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Speed Read – The necessity of hyperbole (or, time to actually do something)

(Nearly) every week we ride into town in search of a saloon in which to imbibe news, chat, good music and bourbon which we then mix together into concoction called “Heartburn and Regret” or as you know it, “The Friday Speed Read”

Hyperbole (n) – exaggerated statements or claims not meant to be taken literally.

Once you’ve lived (or are living) through a pandemic, the notion of hyperbole seems as old-fashioned as setting the video to record ‘Allo ‘Allo on a VHS tape because you’ve got to drive your Ford Escort to a date with someone of the opposite sex at a Bernie Inn Steakhouse. And on the way you listen to a Medium Wave local music station that’s playing Bananarama and Thatcher – a super group that sadly never happened.

We’ve seen the worst of times. Or at least we think we have. Most of our pre-pandemic fears seem cosy, almost rose-tinted in some contexts. “Why did we worry so much?”, we think to ourselves. “Why did we lose so much sleep?”

Where it does still exist hyperbole is often of the preserve of the young and the old. For the young it’s natural, vital even, to love and to hate with wide-eyed ferocity; for the old it has a different source: nostalgia, mortality or sometimes just loneliness. When an older person complains that the world of their youth was categorically better than the world of now, you may sigh and smile patronisingly but one day you’ll be saying the same thing. (Mind you, if you grew up in the age of Covid, I hope that you’re saying the opposite.)

From the elastic-waistline and greying temples of middle age, hyperbole doesn’t seem all that. You’ve got better things to worry about than becoming all riled up in exaggerated anger or passion (or both); I mean there’s the kids to take to football and a birthday present to find for your partner and that pile of crap in the garage is not going to take itself to the tip.

Hyperbole ain’t what it used to be that’s for sure.

And that’s a problem right now.

When Prime Minister Boris Johnson stood up at the start of the week and spoke at the opening of COP26 in Glasgow, he reached for the book of hyperbole. Here’s some of what he said:

Humanity has long since run down the clock on climate change. It’s one minute to midnight on that Doomsday clock and we need to act now . . .  If we don’t get serious about climate change today, it will be too late for our children to do so tomorrow

 Doomsday, our children’s future, running down the clock . . .  we’ve heard it all before and frankly we’ve got our own problems mate. Have you not seen what’s going on right now? Where have you been these past two years?

But here’s the thing. And you know this and I know this but it’s worth reiterating: it’s not hyperbole at all. For once, almost uniquely in the canon of Johnson speechmaking it wasn’t bluster or misdirection and yes it came clothed in metaphor but it was a truth. A cold, terrifying truth about the precarious environmental situation; an existential threat that’s entirely of our own making.

And so the world leaders arrived in their private planes and motorcades and took it in turns to make speeches that all said the same thing: that there was no time to lose and that the world was watching and that this time they really, really meant it. That’s not to say that progress wasn’t made and it’s important to note the good news and be encouraged by it:

  • A pledge by 100 countries to end deforestation
  • South Africa will stop making power via coal
  • Methane gas emissions will be reduced by 30% by 2030
  • Trillions of dollars of private money will be invested in green technologies and industries
  • Japan is spending an extra $10 billion on climate financing
  • The UK will force all businesses to report on how they are progressing on the route to net zero carbon emissions

The leaders left after two days but their delegations are remaining in Glasgow for another week and a half so there’s hope for more significant announcements before their time together is up.

Does it feel different this time? Does it feel that the world is finally, finally waking up to the urgency of action? Maybe. Possibly. And anyway, feeling depressed about things won’t help. Action can be exhilarating, no matter how small those actions are. Buy better, buy less, walk more . . .  what you do isn’t going to stop the temperatures rising but what WE do might. In fact, it has to. Because, what other choice is there?

And again, there’s not a hyperbole in sight.


Everything else this week feels asinine in the context of COP26. Usually at this time of year, I’d spend more words than necessary writing about the new crop of Christmas adverts. But this year, this week in fact, it all feels just like a lot of expensive flim-flam. John Lewis has mixed its usual cocktail of a minor-key version of a pop song with heart-tugging scenes of a cute child, this time with an added kiss from an alien; Boots has Jenna Louise Coleman flouncing around with a magic bag filled with endless STUFF that she gives to her good-looking friends and family; M&S has Percy Pig . . . .  you know what, I’m just not in the mood. Buy good things from good sources and give them to good people. And then tell them that you love them and have a glass of decent wine. That’s your Christmas sorted.

You’re welcome.

The other big story of the week is the Prime Minister’s U-turn on abolishing the parliamentary standards committee. It can be explained in the following bullet points.

1 – Standards committee votes to suspend Tory MP for taking money in return for lobbying

2 – PM thinks this is terrible and successfully musters his MPs to vote to abolish said standards committee

3 – Everyone in the country shouts “WTF – you can’t abolish a standards committee just because you disagree with their decision – this isn’t Game of Thrones”

4 – PM decides not to abolish standards committee after all

I can’t even . . .

Best song of the week is a song that everyone else heard in the summer. But it has taken until now to reach my brain. It’s called Chaise Longue by Wet Leg (two women from the Isle of Wight, not that is relevant). What is relevant is that it is absolutely brilliant.


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