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Speed Read – travelling at the speed of time

Every week The Friday Speed Read summarises the week’s biggest stories in its notebook before then putting this notebook to one side and launching into an opening paragraph of whimsy and speculation. Sometimes it will then get around to writing about the news but only sometimes. 

I fear that the following statement can be filed alongside other middle-aged epithets such as “When I was your age . .  . “or “actually my back’s a bit sore, can we just cuddle?” or “say what you want about the Tories but they do know what they’re talking about when it comes to money” . . . . but hey, I am going to go for it anyway: HOW IS IT NOVEMBER 19TH? WHERE HAS THE YEAR GONE?

The answer to which of course is that it’s gone to that place where all time goes once passed: memory, oblivion, regret (although I think there’s a pop-up shop just opened near Stokes Croft in Bristol that is selling reworked and reconditioned days from 2018 if you’re cool enough to get served there). You can’t slow time just as you can’t build a bungalow out of lust or listen to new music by Adele without saying to yourself “poor thing; she’s really been through it hasn’t she?” But really, the 2021 version of time seems to have been supercharged or as if someone pressed the “1.5x” speed button on the Great Podcast of Existence in about February and we’ve only just noticed. (Incidentally, I think it’s only serial killers who listen to podcasts on 1.5x or 2x speed – so if this is you, you probably want to question your life choices before someone gets hurt).

Anyway, here we are in mid-November and there’s nothing that can be done about it. Let’s face down the present; open the newspapers; switch on the tv; fire-up Twitter (yes, Twitter runs on household gas and soon we won’t be able to afford to use it) and see what the world is like . . . . . oh . . . .corruption, institutional racism, sleaze, price rises, failed promises, rocketing Covid-rates as a fourth wave (? – I am losing count) rolls across Europe. Not exactly a of rollcall of joy; not the kind of vibe you want as you reach for your first cider of the weekend. So, for a moment at least, let’s ignore the travails of the present and look back in time. A year to be precise. That’s 2020 for anyone who may have forgotten and see if there’s anything in the past that might help us feel better about the present? (SPOILER ALERT – YES THERE IS. I HAVE ACTUALLY PLANNED THIS ALTHOUGH IT MAY SEEM OTHERWISE).

One of benefits of writing a weekly (I know, I know, but I’ve been really busy) news column is that it serves as a sort of diary. Each Friday morning I don’t really have the time or mental ability to do anything other than splurge my observations and feelings onto the page and then move on to my actual to-do list for the day. While this doesn’t make for particularly elegant prose what it does do is provide an accurate snapshot of the world, or at least my view of it every time a column is published. And then of course because the internet never forgets these thoughts are preserved to then be reanimated at a later date. Exactly like Jurassic Park. Clever girl.

A year ago, Pfizer has just announced the results of the first clinical trial of their vaccine. And these results were astounding. To quote the Friday Speed Read: “in a world in which hyperbole is often the lingua franca and therefore relegated to background noise, the news that the first Covid-19 vaccine to report mass-testing results shows, with caveats, an efficacy rate of 90% is literally world-changing” . . . . this was the week of the Star’s still-very funny headline punning on Pfizer’s then-most-famous drug Viagra: “YES! YES! YES! YES! YES! YES!” (six yeses: I counted them).

We were in lockdown at the time; not a full, school-closure lockdown but a work-from-home, pubs closed, cinemas closed, don’t go out unless you have to lockdown so it’s no wonder that the tone of that week’s column was celebratory to say the least. More good news was to follow soon after as Astra Zeneca reported that its “Oxford” vaccine was almost as effective as Pfizer’s and was much easier to store. Trump had also just lost (although had not conceded) the US presidency and it did feel things were on the up after such a terrible year.

Bad news didn’t stay away for long of course: the Christmas cancellation; Trump’s riot in Washington etc but at that moment, desperate for hope, desperate for a route out of the Covid nightmare, that Friday a year ago seems pretty significant.

We will get out of this. We will go back to the pub, the theatre, the cinema, the nightclubs, the stadiums; we will be able to kiss our grandmothers without killing them; the end is in sight. Surely. Please. Oh please, the end is surely in sight.

 (That’s me again, sorry).

A year on: I went bowling with my friends last week; we had a staff away day in a pub and there was dancing; I saw Dune at the cinema and liked Timothee Chalamet’s hair; this weekend I’m going to see my Dad. From Monday, I’ll be able to book my booster jab (one of the benefits of advancing age) so my Covid armour will be sparkling again and embossed with my family crest (a lion eating a block of cheddar while listening to Blur). All of these things are wonderful in their ordinariness, their normalcy. Oh god, do I love the everyday.

Covid isn’t over. People are still dying. There’s trouble ahead just as there’s trouble behind us. But it’s so, so much better. A year ago there was hope. A year on, many of those hopes have been delivered. And I think it’s important, essential, that we remember this.

Here endeth the lesson.

NEWS! Cricket has a massive problem with racism. Which is very sad because it’s a game I love but it’s not a surprise and it needs to sort itself out pretty sharpish otherwise it genuinely may never recover; Boris Johnson has realised that people actually DO CARE that many MPs are being paid by a range of rich institutions for “consultancy” and “access” and “multi-million-pound Covid contacts” (ALLEGEDLY) and has performed another of his classic U-Turns.  The whole thing stinks and what did for the Tories in the mid-to-late 90s is coming back to haunt them like the ghost of Banquo at the feast and so now, Johnson thinks that MPs having second jobs might not be the best idea. Also inflation is inflating and HS2 is now not going to be extended to Leeds.

Will that do you? It’s going to have to.

Let’s end with Taylor Swift. I am late to the Swift party (and to be honest, I don’t think I was invited) but she keeps being awesome. To accompany the release of the recorded version of her album Red she’s directed a short film for the song All Too Well and to be brief, it’s absolutely brilliant. It won’t cheer you up but it’s really something special. I’m off to buy a red scarf.


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