Tuesday. 17/12/2019

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Fernando Augusto Pacheco

Looking out for number one

What do the Pet Shop Boys, Bob the Builder and Rage Against the Machine have in common? They all had a Christmas number-one hit in the UK. The importance that some of the press and public in the country place upon who will top the charts during the festive week (announced on the Friday before Christmas Day) is one of the most fascinating things I noticed after moving to the UK from Brazil. Admittedly some rather anodyne entries from TV talent shows have claimed the top spot in the past decade – usually with sugary remakes of classic songs – but I get the impression that wacky novelty singles are back in vogue.

Just consider last year’s Christmas number one: LadBaby’s “We Built this City… on Sausage Rolls”; it was certainly a tasty choice. And LadBaby is one of the main contenders again this year with his follow-up smash, “I Love Sausage Rolls” (the last act to score consecutive Christmas number ones were the delightful Spice Girls). Other contenders this year include rapper Stormzy with his latest single featuring Ed Sheeran and Burna Boy, while Wham’s abiding “Last Christmas” is in with a chance too – can you believe that it’s never been number one in the UK chart? Instead it has the odd distinction of being the bestselling number-two song of all time.

So what is my all-time favourite Christmas number one, I hear you ask? That would have to be the 1978 classic “Mary’s Boy Child/Oh My Lord” by Euro-Caribbean group Boney M (pictured). Yes, I like a bit of cheesy music – isn’t that what Christmas is all about?

Protests / India

Fanning the flames

Fierce protests in India have resulted in the deaths of at least six people but Kapil Komireddi sees a sliver of hope in the turmoil. “We are beginning to witness the shoots of a movement to reclaim the country and this, I think, is a hopeful moment,” Komireddi, author of Malevolent Republic: A Short History of the New India, tells Monocle 24’s The Globalist. At the heart of the protests is a new citizenship law that allows persecuted religious groups from neighbouring countries to gain Indian citizenship – but excludes Muslims. Komireddi says that his optimism stems from the fact that protesters are average Indians from across the country. Unlike prime minister Narendra Modi’s crackdown on Muslim-majority Kashmir earlier this year, where the national response was muted, it seems that his Hindu nationalist government is testing the limits of what Indians will tolerate. “I think Mr Modi should really start worrying,” says Komireddi.

Transport / Austria

Going with the flow

Anyone travelling to Austria over the winter skiing season will be familiar with the country’s national highway toll and the rather frustrating need to buy a “vignette” to stick on your front windshield before continuing on your journey. Failure to pay the toll can result in a spot fine of €240. But the levy has had some unintended consequences for the towns along the country’s borders: the more knowledgeable tourists have crowded their roads in a bid to avoid the costly highways.

After years of protest, Austria’s transport authorities have finally given in, relaxing the tolls on a series of highways that run along the country’s northern border – a rare win-win for foreign skiers and residents (less so for government coffers). It serves as a timely reminder that, as we think about new ways to pay for transport infrastructure, we shouldn’t ignore the impact on communities.

Urbanism / USA

Fertile imagination

The seeds for improved food production in Philadelphia were sown earlier this year when city planner Ashley Richards was appointed as the city’s first director of urban agriculture. However, no major policies were announced until earlier this month, when Richards officially launched her strategy to protect and expand the metropolis’s agricultural footprint. The plan is not only a potential boon to food security and quality, it could also improve the social lives of residents who work in the gardens (there’s nothing like bonding over a bumper crop of tomatoes) and bring greenery to dense urban areas. If the proposals are successful, other cities might be tempted to copy the model and appoint their own agricultural mayor – it’s a reasonable proposition, given the specialised roles that local governments have created in recent years (including night and bicycle mayors).

Society / Italy

Silence speaks volumes

Lord Byron once said that the Italian language sounds “as if it should be writ on satin”. That might have been true to the ears of a Romantic poet but it’s less the case when you’re sitting next to someone making a phone call on the train from Milan to Rome and trying – failing – to get some work done. Trenitalia’s high-speed train service, Frecciarossa, appears to have finally realised the limits of Italian expressiveness and introduced silent carriages to business-class coaches on their trains. Finding that people were pleasantly surprised by the sound of silence, the concept was rolled out to standard carriages over the weekend. It’s a trend that might not come naturally to Italians but the fact remains: trains should be a refuge for readers and thinkers and no one person’s phone call should disturb their peace. No matter how romantic la bella lingua.

M24 / Tall Stories

Santa Claus Village, Rovaniemi

This week we head to Finnish Lapland, regarded as the home of Santa Claus, to see what life is like in a town where it’s Christmas all year round.

Monocle Films / BELGIUM

Brussels + Antwerp: The Monocle Travel Guide

Belgium had no fashion history until six young designers put their country at the centre of that world in the late 1980s. To celebrate our latest travel guide, we travel to Antwerp to see how the fashion scene has matured. Available now at The Monocle Shop.

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