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Speed Read – virtual insanity as 2021 gets off to bad start

Every week, The Friday Speed Read thinks it’s probably time to change the format up a bit; try something now, inject a bit of freshness before then doing the same thing that it’s always done and just hoping that no one will notice.

And we’re back! The cheese is long gone; the wine is stoppered; the Christmas tree carcass lies in the front garden awaiting collection and a track suit has been plucked from the bottom drawer and laid out on the chair in the bedroom just waiting to pulled on over my somewhat bulging frame. 2021 is here and my goodness, if ever a year needed to be better than its predecessor, then it’s this one. Surely, surely, surely, after the grimmest twelve months that any of us can remember, after the pain, the fear, the misery of repeated lockdowns, then 2021 is going to the year puts us back on our perch? The year that gallops into our lives on a white stallion of hope wielding a sword of environmental and social revolution; 2021 will be Han Solo at the end of Star Wars taking out Darth Vader’s tie-fighter sciences bears down on the Death Star of Covid-19 – “You’re all clear kid, now let’s blow this thing and go home!”

All of which is to say is we need to believe that all the above might actually be the case because since the final 2020 edition of the Friday Speed Read things have, by most reckonings at least, got substantially worse. During the approach to Christmas I’d once again retreated from news, feeling that if the holiday was going to be enjoyable, if it was going to be at all festive, then I’d have to seal myself within a happiness bubble (a bauble, perhaps?), eschewing worldly concerns in favour of family, sleep, television and good Stilton. But I wonder, even if I had been scouring the headlines, would I have read anything about a new “super strain” of Covid-19 that was up to 70% MORE transmissible and about to essentially force the cancellation of Christmas for millions of families across the country? Who knows? But it was certainly the nastiest of shocks, the most profound of sinking feelings when Boris shuffled onto our screens on that Saturday afternoon and told us that this new Covid mutation was out of control and that we were, with one significant difference, back to square one. Five days of Christmas freedom were scrapped (by then it had seemed like a crazy idea anyway) and Lockdown 3 was approaching.

2021 is, for a while at least, going to look a lot like 2020.

Or at least that is what we thought until Wednesday which turned out to be unlike any Wednesday, ever. I don’t really know how to approach a response to what the world witnessed in Washington as the US Congress met to certify the Electoral College votes for Joe Biden as President. The point is, I suppose, that as much as there was a sort of narrative inevitability to the Trump presidency ending in violence, death and a man dressed like Jay Kay from Jamiroquai (a reference for all you older readers) strutting around the epicentre of American democracy and all of this incited by the President, the fact that it actually occurred IN REAL LIFE and not in the mind of a screenwriter or fantasist remains utterly incredible.

One of the most pressing questions is how a mob, high on lies and incitement, was able to essentially walk into the Capitol building and start wandering about? As people inside the building at the time were asking, where were the police? Where were the National Guard? Pictures of a phalanx of armed guards standing on the Capitol steps during the Black Lives Matter protests were circulated. Where were these troops now? Many people have suggested an answer.

Meanwhile, Trump had posted a video on Twitter telling the protesters that “we love you”; a video got him banned from Twitter for a day (and subsequently Facebook / Instragram have banned him indefinitely) but again, it’s just staggering to remember through all of the chaos that it was the PRESIDENT doing this. The president had finally lost his mind.

With twelve days remaining of his presidency Trump has now said he is “outraged by the violence, lawlessness and mayhem” of the very people he told to head to the Capitol and “fight like hell.” Many are worried about what he’s going to do next: the man is clearly deranged and he is in possession of the keys to the world’s largest nuclear arsenal – two facts that sit somewhat alarmingly together. There’s been talk of another impeachment, or the invoking of the 25th Amendment to forcibly remove him from office – neither of which seems likely at this late stage. Oh yes, apparently Trump also wants to pardon himself to protect against future inditements.

The whole world is counting down the days to January 20th.

All of which has somewhat distracted our attention this week from the worsening Covid-19 situation in the UK. Death rates continue to climb, over 1000 people are dying every day at the moment; hospitals all over the country are warning that they are close to being overwhelmed, with apocalyptic scenes of Covid patients being treated in any and every available space by staff who must be close to breaking down completely themselves.  It’s terrible. And it’s happening and it’s going to continue getting worse before, hopefully, the impact of this new lockdown begins to bring amelioration.

And we have do have vaccines. And this is the major difference from last time. Vaccines exist and with them comes hope for an end to this horror. The logistical challenge of rapidly vaccinating millions upon millions of us is, to use an over-used word, unprecedented and we can only hope that the government’s target of 2 million injections a week by February isn’t the fantasy that many fear that it is. Please, please let this work.

I think we’re better prepared for lockdown and all of its challenges this time around. We’re battle-weary but we know how to cope: the endless time in doors, the challenge of working and home-schooling simultaneously, trying to maintain amicable relations with those that we live with despite seeing them ALL OF THE TIME . . . . we’ve done it before and we can do it again. And if you want something to cheer you up then can I recommend going to All 4 and watching every series of Taskmaster (there’s 10 to get through). Funny, clever, entertaining . . . .and gloriously, wilfully silly.

David Bowie would have been 74 today and on Sunday it will be five years since his death. So let’s cheer ourselves up for the weekend with a wonderful live version of one of his many, many masterpieces.

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