Friday. 31/1/2020

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Robert Bound

Splitting headache

Well, this is what it’s come to: divorce. At midnight the decree nisi becomes the decree absolute. I told her I’d leave if she carried on eating all that garlic and letting people we hardly know come in and use the facilities and so I put my foot down, hard (in fact, I practically shot it off). It’s not a traditional sort of divorce, of course, because we still live over the road from each other and I’m fond of the wild, old garden with the warm pool and she’s said that I can use it in the summer if I call in advance. So that’s something, I suppose. She said she’d love to pop over sometime for a pie and a pint of warm beer but she was sort of smirking when she said it. I couldn’t tell if she was joking or not, never could. Typical.

Of course I asked my friends what they thought before it got to this state of affairs and they were split down the middle. My old schoolmates shouted, “Ditch the bitch!” and bought me another drink. They said they liked her well enough but you can never really understand someone foreign. Then they did the funny accents, which I’ve never been a fan of. They said it would all be “fine, totally fiiiine” but then they’ve inherited small fortunes and play golf three times a week. I’m now wondering how I’ll afford the green fees, what with the divorce bill. My other pals, the younger lot I’ve been working with, told me we could work it out with a bit of patience but I had a hangover from the night with the other lot and we ended up arguing again. Classic.

I suppose we should be thinking about seeing other people. She said she’s happy with her big family for the moment but, if I’m honest, I’ve been getting lonely this winter. There’s the old flame across the pond – she seems very upfront but I never quite think she’s telling the truth. And then a very attractive technician came around to put a new phone line in the other day. Left her number. Seems too good to be true.

Last night I had the dream again. I’m on a fishing boat in a storm. It’s sinking and everyone in their oilskins are bailing out the wild water with anything they can find but I dive in and make for the shore on my own. I never know if I sink or swim but I wake up in a sweat with tears in my eyes. I feel like Withnail shouting Shakespeare into the rain. I think I miss her already.

Environment / Australia

Fire alarm

In his job as professor of environmental change biology at the University of Tasmania, David Bowman studies fire – a role that’s increasingly important with every passing year. His research enabled him to warn people that there was about to be a historically transformative fire season long before the country’s bushfires made global headlines at the close of 2019, when eight million hectares were destroyed, and lives and properties were lost. In an interview for this week’s Urbanist show on Monocle 24, he has another warning. “This ain’t over yet,” he said. “We are looking at another heatwave and incredibly dry conditions in Tasmania. I will be surprised if there is not more impact from this fire season.” Bowman’s view of what lies ahead is sobering. “We are taking the biosphere outside the operational guidelines and we are heading into the unknown,” he says. “We are in the heart of darkness.” However, he sees some potential to mitigate the dangers by adopting Aboriginal land-management techniques and building homes that are more resistant to flying embers. Listen to the show to find out how cities can become more resilient to such challenges.

Transport / USA

Losing momentum

Last year seemed to herald the unstoppable rise of the e-scooter, as electric mobility proliferated in markets from Los Angeles to Buenos Aires and Stockholm. However, 2020 is already shaping up very differently. California e-scooter brand Lime recently announced that it will be laying off about 100 people and exiting 12 markets, several of which are in Latin America, including Buenos Aires.

It’s not all bad news for the industry though: another e-scooter company, Bird, said this week that it had raised $350m (€318) in its latest round of funding and would acquire Circ, a similar business operating in Europe and the Middle East, while the UK government has announced a consultation that seems likely to result in e-scooters being allowed (legally) on its roads. The scooters will certainly be subject to speed restrictions though, which is a reminder that the regulator is lurking. Spain, Italy and France are among the countries already looking at more probing legislation of the two-wheelers – this could well lead the industry to proceed more cautiously.

Health / Hong Kong

Cut off

Hong Kong shut many of its border crossings with mainland China yesterday but the unprecedented move to limit the spread of coronavirus has not eased the pressure on chief executive Carrie Lam. The city’s two main land crossings remain open but there is cross-party political support for a total blockade. Pro-democracy activists are seizing on the issue to launch a new wave of protests and the healthcare sector is threatening to strike. One healthcare union will meet tomorrow to discuss possible industrial action and any large-scale walkout by doctors and nurses would likely force Lam’s hand. The city has so far managed to limit the number of confirmed cases to less than a dozen but there are also non-medical reasons for severing ties with the mainland. With foreign countries cutting transport links with China, failure to act could see an isolated Hong Kong being treated by the international community as just another Chinese city – a worry shared by residents across the political divide.

Photography / USA

Savouring the image

“Mr President, the late Marilyn Monroe!” announced the actor Peter Lawford as the legendary film star sashayed onto the stage to sing happy birthday to President Kennedy on 19 May 1962. The moment was captured by Bill Ray, who passed away this month aged 83, and it became a defining image of Monroe as well as Ray’s most requested photograph. One of the last staff photographers at Life magazine (which is currently being celebrated in an exhibition at London’s Atlas Gallery), Ray’s work recorded moments both major and minor: the frenzy surrounding The Beatles’ arrival in Los Angeles in 1965; the aftermath of the deadly Watts riots in 1966; Elvis Presley combing his hair. As some news publishers lay off entire photojournalism teams in favour of “digital first” reporters armed with smartphones, Ray’s canon ought to give us pause to consider how future generations might remember the defining moments of today.

M24 / The Urbanist

Handling a crisis

How should cities handle a crisis? As the threat of the coronavirus spreads, we look at how our urban areas have coped when disaster has struck, be it terrorism, a health emergency, a natural disaster or a cyber attack.

Monocle Films / Switzerland

Swiss spectacle: Fête des Vignerons

We clink glasses with winemakers at a once-in-a-generation festival in the otherwise tame town of Vevey. Fête des Vignerons is a parade of Swiss viticulture wisdom complete with cows, costumes and carousing.

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