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Best in Show
Every week The Friday Speed Read is written quickly, sincerely and, for the most of 2020, with a leaden feeling of doom in its stomach. This week, blissfully, the doom began ever-so-slowly to lift.
There’s many a Friday morning here at the Speed Read desk that begins with the drafting and then deletion of several iterations of this opening paragraph. Not this one as such, but in paragraph terms the first one is often the most troublesome and subject to the highest number of doubts, redrafts and general existential dread that I’ll never find a decent opening to anything I write ever again. But not this week. In a world in which hyperbole is often the lingua franca and therefore relegated to background noise, the news that the first Covid-19 vaccine to report mass-testing results shows, with caveats, an efficacy rate of 90% is literally world-changing.
And so for once the newspaper headlines, breathless and declamatory as they were on Tuesday morning, feel far from exaggerated and are actually a fair reflection on how all but the most misguided and paranoid of us greeted the news. The Mail evoked one of humanity’s greatest C20th achievements with “One small jab for man . . . “; the Telegraph quoted Albert Bourla, chief executive of Pfizer, the pharmaceutical giant behind the vaccine, who said this was “A great day for humanity” (and Pfizer’s bank balance); The Mirror went all children’s story with “Our little bottle of hope”; the Express dared to hope that “life back to normal by spring”. And oh yes, the Star riffed on one of Pfizer’s other notable drugs Viagra with its headline: “YES! YES! YES! YES! YES! YES!” which is actually pretty funny.
Before we crack open the cider and plan our return to gigs, theatres, football matches etc, a certain amount of caution needs to be applied. As noted in previous editions of your favourite Friday afternoon news roundup, hope can be almost as dangerous as, um, I don’t know, sharks maybe (there are better similes available but at 7.10am I can’t find one) and it has a habit of sinking its rows of razor-sharp teeth into one’s Bermuda shorts. Even if the government can successfully implement a nationwide vaccination program (and you have to say that even the most pro-Boris among us would have to admit that expectations are not high in this regard); even if sufficient stocks of the vaccine can be procured, stored and distributed, we’re not going to all be piling into reopened restaurants next month to enjoy hastily-arranged Christmas parties. This is going to take time. And we are still in lockdown (in England), new cases are still rising and yesterday, 563 people in the UK died of Coronavirus. 563. A few weeks ago that number was in the low teens. We’re not though this yet.
But for all that, this is clearly exceptionally good news. Thank goodness for science; for the hundreds, thousands of brilliant people behind this and so many other incredible, world-changing achievements. Twelve months ago, Covid-19 did not exist. A year later there is a potential vaccine that is around 90% effective and other, alternative vaccines are also in the later stages of testing, the “Oxford vaccine” being one very promising candidate. However, you parse this, whichever words and phrases you reach for, it’s a truly staggering achievement and one that renders all hyperbole moot.
Talking of exceptionally good news, I was in Specsavers last Saturday (true story! And yes, it’s still open and I desperately need new glasses okay?) when the BBC News alert buzzed onto my phone to tell me that Joe Biden had won the US election. What a feeling that was. Specsavers went crazy I can tell you. People danced. Sang. Threw Kylie Minogue frames into the air like confetti at a wedding. None of that is true except for the feeling of joy. Which was real. By the time last Friday’s Speed Read was appearing in inboxes around the globe, it was pretty clear that Trump was going to lose but to have it confirmed was a moment that I’ll remember for a very long time, like a first snog or the first time I listened to Parklife. The Trump era was over. He was now the very thing he had derided so frequently in others: a loser.
Or was he? (yes). Even now, over a week later, the President has still not conceded defeat with him and his cronies alleging widespread voter fraud with absolutely no evidence of widespread voter fraud. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo talked this week of beginning a “smooth transition to the second Trump administration” which, I suspect, is just a case of him deliberately trolling his opponents rather than the signalling of an attempted coup but either way, he’s just another of the Trump acolytes who are rendering themselves almost as ridiculous as their soon-to-be-ex boss. Almost.
Listen, I know this is old news given that it happened last Sunday but please indulge me for a moment as we reflect again on the Trump campaign’s press conference at which Rudi Guiliani announced a slew of legal action challenging the legitimacy of the election results in various states while standing in front of Four Seasons Total Landscaping in Philadelphia. A garden centre, lest we forget, situated between an adult book shop and a crematorium (stiffs on all sides – not my gag sadly). Goodness, I am enjoying it all over again. Four Seasons Total Landscaping has been enjoying its temporary position as the world’s most famous garden centre and is hoping to cash in. It is now selling stickers: “Make America Rake Again”. Oh it’s joyous. It really is.
A return for the “other news this week” paragraph finds the first same-sex couple on Strictly forced to retire due to professional dancer Katya testing positive for Coronavirus; there’s been some in-fighting in the top echelons of Boris Johnson’s team at Number 10 and frankly I don’t have the energy to engage with it . . . . STOP PRESS . . . . . Dominic Cummings is leaving Boris Johnson’s side at the end of the year: let’s hope his eye sight is good enough to find the door. And McDonalds will be testing a vegan product across a range of markets in 2021. Good news for the planet and good news because it’s trigged Piers Morgan which is always amusing. The name of the new range could probably do with some work though: McPlant. I mean, that’s just not very good. The branding team could certainly do McBetter.
And finally, in something of a Speed Read tradition, I’ve tested my native cynicism against the new John Lewis Christmas advert. The retailer has neatly sidestepped the “buy loads of stuff from us” message that’s understandably a regular feature of its festive campaign but there’s still plenty of the usual boxes ticked: snow, breathy vocals, red-nosed children, immaculately decorated houses . . .but I don’t know, the fact the retailer has commissioned several animation houses in a difficult year for our creative industries coupled with a message that’s essentially “2020 has been rubbish so let’s just be kind to each other”, it’s hard to argue with. Mind you, heart-shaped wheels are never going to work.
You can watch it here and make up your own mind.
See you next week.