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Speed Read – The vernal equinox in all its metaphorical splendour

Every week The Friday Speed Read gathers its thoughts while sitting on the bottom step of the staircase. Sometimes inspiration strikes and the can begin; other times we just think that someone’s really got to hoover the stairs this weekend.

As long as humanity has had the imagination to look up from its mammoth steaks roasting over a spitting campfire and gaze towards the heavens, it has found meanings and symbols in the celestial geometry that arcs and ticks through the infinite space above our heads. In the skies we’ve seen the many faces of God, sometimes benevolent and empathetic, sometimes vengeful and full of spite; we’ve witnessed augers of failing crops; we’ve traced joy at new birth; we’ve seen monsters and forged legends; we’ve worshipped the Sun and befriended the moon; we’ve danced and we’ve cowered. And on Friday mornings, as the coffee is only beginning to course through befuddled synapses, this celestial ballet has proved many, many times over a useful jumping-point for a regular news column.

Welcome then to the Vernal Equinox 2021. Or to be precise if you are reading this on Friday, Vernal Equinox Eve 2021. As fans of equinoxes (not a plural you’re going to need very often) know, on Saturday, the sun will be directly above the equator as it continues on its journey towards our half of the planet. (Although, point in fact, we’re moving not the sun. Well, the sun is also moving but it’s definitely too complicated for this time of day). Equi-nox – equal night: the length of the day and the night are roughly even. And with the Vernal Equinox comes the official start of spring. And with spring comes, in theory at least, better weather, new growth, returning hay fever, excess chocolate and a warm feeling in the bones of better times ahead.

I love a metaphor. We all love a metaphor. And given this moment of balance, this fulcrum in the physics of the astronomical year is presented to us at the end of a week that’s seen warm sunshine, glorious sunsets and another steep decline in infections, hospitalisations and deaths from Covid-19, then I’m going to rinse the metaphorical life out it. Happy Vernal Equinox 2021.

But before we look ahead, it’s probably appropriate that we look back. A year ago today, I was sat at this very desk (preparing to write the first Friday Speed Read since our lovely office had been closed. The national lockdown had not yet been announced; that was to follow on March 23rd – “From this evening I must give the British people a very simple instruction – you must stay at home” but it was clear to everyone what we were heading into. Although none of us knew just how long it would last. I remember an early conversation with a colleague who thought that despite all the speculation about maybe being back in the office sometime in May, that she thought it might not be until the end of June. Well, that’s pessimistic I thought. I’m sure things will be back to something like normality by June.

How time and memory make fools of us all. I don’t intend (this week at least) to launch into a retrospective of the past 12 months with a title like “the year that changed everything forever” not least because I did something along these lines for the final Speed Read of 2020 and partly because I don’t have a better title than “the year that changed everything forever.” But if you do go back and read that first column written on the cusp of Lockdown 1 then you’ll notice two things: one it’s not very well-written and two, I sound really scared. A year later and the prose may not have improved that much but I’m no longer scared. This is progress.

This week has passed in a blur (favourite Blur album? Modern Life is Rubbish) without much time to find an oasis (favourite Oasis album? Definitely Maybe – by some distance) in which to take a pause and read the news in detail. It has also meant that ridiculous 90s references that would normally be filtered out by the frontal lobes of my brain have slipped onto the page for which I am sort of sorry. Don’t get me wrong, I am very glad to have a job that keeps me busy, but it does perhaps explain why I’ve reached 738 words and I’m yet to mention a single news story that doesn’t contain the word “equinox.”

So let’s rectify that before the word count ticks towards the unacceptably long. The beginning of the week was dominated by the continuing controversy over the, let’s be honest, pretty heavy-handed policing of a vigil in tribute to Sarah Everard who, as you know, was abducted and murdered when simply walking down the street. Images of police officers dragging women away at an event that was protesting against the continuing societal threat to women was not a good look, in fact it was a terrible look. The Mail’s Monday headline caught the national mood: “Shaming of the Met.” But Chief Constable Cressida Dick said she would not be resigning. And so far she’s been true to her word.

Vaccinations have provided the other main headlines of the week. On Wednesday, the government loudly celebrated passing the 25 million mark of people who’d received a least one shot of a Covid vaccine. And it is an awesome achievement no doubt about it and one that is clearly having the kind of positive effects on death rates that we could only dream of a year ago. This hasn’t stopped, according to The Guardian at least, senior NHS leaders accusing the government of “political boasting.” Dr Richard Vautrey, chair of the British Medical Association’s GPs committee, said this week that “It’s a government programme but we mustn’t overlook the fact that it’s the ingenuity, the energy and the commitment of NHS staff around the country that have delivered it”. Hear hear.

Many EU countries, France and Germany included, suspended their use of the Oxford / AZ vaccine over fears that it might lead to blood clots. UK regulators hit back that this wasn’t the case, the WHO said likewise and then the EU regulator followed suit. And these countries have now resumed its use. All of which seems a lot of hot air and a waste of a paragraph but is it more evidence of a growing mistrust of the UK amongst its erstwhile European partners? Probably not.  But it would help if Dominic Raab stopped talking for a while.

And oh yes, some of the puff was taken out of the government’s sails this week when it emerged that production delays would mean that the vaccine rollout would rapidly decrease in April. Matt Hancock said this was “normal”. Other adjectives are available.

Finally, Elon Musk changed his official Tesla job title this week to “Technoking” which just goes to show that having mountains of money doesn’t make you mad. But it helps.  He also gave his CFO the new title “Master of Coin”. The fun we could have if we had more time: Dominic Cummings – Ambassador of Sight; Boris Johnson – BlusterMonkey; Priti Patel – Statue Shield and Key-Thrower-in-Chief . . .

But unfortunately our time has run out.

Songs about Spring. I heard this classic from 1980 on 6Music on Monday and it’s been in my head ever since.  I think it might actually be about drugs but it works as a Spring anthem too.

Sincerely yours.

Jim Gillingham
90s correspondent and sentence bloater

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