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Speed Read: now is not the time to (not) panic!

Every week The Friday Speed Read devotes a considerable portion of its busy domestic schedule to making news sandwiches which it then serves at its pop-up stall called ‘You Deserve Butter’ in Matlock Bath. Once they’re gone they’re gone baby.

Of all the strange, disorientating shifts in the global consciousness to which we’ve had to adjust these past four years perhaps the most disturbing is the tendency to short-cut to hyperbole when a more measured, nuanced approach would be a more helpful (and indeed more accurate). But instead, crack-cheeked commentators from all sides of the various “wars” being waged across the front pages, Twitter feeds and television studios, have been engaged in a sort of priapic race to declare the state of the world to be not simply something with which they disagree but actually the very worst, most hateful, upsetting, woke, un-woke, half-baked, left wing, right wing, take these broken wings, that has EVER HAPPENED since single-celled life plopped and glooped into existence several decades ago. Well listen, in an age of eye-popping extremism and rage-pumped block-capitals, you can rely on the clacking keys of the Friday Speed Read typewriter to bring a more balanced, rational and calm tone to the reporting of the week’s happenings on Planet News . . . . .


All of which is 218 words in the setting up of a fairly (very) obvious gag but we’re not even a little bit sorry because you try bashing out an opening paragraph of news commentary right now without sounding like the bleaker verses of the Old Testament. Last month conflagration; this month flood and pestilence. And a new Taylor Swift video.

Is this how weekends are going to be from now on? A few ciders on Friday night, bacon sandwich on Saturday morning and a named storm ripping down trees and bursting riverbanks to bring floodwater into hundreds upon hundreds of homes? Jorge is the latest to bring its personified misery to areas of the country that are already waterlogged and the news channels are sure to send more journalists to ask people what it’s like when the ground floor of your home is under two feet of a fetid cocktail of river water, mud and sewage. Answer: pretty bloody awful.

Unless your home was under water this week, then the only story anywhere was the continuing spread of Coronavirus / Covid-19. It’s tough to be flippant in the face of pandemic so you’ll have to forgive the rather straight-faced nature of the following paragraphs because, let’s face it, it’s all a bit a grim. You’d have struggled to have found too many headlines this week that didn’t have the whiff of panic about them, sometimes literally: “UK warns against mass panic” (The Guardian on Monday): “Virus Panic” (The Mirror on Friday not heeding the Guardian’s earlier advice). As global stock markets crash with a speed matched only by the increasing global infection rate you’d imagine it’s not the best time for the University of Cambridge to suggest that we drink wine from smaller glasses.

Various health experts have appeared during the week in a valiant attempt to remind audiences that, although clearly fatal in some cases, most people who catch the virus won’t suffer much more than they would with a heavy cold and will make a full recovery. But, as discussed above, there’s fewer headlines in reason than there are in hysteria and so with sporting events being cancelled, holidays being abandoned and whole towns sealed off around the world, we’ve had to read about how the NHS is woefully underprepared for a mass outbreak of Coronavirus in the UK and worse, much worse than that, George Clooney has had to postpone a trip to his Italian villa. Yes, things are really THAT BAD.

But it’s okay, it’s okay. Donald Trump reassured us this week that one, a vaccine is VERY CLOSE to being developed (Medical science: “it’s not”) and if that wasn’t enough to ease your mind back to something less troubling like his forthcoming second term in office then here was the silver bullet: MIKE PENCE is leading the US’s response to Covid-19.

Here is a short list of things less reassuring than Mike Pence leading the US response to Covid-19:

  1. Defusing landmines while wearing only your pants after too big a night in Vodka Revolutions has given you shaky hands
  2. Priti Patel
  3. Rupert Murdoch being asked to oversee a review on the future of the BBC
  4. That’s it.

Yes, literally everything else in this maddening, mystifying world is more reassuring than Mike Pence leading the US response to Covid-19.

Quick! Climb aboard the relative safety of the “other news this week” raft to find the conviction and imprisonment of Harvey Weinstein which will hopefully be seen not only as a victory for justice but as the moment where gender relations, particularly in the often seedy and salacious world of entertainment were permanently reset; a third runway at Heathrow was declared illegal by the Court of Appeal as it contradicted the UK’s commitments to environmental reform required by the Paris Agreement; Canada told Harry and Meghan than it wasn’t particularly keen on paying for their security and so the cost reverting to the UK taxpayer (which made the Sun in particular very grumpy) and a hidden 360 year old tunnel was discovered beneath the Houses of Parliament which had been bricked up in 1834 and forgotten about. Graffiti scrawled by the brick layers was also discovered: “This room was enclosed by Tom Porter who was very fond of Ould Ale”. We’re with you on that Tom.

And finally, a toss up between AN ARMY OF DUCKS and a cosmic explosion so large it left a DENT IN SPACE (which probably needs to go to the insurance company for assessment). To hell with it, let’s cover both! China is sending a battalion of 100,000 hard-billed, battle-ready ducks to Pakistan to show a swarm of locusts how they do things back home in Beijing (and er, eat the locusts) and astronomers have been distracted by an explosion so big that it punched a hole the size of 15 milky ways (the galaxy not the chocolate bar) in the very fabric of space. Albeit it happened 390 million years ago so they’re a little late to the party. Still, space huh? It’s big.

Oh yes, Greta is in Bristol. And it’s pouring with rain but still thousands of people are gathering and we find that pretty inspiring. Forget the age of hyperbole; can this be the age of action? And hope?

Only one song will do – click below.

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