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Speed Read – Phocket man, burning out his cash up there alone

Every week, The Friday Speed Read, calls its friend Houston and says that it has a problem in working out about what to write about in the face of just so much news from which to choose. Houston has stopped answering of late. 

Alexa, tell me a story:

Here’s a story for you Jim:

It is midnight in the secret underground layer of Amazon’s ‘Blue Origin’ space program. All around the room, Prime-branded scientists are sitting in various positions of discomfort, desperate for the loo. An absurdly, like completely nonsensically big screen at the back of the room is playing episodes of ‘The Grand Tour’ on an endless, soul-crushing loop. Somewhere someone is weeping.

Suddenly, Jeff Bezos enters the room dressed in a space suit made of diamonds and saffron. His team gingerly get to their feet, each one still bent over slightly by bulging bladders.

JB                         Greetings space science people!

TEAM                  All hail. Emperor Delivery.

JB                         We are going to space! No . . .  that’s ridiculous. You’re not rich enough to go to space. I am going to space! I love space! Space is so cool! I am rich. I am so rich!

Jill Science         Sir. One question. I was wondering if the money might be better spent?

JB                         What’s this? Insurrection?

Jill Science          No sir. Ethics maybe, not insurrection. I just thought that maybe you could spend your money on ending hunger or you know, saving the actual Amazon rather than blasting off into low orbit simply because you’re rich enough to do so?

JB                         Who writes your dialogue?

Jill Science          I got it cheap on a deal on Amazon. But as clunky as my lines might be, I do think I have a point . . .

JB                         Where do you come from Jill Science?

Jill Science          Wisconsin.

JB                         Alexa!

Alexa                   Yes, my liege.

JB                         Alexa, buy Wisconsin.

Alexa                   Wisconsin has been added to your basket.

JB                         Your friends and parents have 12 hours to leave or I will have them arrested for trespass. Any further questions?

Jill Science          No sir.

JB                         Good because I have something really cool to show you guys. Like so so cool. Like the coolest thing you’ve ever seen. I’ve finished the rocket design. It took ages but it’s done and I am like so pleased with it. And if you don’t love it I will have you all killed. HA HA HA HA  HA that’s a joke (it’s not). So look up to the giant screen and I will replace Jeremy Clarkson’s face with a picture of the rocket that’s going to take me to the stars! I am going to do a countdown because it’s a space thing . . . 5 . . .4 . . .3 . . .2 . . . 2 . . .1 . . . ROCKET!

A picture of Blue Origin’s first manned space rocket appears on the screen. It looks like a massive willy. And we’re not even joking. I mean look it up. You’ll see what I mean. It really wouldn’t look out of place in an Ann Summers catalogue.

JB                         TA-DA! What do you think?

There is an uneasy silence in the room.

JB                         Come on guys! Tell me what you think! I mean, be honest, I can take criticism, I’m just a regular guy.

Bill Science         Well . . .


Bill Science         No . . . no sir. I was just going to check if you realised that er, um .   . .

JB                         REALISED WHAT?

Bill Science         Realised that er, um, er, that it looks just like a big  . . . .

JB                         A BIG WHAT??

Bill Science         Like a big willy sir.

JB                         You honestly think I’d spend millions upon millions of dollars blasting off to space in a rocket that looked like big willy? That’s crazy! Think of the symbolism! Think of the satire! What would people say about me?

Alexa                   They’d say you were a co . . . . .  . .



I mean, surely they knew didn’t they? Surely someone told him. Maybe not. Maybe that’s the kind of power that being richer than most countries bestows upon you? Not so much the emperor’s new clothes but the emperor’s new phallic rocket (a phocket?). In two centuries time people will be telling that story to their children.

Anyway, Bezos briefly went to space this week (although it was space on a technicality, in reality it wasn’t even low orbit) and lots of people wondered if there might not be better a way of spending billions of dollars. Including me. And I love space. But I can’t help worrying that when very rich men act in ways that were previously only the reserve of actual countries then something’s going very wrong indeed with both wealth distribution and power.

But hey, his rocket did look like a willy. At least we have that.

Back on our troubled Earth, “Freedom Day” arrived in England and with it a soaring Covid-19 infection rate with both hospitalisations and deaths also ticking (a lot more slowly, thankfully) upwards. And if you wanted actual evidence of infections approaching incredibly large numbers, then if you’re reading this then you will know someone who has been infected recently or if not, then you will certainly know someone that has been “pinged” by the NHS Test ‘n’ Trace app and told to isolate for ten days having been in close contact with an infected person.

The lexicon of the Corona-years will be extensive and will define our times for future historians as resonantly as words like “blitz” and “Third Reich” speak of the Second World War and “New Kids on the Block” can only mean 1998. Added this week to Covid-speak was the word “pingdemic.” Coined by headline writers – “Shocking toll of the pingdemic laid bare” (The Mail) being one of many, many uses this week – it refers to the million plus people that have been told to isolate by the NHS app. You know this I realise. Pingdemic staff absence is resulting in supermarket shelves to be emptier than usual, public transport services reduced or cancelled, the BBC cancelling some of its regional news bulletins and, until yesterday when the rules were changed for critical workers, hospitals being put under even more pressure at a time of rising admissions. It’s not good news. And our new “freedoms” are hardly going to improve the situation.

Hat tip though to the Metro for its headline: “Shelf Isolation” alongside a photo of an empty supermarket aisle. Simple but effective.

You will have also noticed that it’s been hot this week. Unfairly, punishingly hot. As an interviewee in Northern Ireland said this week after his town recorded a temperature of 125C (or something, I wasn’t listening all that closely), “something’s not right”. And it’s not. Fires, floods, heat, heat, heat . . . . the time for indecision finished a decade ago; we need to battle the climate crisis with every weapon in our arsenal . .  actually, screw it. Let’s just go into space in a phocket.

To close us out, the Mercury Prize nominations were announced this week. Lots of great music received a nod, not least Arlo Parks who I raved about earlier in the year. Also nominated was Laura Mvula who is also superb and this song taken from her album Pink Noise is all sorts of retro-funky-fun.

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