Friday Reading S13E02

Friday Reading is a weekly series of recommended reads from the Guardian’s Martin Belam, covering journalism, media and technology, and other interesting nerdy things he found on the internet this week. It is now in its thirteenth season. Sign up here.

An odd week to be live-blogging the coronavirus pandemic. On Monday morning the pandemic was in full swing, and it seemed like the prime minister might have to resign any second. By Wednesday afternoon his position looked more secure and the UK government had effectively declared the pandemic over.

The thing is, I think the pandemic is over in this country. Not Covid, that’s not gone at all, and isn’t going away. But I think treating it like a pandemic and a public health emergency is over in the UK, and it isn’t coming back. If self-isolation rules are ended in March, as has been mooted, then that becomes the first lever the government can pull when case numbers start rising as we approach the winter, after a summer in which they will fully unlock the economy, regardless of case numbers. Hospitalisations in the Omicron wave only ever reached about half the rate they did in the peak of the pandemic, and it seems the UK government are quite comfortable living with those numbers.

I thought this piece was instructive from Prof Devi Sridhar, who is chair of global public health at the University of Edinburgh, and who has long been an advocate for public health measures to combat Covid. She wrote:

"There are now clearly three camps of scientists voicing opinions on what is happening and what to do in the coming weeks. This can be confusing for the public. The first group still seem to see the virus as the same deadly one of March 2020, despite the massive scientific progress in managing it, and they suggest extremely cautious measures. The second say they’ve been right all along in that mass infection is unavoidable; this is the “let it rip” group. They ignore the dramatic difference that mass vaccinations and treatments have made – avoiding serious illness from Covid-19 now is wholly different from 2020. The third group – where I sit – have evolved their position as the data and tools, namely vaccines and therapeutics, have also evolved to transform Covid-19 into something more akin to other infectious diseases that we control and manage.

I think for non-scientists there are going to be similar mixed feelings. I anticipate at least six months of culture war now with people saying that treating Covid like we treat flu shows we over-reacted and should never have had preventative measures in the first place, and people who argue that any level of Covid circulating is evidence we should still be having public health interventions.

And I also feel for those who are immunocompromised, who suddenly find themselves in a situation where they’ve spent two years being told to isolate, and that the rest of the country will also isolate to protect you, and that’s gone, and you are literally on your own.

Mostly, though, I think we will need to find some kindness – people will find their way out of the pandemic mindset at different speeds and in different ways. Be there for your friends when they need you. Going from pandemic to endemic is going to be incredibly stressful for a lot of people.

“Now that science has defanged Covid, it’s time to get on with our lives” – Devi Sridhar

Georgina Bailey tweeted that she lost count of the number of times her jaw dropped working on this examination of the housing crisis in Devon.

"In the seaside town of Ilfracombe (population 11,509) there were only four homes available for private rent at the time of writing, compared to 326 Airbnbs."

"Homes Under The Hammer: Inside Devon's Housing Crisis" – Georgina Bailey, The House

I liked this tweet by Alex Hern so much I stole it for my newsletter: "'Following a devastating plague in the early 2020s, America’s economy pivoted to build a speculative bubble around generative art and online cultural spaces' sounds so much cooler than the nonsense we actually received"

Of all the dumb things I've ever written about on this website, this story that a load of crypto-peeps clubbed together to spend €2.66m buying an original copy of the storyboards of Franco-Chilean director Alejandro Jodorowsk's unmade version of Dune, seemingly in the belief that they can now use them to make an animated movie version of it without acquiring any other rights is just so out there. Not least because scans of it have been available on the web for free for donkey's years. Gary Brannan went viral tweeting about it, concluding "This is undoubtably the stupidest thing I have ever seen. Absolutely baffling". I remember the book selling for such a strange high price the other month – I even put something in the Guardian Thursday quiz about it.

I also saw someone else describe NFTs as "content-free DRM" and reader, I howled.

Ron wants to be sure that you didn't miss this week's Guardian Thursday quiz: Movie stars, unwanted gifts and a Blue Monday myth – take the Thursday quiz

One little thing that makes me so happy is that I can see from our analytics that a number of people have either followed my author tag or the Thursday Quiz tag in the Guardian App and have an alert set for when it goes live so they can do it straight away. Oh my heart.

Matt Round has plans and his stuff is always good. He says “Bored of normal newsletters? I need 100 people to sign up for my new experiment in making email more fun/interesting/weird. Some will get early access to SPECIAL SECRET STUFF before the first issue even goes out”. Do it here.

ABSOLUTE SCENES: Stranded dog saved from drowning after rescuers attach sausage to drone

An almost universal out-pouring of grief today for Meat Loaf. One of those people I was far too snobbish and serious for at the time, but now bitterly regret I never got to see one of his shows – they must have been absolutely spectacular entertainment. There’s a #TimsTwitterListeningParty for Bat out of Hell at 6pm on Sunday in his honour.

I sometimes think that the paranoia about things being reassessed and found wanting by “the woke mob” is from a knee-jerk feeling that you yourself are somehow implicated and you don’t want to be seen as racist. I don’t think that’s a helpful response. I was playing a YouTube clip of some not-actually-that-old comedy sketch in the house the other day and my 12 year old was like “God, that’s so racist” and I think at that point you can either double-down and say “Well I laughed at it at the time” or you can think “OK, a fresh pair of eyes on it in 2022, yes, it really is”. With that in mind, I found this piece absolutely fascinating from June Bellebono on Gal-Dem looking through British tabloid newspapers from the 1960s and 1970s and their material, namely of British origin, on trans women in Southeast Asia.

Despite the stories of the Southeast Asian trans women in those articles being derogatory, reading about them also brought me the joy of seeing that they were there.

It’s a brilliant, and at times excruciating read.

“‘She-men’, ‘ladyboys’ and ‘transvestites’: uncovering trans Southeast Asian archives” – June Bellebono, Gal-Dem

The UK government announcing a plan to get “unnecessary train announcements binned in ‘bonfire of the banalities’” is very John Major end-of-days Cones Hotlines, isn’t it. Micro-managing the announcements on trains at a national level. Exactly what people voted them in for.

Mind you, a consultancy fee for travelling around trains for months noting down all the announcements on a spreadsheet and colour-coding them and then telling the government they were all essential doesn’t sound too bad. Where do I sign up?

By the way if you aren’t following the Derby County / Middlesbrough / Wycombe / EFL saga then get yourself dug in and start here with this amazing open letter from Middlesbrough

This is easily one of the most embarrassing corrections I’ve ever had appended to one of my articles, and I’ve handed in my membership of the Chris Morris fanclub as a result.

This is the one thing he didn’t want to happen.

TWITTER ACCOUNT OF THE WEEK: Out of Context Horror Deaths – it’s literally just gif after gif of the gooey special effects bits where people die in crappy horror movies.

DOCTOR WHO CORNER: A really, really lovely trailer for the new Blu-Ray box-set with Nicola Bryant and written/directed by Pete McTighe that gives the character of Peri a much better ending/future as The Eternal Mystery.

There’s a lovely essay and set of interviews to be done with Nicola Bryant, Sophie Aldred, Bonnie Langford and Katy Manning about how the Blu-Ray box-set trailers have given them a chance to all reprise their 70s/80s “Doctor Who girl” roles in character as mature women completely in charge of their own destiny.

I am surprised that this new box-set appears to include A Fix With Sontarans, a mini-episode that features Colin Baker as the Doctor and Janet Fielding reprising her role as Tegan. It was filmed for Jim’ll Fix It and has been deleted from the DVD it was originally issued as an extra on. I assume they will have topped-and-tailed it from what was originally broadcast and released on the DVD in 2003, removing Savile, but I am genuinely surprised – not least because it just lends itself to a crappy “BBC making cash from paedo Doctor Who episode” clickbait etc etc.

I know I am a bore about these things, but the BBC is running an online vote to find the nation’s most loved BBC programme from a shortlist of fifty – obviously Doctor Who is among them – and they are displayed in alphabetical order rather than randomising for each user and it is going to totally skew the vote.


TRACK OF THE WEEK: Lawn by Aldous Harding is the first track to emerge from her upcoming album and I still can’t work out if she is singing “When you’re writing, besides” or “When you’re writing b-sides”

25 synth singles that should have been hits listed by The Electricity Club. There’s some lost gems in there.

Chris Shaw’s Beatles podcast I Am The Eggpod has a whole slew of episodes devoted to the eight hour Get Back doco.

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