A speed-reading woman has read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (608 pages) in 47 mins and 1 second. Well done, madam. That’s an impressive achievement. The word ‘impressive’, of course, is purely descriptive rather than evaluative and, pedantically speaking, should not be used as a term of approval or, indeed, pedantically, disapproval. But how clever! How treasurable! What a marvellously useful impact it will have on young readers!

Just one question – nothing really important, just a query – did you find that the plot and characterisation and such like got in the way? Had there not been any what we might call texture or structure couldn’t you have turned in something well under 40 mins? Had you applied your skill, for example, to a big book full of just words in no particular order, wouldn’t that have enabled you to make the Potter figures look positively lumbering?

My friend Andrew, back when I was a student, told me about a very big book full of random numbers. The numbers were generated by a great big computer like they were in the olden days and the sum of them was very useful to mathematicians God knows why. Anyway, Andrew said that whilst leafing through the book, in which countless blocks of numbers were displayed in rows and columns, he came across a sequence of identical numbers – shall we say 4444444 4444444 – that went on for half a page before the random numbers set in again. He pointed out that the identical blocks were just as random as the more conventionally random ones. He said that it was possible that the Universe was like that, that is to say, we are living in the 4444444 bit right now where a spade is a spade and at any point the state of this Universe could flip into hardcore random whereupon a coffee table would turn into a pig and that would be just one of many unsettling things as life went bonkers bigtime. This would be about 1964.

Universe changes on next page…