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Speed Read – We won but we lost but if we’d lost we’d have won

If the Speed Read is coming home to bring you the hottest stories from the week’s news pile then it really is taking its time about it and has probably stopped off at Tesco en route

It is something of a comfort that The Daily Star continues to exist. With a daily print readership higher than the Guardian and the Financial Times, its eccentric obsessions with the arcane corners of our lives that are often overlooked by, well, everyone else is often baffling but almost always entertaining. I still remember fondly its campaign to stop Heinz changing the name of Salad Cream to Sandwich Cream, perceived by The Daily Star as an intolerable assault on a national institution (manufactured by an American company), the main tactic of which was to send a man dressed up as an actual bottle of salad cream to bother the door staff at Heinz’s UK headquarters. Simpler, happier times.

In the Covid-era, The Daily Star has continued with many of its traditional and strangely dated obsessions, (if anyone under 35 knows who David Icke is then I am worried you might have been hijacked by a race of inter-dimensional reptilian beings – look it up . . .  actually don’t) but has also adopted a forthright anti-government stance which has set them apart from many when “come on, they’re doing they’re best” has been the default extent of the scrutiny of our leaders. Regularly Photoshopping Boris Johnson into a clown costume and calling him Bozo (and doing the same for Hancock, Patel, Williamson etc) may not be subtle (it’s not subtle) and may have little tangible effect on a government that remains colossally popular despite everything but I think it’s important that someone is doing it.

And there ends my Friday morning love letter to The Daily Star.

Actually, The Daily Star’s Wednesday headline this week does provide a convenient waypoint in the navigation of Speed Read vol.202. Following England’s efficient but largely underwhelming victory against footballing behemoth Czech Republic on Tuesday evening, a win that would potentially pit us against traditional rivals Germany in the next round (which turned out to be the case) The Star’s headline was an accurate summation of the average fan’s position on the matter: “We won but we lost but if we’d lost we’d have won and if we’d drawn we’d have won too.”

Which is all good fun but I am going to have to ask a favour of you. I don’t like asking any more of you than reading this column for its entire length and not feeling slightly underwhelmed when you reach the end (I realise that this isn’t always possible) but in this instance I have to ask you to overlook the following clunking link to the next topic. Are you ready? In some ways, the phrase “we won but we lost but if we’d lost we’d have won and if we’d drawn we’d have won too” is an accurate summation of our current status in the battle with Covid-19. (I’m sorry).

We’re in a good place. But we’re also still in a bad place. We’re on the way to winning but in some ways we’ve already lost. A draw seems like a good result right now but although we may be playing Germany next week it’s very unlikely we’ll be visiting Germany any time soon. So where are we? Well, vaccinations continue to be given in large numbers and over 60% of adults are now “double jabbed” YET infections from the Delta variant continue to grow with daily numbers now the same as they were in February. Deaths continue to be low but they are rising. We’re apparently still on track for the (delayed) removal of all restrictions in late July but there have been hints that some restrictions will remain. So what to think? Can we be happy now? Can we remain optimistic? Or should we wise-up to realities of living with an ever-mutating virus that’s likely to remain in circulation permanently?

This seesawing of emotions and positions is neatly epitomised by this week’s many headlines about the likelihood or otherwise or having a foreign holiday this year. We’ve gone from “holiday blow for foreign travel” to “2 jabs and go – hols joy” with every other position in between in the space of three days, with hopes for a trip aboard going up and down more often than Portugal’s group position during Wednesday’s evening’s final Group F matches.

Only a handful of countries were added to the UK’s Green List yesterday (hopes down) but the government effectively promised that double-vaccinated people would be exempt from quarantining on their return from Amber List nations later in the summer (hopes up) then Merkel and Macron agreed that it was probably time to put the UK back on the EU’s Red List as of next week (hopes down) . . . .  and so on. And if you think that all of this analysis is simply because I am worried about my annual cheese and wine pilgrimage to the French sunshine then you’d be absolutely right.

Of course, if you’ve got a spare million pounds floating around your wallet you can still book a campsite in Cornwall.

It’s usually hard to feel sorry for pop stars; sympathy for the plight of millionaires who have built careers by craving attention is generally hard to muster. However, you’d have to be a deeply unpleasant person not to be moved by the testimony of Britney Spears this week as she detailed the cruel controls imposed on her life by her horrible father. Blocked from marriage, prevented from having another baby and forced to perform against her will, it’s all deeply disturbing, especially given all these abuses were performed legally. “I’ve lied and told the world I’m okay and I’m happy  . . . I’ve been in denial . . . I am traumatized.” Horrible. We all wish her well.

The fifth anniversary of the Brexit referendum occurred this week and I’m not going to let myself get dragged into a comparison of then and now because I genuinely think it might spoil not just my day but the entire weekend. Even though Covid has made Brexit just a footnote to the last two years, it’s still having a profound impact on our life. We’ve just been too preoccupied to notice. ANYWAY, it’s perhaps no coincidence that today has been deemed “One Britain One Nation (OBON) Day” and the Department of Education has encouraged schools to join in the singing of a rousing anthem in celebration of all that’s great about life in GB (N. Ireland not represented). Laudable? Maybe. Well-intentioned? I’ll buy that. The problem is that the song is just about the WORST thing that’s ever been created:

We are Britain
And we have one dream
To unite all people
In one great team

I am actually going to be sick.

If you want something a little less, shall we say, North Korea-ish to celebrate Britishness than you could do a lot worse than grabbing a cider and delving into the BBC’s Glastonbury archive back on iPlayer this weekend. Yes it should have been Glastonbury this weekend so the whole thing’s tinged with melancholy but what isn’t at the moment? Cheer yourself up with something brilliant.

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