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Every week The Friday Speed Read climbs onto its high horse and pontificates loudly about the biggest news stories from the past five days. The horse is a piebald mare called Florence and puts up with far too much than she should.
Lockdown Diary – Day 4537 (I may have lost count a bit). It’s raining again. Of course it is. I’m more sure that it’s rained every day in January than I am that it’s actually January. Is it January? I have a fuzzy memory of something that felt a little like Christmas – there was a tree in the house I’m sure of it, and cheese, there were a couple of weeks during which my diet was little more than crackers topped with Comte and Dorset Blue Vinny (note to self – when all this is over, start a sea-shanty / punk / deep house crossover band and call it Dorset Blue Vinny) but was that Christmas? Maybe. If it was then it feels like it happened many months ago. Or was it yesterday? Maybe this isn’t January at all? Maybe it’s a new month altogether? Coviduary. The thirteenth month in which legend has it that the rain doth fall on each of its 321 days, all of which are 43 hours long; foxes doth host illegal gatherings with sound systems and bad booze in gardens across the land and parents, some of whom even have respectable qualifications in the subject, will hath forgotten even basic mathematics when their offspring ask how to multiply fractions or are forced to calculate how many hours each day a child can play Minecraft without alerting ye olde social services.
On Wednesday of this week, I tried to shake myself from the monotony of daily repetition, to bring some chaos to the quotidian (note to self – when Dorset Blue Vinny has acrimoniously split over attitudes to bass lines and cheap cheddar, start a new band called Chaos to the Quotidian combining the trills and turns of the Baroque composers with scuzzy thrash metal – ask Ben, he knows about this stuff) by imposing a different timescale onto the day. So instead of drinking a coffee at 8.45, I drank a coffee at 9.02. I know right? Crazy. In fact, a bit too crazy. My brain couldn’t cope with such a divergence in my routine and I had to have a little bit of a lie down, a simple act of self- care which caused another corporeal crisis (note to self . . . think of a different joke) as my system screamed in protest that I was on my back and it wasn’t 10.45pm. Don’t. Change. Anything. Don’t veer. Don’t deviate. Don’t skew. Don’t divagate. Don’t tack.
Just hold on. The routine is a scaffold. A temporal life-support system of wires and tubes plugged into every cell and keeping you alive. Keep making marmalade (not a euphemism). You’ve got more marmalade that you can feasibly eat in a lifetime but keep making marmalade. It will end. The path will turn at some point, you’ve just to keep following it until it does. See? It’s Friday again. Already. It’s only been three days since the last one but it’s Friday again. Have a coffee. It’s time to write the Speed Read.
Welcome then to the last Friday in January 2021 and let’s crack on with some good news. There’s a new vaccine on the block. The so-called “Novavax” vaccine, so called because it’s made by a company called Novavax, has been shown to be 89.3% effective at preventing Covid-19 in its trial participants, including against the super-fast-spreading “Kent variant” of the disease. It’s also 60% effective against the even more nasty South African variant that has been worrying epidemiologists since its emergence. Subject to UK regulatory approval (hint – it will receive UK regulatory approval), the Novavax factory on Teesside will begin manufacturing the vaccine in March. More good news is that the UK government has already bought 60 million doses of it. So, this means there will be now four vaccines in use the UK before the end of the year. Which is pretty extraordinary. Also, despite however much they’ve got massively wrong (a lot), the government’s bet on buying millions of doses of the various vaccines long before they had been proved to work is looking a more brilliant strategy by the day.
And it looks as though we’re going to need to source vaccines from as wide a pool as possible if this week’s row about supplies of the Pfizer vaccine to the UK is indicative of future problems. The EU’s threat to impose an export ban of the Belgian-manufactured product to the UK even though the UK has already paid for them has caused an eruption of ire in the right-wing press so spectacular that it can be seen from the moon. If anyone was hoping for cordial, post-Brexit relations between sections of the British media and our erstwhile European partners (and let’s be honest, no one was) then the headlines this week definitively put paid to the notion: “NO, EU can’t have our jabs!” shouted the Mail; “Wait your turn! Selfish EU wants our vaccines” screamed the Express, jumping up and down and pointing. Nothing marks a new era in UK-EU relations than a massive row. It’ not going to be the last.
But perhaps when the stakes are this high then a little nationalist rage is perfectly understandable. The sooner this ends, and my goodness, please let it end, the sooner we can stop being inured to daily death rates in the thousands. When the most notable takeaway from a report of another 1000-odd people dying of Covid is to notice that the figure is a little bit lower than a week ago then you know that our compassionate, empathetic brains have been shut down. We’re in survival mode. Our minds are being squeezed dry of the horror of it all simply to allow us to carry on.
There are still moments where it hits though; when the carapace splits to the admit a few shards of reality. One such moment was on Wednesday of this week when the official UK Covid-19 death toll passed 100,000. The Prime Minister shuffled into a press conference and for an hour or so, the ebullient, metaphor-wrangling, “it will all be over by Christmas” optimist was replaced by a man unable to quite comprehend the amount of death over which he had presided. He was “deeply sorry for every life lost”, “lessons will be learned” and “we will remember them”. But when asked why, why the UK has one of the worst coronavirus death rates in the world, Johnson would not or could not answer. He just looked profoundly sad. But that’s not really enough is it?
Gah. This was meant to be the good news section wasn’t it? Um, well the UK is leading the world in the pace of the vaccine rollout (over 10% of the population has had a least one shot and this figure is rising every day); schools might might be going back on the 8th of March; the missing raven from the Tower of London has not yet brought the complete failure of the kingdom; and butter isn’t as bad for you as once thought. Hey, even a small, dairy-based victory is still a victory.
Arlo Parks is 20. She’s going to be absolutely massive. Her album “Collapsed in Sunbeams” is out today and it’s brilliant. Have a listen: