Friday. 29/11/2019

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Robert Bound

In praise of Clive James

To reach a career pinnacle, most of us feel the need to specialise. We’re a critic or a poet, we’re an essayist or a lyricist, a memoirist or a translator. Maybe we even get to be on TV and become an entertainer. To be all of these, and loved and admired for each, was the outlandish trick pulled off by Clive James, who died aged 80 earlier this week. Importantly, James was the kind of person who, if you called him a “renaissance man” to his face, wouldn’t steeple his fingers and nod in acknowledgment but might make a laconic joke about being sure to wear a ruff next time he discussed Dallas on TV. Wearing his learning lightly, and lampooning it affectionately and precisely, was one of his most charming traits.

As I got older I learned of James’s reputation as a great man of letters, a linchpin of literary London and a legend who jousted with Kingsley and Martin Amis and Christopher Hitchens. But the James I first knew of was the one who, in an unlikely mid-career bloom, became a TV personality. Watching him on UK TV in the 1980s and 1990s, as he talked about the medium on which he’d become a star, you could tell that something unusually bright was burning behind the squint and the laconic Australian drawl. The way James cast himself on the box lent matters an ironic, sideline-fancying air and his collected TV reviews in The Observer newspaper, titled The Crystal Bucket, summed up his attitude toward TV’s beauty and banality.

Clive James’s death was announced on the same day as that of another great polymath, Jonathan Miller. In The Crystal Bucket, James wrote that Miller was “justifiably outraged by the narrowness of modern specialisation” and that he believed “all intellectual adventures, whether artistic or scientific, are the same adventure… but there is also such a thing as being a prisoner of your own versatility.” If James had a mirror to hand that day, it would have blushed (and squinted). A toast, then, to a renaissance man who said he wasn’t.

Politics / Wales

Right to vote

Wales passed legislation this week allowing 16 and 17-year-olds the right to vote in elections for the country’s devolved National Assembly. It’s a bold and rare move that follows Scotland’s decision to lower its voting age in 2014 (Austria is one of the few other countries in the world that gives 16-year-olds the right to vote). Could this move soon be replicated in UK general elections? There has been resistance from the Conservative party – which relies on grey-haired support – but change is “a matter of when, not if”, Josiah Mortimer from the Electoral Reform Society tells The Monocle Minute. “Westminster is starting to look increasingly outdated by not letting 16 and 17-year-olds vote.” Indeed, with issues such as Brexit and climate change awakening the passions of the UK’s young population, London might consider following the examples set by the devolved institutions in Edinburgh and Cardiff.

Society / Denmark

Strength in numbers

“It becomes part of your identity: I am a winter bather,” says Lotte Maersk, a new member of the Charlottenlund Sobad winter-bathing club, which was founded in the early 1900s on the coast just north of Copenhagen. The club has 3,900 members and those who wish to join are placed on a 14-year waiting list. More than 90 per cent of Danes are members of at least one of more than 100,000 local and national societies and associations – or forenings – spread across the country, giving credence to the national nickname foreningsdanmark. But the real benefit? Such high club membership is a reason why Denmark emerges as one of the world’s least lonely nations across a range of surveys, and you can read about it in our annual issue of The Forecast, on newsstands now. In these days of digital companionship, we should all consider breaking the ice and wading into a club or society every once in a while.

Transport / Ontario

Code of the road

This week the Ontario government announced an e-scooter-rental programme with mobility partner Lime – the five-year pilot is set to launch in January. Ontario has been slow to adopt the devices thanks to a provincial law (to be relaxed during the pilot) that bars the two-wheelers from public roads and pavements – and perhaps with good reason. Letting municipalities oversee scooter use has led to a patchwork of approaches that are likely doing more harm than good. Scooter-related injuries and fatalities in cities including Los Angeles, Atlanta and Nashville have led to temporary scooter bans and tougher regulations. Ontario still hopes that e-scooters can solve the last-mile problem, ease road congestion and boost the economy. But it is wise to consider broader rider regulations to ensure safety first – or just getting people to cycle and walk.

Design / UK

Raising the bar

The Landscape Institute – the UK’s leading professional body of landscape architects – celebrated its 90th anniversary this year, and last night hosted an awards ceremony in London. The biggest winner was landscape practice Paul Hogarth Company, which received the president’s award for its design of a 9km linear park in east Belfast. A key component of the work was the development of the blog What’s Growing on the Greenway, which encouraged and celebrated the community’s interaction with the new landscape. “It was a design done with and for the people,” says Daniel Cook, the Landscape Institute’s CEO. “It epitomises our commitment to people, place and nature, and is a fantastic and worthy winner.” It’s hard to disagree; after all, we could all benefit from a little bit more greenery in our cities.

M24 / The Urbanist

Kindness

Can a city be kind? And how do citizens, activists and civic organisations show they care about building friendly places?

Monocle Films / Global

The secret to throwing a dinner party

In our new “secret to” series, supper club host Gabriel Waterhouse shares his tips on organising a friendly feast in your home with great-quality food and (just as important) an entertaining atmosphere.

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