Tuesday 24 December 2019 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Tuesday. 24/12/2019

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Rob Bound

Haunted tales

At this liminal time of year when the days become nights before we’ve finished our morning coffee, we are reminded of the gossamer-thin line between other worlds too. The Christmas ghost story is a time-honoured tradition, from the pagan origins of the pre-Christian winter solstice to the high Victorian and Edwardian snuff of Dickens, EF Benson and MR James, via Donnie Darko and Doctor Who; Monocle itself has published spooky original fiction from the likes of Marcel Theroux and Alex Preston in our winter newspapers in previous years.

So it seems apt to offer a haunting holiday reading list today when many of us will be looking forward, this very evening, to setting out a glass of cognac to an invisible man and hanging an empty stocking by the hearth in expectation that it be filled by morning – an innocent embrace of the supernatural? Well, perhaps, readers. Perhaps.

Some chilly old reads:

“Canon Alberic’s Scrapbook” from ‘Ghost Stories of an Antiquary’ by MR James What could possibly go wrong for a curious tourist when he decides to mess around with the books in a French church? Only the final page will tell you.

“The Face” from ‘Night Terrors’ by EF Benson A woman’s recurring childhood nightmare starts to come true. Is she mad? Are you?

“The Lady’s Maid’s Bell” from ‘The Ghost Stories of Edith Wharton’ by Edith Wharton High American gothic from one of the finest novelists of the 20th century turning her hand to the spooky.

“The Bloody Chamber” from ‘The Bloody Chamber & Other Stories’ by Angela Carter Who would have thought that a feminist reworking of Bluebeard could be so gory? Actually, most people.

“The Hospice” from ‘Cold Hand in Mine’ by Robert Aickman A motorist breaks down, in more ways than one. Just the title might do it.

“The Blue Lenses” from ‘The Breaking Point’ by Daphne du Maurier Awaking from an eye operation, Marda West finds that the world in full colour is far stranger than she could have ever feared.

All that remains is to utter a note of caution to proceedings: once you’ve read these stories, you won’t be able to un-read them. It’ll be too late then. That and, of course, to wish you all a very, very Merry Christmas.

Image: Getty Images

Society / USA

Home for Christmas

Isn’t Christmas Eve a holiday? The question is asked every year by at least one work colleague ahead of 24 December. In most places the answer – at least officially – is no. In the US, however, president Donald Trump broke with precedent to sign an executive order, granting the day off to some 2.1 million federal employees (all except those whose job pertains to national security or other major public needs). The move certainly won’t undo the effects of Trump’s damaging trade war, glaze over his impeachment or steady the chaos in the Oval Office. But an extra day off – combined a recently approved spending package that includes a 3.1 per cent average pay raise and, for the first time, paid parental leave – will certainly make it easier for federal workers to get in the holiday spirit this year compared with last, when the government shut down. Here’s hoping that your boss might be looking the other way today too.

Cinema / Global

Movie magic

Which new release will fill this year’s gaping “Christmas film” hole? Vying for the top spot this season is Last Christmas – going in hard with the cheesy title. Despite a story and screenplay co-written by the brilliant Emma Thompson, this tale of a lost 20-something lacks the balance between levity and schmaltz that the staples of the genre achieve (think Love Actually, About a Boy or Home Alone). So the release of Little Women – on Christmas Day in the US and Boxing Day in the UK – could be the festive film event of the year. Director Greta Gerwig’s retelling of the March sisters’ story is almost an anti-romcom but its wit, charm and brilliant cast makes it the well-pitched treat that is sure to bring us the uplifting cosiness we’re all craving over the holidays.

Travel / Austria

All-time high

The skiing season is in full swing and to stand out from the competition, one ski resort in Austria has pulled out all the stops this winter. Zell am See-Kaprun, 80km south of Salzburg, has introduced a new cable car linking the village of Kaprun to the Kitzsteinhorn (ideal for glacier skiing); there’s also a new lift that connects the Schmittenhöhe with the Glemm Valley. This has doubled the extent of the ski area: more than 400km of pistes are now served by 121 lifts, making it one of the biggest lift networks in the country. The expansion also serves as a contingency plan in the face of climate change, which is driving ski resorts to new heights in search of reliable snowfall. You can read all about the new Zell am See-Kaprun link-up in the third edition of The Winter Weekly which, if you haven’t picked it up yet, is still a fine holiday treat to relax with by the fire.

Image: Shutterstock

Culture / Wales

Oh Cymru all ye faithful

There is a small hamlet in Wales that attracts thousands of pilgrims every year. Why? To send Christmas cards: the post office even has a rather unique stamp that adorns envelopes with the word “Bethlehem”. Yes, this little village in Carmarthenshire, 50km from Swansea, is one of 16 towns across the world to carry the name of Jesus Christ’s birthplace. And, despite being home to just 150 people, it’s the launching point for as many as 30,000 Christmas cards every year. “People come from all over the world – the US, Japan, Australia – to get their cards stamped,” says James Anthony, a resident artist. “The actual post office closed years ago but they kept it going in the back room of the old school hall because of the stamp. It is very quiet apart from at Christmas, when it gets very busy. It’s all run by locals who use it as a chance to raise money for charity.” If that doesn’t put you in a holiday mood we don’t know what will.

M24 / On Culture


Simran Hans and Caspar Salmon join Robert Bound to discuss one of the cinema events of 2019: the release of ‘Cats’.

Monocle Films / Global

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