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Speed Read – briefly looking the other way

Every week The Friday Speed Read’s cultural sweet-spot gets ever-smaller in the rear view mirror.

When is it acceptable to look away? It depends on context of course and there’s certainly a difference between looking away from events taking place thousands of miles away and those happening on the pavement outside your house. At primary school, “Would you walk by on the other side?” was on the list of Christian megahits that we had to sing several times a week in assembly and, religion aside, it was a thoroughly decent message to be sung by the teacher and mumbled by us in discordant unison “Cross over the road my friend . . . . .” Several years later in the early years of secondary school, my friend Tim and I even wrote and performed a rap version of “Would you walk by?”, a story that is definitely for another time. Like never.

Most people are decent. Most people don’t look away. Most people don’t walk by on the other side. All of which is to somewhat clumsily explain that this week’s Speed Read isn’t going to focus on the horror of what’s been happening in Afghanistan other than in this single paragraph. The word “apocalyptic” is often thrown around without proper consideration but this week, yesterday particularly, it must have literally felt like the end of days to the desperate people and soldiers caught up in the bombing at the Kabul airport. I spent a little time reading some eyewitness reports last evening and they were unimaginably horrible. What a catastrophic, desperate mess the whole thing is.

Looking away, changing subject, using phrases like “but anyway . . . .” are all indicators of massive privilege and I acknowledge that. But sometimes looking away is also a matter of self-preservation and as we head into a sunny bank holiday weekend (for the second time this year, the coexistence of an extra day off and some warm-ish temperatures is a very pleasant surprise) I think we’re all allowed to give ourselves a few days break from contemplating man’s inhumanity to man or the desperate plight of the innocent. We can look away. For a bit moments at least.

As such, I am going to spend the remainder of the word count on a few recommendations of things that have made me happy recently. I’ve not been any kind of reliable cultural bellwether since around 1994 (and even then, it only last a few weeks) and I realise that what essentially I’m providing here is a list of things that Jim (white, straight, quite old, likes cheese, from Devon) likes – hardly the universal indicator paper of the pH of good taste. To use a science metaphor. But you know what, I am going to do it anyway.

So here we go:

The Friday Speed Read Entirely Subjective List of Recommendations of Things that Might Make you Happy this Bank Holiday


Oooo . . . I’m blinded by the light. Not that one. The actual weekend. With an “n”. The industrial revolution was what rubbish historians like me call “a bit of a mixed bag” – huge wealth created, world-changing technological advancements but also grinding poverty and polluted, unsafe working environments. But what’s definitely not a “bit of a mixed bag” is the emergence of the weekend: Saturday AND Sunday free from the obligations of work emerged as a concept in the early to mid C19th and has been brightening up the end of the week (for those lucky enough not to have to work) ever since. Lovely.


All hail Sir John Lubbock, first Baron of Avebury! A writer, ant-enthusiast, politician and, inevitably, a banker proposed the Bank Holiday Bill in 1871. Initially intended only for the financial sector the enthusiasm for an extra day of paid holiday was, unsurprisingly, significant and soon bank holidays were for everyone. Or in the words of Blur’s song “Bank Holiday” taken from their seminal Parklife album (1994): “Bank holiday comes six times a year; days of enjoyment to which everyone cheers; bank holiday comes with six-packs of beer and then it’s back to work. A. G. A. I.N.” (see earlier note about cultural relevancy).


Now one of the biggest podcasts in the UK, Off Menu is presented by comedians Ed Gamble and James Acaster in which they invite guests to their “dream restaurant” to choose their perfect meal. (Acaster is the genie waiter that can bring the guest whatever they desire to eat.) Always hugely entertaining, the show reached its zenith this week with Mortimer as the guest. Funny, silly, warm; this might just be the most pleasant podcast listen of the year. Maybe of all time.


Written by Aisling Bea and starring Bea and the ever-brilliant Sharon Horgan, it’s billed as a comedy and it is very funny but it’s also moving, smart, upsetting and inspiring. The story begins as Bea’s character Aine is collected by her sister Shona (Horgan) from a mental health hospital after a “teeny little nervous breakdown”. Which doesn’t sound like a load of laughs I admit but I urge you to watch. Series 2 has just finished its run on C4 and if I could give out awards This Way Up would win a prestigious “Jim” without a doubt.

  1. ABBA

Not just because they are brilliant and wrote some of the most brilliant pop music of all time and are brilliant (and I’ll ineffectively fight anyone who disagrees) but because they’re about to release some new music for the first time in decades. And if it’s terrible then I’ll be cross but it won’t be terrible because they’re Abba. Also, it seems that there’s going to be a new Abba show in London with the band projected as holograms of them in their 70s heyday. Which also might be terrible but for the purposes of this column I’m going to assume it won’t be.


Find someone who will listen to you. Scientists in America have proved that having someone to talk to boosts neurological resilience and lowers the risk of degenerative brain disease in older age. Their study found that the “brain age” of someone in their 40s who had regular conversations with people with whom they can properly engage was up to four years younger than those without. All of which makes you think how lucky you are if you have someone and how important it therefore is to reach out to those who might not.


Growing up, the Beatles, who were a very important part of my musical education, were favoured by my Dad more than the Rolling Stones. As such, my knowledge of the Stones isn’t extensive but they are undeniably one the most important and influential bands of all times. The sad news of the death of drummer Charlie Watts this week was greeted with a flurry of tributes to a man who was modest, cerebral and a really, really brilliant drummer. Stick a pin the Stones’ back-catalogue and you’ll hear his brilliance but to play us out, here’s the band performing one of the truly great rock and roll songs at Glastonbury in 2013.


I hope you get some satisfaction this bank holiday weekend.  But please try not to get Covid. There’s a lot of it about.

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