Saturday 4 January 2020 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Saturday. 4/1/2020

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Saturday


Legacy-makers and lawbreakers

A few years ago at dinner I was sitting next to a property developer who had some major projects in the pipeline that were set to reshape his hometown’s skyline for decades to come. I asked him about the “L” word – legacy – and whether that was a big motivation for him. Did he think about how he could make his city more beautiful? More liveable? Did he think of himself living on through the work he was doing? I promise I was only on my second glass of wine – but I like to know this stuff.

His reply was a little deflating. “To be honest with you,” he said, “the legacy I worry about is making the money to secure the future of my children.” He also suggested that I was a little romantic if I imagined that the average person even noticed the quality of build. “It makes no difference to people if I buy a cheap brick or an expensive brick,” he said. The thing that got me was not the lack of ambition but the ambivalence about making a mark or changing anything for anyone. As we start a new year, that’s the part that I am wondering about.

My parents had me later in life – my dad already 50, my mum 45. One of the many good things about having older parents was that they knew stuff; they knew themselves. My dad, in particular, would have big chats with a little kid. I remember once being scared of the concept of dying. My dad had obviously thought about his own mortality and said that all that mattered in the end was that you passed something on – a skill, an attitude, some of your luck. My dad was a great gardener and me and my sisters all have a bit of his passion for plants. That’s also legacy. And if we can just do something as modest as that we should all be happy. Or, alternatively, get very rich and have a museum wing built in your name. That works too.

Watch it: We live in a new golden age of television where it is impossible to keep up with all the great shows on offer unless you intend to become a permanent couch slob (and then, of course, you would struggle to pay for all your subscriptions). But it’s funny how many people also stray away from, say, the splendour of The Crown or the calculated meanness of Succession to a world of guiltier televisual pleasures. Even when there’s the TV equivalent of a fine-wine cellar, a swig of Baileys might really hit the spot some days.

Personally, I wish there were more shows about architecture – and definitely one about how to make a city (did I mention that I present The Urbanist podcast? Do you need to see my pitch?). But I also find it relaxing at the end of a long day to watch an episode of Police Interceptors or Traffic Cops. In these modest-budget shows you simply go along for the ride with the police as they chase drunk drivers, drug dealers, joyriders and various nefarious sorts. It’s oddly soothing.

Traffic Cops, for example, is simply billed as an “action-packed documentary series following Yorkshire-based law-enforcers”. This is the UK; it isn’t like the US versions, where guns and shootouts might be involved – you’re more likely to see a proverbial wrist being slapped, although your reactionary ire can be provoked at the end of the show when you discover what happened to these baby-faced hoodlums: usually very little. It's ironic, then, that the presenter of another show, Police, Camera, Action!, had to step down after being arrested for drink-driving – twice. If the new year seems a little daunting, enjoy the thrill of a chase for some winter diversion – or perhaps a makeover show would set you up for January better.


Right up your alley

More than 2,400 laneways criss-cross Toronto but they’ve historically been home to little more than parking garages and impromptu hockey matches, with the dented garage-doors to prove it. But in 2018 the city, which is in the midst of a housing crisis, finally relaxed regulations to allow residents to build small-scale houses in their laneway-facing backyards. Converting a garage into a home isn't an easy task but, thankfully, one Toronto-based company, Otto House is aiming to change that. “Otto was born to make the process of building a laneway house more graspable and tangible,” says architect and founder Evan Taurins, who launched the company last year.

Otto House offers a catalogue of sharp-looking laneway houses (finishes are customisable and layouts tweakable) to fit a range of scenarios: a supplemental-income property, a live-work studio, an opportunity to downsize or as a space for intergenerational living. “For a long time the ideal was that you’d hit 18, move away and never see your parents except for Christmas," says Taurins. “We’ve realised that maybe that’s not the best model for raising kids or building communities.”

As Toronto continues its rapid growth, developing laneways offers one path to alleviating the city’s housing strain. “Toronto is one of the most sought-after places to live [in the world] so densification is inevitable,” says Taurins. “[But] we’ve thought a lot about the existing vernacular of the lanes and how we might gently fit in, in terms of scale and material. I think [laneway housing] is going to be massive – and small, at the same time.”


Accept no substitutes

I used to own a quilted, slightly padded scarf from Japanese multibrand shop Ships (writes Richard Spencer Powell). It was made from a faded camo cloth and it was cool – and I left it on the Eurostar. Almost a year after I lost it, I was back in Tokyo and, with a small window between meetings (and drinks), I sought a replacement.

First up was Beams’s Beauty & Youth, with its name that challenges your self-esteem. I found a North Face option but I also discovered that my lost scarf was in fact a muffler – a scarf made of hi-tech outerwear material and filled with down. North Face’s muffler was a mega muffler: jet black, half the length of a scarf and twice as thick as a duvet. Trying it on was like trying to tie a pillow around your neck – more boa constrictor than feather boa. My next stop was Ships itself, where I found yet more mufflers and another North Face offering, which was even in camo – but not as nice as my original.

As a last chance, I went to Snow Peak – and I found one: the right length, not too dense and with the right amount of muffle. During this mini tour, I noticed that plenty of other items were also padded with down; coats, gilets, bags and even trousers – all had a thin ply of padding. It was as if the country was preparing for an ice age. I like to be cosy too but it was 15C and a head-to-toe duvet layer simply wasn't required.


A gentle start to the year

First, let’s start by saying happy new year and all the best for 2020. Next, it’s important to let you know that while you’ve been busy scrunching your toes in the sand, catching up on all those novels stacked bedside, improving your form on slope or thinking about your all your 2020 moves, we’ve been around the microphone, at our screens and on press in northern Germany with our soon-to-be-released February issue. To kick off the year, we’ve gone with the theme of living a gentler life. To give the whole thing a bit of context, I thought I’d share this excerpt from my upcoming editor’s letter at the opening of the issue.

Do you recall the last time that you met someone and thought, “Wow, they’ve got their life completely figured out and I do not”? I had one of those moments in the mad run-up to Christmas when I suddenly found myself mesmerised by one of my dinner companions as he talked about his morning regime. He started off by explaining how he had invested in an alarm clock and an hourglass, that his phone remains in a remote location far away from the bedside table and he maintains an email and news blackout throughout the night. “I wake up at 05.40 and start my day by getting dressed and going downstairs for a session on the rowing machine and doing four or five essential exercises,” he said, knocking back a glass of merlot from Ticino. “When I’m finished with that I strip off and jump in the lake for a brisk naked swim – every day of the year.”

By this point everyone else around the table had tuned into this rundown of his routine and I was starting to feel rather jealous – partly because of his discipline, partly because it was clear that he had a rather fine set-up on the shores of Lake Zürich. “There’s a certain satisfaction that comes with walking into a morning meeting and knowing that you’re the only person in the room who went for a bracing dip,” he said. “Somehow it elevates you.”

“What happens after the swim?” asked the elegant woman next to him.

“I walk back to the house and do the things a gentleman needs to do in the morning: polish my shoes, shower, shave, get dressed and then get in the car and drive to work,” he said. “I start my day without the stress of emails or ‘breaking’ news events as I don’t bother tuning into anything until I’m sitting comfortably at my desk.”

While everyone absorbed the delightfully decadent nature of my companion’s Monday to Friday regime, he framed it for us in a more evocative, even attractive, manner. “Every day I’m a pensioner for two hours and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

And there it was, over our third bottle of Swiss red: a manifesto for this issue’s theme of gentler living. Here was a dapper gentleman who had found his groove in the modern world and was the master of his technology, communications and news flow rather than the other way around. Moreover, his regime wasn’t about reps, protein shakes and hocus-pocus supplements but such simple pleasures as giving his brogues a good buff or perhaps plunging into a frigid lake.

As we ease into a new decade, our editorial meetings have focused on the very urgent need to curb reactionary outbursts, contemplate points of view that stray beyond the boundaries of the mainstream and be kinder and more forgiving of the people and forces around us. If the past few years have been all about shaming and condemnation, then we would now like to see a shift to gentler, informed dialogue that happens in settings large and small, as well as a recognition that subtle coaxing is more important and sustainable than wholesale disruption.

This is a little teaser of what to expect in issue 130. The February edition is shipping now; you can subscribe at or visit your favourite newsstand from 16 January. From next week I’ll be leaving this page and jumping to Sundays; this column will anchor our new addition to the Monocle Weekend Edition line-up. See you then.


Norman Pearlstine

Veteran journalist Norman Pearlstine took the helm of the Los Angeles Times in 2018 at a time of great change for the paper – and has made a huge impact. Since beginning his career at The Wall Street Journal, Pearlstine has worked in some of the world’s most influential newsrooms and served as editor in chief of Time Warner and Time Inc. Here he reveals his favourite bluesmen and his boxing routine.

What news source do you wake up to? I wake up to the Los Angeles Times home page but the more relevant question would be: “What do you read before going to bed?” I read a lot of publications at night. On a regular basis I look at The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and The Financial Times. I’m pretty consistent in looking at as well, and then some specialised newsletters.

Coffee, tea or something pressed to go with headlines? Coffee with cream.

Something from the FM dial or Spotify for your tunes? When you’re driving in Los Angeles, it’s obligatory that you first tap into the latest traffic report. But after that I listen to my own music.

What’s that you’re humming in the shower? Nothing; ever. It would be too scary.

Papers delivered or a trip to the kiosk? I get the papers delivered to the office. I get The San Diego Union-Tribune – which we [the Los Angeles Times’ owners] recently acquired – The Financial Times, the New York Post, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and then a facsimile of The Washington Post. And then I get the electronic edition of Toronto’s Globe and Mail – that’s more at weekends than on a daily basis.

Five magazines for your weekend sofa-side stack?Time, Bloomberg Businessweek, The Economist, Foreign Affairs and The New York Review of Books.

Are you a subscriber or more of a newsstand browser? It varies: I subscribe to all of those, and to The New Yorker. Online I get Apple News+, which has about 300 magazines on it. I find myself looking more at the entertainment industry through titles such as The Hollywood Reporter, Variety, TMZ and then the website of Vanity Fair – but that’s because entertainment is such an important component of Los Angeles life and news.

Bookshop for a drizzly Saturday afternoon? I’m a slave to my Kindle and Alibris.

Sofa or cinema for the evening? I’m usually in front of my computer screen in the evening – I don’t watch much TV.

What’s the best thing you’ve watched lately and why? The movie Parasite – the Korean film that won the Palme d’Or [at Cannes Film festival]. It’s a spectacular movie from the genius who brought us Snowpiercer and is the best movie I’ve seen this year. And then I also watched the documentary on Toni Morrison by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, which is called The Pieces I Am and is an amazing account of her life.

Sunday brunch routine? It’s not brunch – I box on weekend mornings. There’s a boxing gym in Santa Monica that I go to every weekend. I try to go every week but I’ve not been very good lately.

Do you still make an appointment to watch the nightly news? No, because I’m watching it on a screen in the office all day long.

A favourite newsreader perhaps? My favourite newsreaders are all dead.

What’s on the airwaves before drifting off? Music. Usually blues: Bobby Womack, Calvin Richardson and I listen to Richard Thompson a lot.


On the radar

‘Deputy’, Fox. There’s more than a whiff of a Western in this police drama. After his predecessor dies, an all-action, no-bullshit cop (played by Stephen Dorff) ends up taking up the role of sheriff of Los Angeles County. Soon he’s faced with the difficulties of the new job; danger lurks in the politics and the inevitable power struggles more than the emergency operations and shootouts.

‘Sex and Lies’, Leïla Slimani. This is the first of French-Moroccan author Leïla Slimani’s nonfiction works to be translated into English but if you were able to read her hit thriller, Lullaby, you’ll be equally gripped by this. It’s an examination of the sex lives of contemporary Moroccan women – by means of a series of fascinating interviews – alongside a broader discussion of a culture that both condemns and commodifies sex. It makes for eye-opening reading and it couldn’t be more timely.

‘I’m Too Sensitive For This Shit’, Hayley Kiyoko. US popstar Kiyoko (known to her fans as “Lesbian Jesus” due to her outspoken attitude to sexuality) proudly defines herself as a “dramatic” person, which is why she has picked such a title for this EP. Although she tackles topics such as mental health or the end of a love story, her pop remains energetic and captivating. This four-song record is a heartening manifesto of self-love and resilience: don’t miss it being played live when Kiyoko begins her US tour at the end of January.


Original Sin

There are two ways to reach Stewart Island, also known as Rakiura, off the south coast of mainland New Zealand (writes Louis Harnett O’Meara). Either by ferry from Bluff Harbour, crossing the choppy waters of the Foveaux Strait, or by (tiny) plane from Invercargill to a landing strip that’s more of a track. “It’s a toss-up which journey is going to be scarier,” says Jessica Kany.

The native New Yorker moved to the island’s main settlement, Oban, in 2002. Comprising 12km of paved road, a pub, a shop, one police officer, 400 residents and abundant wildlife, the island is a far cry from Kany’s home. She has edited its only newspaper, Stewart Island News (known affectionately as the Sin), since 2005. “I thought I’d just do it until I got kicked off or got bored but I’m still here now,” she says. “We have some great writers here.”

What’s the big story this month? We have shark-cage diving nearby and it’s been a point of contention for years. A lot of locals don’t want it and think it’s happening too close to our community. There was a big petition a few years ago and a battle in the courts that outlawed it last year. But recently the supreme court flipped the decision in favour of the divers. One of our MPs wrote a piece in response.

What’s your favourite image? When I first arrived, we sold the newspaper from a cardboard box that the town cat, Koru, would sit on – you’d have to take a copy out from under him and put money in a tub that said: “Pay for your Sins”. Sadly he died in 2015. Eventually we got in touch with a carpenter and asked him to make us a new box. He made this unbelievably beautiful wooden boat for us to keep our Sins in and called it Koru. When we got it, I was so excited that I made it front-page news.

And your favourite headline? I started a column a couple of years ago when I began rat trapping. Rats are a big problem on the island – we have too many here and so there’s a big community of ratcatchers. The column was called “Rat Tales” at first, then I changed the name to “Snap Chat”.

What’s the next big story? They’re trying to make New Zealand predator-free by 2050 and there’s talk of making Stewart Island pest-free. To do that on an island this size you can’t use old-fashioned rat traps – it would mean aerially poisoning the island, which is a toxic issue. Some people are really, really against using poison.


Can I back down now that I know how expensive it is?

“Second from the bottom, sir? An excellent choice.” “Bugger,” you think as the slick sommelier turns to fetch a far-too-expensive bottle. “Has he just hoodwinked me into ordering the priciest bottle on the list?” You’ve doubtless had a situation yourself when a little flawed arithmetic – usually while working abroad and in a lesser-known currency – has duped you into believing that €1,000 jacket was a snip at €100 or that you were the only one to spot that grossly undervalued teak climbing frame for cats (you weren’t and affording it will involve remortgaging).

So here’s the trick: own up, double-check and back down; apologise for the mistake and don’t buy it. It doesn’t matter if the sommelier shoots you a glare or the shop assistant huffs, there’s no way it’s worth it. Right? Well, it’s one thing to dispense the advice and another to follow it – just look how happy Mr Tiddly is with that teak kitty climbing frame. As for me, the second from the bottom sounds marvellous, thank you – and it better be worth it.


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