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Best in Show
Every week The Friday Speed Read assembles the off-cuts of the biggest news stories and using scarcely credible haberdashery skills sews them into a patchwork blanket of summary for you to lie across your knees as you watch Pointless with a cup of tea
Sometimes, just sometimes, what you really need to get you through another near-identical day is the revelation that hummingbirds can count. And if this seems like the burying of heads in the sand (or long, pointed beaks in a flower) as the world continues to stutter and shudder in its response to the greatest challenge that any of us has ever experienced then so be it. In fairness it’s been an another important week in the UK’s battle with the Covid-19 catastrophe, a week that’s been laced with a welcome dose of optimism alongside the inevitable piling up of bad news and we will, I assure you, examine both the highs and lows in due course. But for the moment we’re going to talk about hummingbirds that can count, not least for the fact that this first paragraph exists and I’m not starting again now.
And if I’ve got you all revved up about the hummingbirds being able to count thing and you’re happily imagining them hovering around you on holiday (remember them?) giving you helpful tips as you pile through your ‘Quite Big Book of Sudoku for People Who Really Love Sudoku’ or covering Rachel Riley’s maternity leave on Countdown then I’ve got some bad news for you. Hummingbirds can’t actually count. Wait! Come back! But what scientists at St Andrews have proved is that hummingbirds are capable of understanding and employing sequences; i.e. they recognise ordinals – first, second, third etc.
I probably don’t have time (or an audience) to go into the scientists’ methodology (you can read the full research here) but in natural history terms, let me assure you that it’s something of a big thing. Or a small big thing at least. The more cynical among you may yet remain unconvinced and are perhaps wondering why I’m making such a fuss about hummingbirds to which I’ll answer twofold. One – you’ve not thought about Coronavirus for at least two minutes and Two – one of the authors of the study Professor Susan Healy said the following about her findings: “Hummingbirds would never lose the car in a carpark.” And for this image of hummingbirds leaving Tesco after a big shop and heading straight for their sporty hatchbacks while all the other animals are wandering dimly around, vainly thumbing the unlock button on their key fobs in the hope that they’ll trigger the double-beep to guide them to their lost Vauxhalls, Professor Healy wins the coveted “Friday Speed Read Scientist of the Week” laurels.
Anyway, back to non-hummingbird related prose and Monday’s news that after weeks of lobbying from the nation’s arts institutions, the Prime Minister announced a £1.5 billion rescue package. That’s money not just for the “crown jewels” of British culture, the National Theatre, Royal Albert Hall etc but for venues of all sizes: comedy clubs, those tiny sweaty music venues where your ears beg for mercy in the face of a wall of glorious guitar music from an up-and-coming band, nightclubs where you kissed that boy and you kind of liked it. . . and so on. If we’re honest, there’s not a huge amount these days in which the UK can claim to be a world leader, but culture is most definitely on this list. Who knows when we’ll be able to sit or stand in a darkened room to experience the joy of shared cultural experience again? But with this money, albeit not nearly enough to save every venue in every town, we can begin to believe that it will happen at some point. “The show WILL go on” shouted the Metro on Monday morning. And thank goodness for that.
Let’s talk about Rishi Sunak. You know you’re knocking on a bit when you’re older than the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Fifteen years ago I was forced to concede that I’d become too old to open the batting for England (my age being a greater barrier than my relatively shoddy cricket skills which at the time seemed like the minimum requirement for selection); ten years ago I reluctantly agreed with myself that I was too long-in-the-tooth to play Hamlet (even if I still looked great in a cod-piece) and now, it seems that I’ve moved beyond the age where I could be the second most powerful man in UK government. To be fair, it’s a tough job at the best of times but right now, it’s got to be up there with the head of Trump’s re-election campaign as one of the least enviable jobs in the world.
Rishi’s had a good week (he’ll be hugely relieved to hear I think this I’m sure). I think I can just about get over the fact that the man with sway over millions of people’s livelihoods in these impossibly difficult times will never have to worry about his own financial security, nor that of his children, nor grandchildren (that’s not a slight on his family by the way, rather just stating the fact that his father-in-law is a billionaire which, you know, likely takes the edge off life’s worries) and the various measures he announced this week are definitely going to help. A stamp duty holiday, VAT cut for the hospitality sector, financial incentives for businesses to hire apprentices and trainees, financial incentives for businesses to retain employees returning from furlough, all of these measures welcome of course but it was his “eat out to help out” 50% restaurant discount for August that captured the headlines. “Lunch is on Rishi!”, declared the Mail; “Rishi dishes up £30bn budget of hope” punned the Express; less enamoured was i which coined a new epithet “Half-price meal deal Chancellor.” The Guardian sounded an altogether more sombre note: “Mass unemployment despite Sunak’s plan for jobs.” A reminder, even if it is unwelcome on a Friday ahead of sunny weekend, that we’re nowhere near the end of this.
In other news this week, the Prime Minister criticised the response of care homes to Covid-19 and then denied that he’d done so even though quite plainly he had. This is another example of a worryingly Trump-esque trend of simply denying that something has happened rather than apologising for a mistake (see also the Dominic Cummings debacle); there was widespread relief that the reopening of pubs and restaurants last week came and went without too many idiots being idiotic and some areas of the press have enjoyed themselves immensely in their reporting of the details in the Johnny Depp versus The Sun libel case, details which needn’t trouble us here.
Finally, UK citizens can now travel abroad again, albeit to a limited number of countries. Many people will opt to stay at home but many others will be looking at Trip Advisor as they plan a summer holiday unlike any they’ve had before. If the year 2020 was on Trip Advisor it would rate two circles at best:
Considerably worse than expected. Facilities very limited and there was a general air of gloom and paranoia. No toilet paper. Decent food but too great a reliance on banana bread and people were often drunk on wine. Weather was good until it wasn’t. Locals were friendly but everyone looked a right mess with some really terrible haircuts. Had to do our own washing. Don’t recommend.
See you next week