Saturday 14 December 2019 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Saturday. 14/12/2019

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Saturday


Gone for a song

I owe Kiki Dee big time. Well, her and Elton John. And sometimes Oasis. And one time – can we scrub that memory – Johnny Cash (let’s be clear, I won’t go near “Ring of Fire” ever again). You see, Kiki Dee and Elton’s 1976 duet “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” has become my go-to karaoke song, as long as I can bully someone else into joining me on the microphones (and, yes, I’ll be Kiki). The good thing about the song is that the lyrics are limited (plus, of course, you are sharing them) and encourage your acting skills: “Oh, honey, when you knock on my door. Ooh, I gave you my key.” Believe me, I can do this. And with a wig I’m unstoppable.

Now the reason that this matters is because at Monocle you need a karaoke song. Especially when you are on the road with any of our team in Asia (Mr Brûlé has a well-polished line-up, including “From Russia With Love”). Last month, after our conference in Chengdu and a shirt-splattering hotpot dinner, it was decided that karaoke would be fun. A colleague knew the spot – a whole tower filled with numerous vast lounges full of huge video screens primed for action. And this being Chengdu, every now and then someone dressed as a panda would come busting in to the room to shake his fluffy booty. But there was an even more memorable moment. One of our radio team sang “I Wanna Dance with Somebody”. Now, she is in a band, she has trained as an opera singer but, still. Let’s just say that Kiki Tuck kept very quiet that night.

We had our company Christmas party this week at the Rosewood in London. There were fun awards and a lot of dancing. And this year, back from her appearance in Chengdu, a surprise appearance by the one and only Paige Reynolds. I knew what was coming having lobbied hard for her to sing but seeing someone take to the stage and reveal to the whole company such an amazing talent was moving – especially when the whole company is up dancing, cheering and joining in with Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You”. I fear that Kiki might have left the stage, got a taxi to a retirement home and taken an oath of silence.

Post-it note: where have all the Christmas cards gone? On colleagues’ desks, in friends’ homes – in my home – there are a few tight clusters standing tall but their numbers have dwindled from the displays of cheery robins, Dickensian street scenes, fat Santas and sprigs of holly that once brightened homes and offices at this time of year. In the corporate world perhaps some misery thinks that they are saving the planet by declining to send cards (fine, but don’t imagine that a Christmas email means anything to anyone – my reaction is to hit delete). Or perhaps they fear offending someone who doesn’t celebrate Christmas (meanwhile Jewish friends are enjoying “Chistmaskah”). But it feels as though there are other shifts killing the card. In business the vogue for hot desking and remote working means that even if you got a card there would be nowhere to put it. And in our personal lives, social media has delivered the illusion of constant intimate connection with everyone we know, so why would you bother sending a card? And then there’s just the act of writing – people just don’t like picking up a pen.

As with all these shifts, other things get lost along the way – including the postman or postwoman who walks a neighbourhood delivering Christmas greetings and, in the process, acts as social glue and notices when something is amiss. But there’s another thing. We keep chipping away at things that for the single and the old – people who don’t live their lives on social media – can ease their sense of isolation. Hearing a wad of Christmas cards come through a letterbox is one of the most heartening sounds there is. And, yes, a personal note – ink committed to paper – says more than a text.

We’ve often talked about this at Monocle: the stripping away of connection, face-to-face encounters, intimacy. We no longer need to go to the bank, talk to a cashier in the supermarket, even phone anyone. Restaurants are adopting apps that let you pay and leave without any engagement with their staff. And it’s leaving a vacuum and a craving for conversation. Who knows what the fix is – but e-cards will never be a salve for loneliness.

Starters’ orders

Good morning? Ready for the day? Thought not. So why not take a few minutes to find out where all the Christmas cards have gone, get into a Faster Lane with Tyler Brûlé, jump on a holiday train in Canada and discover a host of cultural recommendations for the week ahead.


Flash mob

How do you gauge if your city’s Christmas lights are successful? Well, if you’re the civic leader of Omotesando Hills in Tokyo it’s glaringly obvious. So alluring is the display there that a footbridge has been closed for fear of collapse, due to the volume of people using the elevated viewing point to get the perfect shot of the lights. And it’s not just the bridges, pedestrian crossings are also policed by glowstick-waving wardens and a Grinch-san with a megaphone. You are loudly instructed to cross quickly and put your selfie stick away.

The lights themselves are simple, warm spots of white, wrapped around the trunks and branches of every tree that lines the street: an iridescent forest with more draw than a J-pop concert. No Santa, reindeer or kitsch anything, just a million beads of light – a crowd-pleaser that needs crowd control.


Keeping a cool head

As the mercury drops in the northern hemisphere’s cities, we must take a moment to pity the hipsters – for their ears are getting cold. In warmer months cool folk can wear socks with clogs, hiking parkas or ironic slogan T-shirts to express themselves sartorially. In winter they don woollen beanies, just like everyone else – but then roll them up so that the base of the hat sits above their ears. The look is known as “helixing” because of the requirement that the whole ear, including the tip of the helix, be free from the hat’s warm embrace.

The teenie beanie, which gives its wearer a certain elfin look, is bold because it is an act of pure superficiality. It strips the hat of its practical benefits and puts two fingers up at the idea of clothing as function. Helixing is an admission that you’re prepared to suffer for style – we must applaud the wearers’ commitment to their cause.


Open forum

Just before we sent The Forecast to press I found myself in Honolulu, which sits in one of the last time zones in the world. And something rather odd happens when you’re this far behind the global centres of decision-making: you soon realise that there’s a certain luxury that comes with being a little off the global conversation.

When you’re 19 hours behind Tokyo, 10 short of London and five adrift of New York, a lot of chatter, decisions and discussions have happened while you’re either fast asleep or tucking in to your lightly grilled opakapaka (think of it as a pink snapper). While there’s a certain thrill that comes with being at the centre of the chatter and breaking news, there’s also a great relief to be found in being able to absorb, digest and analyse when geography leaves you far from the world’s major editorial hubs.

For the past year there’s been considerable discussion across our own editorial floor about the luxury that comes from stepping outside of the English language news cycle and not relying on three or four major New York and London-based news outlets that are stuck on the same five news stories mixed with another three to four with themes that play a dangerous game of clickbait dressed up as righteous campaigning. If you’re blessed with a command of a second or third language then it’s easy to obtain a broader world view by dipping into the pages of Aftenposten, Les Echos and Folha de S.Paulo or tuning into a cultural debate on Austria’s ORF.

If your German or Portuguese isn’t fully polished, you needn’t feel left out. Google Translate does a decent to occasionally excellent job of getting the point across by swapping an opinion piece or weighty bit of reportage into your language of choice. For sure, a bit of nuance is lost over 1,800 words of analysis on modern Poland and there’s a lack of beauty in the prose of a 3,500-word interview in Die Zeit, but, at the very least, you’ll walk away with a perspective that is far from what’s being trotted out as a “world view” by the English-language media.

Spend a bit of time in the pages of Spanish, French, Mexican, German and Swiss dailies and you’ll soon realise that things aren’t quite as straightforward as the English-language powerhouses would have us believe. And thank heavens. Where debate and less popular points of view have been shut out in many English-language media outlets, there’s a certain relief to find that discussion and controversial opinions can still find a full page in a very respectable outlet.

Monocle hosted a small but punchy cities conference in Chengdu in early November. Over a lively hotpot dinner with various delegates (mostly British, Australian, Dutch) there was a point where the conversation lowered and my dinner guests started glancing over their shoulders and speaking into their napkins – not because of the volcanic Sichuan peppers spiking every mouthful but because they had something potentially potent to say. It was at this point that I was reminded how stifled conversations have become in the English-speaking world and how terrified people are of putting a foot wrong by being culturally insensitive, not abreast of the latest “no go” topics and having a point of view that’s not part of the mainstream.

By now you might be familiar with this parallel global conversation that is happening across dinner tables, in quiet corners of dimly lit bars, between the seats of a heavily upholstered car and anywhere else people find themselves out of earshot and among people they can trust. Only in these safe spaces can differing views be presented, the seemingly absurd questioned or the clearly ridiculous dismissed. We like to think that all of these platforms allow for a grand, global discussion but it couldn’t be farther from the truth. Instead of getting a variety of views and allowing for intelligent discussion, too many English-language news outlets have shifted to the default stance of do-good campaigner rather than the balanced position of questioning news outlet.

As Monocle develops its story line-up for 2020, we want to ensure that we’re here to present a variety of views and opinions well removed from the narrow agenda that’s being driven by others. Ours might not be the most popular take on the world – and that’s just the way we want it. We’re here to question, challenge and, most importantly, present perspectives that fail to find space in other outlets.


Caitlin Thompson

After working for the likes of PBS Newshour, The Washington Post and Time magazine, Caitlin Thompson launched a print publication dedicated to her passion: tennis. Together with journalist (and tennis partner) David Shaftel, she founded Raquet in 2016. The quarterly magazine’s in-depth features tackle the culture, fashion and history of the sport. Here she talks about her favourite newsstands in New York and the world’s best challah bread.

What news source do you wake up to? Twitter. I follow journalists from places where I’ve worked as well as a tonne of international tennis fans and commentators, so I’m getting news, analysis and overnight tennis results in one scroll.

Coffee, tea or something pressed to go with the headlines? Coffee, of course, followed by a smoothie. According to my appliance’s user manual, I’m a practitioner of “power blending” – and proud of it.

Something from the FM dial or Spotify for your tunes? I curate my Spotify experience religiously and I always have a seasonal playlist. Right now it’s heavy on Sebastian and other stuff from Ed Banger Records.

What’s that you’re humming in the shower? Currently it’s a mashup of Junior Senior’s “Move your Feet” and Justice’s “D.A.N.C.E.”, which I learned from my kid.

Papers delivered or a trip down to the kiosk? I love a trip to the kiosk. We have so many great magazine shops here: Casa, Import News and Iconic are my favourites. I love to see what the independent magazine ecosystem is doing and talk to the owners about what’s selling.

Five magazines for your weekend sofa-side stack? The Gentlewoman, Apartamento, Brand, Vanity Fair and Toiletpaper.

Are you a subscriber or more of a newsstand browser? I subscribe to all the New Yorks: The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine and New York magazine, so the newsstand is for titles that jump out at me, some new launches and otherwise whimsical things that make my hands sweaty with anticipation.

Bookshop for a drizzly Saturday afternoon? In New York, Strand. In London, magCulture and Shreeji [in Marylebone].

Sofa or cinema for the evening? Cocktails for the evening.

What’s the best thing you’ve watched lately and why? Parasite was visually and narratively enthralling – I love storytelling that has a lot of ideas in it and all of Bong Joon-ho’s movies pack a lot into one experience. I’ll never look at peaches in the same way again.

Sunday brunch routine? I take my kid ice-skating at a rink nearby while my wife sleeps in, then celebrate with hot chocolates after and, by the time we’ve returned home half frozen and slightly bruised, she’s made us French toast with challah bread. There is no better French toast.

A favourite newsreader perhaps? [CNN’s] Christiane Amanpour.

What’s on the airwaves before drifting off? [Spanish-language comedy] Los Espookys.

What’s your staple Christmas music or film? Holiday movies come in all shapes and sizes for me: I love the action movie The Long Kiss Goodnight as well as the crisis-hotline comedy Mixed Nuts. And perhaps most crucially, Pee Wee Herman’s Christmas special has been a holiday staple ever since I was a kid – “Feliz Naviblah!”, as he would say.


Festive escapes

‘Agatha’, Anne Cathrine Bomann. This heart-warming novel about an unconventional friendship between an old man and a much younger woman is set in Paris in 1948. An unnamed psychiatrist, nearing retirement, finds a more positive way of looking at the world after he takes on a new patient, a young German woman named Agatha who comes to him for help with her mental-health issues.

‘Aquarela’, Victor Kossakovsky. The protagonist of this film, directed by Russian auteur Victor Kossakovsky, is water in all of its temperamental permutations: from life-giving force to vengeful agent of destruction. Shot in high-definition slow motion with a thundering score, the mesmerising documentary is an immersive dive into the terrifying majesty of Earth’s most precious element.

‘A Softer Offering’, Annie Hart. Better known as part of delightful all-female trio Au Revoir Simone, Annie Hart is making music on her own while the band is on hiatus. Of course there are hints of Au Revoir Simone’s trademark gentle charm in this second album but Hart adds more synths to the proceedings – for a result that’s whimsical but more beat-led.


Talk of the town

On the banks of the Little Saskatchewan River is Minnedosa, Manitoba: a tiny town that’s home to 2,500 residents and The Minnedosa Tribune. Founded in 1883, the newspaper claims to be the oldest weekly in the Canadian west. Its current owner, Darryl Holyk, first visited the newspaper as a high-school student on work placement before he climbed the ranks to become a reporter, then the paper’s editor. In 2008 he purchased the Tribune, adding publisher to his job description. Today its circulation sits at nearly 1,700 subscribers and a recent Black Friday subscription sale netted 19 new readers. Holyk tells Monocle what's in store for those new readers.

What’s the big story?
 The Canadian Pacific Holiday Train [which travels the country, adorned with Christmas lights, to collect money and food donations for Canadian food banks] stopped in the community last week to a huge crowd. But another story is that The Tribune office experienced what might be its first break-in in its 136-year history. I arrived at work last Wednesday to find our back door had been forced open. The culprits cut our phone and internet lines and stole a small amount of cash. Thankfully, no other damage was done. RCMP [Royal Canadian Mounted Police] are investigating.

Favourite photo?
 Our front-page photo was of the holiday-train visit. Our reporter, Karen, got up on stage to get a shot of [musician] Scott Hellman entertaining. It shows the outdoor crowd all bundled up watching the show.

What’s your down-page treat? A feature on two exchange students – one from New Zealand and one from Australia – who are staying with families in Minnedosa and attending school here for six months.

What news will you be covering this Christmas? On Christmas Day there is the 10th annual Community Christmas Dinner. Volunteers put on a free dinner and an afternoon of entertainment for those who might not have family or any plans. The event ensures that no one is alone on Christmas Day.


What should I wear to the work Christmas party?

Excellent enquiry, dear reader. For the sake of this answer I’ll assume you don’t work in the kind of place that demands slutty Santa outfits or antlers. Casting my eyes over the editorial floor at Midori House before our own festive bash I can see some definite dos (I’ll swerve the don’ts for fear of personal reprisals). So here goes: there’s a level of lounge-suited, oxford-shirted, jazzy-jacketed formality that you should reach – and not surpass. Yes to an unstructured blazer from Boglioli or Barena; no that cummerbund, those braces or that top hat. Yes to a tie if the moment takes you; no to a bowtie (they don’t look good around your head on the dancefloor when the wee hours roll in). Shoes? Yes to a John Lobb or Paraboot – a new trainer could even be fine depending on the guestlist.


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