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Speed Read – twenty twenty too

Every week The Friday Speed Read emerges from the news swamp like an alligator but a nice one who is going to tell you what’s been happening rather than biting your leg off.

Welcome then to the year 2022. Or, as people of my vintage like to say, the year 25PROK – 25 years post Radiohead’s OK Computer. Howsoever you call it, the strange, warping effects of the Covid years during which time has been paradoxically both at a standstill and accelerating past like the view from the window of a high-speed train (one of the few that are running given the current staff shortages) has meant that I’m sure I’m not alone in my regular checking of the calendar this week – is it really 2022? Is that even a year? How has this happened?

Well now that you’re here in 2022, let me show you around. There’s a number of features that you’ll of course recognise; over here are the record infection numbers in all parts of the country; just in that corner there is the Prime Minster telling us that the worst will soon be over; in the gaps there are staff shortages in schools, in shops, on public transport; there’s a room down the corridor full of exhausted NHS staff who’ve been working unreasonable hours and in horrendous conditions for nearly two years now and right in front of you is Novak Djokovic tied to chair. More on him later.

It feels like we’ve all been here before. And not in a good way.

The last time I wrote an edition of The Friday Speed Read, the Omicron variant had just arrived in the UK and we were told that our double-vaccination status was going to be as much use in protecting us as a paper bag on a trip to the moon. Go and get boosted, we were told. Go and get boosted to protect yourself from Omicron. And we did, in our millions. And then just at the point all of us in England expected / feared / wanted new restrictions to be brought in to counter the exponential growth in infections, absolutely nothing happened, and Christmas went ahead largely as normal. And the same thing happened at New Year; no new restrictions so go and have a drink with your mates. The right wing of the Conservative Party is powerful indeed.

I realise you know all this. Or if you don’t, I’m frankly shocked that you’ve chosen this column as a means to get yourself back in the loop – other more reliable and concise resources are available. But, like all of us, I am trying to wrangle my brain into wondering how we should be feeling at in this first week of a new year.

To which the answer is of course, you must feel however you’re feeling. But for what it’s worth, I thought I might share my thoughts on the subject. I feel strangely calm which in itself is slightly uncalming. With infections at record levels, with friend after friend catching Covid, with the whole country straining every metaphorical sinew to keep itself functioning, I thought I’d be feeling that bitter weight in the stomach, that lump in the throat, that coldness in the veins that was such a feature of 2020 and then again in 2021. But the truth is, I don’t feel any of those things. I feel a bit fat after too much cheese over Christmas but that’s normal; but do I feel that this latest wave of Covid is an existential threat to our way of life, to our hopes and ambitions, to our capacity for joy?

No, I am actually quite jolly.

Maybe this is just a survival instinct. Maybe that it’s the acceptance that life will never again be like it was and I am leaving behind my mourning period for the pre-Covid age. Maybe it’s just the coffee. Regardless, this is where I am. I hope you too are feeling, if not positive, then at least at peace with the world.

Welcome to 2022. I think everything might just be okay.

In the news this week there’s been a lot of talk about “the unvaccinated”; not the name of a shonky horror film but the percentage of the population who have so far refused to be jabbed. It’s easy to condemn this cohort (as indeed the now SIR Tony Blair did before the holiday when he called them “idiots”) but the anti-vax movement is well-organised and seemingly well-funded and, let’s be honest, some people are happy to believe what they are told. I am. It’s just I choose to believe that Covid is real and not a global conspiracy.

There was some foreign language fun this week with the UK media trying to translate French President Macron’s potty-mouthed vow to “emmerder les non-vaccinés”. Literally this means to put non-vaccinated people in the shit but a better translation would be “to piss off the unvaccinated”. Either way, you can understand his frustration even if you don’t like his language given the strain that this wilfully vulnerable group of people is putting upon French society in just the same way that’s happening here.

All of which brings us to the new poster boy for the unvaccinated: Novak Djokovic or, as he will now forever be known, Novaxx Djokovic. Now listen, Djokovic is free to do whatever he wants, get jabbed, not get jabbed, it shouldn’t detract from the fact that he’s really good at tennis. Really, really good. I mean if I played him, I’d probably only get a couple of games off him, he really is that good. But when he rocked up to Australia to play in the first Grand Slam of the year with “an exemption” that he believed allowed him to bypass the country’s strict “no vaccine, no entry” policy, it put a smile on a lot of faces when he was told that no, you can’t come in. He’s currently in an immigration detention centre awaiting a court ruling on Monday; the front page of the Star this morning has “the word’s smallest violin” playing for his troubles. I’ll leave it at that.

Right, that’s about it for this week I think. I was aiming for a gag-filled lol-fest to begin 2022 but maybe we’re not quite at that stage yet. Soon maybe. I’d better think of some gags.

The BBC announced its annual Sound of . . . winner for 2022 this week. 20-year-old Pink Pantheress keeps her name secret and debuted her music on TikTok, meaning most of her songs are really short. I heard her interviewed on the radio yesterday and she seemed very wise. She absolutely does not need the support of a middle-aged man currently wearing a cardigan but she’s got it. I think she’s ace. Here’s a song.

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