The opener - Issue 127 - Magazine | Monocle

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Get to the airport early:

A rethink for airport retail is long overdue. Fortunately monocle has made its first foray into this area with a shop by gate 61 at Hong Kong International Airport (hkia), a partnership with Lagardère Travel Retail group. Here you’ll find an international newsstand, bookshop and boutique. hkia leads the way for travel efficiency – and now we think its airport retail is flying high.

Hit the brakes:

Roundabouts worth seeing

Switzerland has a penchant for adorning its roundabouts with sculptures and ornamentation. Some pieces are commercial, others cultural; nearly all border on the kitsch. There are monuments to watch brand Swatch, models of dinosaurs and even a giant vinyl record near cultural venue kufa in Lyss. But other nations are less enthusiastic. Germany is threatening to dismantle its roundabout art, worrying that such attractions distract motorists. The Swiss Federal Roads Office takes a different view: drivers who wish to take in roundabout art slow down to get a better view. And slower cars, mean safer roads – clever, eh?

Skip the trailer, stick to the story

By Augustin Macellari

As anyone who has endured the embarrassment of superhero films over the past 15 years will know, we live in an age where plot is subordinated to spectacle. Story only exists to lend some logic to the crash, bang, wallop of epic but synthetic set pieces, expensive and empty thrills designed to be dissected by nerds.

Fortunately the rising box-office popularity of more thoughtful features suggests that not everyone is satisfied. Low-budget films, such as Midsommar, Us and forthcoming The Lighthouse, seem designed to speak to people left cold by franchises. But they bring with them their own challenge.

A trailer for a Marvel film is easily constructed: a couple of minutes of footage from a punch-up, a scarred hunk brooding in the glare of a terrible explosion and a wry comment from a computer-generated talking beast. Trailing a film that actually has a story to tell is rather more complex. When the action isn’t incidental but instead serves to further a narrative, it’s difficult to preview it without giving the game away.

US entertainment company a24 might just have hit on the solution: work with edgy directors on esoteric subjects; build up hype long in advance with judicious press hits; and steep poster design in atmosphere rather than the promise of an action extravaganza. Lace a trailer with red herrings, remembering that it’s better to confuse than explain, and maybe – as with last year’s artful and horrible Hereditary – you’ll even be able to sneak a twist in at the start.

The technique works: Hereditary made almost eight times its money back. But for true film fans there’s only one sure way not to spoil one of the year’s few promising features: exercise self-discipline, have faith in delayed gratification and skip the trailer entirely.

Bend over

One of the world’s most overpriced train rides – welcome aboard the Heathrow Express – has in recent months done everything it can to make the journey more irksome. No more buying a ticket onboard – now you have to queue to buy a ticket, wait while the barriers fail to recognise people’s tickets and repeat the joy once at Heathrow (or you could use the shaky app). But the worst part is the lack of design that went into making the ticket machines. The key pads are so low that even someone of average height has to crouch on haunches to use them; the screen colours so faint they make you think something is amiss.

The result? Staff now hang around showing people how to use them. This expanding low-rise button world is perhaps regarded as “universal” – better for, say, wheelchair users. But by trying to do good they’ve made a horrible experience. If inclusivity is the concern then two key pads at different heights is the answer. Something to ponder as your train leaves without you.

Truth is on the menu

By Andrew Tuck

The relationship between waiter and customer is ever evolving but in London we have noticed the emergence of a new class of restaurant staff. Meet the honest waiter. In a restaurant close to monocle’s HQ, the waitress took the order but was clearly unimpressed, hinting that the vegetarian pick was poor: “I can give you a couple of minutes to change your mind?” Then a Clerkenwell venue a few days later where the waitress actually said, “Don’t order that, it’s horrible.” And finally, a waitress who said she didn’t like the food because she was vegan.

Change the record:

Cassette sales on the rise

News of a surge of any niche product should be treated with caution: if you sell two of a given item in a year, that’s a 100 per cent spike if you only sold one the year before. Such scepticism should be applied to reports of a 50 per cent revival in cassettes. UK music fans are expected to buy 75,000 cassettes this year, up from 50,000 in 2018. To put that in perspective, 83 million cassettes were sold in the UK in 1989. Still, something is enticing consumers to the cassette, despite the format’s ugliness, fragility and inferior sound. Perhaps this year’s 40th anniversary of the Walkman has prompted nostalgia.

Maybe it’s a desire to own a physical product but with the reality of smaller living spaces. Or maybe we’re discovering how many of those people who evangelically got into vinyl 10 years ago have found something they can be even more insufferable about.

Bushy tale:

Trees a crowd

With its big dark eyes, fluffy silver fur and feline whiskers, you’d think that the Siberian flying squirrel would be the last animal to need a positive PR campaign. Yet forest authorities in Finland have embarked upon just that. Why? The endangered flyer is protected by the EU, which means that its habitat is untouchable. This has put limits on logging in the forest-dependent nation and has even stalled plans for a key light-rail proposal in the capital, Helsinki. People are angry and hence a seven-year project aims to promote human-squirrel co-existence. This includes a webcam via which Finns can follow the daily activities of this elusive furry flier.

Unlikely foes: Cows and clothes moths


More cowbell?

By Peter Firth

Autumn in Austria is the time of almabtrieb, an annual cattle drive where animals are herded from mountainous grazing pastures to take up residence in their barns below. While it’s usually a jubilant affair – lederhosen and flower-garlanded cows – this year a cowbell crimewave has swept the west of the country. The bells aren’t particularly valuable – police think the stolen bells’ total worth to be less than €1,000. Our theory? The bells were lifted by second home owners tired of the noise.


Swat team

By Peter Firth

When you are the custodian of innumerable antique objects made from fine materials there is much to worry about: temperature, humidity and security to name a few. The one that keeps the collections team at the v&a Museum up at night? Tineola bisselliella, the common clothes moth. The museum takes precautions to stop the insects from getting at all the delicious 15th-century Iranian carpets and snackable Dolce & Gabbana dresses in the vault. Traps, door sealants – and staff at the ready with a willing disregard for insect life.

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