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Speed Read – Jesus, Mary, Joseph and the wee donkey

The Friday Speed Read keeps on bashing out the weekly news roundups despite the looming three-day-weekend making it even more unlikely that anyone will be remotely interested

On the 20th of July 1969, approximately 384,000 kilometres (that’s 238,606.538 miles for fans of the imperial system) from Earth, astronaut Michael Collins (who died this week aged 90) became the most solitary human being in existence as he piloted the command module from Apollo 11 around the ‘dark side’ moon. While his two colleagues, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin leapt around and fluffed their lines on the lunar surface below (“man” and “mankind” are synonymous Neil – although to be fair if I’d been the first human to step foot on another world, my opening speech would have tended towards the Anglo-Saxon vernacular) Collins went out of radio contact with Mission Control for 48 minutes. Forty-eight minutes sitting alone in a metal tin; a mere speck in the yawning, infinite vacuum of space. A man apart. None more singular. The most isolated human that’s ever lived.

Oh how Boris Johnson must have wished to have been scudding around the dark side of the moon this week, far beyond the gathering clouds of opprobrium around a series of entirely non-edifying words and deeds (and the highly-trained and badly-paid Friday Speed Read lawyers have just messaged me reminding me to stress that the PM has denied much of what I am about to unroll like a fancy wallpaper before you) that have dominated the past seven days of media noise. When you’re a serving Tory Prime Minister and even The Daily Mail is giving you a kicking, you know you’ve got problems.

In a sense, it’s all been fairly ridiculous and at times has seemed less like politics and more like a brilliant piece of PR by the BBC ahead of the much-anticipated Line of Duty finale on Sunday (more of which anon). With mystery hanging over the identity of “Chatty Rat”, the source at the heart of government leaking these stories to the press, it’s no surprise that The Sun’s front page on Tuesday was a mocked-up AC12 case file, with Johnson, Cummings and Superintendent Hastings alongside the headline “Lying of Duty”. So far, so entertaining. Cummings denies he is Chatty Rat but he might still be H. (I’m sorry if you’ve not watched Line of Duty, this is all going to get very tedious for you. Actually, I’m not sorry. You need to watch Line of Duty fella).

Boris’s ALLEGED outburst as he ALLEGEDLY railed against the prospect of another lockdown towards the end of last year –“let the bodies pile high in their thousands” – is brilliant piece of sabotage by Chatty Rat. It doesn’t really matter whether Johnson said it or not, and let me stress once again for the record that he’s denied it, the fact is, that it sounds like the kind of thing he would have said. And if there was any doubt that lurking behind the bumbling, tousled, amiable classicist was something a lot darker then Item One in your folders is his performance at PMQs this week when, to deploy a rare swear in the Speed Read, he completely lost his shit under questioning from Kier ‘why are we not ahead in the polls?’ Starmer.

And we’ve not even talked about John Lewis yet.

The headlines have not been kind, recalling the 80s and early 90s and the grim parade of Tory politicians with their pants down one minute and selling weapons to despots the next (a tradition heartily maintained it must be said, by their Labour successors). The word “sleaze” was brought out of the big box of newspaper cliches and deployed liberally: “PM tainted by sleaze”; “Slurry of Sleaze”; “Boris on the ropes”. And this was only Tuesday.

In normal times, and I don’t need to tell you that these are fundamentally abnormal times, John Lewis gets a mention in the Speed Read once a year around late November when it releases its Christmas advert and everyone immediately agrees that it’s not as good as last year’s efforts. However, this week John Lewis got a stack of free advertising following comments attributed to a close friend of Carrie Symonds that the Downing Street flat she shares with Boris and their son required an expensive refurbishment to erase the “John Lewis furniture nightmare” left behind by Theresa May (RIP). Now I don’t know about you but this “friend of Carrie” would probably fall over flat on his / her back if he / she ever came for a cider around mine with its heady blend of Ikea /charity shop / inherited from various-ex-relatives-chic; don’t get me wrong, it’s looks nice but presumably there’s a certain class of metropolitan socialite that would be entirely disgusted by it. And again, going back to the earlier point about perception, that’s one of the problems with all this nonsense. Despite Sarah Vine saying in the Mail this week that PM couldn’t be “expected to live in a skip” (unless it was lined with £840-a-roll-wallpaper) , the whole thing smacks of just the sort of sneering snobbery that gets people’s backs up.

And £200,000 for renovations? Sheesh. You could buy a lot of cider for that. Paid for by Tory donors? The taxpayer? Johnson himself? The PM won’t say but given he’s the ultimate arbiter of the investigation into whether he acted illegally, I think we can predict that he’ll be exonerated.

Let’s just enjoy some headlines: “Boris painted into a corner”; “Interior Resign” (excellent work and a special prize on its way to you The Metro); “Concern at paper trail to PM’s flat”; “Free inside! Proper Fancy Wallpaper for every Prime Minister” (The Star giving away free wallpaper on Thursday, saying you’ll need 104 copies of the paper for a 6×3 metre feature wall).

An opinion poll in the Times this morning finds that the Conservative lead over Labour has increased to 11 points suggesting that the PM is right and absolutely no one cares about all of the above. In which case, I am sorry for making you wade through 1000 words on the subject.

“Jesus, Mary, Joseph and the wee Donkey”

Not only might this be the greatest line of television since Wandavision’s “grief is just love persevering” (actually I’ve changed my mind, it’s even better than that), it was one greeted with 11 million punches of the air last Sunday evening as Line of Duty achieved the increasingly rare feat of drawing a large audience at its actual time of broadcast. I’ve come to Line of Duty late and just like there’s no matching the zealousness of a new vegetarian or an ex-smoker I’ve become a passionate advocate. It’s all very silly but it’s also incredibly compelling and tense and often hilarious. No spoilers here but I will say the following:

  • Kelly Macdonald is incredible (matching Keeley Hawes in earlier series and I didn’t think that was possible);
  • I’d die for Vicky McClure’s cheekbones;
  • Even Martin Compston can’t make waistcoats a sensible fashion decision
  • And Superintendent Ted Hastings (Adrian Dunbar) is the leader this country needs but simply doesn’t deserve.

Sunday’s finale can’t come quickly enough. And there’s an even a Bank Holiday the day after so we can all recover.

Now we’re sucking diesel.

And in tribute to Michael Collins, here’s the best song ever written about space.

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