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Best in Show
Just like Chumbawumba, we get knocked down (have an Easter break) and then get up again (return from Easter break), you ain’t never going to keep The Friday Speed Read from writing too many words in response to the week’s biggest stories.
It is April 12th 2021
Two men, Dave and Other Dave sit outside a pub, The Made-up Arms, at 12.23pm. They are each about to take their first sips from two tall identical glasses of lager that cost £6.50. Dave is wearing a large coat and a Lincoln City bobble hat and Other Dave is wearing a short-sleeve shirt and sunglasses. It is snowing.
Dave Here we are again.
Other Dave Good to see you Dave.
Dave And you Dave. Cheers mate.
Other Dave Cheers.
They both let out that sound that men only make after taking their first sip of beer.
Other Dave Oh that’s the one isn’t it?
Dave You beauty.
Other Dave Unbeatable mate.
Dave Beer from the pump. You can’t beat the pump.
Other Dave You can’t beat the pump Dave. I tried to beat the pump once.
Dave What happened?
Other Dave I couldn’t beat the pump.
Dave I’m not surprised.
There’s a very long pause.
Other Dave You alright then Dave?
Dave I’m alright Dave. You alright Dave?
Other Dave Yeah. I’m alright. Better now.
Dave Better than what?
Other Dave Better with a beer.
Dave Oh I see. Yeah. Much better with a beer. You cold?
Other Dave Yeah. I’m really cold.
Dave Fry-up will sort you out.
Other Dave Love a fry-up. You alright now?
Dave A bit . Still feel it.
Other Dave In your bones?
Dave In my bones. In my head sometimes. Can’t shake it mate. Not completely.
Other Dave I’m sorry mate.
Dave Hit me like a freight train mate. Like a bloody train.
Other Dave I got lucky.
Dave Yeah, I saw on your Facebook. Just a runny nose?
Other Dave Runny nose, bit of a head, couple of days feeling grim and then back on it.
Dave Back on what?
Other Dave Nothing much. Can’t remember what I’ve done. You okay now?
Dave Still feel it mate.
Other Dave I’m glad you’re still here mate. I’m sorry it still hurts but I’m really glad you’re still here.
Dave Me too mate. I just keep thinking of the girls. What if, you know?
Other Dave Mate. ‘What if’ sends you mad.
Dave I know. But I can’t shake it. What if?
Other Dave But it didn’t happen. You’re still here Dave.
Dave Yeah, I’m still here.
Other Dave That’s good news mate. Really good news. And we’ve been short of it, haven’t we?
Dave Been gasping for it.
Other Dave Here’s to you mate. You’re a . . . you’re a mate.
Dave You too. You’re a mate.
There’s a very long pause indeed.
Other Dave I’m hungry. Hope they get a shift on with the fry-up.
Dave There’s one thing and one thing only that I’m interested in fella, and that’s full English breakfasts.
Other Dave What?
Dave You been watching Line of Duty?
Other Dave No.
Dave Oh. You should mate. It’s good.
They both take long sips from their pints and are taken by their own thoughts as the snow continues to fall and the smell of frying bacon cuts through the cold air.
All around people are talking to people. It’s tentative, new and glorious.
All of which is to say that this week marked the next phase in the Prime Minister’s “roadmap” out of lockdown. Non-essential shops were open and pubs and restaurants were serving food and drink in freezing outdoor areas. The fact that the temperature was only a little over freezing in some parts of the country and indeed actual snow was falling at times, was no impediment to goodness-knows-how many people getting together in their groups of up to six and putting some much-needed revenue in the tills of struggling businesses. There were photos all over the media of crowded streets, packed tables, friends holding up pints to the camera as if Heineken did Statues of Liberty and I don’t know about you, but there was a still an air of melancholy about the scenes, at least for this observer. I couldn’t shake the thought that it was still all too dangerous; surely there’s too many people in one place, most of whom too young yet-to-be vaccinated? I found myself in the very unusual position of agreeing with Matt Hancock when urging the country not to blow it now.
But on the other hand, I walked around a sunny but bone-creakingly cold Bristol harbourside yesterday afternoon. I’d not worn a coat and I was regretting it. But I met a friend, a very good friend and then we sat outside bar with two other friends and it was something. People were everywhere. Smiling. Laughing. Shivering. I sat with my friends and tried to be sparkling; I tried to bring the pre-Covid Jim to the party but I don’t think he exists anymore. Instead I was a little hesitant, too frequently checking my phone, not properly able to connect to the conversation and very, very cold. But I was also happy. Really, properly happy and as I made my way home after an hour or so, I realised two things. One: sociability is a muscle that needs regular exercise to remain at its peak – there’s work to be done here. Two: the little dark cloud in the recesses of my brain, the speck of dirt on the lens, is the fear that all of this will be temporary and that, like last year, the high of reuniting with the world will be followed by another painful exclusion from it.
I put such thoughts away and turned on the radio. It was 90s day on 6Music and Steve Lamacq was playing The Chemical Brothers. Everything might just be okay after all.
Elsewhere this week, the news has been dominated by two things that I don’t really want to spend much time talking about. The first is the rumbling row about ex-Prime Minister David “We’ll sort this issue out once and for all with a referendum” Cameron’s attempts to lobby the Treasury on the behalf of one of his mates. He claims not to have broken any rules and that maybe true but still the whole thing stinks. And that’s not a partisan point, the fact that politicians have close links to business is a simple fact of both politics and business and the fact that ex-ministers still have sway with old colleagues that they exploit on behalf of their friends is clearly not right. But it’s always happened. Should it be stopped? Yes. Is it going to be stopped when the Prime Minister’s recently-announced enquiry into political lobbying is being run by a political lobbyist? What do you think?
The other story this week is of course the biggest story, that of the death of and funeral arrangements for The Duke of Edinburgh. I’ve got little to add to this really save for this one observation. The BBC received a record-breaking number of complaints for its ubiquitous coverage of the Duke’s death (and also received complaints for making it easier to complain – the BBC really can’t ever win) from thousands of people annoyed that Masterchef and Gardener’s World had been postponed. So much so, that is has scaled back its plans to coverall the Duke’s funeral; I mean it’s still going to be broadcast over many, many hours but not to the extent that it had originally planned. Meanwhile, certain newspapers have put little else on their front pages since last Saturday. In fact, one paper (which one do you think?) has literally splashed nothing else on its cover but stories related to the Duke.
I’ve not got time to draw any conclusions from this. But I thought I’d point it out. (Thanks Jim, but maybe don’t bother next time. Oh, okay).
Finally, animal welfare officers in Poland were called to investigate a “mystery tree beast” this week. It turned out to be a croissant. Simple, funny, silly. My favourite story in a while (thanks Ben).
And if you think after 6Music’s 90s special yesterday that I will end with a contemporary track then you really don’t know me at all Susan. (but thanks for reading Susan). So here’s the best song of that particular decade. No, actually it’s this. No, that’s not right. It’s this. No, it’s this. Etc etc ad infinitum.