome they want (this applies on both Leave and Remain sides of the debate).

We’ll let that just sink in for a moment . . . . it can’t be true can it?  . . . . who did they ask? No, surely that’s not right. Surely?

Who can save us from this mire of despond? Why, Coldplay of course! Everyone’s favourite band (unlikely to be true) released the track listing of their feverously-awaited new album this week via small adverts in the classified column of local newspapers. We’re printing it in full below.

Our new Record by COLDPLAY

Jumble Sale. Saturday. The Scout Hut. 2pm. Note: no alcohol after last time

Rach. I love your humps. B Mine. Dirty Rich x

Jam Jars available from Esther.

Tree Surgeon. Let me prune your limbs.

Ford Fiesta. Bit rusty. £50,000 ono.

Apiary for Topiarists. Meet Fridays in pub.

Wanted. Partner for casual fling and Brexit

Coldplay CDs. Free to good home.

Have you seen my hamster?

The End is Nigh.

But we’re not going to end with Coldplay. We’re going to end by wishing comfortable victories for England and Wales in the rugby tomorrow and play you a track from the new album by the oddly named Cigarettes after Sex (which is a clear fire risk). It’s called Heavenly and it’s just what we need right now. Click on the picture of England prop Kyle Sinckler to listen:

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