Saturday 21 December 2019 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Saturday. 21/12/2019

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Saturday


Flight of fancy

Now I know that people are making a mint from mindfulness at this time of year by reaching us on our phones to tell us, perhaps, to stop using our phones so much. Well, I think I’m on to a viable alternative – although I have to confess that I’ve yet to properly iron out how I’m going to monetise this breakthrough. My approach is less Headspace and more Nutspace.

I live in Bloomsbury, central London, and one of the trade-offs of being in the heart of the city is giving up all hope of a garden. Luckily I have a tiny roof terrace and, over time, it’s been planted ever-more ambitiously and I now have a miniature forest three floors up. I recently hung a bird feeder on one of these trees, about 50cm from the window – but there’s a blind on the glass which means that, if you stand very still, the birds cannot see you.

At first there were assorted small birds that came to check out the – admittedly limited – menu: great tits, greenfinches, dunnocks, blue tits, goldfinches. Then I started getting ring-necked parakeets – four at a time waiting in line for a go on my nuts. Then, one day, a woodpecker. A woodpecker! I have never seen one in London and there it was just inches from my nose.

Just when I should have been going to work I would find myself playing a game of statues and not moving for minutes as I watched the birds jostle for their place on the swaying feeder. They looked like a bunch of Aussies who had been told that the café was almost out of avocado toast (not violent, exactly, but definitely moving with an air of urgency and determination).

Then one day came a little albino tit. I had a vision of a TV series: The Bloomsbury Nutters. There could be a book. And definitely an app: find your inner calm with Nutspace. The app would show a different bird every day; you would start with the less nervy ones and then work your way up to the more panicky in the flock. The only skill demanded of you would be to not move and thus not freak out the bird on the digital feeder. I even have the tagline: “Nutspace – it only costs peanuts to find your calm place.”

Now it turns out that lots of birds can’t get on the feeder so they wait patiently for nut crumbs to fall their way (oh, we’ve all been there – perhaps this realisation of where you sit in the pecking order can be added to Nutspace 2.0). Podgy wood pigeons, a blackbird, would all pass the time chatting with one another, one eye cocked to the sky in anticipation.

But this week my Nutspace went to a darker place. As I stood watching, the bottom feeders were joined by two new characters. They positioned themselves under the bird feeder, raised themselves up on their hind legs and seemed to sway like Christians at a fundamentalist meeting. “We want nuts from heaven,” they chanted in their quiet little mouse voices. Oh yes, I heard them; lost in worship of the feathered gods above.

I now imagine that the mice might lure in a cat. And then who knows? A wolf to get the cat? A gorilla after the wolf? Nutspace might not be as calming as I had hoped but it’s exciting – you never know who might be perched on your aerial from one day to the next.

And finally: if you are celebrating Christmas over the coming days, Happy Christmas to you. And while I have your attention, a big thank you to all the people who have written in about the Weekend Edition over the past year. It feels as though we’ve all got along rather well and shared some funny moments too. Have a good break and we’ll be back at the same time next week.


Christmas B-list

If you’re like me (writes Will Kitchens), your pre-Christmas usually involves finding yourself inside a shopping mall that you vowed to avoid, elbowing people who, like you, are in a desperate dash for last-minute gifts. But not this year. I am here to save you from yourself. This year, why not gift your loved ones a “Merry Christmas” or a “Happy Hannukah” from an obscure celebrity of choice? Thanks to Cameo – the Chicago-based online platform that fulfils what the internet was always meant to do: pay celebrities for personalised greetings – you can do just that. That cousin of yours completing a political-science degree, for example: why not spend $100 (€90) treating them to a greeting from Anthony “the Mooch” Scaramucci? Better yet, $250 (€225) will net you a “Merry Christmas” courtesy of Stormy Daniels.

I’m currently at work convincing my colleagues at Monocle’s Toronto bureau to make a wise purchase – a greeting from former Nsync member Lance Bass – for our bureau chief, Tomos Lewis. I’ll admit that I’m not sure whether Tomos ever actually liked Nsync but unfortunately none of the Backstreet Boys are on Cameo and neither is Whoopi Goldberg, his one true idol. It’s the thought that counts, right? And I’m really hoping to avoid that mall.


For those about to smock

The English countryside is a death trap. If there’s not a gun going off there’s a red-faced tractor driver heading towards you at speed on a narrow lane. Then there’s the mud and awful coffee. Even so, these areas are being increasingly colonised by people from the city (even if they secretly hope that their budget can get them as close to a rural Soho House outpost as possible).

At this time of year, however, lots of them are venturing out to spend Christmas with friends who have real country piles of various sizes – and the packing nightmare is real. You’re bound to have the wrong wellies (Le Chameau seems to be the correct go-to), a Barbour jacket that looks too new and too-few layers for a house that’s never properly heated. You see, there’s a posh UK rural look that appears to be assembled from a thrift shop (a few holes and patched elbows are essential). The best plan of attack is to simply throw your coat in some mud before you head up the drive or, failing that, check into some London-on-Sea inn and hang out with all the people who, like you, prefer being warm in bed and don’t think that accessorising a look means putting a dead bird in your pocket.


Left it till the last minute?

You’ve received the warnings (“Last day of free shipping to guarantee pre-Christmas delivery”); you’ve ignored the alerts (“Order before midnight for delivery by 24 December”); now it’s the morning of 21 December and that designated space for presents in your wardrobe is still looking rather bare. What to do? First, you can feel a little smug that you didn’t fall for all of that online-shopping pressure. Second, you can feel good about the fact that you’re now going to have to shop the good old-fashioned way. And third, you might want to be pulling on those socks and lacing up your Heschungs because you need to get rolling and wrapping. To help you select and sort gifts for your nearest and dearest I’ve consulted with Monocle’s editors, spooled through snaps taken in shops and ateliers, and flipped through notes scribbled on the road. What follows are 10 suggestions for colleagues, the favourite cousin, adoring mom, opinionated granny and more.

Something for the neighbours you rarely see or speak to and who never complain about the odd noisy dinner party and always sign for your DHL deliveries. They will definitely be happy with a decent size araucaria heterophylla (Norfolk Island pine tree to you and me) as it not only fits with the season but looks good in almost any setting – tropical apartment in Rio or tiny ski-in/ski-out flat in Verbier. If you’re feeling extra generous you could also offer it in a glazed terracotta pot from Svenskt Tenn.

A present for your diligent, always personal assistant. As I’m measuring this against global workplace statistics, I’m going with the assumption that your EPA is female. How about a little weekend away? And no, not the two of you! Go out and find a beautiful card, practise your finest penmanship and write a lovely note saying thank you for the great year and offering a long weekend, including two flights within three hours of your base, and three nights at a respected four-star hotel. If you’re feeling particularly generous, you might lay on a bottle of champagne and nibbles for arrival.

The perfect gift for the cousin you adore but don’t see nearly enough. As there’s a layer of guilt accompanying this one (the good news is that it goes both ways), you might want to go all out. Given that you’ve enjoyed many a cocktail together over the years, what do you think about some sturdy but elegant crystal tumblers? If I was your cousin I’d be thrilled with a beautifully wrapped box of six Caton tumblers from St Louis. Santé!

What do I buy for the granny who has everything? You could go down the chocolate route but you know that her day-nurse is going to snarf them all when she’s not looking, so go for something a bit more substantial. A couple of years ago I bought my grandmother one of Monocle’s Revo internet radios and now she likes it more than most family members. Easy to use and handsome on the sidetable, she has it permanently tuned to a selection of Estonian radio stations for sing-alongs and so that she can get angry at phone-in shows.

Mom says she’s easy to buy for but you know better and so do I. Let’s have a think about what will work on Christmas Eve. Let’s start with the packaging. Do you go with wrapping from a shop she’ll recognise? Do you do the paper-pleating and bows yourself? No! As mom likes cosy and no one does loungewear better than the Japanese, you need to swiftly make your way to Isetan in Shinjuku and visit their department full of fleece and flannel robes, jammies and tunics. Go for a box set of goodies from Touch; it’s all “Made in Japan” and it’s the best gear for keeping toasty while reading this column.

A thoughtful, useful set of presents for the colleagues who never let you down and need something to enjoy around the tree. This is an easy one. They need a case of wine! Maybe two. Make your way down to your favourite dealer of fine vintages and have them fill a box with bottles that will challenge, educate and accompany a variety of dishes and occasions.

Did you really forget your spouse/partner/boyfriend/girlfriend? Don’t worry, I’ve got this one covered. It’s going to involve a bit of time and a bit of privacy but it will be well worth it. All you need is your phone, a printer, some glue and a chunky linen-bound photo album. As we live in a world where all our memories are in the cloud (so, so sad), how about committing them to paper and creating a photo album of your last six months or two decades together. You’ve got tomorrow to do the editing, Monday to purchase the album and all day Monday for layout, pasting and wrapping.

Merry Christmas from all of us at Monocle.


Christoph Amend

The editor in chief of the always impeccable Zeit Magazin and author of Wie geht’s dir, Deutschland? is a long-standing friend of Monocle. Before taking up his role at Zeit Magazin in 2007, Christoph Amend worked at Germany’s Tagesspiegel and Süddeutsche Zeitung newspapers. Here he confesses to enjoying eurodance (really), watching the Bundesliga and listening to podcasts – and reveals his cultural staples at Christmas.

What news source do you wake up to? First thing I do in the mornings is listen to Deutschlandradio.

Coffee, tea or something pressed to go with headlines? Espresso and a glass of water, then off for a run in the park.

Something from the FM dial or Spotify for your tunes? DJ Wolfram from Vienna. Listen to his track “Graffiti in Tehran” – eurodance never sounded so elegant.

What’s that you’re humming in the shower? “Mm-mm-mm, mm-mm-mm, mm-mm / Look at her now, watch her go / Mm-mm-mm, mm-mm-mm, mm-mm.” “Look at Her Now” by Selena Gomez.

Papers delivered or a trip down to the kiosk? Delivered, plus kiosk on Saturdays and Sundays.

Five magazines for your weekend sofa-side stack? Right now: This Is Badland, The World of Interiors, Monocle, MacGuffin and, of course, Sofa.

Are you a subscriber or more of a newsstand browser? Newsstand browser and magazine swapper.

Bookshop for a drizzly Saturday afternoon? On Saturday afternoons I’m watching the Bundesliga but just before that you can find me at my local bookshop in Markthalle, Berlin.

Sofa or cinema for the evening? I would call myself a movie-goer and not much of a sofa-watcher.

What’s the best thing you’ve watched lately and why? Despite my previous answer I can only tell you shows and movies I’ve watched on Netflix lately, so I guess times have changed! I enjoyed Scorsese’s meditation on Mafia culture, aka The Irishman.

Sunday brunch routine? Going to Hallmann & Klee, my cousin Sarah’s restaurant and café in Neukölln. She does the best egg-and-salmon pancakes in Berlin.

What papers and periodicals will be spread out among the viennoiserie? Süddeutsche Zeitung, Frankfurter Allgemeine and this weekly called Zeit, plus some international mags such as M le magazine du Monde, The New York Times Magazine on Sundays and The Economist.

Do you still make an appointment to watch the nightly news? When I’m at home at about 22.00 I still enjoy watching German news programmes Tagesthemen and Heute Journal. Otherwise I will watch highlights from these shows via my Twitter feed.

A favourite newsreader? Pinar Atalay and Ingo Zamperoni, Tagesthemen’s anchors.

What’s on the airwaves before drifting off? Podcasts. The Axe, for example. Politics and football are my favourite subjects to drift off to. The listeners of our own podcast, Alles Gesagt?, often mention how they enjoy falling asleep with us. We take it as a compliment.

What’s your staple Christmas movie or music? It's a Wonderful Life with James Stewart, Weisse Weihnacht by Julio Iglesias and The Christmas Album by The Jackson 5.


Fresh perspectives

‘Little Women’, Greta Gerwig. Greta Gerwig’s direction brings edge to this classic. In her hands (and also thanks to Saoirse Ronan’s amazing performance as Jo), this coming-of-age story of middle-class teenagers in 19th-century Massachusetts becomes a story of finding one’s way in life and a room of one’s own to write in. This is a refreshingly modern adaptation of a story that you didn’t realise needed retelling.

‘Como Caído del Cielo’, José Pepe Bojórquez. Part soap opera, part romantic comedy, this Mexican-US release delivers on cheese aplenty. Actor-singer Pedro Infante (a real-life figure of 1940s Mexican cinema) needs to earn a place in heaven. In order to do so, his soul is granted a second chance on Earth in the body of his impersonator Pedro Guadaloupe Ramos. He needs to make up for his libertine days but temptation awaits once again.

‘Don’t Look at Me Like That’, Diana Athill. Originally published in 1967 but long since out of print, this is writer and publisher Athill’s only novel. Inspired by her own experiences of living and working in London as a young woman in the 1950s, Athill’s heroine, Meg Bailey, defies convention by looking for something more from life than marriage and motherhood.

‘Humiliation’, Paulina Flores. From the backstreets of Santiago through fishing villages to urban apartment blocks, the nine stories in this collection of fiction bring modern Chile to life. This is an exceptional debut – beautifully translated by Megan McDowell – by one of Latin America’s most exciting young writers.

‘The God Child’, Nana Oforiatta Ayim. Protagonist Maya is Ghanaian but, having been brought up in Germany and England, she comes to understand her family’s exile through her relationship with her beloved cousin, Kojo. Eventually Maya realises that her purpose is to tell her family’s story in her own voice and on her own terms. This is a lyrical, thoughtful debut novel by Oforiatta Ayim, a talented young writer, curator, film-maker and creator of the first pan-African cultural encyclopaedia.


News of the world

One of the highlights of putting together the Monocle Weekend Edition every week is meeting the editors who run some of the smaller media outlets around the world. Over the next two weeks we revisit them and ask: “What was the story of the year?”

‘Svalbardposten’ (Svalbard, Arctic Circle)Editor: Hilde Røsvik “Over the past couple of years we wrote nine articles about a 10-year-old Croatian boy with special needs. In Svalbard, the state doesn’t offer the same amount of help as in Norway because we have different laws. The local school said that it would cost too much to take him on and refused him an education. After six months writing stories in the Svalbardposten, the boy was finally allowed to attend school an0d now has a special teacher. I was so happy for him and his family.”

‘The Orcadian’ (Orkney Islands, UK)Editor: Leah Seator “An Orcadian lady got more than she bargained for from a bag of birdfeed when she discovered a rogue cannabis plant growing in her garden. She said that she didn’t recognise the unusual specimen at first – but after posting images on social media she was surprised to discover that she was unwittingly breaking the law. The plant was duly removed – as were the incriminating pictures on her Facebook page.”

‘The Storm Lake Times’ (Storm Lake, Iowa, the US)Editor: Art Cullen “No story this year can compare to the Iowa caucuses – more than 15 candidates stumped in Storm Lake, starting with John Delaney and Elizabeth Warren last January. Democrats are eager to re-establish themselves in rural areas after getting thumped by Trump. We rode on the bus with Joe Biden, interviewed Pete Buttigieg on the 4 July and watched our office pet, Peach, steal Beto O’Rourke’s cup of coffee (which O’Rourke finished after it was fetched back unspilled – a sure sign of political character).”

‘Gibraltar Chronicle’ (Gibraltar)Editor: Brian Reyes “When Gibraltar police and Royal Marines seized an Iranian tanker suspected of breaching sanctions on Syria, we found ourselves at the heart of a lead story on news bulletins around the globe. As it was happening in our backyard, we were one step ahead of every twist in the tale of the Grace 1. It was fun to be quoted by The New York Times but the best part about it was to have, for a short period at least, loyal readers in Tehran.”

‘Malheur Enterprise’ (Vale, Oregon, the US)Editor: Les Zaitz “The developer of a high-end carwash in rural Oregon was told again and again that its bid to get a property-tax break was approved. The company invested more than $4m [€3.6m] – and waited. The Enterprise found that government officials had been lying for months.”


Should I get a Keepcup?

We’re all aware of the depressing amount of waste that modern life creates: smelly car fumes, single-use plastic forks, unnecesary printing. We should all waste less. But moving our consumption to backlit screens, electric cars or online orders isn’t a fix: in fact, all those rare-earth minerals in the batteries aren’t great, nor is the electricity that the devices use – and all those extra cars on the road don’t help either. So how about getting a reusable plastic Christmas tree? Well, it turns out that they are hugely worse for the environment than a responsibly sourced spruce. So far, so complicated.

However, a Keepcup is a simple intervention, even if these voguish, virtue-signalling multiple-use mugs bring their own troubles. They need washing up and can’t be told apart by baristas. Worse, if you buy a nice ceramic one, as Mr Etiquette did, it can be too scalding-hot to handle (and doesn’t actually have a handle). The verdict? Get one but don’t imagine that it’s a panacea for a wasteful world. Things are warming up – and no, I don’t just mean my expensive new ceramic chalice. We need to deal with it.


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