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Speed Read – a lost six hours scrabbling around in the dark looking for meaning

Every week The Friday Speed Read  mounts on its news horse and then leaps over the fences of the week’s biggest stories. Its reward? Fame, relevance and polos.

So what did you do between 4pm and 10pm on Monday? How did you fill the yawning void rendered in the fabric of your life by the downing of Instagram and WhatsApp? (Historical note / clumsy satire: Facebook was also offline but apart from your Great Aunt Fanny who was forced to take the evening off from posting shoddy memes – “Exercise? I thought you said ‘extra fries’ lol lol lol” no one noticed). Did you sit on your sofa prodding at your screen hoping that WhatsApp would reconnect so you could share a great gag that you just thought of with your “Funny sh*t” group of amusing friends who you secretly want to impress? Were you mid-pout when your realised that there was nowhere to share your perfectly-composed selfie? #nofilter #ineithersense #likenofilterasinvalencia #butalsointhesensethatsomepeopleshouldshareless

I realise that all of this makes me sound like the kind of curmudgeonly middle-aged man that I would have been hard-wired to despise in my more tender years. The kind of man that slaps the table while making a point and says things like “It’s not an opinion, human communication was better before social media” or “Can you turn off YouTube and watch something with an actual story instead?”. Both of these zingers are mine by the way. In the early 90s there was a sketch show on TV called The Mary Whitehouse Experience (that my friends and I loved and quoted with equal fervour) and in one repeat gag, Hugh Dennis (recently seen in the new Bond film – more of which later) played a Dad dancing awkwardly to his mortified son’s music choices; “What’s this?” he’d ask, “it’s got a good beat!”. Maybe it hasn’t aged that well but the other day I found myself doing exactly the same thing without any irony whatsoever. My son was predictably indifferent. Rightly so.

Where was I? Oh yes, Facebook’s six-hour shutdown. I am guessing such is the ubiquity of their services that its failure caused all manner of actual, serious problems so I should probably be a little more sensitive. But I’ve got to write about the Tory conference in a minute so you’ll forgive me for lingering on this longer than seems necessary. Turns out that the outage was caused by a “single rogue command” (presumably – 10 DELETE Facebook 20 GOTO 10) worsened by the fact that its security systems were so good that they prevented Facebook’s own staff accessing the files needed to restore services. Sort of like locking yourself out of your own house and being forced to smash a window to get back in except then the glass being impossible to break and so you have to live in your garden. Or something.

And if you think that’s far too long spent talking about Facebook then I agree with you.

Many more headlines this week about the forthcoming rise in energy prices. Not much humour to be gleaned from the situation so I’m not going to try but it’s going to put on a strain on the finances of many people and those, as ever, on the lowest incomes are going to suffer the most. If you want to ruin your weekend then grab this morning’s Daily Mail – “Here comes your £2000 energy bill”. Oh and inflation is expected to hit 5% as well so even more financial pressure to come. AND don’t forget the rise in National Insurance is also coming down the tracks too. Like I said, no humour, no fun, no jokes to be made . . . .

. . . unless you’re the Prime Minister.

Now I’ve got a bit of a problem here because a) it behoves me to be relatively apolitical in this column given that it’s published on the website of my employer and b) some of the gags that Boris Johnson made to the Conservative Party conference in Manchester this week were, how shall I put this? actually sort of quite funny. His whole riff on the “build back . . .” slogan (“build back beaver”; “build back burger”) annoyed nearly everyone (aside from the Tory faithful in the room) but maybe I’m just tired but they did make me laugh. There’s something pleasingly anarchic about reaching the highest office in the land and using it to make a string of wilfully cheesy gags.

But of course, it’s not remotely pleasing when you think about it. Johnson’s speech was roundly criticised for being, and this is kind, light on detail. No mention of rising energy prices, no mention of supply chain chaos, no mention of petrol stations running out of petrol only the promise of better times ahead as Brexit delivers higher skills and higher wages. None of this is a surprise; characterful, well-written, detail-free optimism has been Johnson’s schtick since he first appeared on the political scene but it doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. The boss of Next called the speech “economically illiterate” not that this will bother the PM. You’d imagine given all the death, the shortages, the rising costs, the government would be deeply, deeply unpopular right now. Not a bit of it. The Tories still lead Labour in the opinion polls. Which just goes to show how big Labour’s problems are right now.

I went to see No Time to Die at an actual cinema and it was all sorts of excellent. No spoilers ahead if you’ve not yet been to see it. Mind you, a lot of people have seen it. In its first week of release, Daniel Craig’s final outing as 007 has already made over $35,000,000 in the UK putting within reach of Skyfall’s record-breaking box office performance back in the pre-Brexit, pre-Covid mists of time. It was absolutely great to actually be in a cinema again and what can I say? I really, really enjoyed it. The film has everything you’d expect a Bond movie to have (running, jumping, sexing, shooting, gadgeting plus a completely one-dimensional baddie who’s plan for taking over the world is even more incomprehensible than Kier Starmer’s plan to get people to vote Labour again) but with a sheen of quality, depth and, at times, genuine emotion that made it hard to resist. You might hate it of course. I didn’t.

Talking of Skyfall, Adele released 13 seconds of new music this week; a teaser for her comeback single due to be released next Friday. Guess what? It sounds like an Adele song (and this is no criticism). Music aside, there’s been much more discussion about the fact that Adele is a) now divorced and b) much thinner than she was. Which is all a bit predictable and depressing.

Finally, Andrew Lloyd Webber said this week that he hated the film version of his musical Cats so much that he bought a dog. Which is something close to a perfect response.

To play us, out here’s Billy Eilish’s Bond song which is still as good as it was when we first heard it last year.

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