Friday. 6/9/2019

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Robert Bound

Toast? He’s eaten it all

There have been notable casualties in Westminster’s Brexit battles but few members of parliament will be missed as much as Sir Nicholas Soames, who will step down at the next – likely imminent – general election. He is a Conservative who might look like a pinstriped talisman of Tory tradition but has also been the sort of nuanced Europhile that only Winston Churchill’s grandson could be (he is).

Nuance, however, is an adjective fairly freshly ascribed to the member for Mid Sussex. In the media Soames has been known, over a 37-year parliamentary career, for his love of lunch and the ladies – sometimes in that order.

He was one of the few remaining parliamentary gourmands until a few years ago when he crash-dieted to become racing-snake slim but not before being told, during a parliamentary debate on the Millennium Dome in the late 1990s, that, instead of the Dome, the mother of all new-year exhibitions could be held in his own capacious underpants. Soames rode out nicknames of “Bunter”, “Two Lunches” and the simple “Fatty” with a genial smile.

That we live in straitened times is moot; that we live in less colourful ones, surely not. A cabal of posturing Edwardians is not the same as parliamentarians of genuine character. Soames’s short, likely farewell, speech in the House of Commons brought a tear to the eye as well, of course, as a laugh as he poked, “His right honourable friend the prime minister, the leader of the house and other members of the cabinet whose serial disloyalty has been such an inspiration to so many of us.”

Best of all for Soames-watchers, though, was that which was dished up to describe his love-making technique by a former girlfriend. What was it like making love to the big man? “Like being fallen on by a wardrobe,” she once said. “With the key still in it.” A toast, then, to nuance and its lack.

Security / Iran & The US

Fired up

When the US withdrew from the Iran nuclear agreement in May last year, Donald Trump said that the deal would never bring peace. But his hardline approach isn’t working either. From today, Iran will lift all restrictions on the development of centrifuges to speed up the enrichment of uranium. France, the UK and Germany are trying to salvage the deal but Dr Sanam Vakil from the Middle East and North Africa programme at Chatham House thinks it’s a tall order. “It’s very unclear if this strategy is going to lead to a better deal,” she told Monocle 24’s The Briefing, “or if it’s just going to lead a shorter, smaller version of the nuclear agreement President Obama negotiated.”

Fashion / New York

Fantastic Mr Ford

When New York Fashion Week kicks off today, things will be a little different from seasons past. As the new head of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, Tom Ford is shaking up the schedule and trying to make the event’s outlook more international. He’s teamed up with brands to offer travel and accommodation for overseas editors, and has reduced the official schedule to five days. Ford, who will stage his own brand’s runway show on Monday night, has been outspoken about his desire to make New York feel more global in order to keep brands from fleeing to Paris to show. The lead-up to this season has attracted controversy as Prabal Gurung and Rag & Bone pulled planned shows from The Shed at Hudson Yards, a venue owned by Trump fundraiser-organiser Stephen Ross. But if anyone can pull off an event with élan, it’s Mr Ford.

Technology / Berlin

Fast forward

IFA Berlin, the world’s biggest electronics trade show, opens to the public today. There are, of course, the usual high-octane announcements, such as a 55in TV with super-high 8K resolution. But there are also smaller, more thoughtful items, such as Panasonic’s home-energy solutions and even a prototype of a UV-light headband designed to stimulate hair growth. Sony’s new Xperia 5 phone had advanced movie-making chops, including a focus-pulling feature for professional results, and Huawei will reveal in-ear headphones with built-in noise-cancellation that can be adjusted to suit your hearing. But the real standout is a brilliant 40th-anniversary Walkman, designed to look like the original. Flip open the cover and you’ll see cassette cogs turning inside. But tap the cassette and you’ll see that it’s actually a digital touchscreen that can be used to change tracks. Close the cover and the cassette appears again with the selected track’s name on the label.

Transport / Switzerland

Golden age of travel

Italian car and train-maker Pininfarina has unveiled plans for the long-awaited Goldenpass Express. The new train, set to launch in December next year, will provide a direct connection through Switzerland’s tourist hubs of Montreux, Gstaad and Interlaken, and is expected to welcome about four million tourists a year. Travellers currently have to switch trains between Interlaken and Montreux but new technology that enables seamless track-gauge conversion will solve that inconvenience. Montreux Oberland Bernese, the Swiss railway company operating the trains, hopes that the service will drive tourism in the three popular hotspots. The redesigned trains will also feature large windows offering panoramic views of Vaud and the Bernese Alps.

M24 / The Urbanist

Cities in extremes

We cast our eyes towards a few of the world’s most extreme cities, from an isolated Australian outpost to the heights of the Valley of Mexico, to assess how their unique challenges have shaped their urban environments.

Monocle Films / Portugal

Porto Revival

Monocle visits Porto to learn how one city leader is determined to stop gentrification destroying his home.

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