There’s little more annoying than when you’re feeling a little out of sorts, a tad off-colour, someone then hoves uninvited into your personal orbit and tells you to “cheer up” or implores you to “give us a smile” or, worst of all reassures you that “it might never happen”. These Irritating Samaritans might be good friends, acquaintances, strangers; in 80s sitcoms it was lascivious men talking to pencil-skirted secretaries but all for all of their good intentions, you’ve got no desire to cheer up, often for very strong reasons: maybe you’ve accidentally watched the film version of Cats; maybe you’re still reeling from an argument with your lover about (not) taking out the bins or maybe your hamster, who you’d had down as a Guardian-reading liberal, has just joined UKIP. In any of these situations, the last thing you want to do is give Cathy in HR a smile.
With all this in mind, I’m going to appeal to the kindness in your soul to not judge this week’s Speed Read too harshly when we unveil what’s essentially the prose-equivalent of someone giving you a friendly double-tap on the shoulder and telling you that everything is going to be okay. I claim two mitigating factors: ONE, today is Friday 13th and even for the most hard-nosed cynic, it’s a day for a certain amount of care when stepping around the inevitable piles of bad luck lying around the place; and TWO, we’re just a weekend away from Blue Monday. And in this case we’re not talking about one of the most influential singles in the history of popular music but LITERALLY the most depressing day of the year (according to Sky Travel’s PR company that coined the term backed up with some shonky maths in a 2005 press release).
So, we’ve a double whammy of potential pitfalls (and bad metaphors) to negotiate. Not to mention all the actual STUFF that’s going on right now, very little of which is likely to give any hint of a spring to your step. Here’s the plan: we’re going to a quick whip around the biggest news stories of the week, given that’s really what this column was originally conceived to do, and then we’ll unveil our list of things that might get you through the rest of January without slipping too deeply into a fug of bleakness and emotional atrophy.
Well, I’m, not sure of it actually counts as news but you MAY have heard that Prince Harry’s book was finally published this week and if you thought the UK press would have filled their boots with the “leaked” copies they’d read the week before, then you’re clearly new to this game. Both Monday and Tuesday this week was wall-to-wall Harry front pages (look them up if you’re interested, I really don’t have the motivation to type them out here), meanwhile “Spare” became the fastest-selling non-fiction book in the history of the universe. Yes, even faster than Does God Ever Speak Through Cats? by David Evans. Which I’m not going to believe until I see the numbers.
Away from the royal rumpus, many of the stories that have been running for weeks continued to run this week. There were more strikes, more anger on picket lines at low public sector wages and even though there were a few signs that the government might be beginning to shift its position, Health Secretary Steve Barclay managed to achieve near-universal opprobrium in response to his suggestion that yes, NHS staff might be allowed a pay rise but only if they “work harder”. WHO IS ADVISING THESE PEOPLE? There was also criticism for billionaire Prime Minister Sunak who refused to say whether or not he used private healthcare. (take a guess). For the record, on Wednesday he clarified that although he was currently registered with a NHS doctor, he had used in private healthcare in the past.
Fans of old news were treated by another round of “partygate” revelations; this time reports of staff in Number 10 shredding documents in an attempt to cover up evidence of lockdown gatherings and an eye-witness account of then-PM Johnson arriving at one of the gatherings and announcing jovially that “this is the most unsocially distanced party in the UK right now”. Johnson told parliament no such parties occurred.
Joe Biden had classified documents in his garage. He’s in a lot of trouble.
That’s enough news. It’s time for:
THE SPEED READ’S BLUE MONDAY-BUSTING LIST OF THINGS THAT ARE NOT TERRIBLE RIGHT NOW
Energy prices seem to have peaked. In wholesale terms at least. This isn’t going to mean lower bills for a while but there is at least the prospect of lower bills at some point before we all retire (unless you’re retiring this week).
Soup. There I’ve said it. If you think soup is boring then you’ve clearly not eaten the French Onion soup that I made last weekend. It was more of a poem than a meal, full of depth, nuance and metaphor. If that soup could write, it would have been produced sonnets rivalling Shakespeare. But any soup can be a great soup. Eat soup.
In terms of subject matter (murder, kidnapping, drug abuse, suicide) it might not be a complete barrel of laughs, but Happy Valley (third series currently showing on the BBC) will make you happy simply because of its sheer brilliance. If there’s a better performance than Sarah Lancashire as Sgt Catherine Cawood this side of Armageddon then I’d like to see it. She’s staggeringly good and the supporting cast is also top-drawer.
It’s not Christmas anymore. I like Christmas but I also like it NOT being Christmas. I’m not doing Dry January but I am engaged in a sort of Damp January: shunning cheese and cutting booze intake to a very small level. And the strangest thing is happening. I’m feeling really good. Now I just need to work out why this might be.
It was 90s day on 6Music yesterday and of course I was loving it. One HUGE highlight was Fatboy Slim remixing his seminal album You’ve Come A Long Way Baby, including a new version of Right Here Right Now featuring a sample of Greta Thunberg. It was so good I almost cried (and I was sober – see above). You can hear the whole 30 mins on BBC Sounds for the next month via this link
Even though the weather is awful, you can enjoy the fact that the word “sky” is actually the Norse word for “cloud”. But in Britain there’s rarely a difference between the two concepts and so our bad weather actually changed the word’s meaning. Etymology is cool.
You. You’re a reason for happiness. Look at you, you’re just brilliant. Keep up the great work. The world is better for you being in it.
I hope this list helps. If not, then at least it’s the weekend.
De La Soul’s seminal 1989 album 3 Feet High and Rising is finally being released on streaming platform after decades of arguing about sample clearance. Here’s the absolute classic single The Magic Number.