Saturday 21 March 2020 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Saturday. 21/3/2020

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Saturday


A week is a long time

  1. I have been driving this week, something I rarely do in the city. Even being on my bicycle doesn’t feel right; I want to be cocooned and alone. The streets are quiet. On Thursday, heading home late afternoon, I stop the car at a crossing near the normally frantic Tottenham Court Road – not to let a pedestrian across though. Instead, taking in this new world, this empty city, is a magnificent fox with a show-off tail. He looks me in the eye and slowly walks across the road. If he had had a cap, he might have doffed it in my direction. I watch him vanish and move on.

  2. Panic-buying hits. On Wednesday rumours circulate that London might be forced into deeper lockdown. What happens if I cannot leave the house at the weekend? To hell with loo rolls. I nip to Daunt Books and grab a tote of easy reads. Nothing grim. Then I run to the Farrow & Ball paint shop and pay over the odds for litres of what is essentially white paint. Perhaps in these uncertain times I will be able to do some decorating. I am clearly not very good at planning for the end of the world. If I was Noah, I would probably forget to put the animals on the Ark but instead waste my time making sure it had nice curtains and some cosy cushions. And I’d just finish painting the exterior in a handsome shade of F&B ‘Mizzle’ or ‘Pigeon’ just as the floodwater hits.

  3. As the streets empty, offices close and restaurants move into takeaway-only mode, a certain melancholy shades the city. But there are still a few places to get a coffee. And now, every day, people have time to talk. “Hope you are doing OK today,” they say – and mean it.

  4. All Monocle staff who can are working from home but keeping the radio on air and reshaping the magazine for the moment involves a core team coming in. To keep spirits up, Sam Impey, head of production for Monocle 24, has started a morning ritual where anyone in the building is invited for a start-of-day singalong and dance. There’s a good turnout for the Spice Girls’ “Spice Up Your Life”. It’s certainly more fun than gathering to watch Boris Johnson’s daily press conference at 17.00.

  5. With gyms shuttering, the streets are full of early morning runners. Or are they people fleeing?

  6. Friends who have amazing companies spend the week taking home computers, bolting doors, unsure when they will return. The prime minister claims that the UK will come roaring back but everyone seems to be doing the maths and wondering how long they can hunker down for.

  7. We look at the story list for The Entrepreneurs magazine. How to balance encouragement with the new reality? How to stay inspired by people around the world when connections are broken? What should be the tone in the magazine and on Monocle 24? Across the week a path clears. This has to be marked as a moment in history but we have to stay positive.

  8. A simple rule at home is: no rolling TV news. Every night is now film night and the hokier the better. We watch Tom Hanks in A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood, trying to ignore the fact that he’s actually holed up in Australia with the virus.

  9. I am looking at the birds on the feeder outside my window. My friend the mouse is waiting for seeds to fall. Then a magpie flies in, picks him up and departs. I wish I could call the fox to take revenge. I really didn’t need that today.

  10. I call correspondents and bureaux chiefs in Milan, Tokyo, New York and Toronto to get their views on how their various cities are coping for The Urbanist, our radio programme and podcast. Ivan Carvalho in Milan has faced the longest time stuck in his home. He’s also one of the most positive; he’s started valuing neighbours and his small balcony. Things are coming into focus as never before. I hope that we come out of this better as a society (and with nicely painted walls). Jamie, our fashion editor, has a different perspective. He’s convinced that if the travel restrictions lift by September, so many people will be partying in Ibiza that the island will sink.


Life’s rich tapestry

I recently received an email from Netflix that advertised “unlimited” movies (writes Will Kitchens). Normally I wouldn’t have thought twice about such wording but it occurred to me that Netflix’s catalogue is, in fact, finite and if anyone were to exhaust its contents it would be now, when our friends are only to be spoken to on Facetime and when schools, restaurants and many businesses are shut.

So what to do in the evenings and weekends? I have taken up sewing. I have borrowed a 1960s Singer sewing machine and have finally pulled out rolls of fabric that have been waiting inside a cupboard. I am currently reupholstering a vintage oak-framed sofa but I have visions of more: canvas bags, trousers and perhaps even a shirt or two. I have no idea how to do any of that but I intend to find out.

Right now it’s impossible not to worry about the uncertain months ahead. But when I do, I can’t help but also wonder what interests, skills and talents will be seeded during this unnatural isolation? What great ideas will be born and what great works created? My sewing doesn't verge on greatness but, so far, it’s the best act of escapism that I’ve found.


Keeping you posted

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Last legs

As gyms close and running groups are temporarily disbanded, there’s one small thing that we can be thankful for: we won’t need to look at men in tights for a while (writes Jamie Waters). In recent months, in various corners of London, I’ve witnessed a particular male exercise ensemble grow in popularity. This runner, let’s call him the greyhound, has the look of a serious athlete, cutting a trim silhouette in a lightweight windcheater, natty cap and Nike Vaporfly trainers. Yet it’s his legs that have got me all worked up.

This is because the greyhound has a penchant for skintight leggings with no shorts worn over the top. I repeat: no shorts worn over the top. From the waist down, it looks as though a circus performer has popped on some joggers and gone for a cool-down lap of the park after a morning of trapeze-swinging. My New York friends tell me that loads of guys there wear exercise tights but, mercifully, I’ve not seen much of this in London, which is something I’ve always chalked up to the British sense of propriety.

To some extent I get the look: on super-toned figures, tights can seem streamlined and ergonomic. But they are horribly unforgiving, and every bump and bulge is amplified and burned into the retinas of passersby. So, greyhounds, keep your tights for your living-room workouts. We have enough to worry about at the moment; let’s stop this affliction spreading.


Warren Fernandez

Founded in Singapore in 1845, The Straits Times is one of Southeast Asia’s most circulated dailies, with associated publications in Chinese, Malay and Tamil. Other than being the president of the World Editors Forum, Warren Fernandez is the paper’s editor and is responsible for overseeing a varied range of titles published by its parent company. Here he shares his eclectic music taste and tells us what he enjoys reading in bed.

What news source do you wake up to?
The Straits Times, of course. I check to see how the news has developed while we were sleeping and how this was covered by our overnight crew. I check our website as well as The New York Times, Washington Post, Financial Times, South China Morning Post and our competitors. I also like The Economist’s Espresso app: it gives you a quick heads-up on things that are coming up. Over breakfast I scan our print paper and the FT and NYT. As I do so, I usually shoot off emails to colleagues on things we should pursue.

Coffee, tea or something pressed to go with headlines?
Coffee, black and strong. Colombian preferably.

Something from the FM dial or Spotify for your tunes?
Usually I have the BBC World Service in the background as I get ready for the day. For music it’s either Spotify or Apple Music.

What’s that you’re humming in the shower?
It’s eclectic: some days it might be Coldplay, The Script or even Goo Goo Dolls. Others days it’s Beethoven, Mozart or Mahler.

Papers delivered or a trip down to the kiosk?
I have several papers delivered to my home every morning; those I oversee – The Straits Times, Business Times, our Malay title Berita Harian and Tamil Murasu – plus our sister Chinese-language paper Lianhe Zaobao.

Are you a subscriber or more of a newsstand browser?
Subscriber. I believe good journalism is worth paying for and supporting.

Bookshop for a drizzly Saturday afternoon?
My favourite bookshop is still Blackwell’s in Oxford, where I spent way too much time and money in my long-lost youth. I try to visit it every time I am in the UK.

Sofa or cinema for the evening?
I still love going to the cinema, for the sense of occasion of a big blockbuster movie launch.

What’s the best thing you’ve watched of late and why?
I enjoyed the Oscar winner Parasite: sharp, smart social commentary [that is] moving and also very funny.

Sunday brunch routine?
Sundays are usually leisurely days at home with my wife, Sally. We catch up over brunch as we are often busy during the week.

What papers and periodicals will be spread out on the dining room table?
Pretty much the ones mentioned above. Or some books. At the moment I am just getting around to finishing Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens. He was a highlight speaker at the World Economic Forum this year. I had enjoyed his book 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, which was thought-provoking.

Do you still make an appointment to watch the nightly news? A favourite newsreader perhaps?
No. I haven’t done that for ages. But the news channels are on in the background most times during the day in the newsroom and also when I am travelling. The BBC is my constant companion in the car. When I am on the road, I always have it on in my hotel room; a sort of a comfort link to home. They have some great anchors and reporters on the ground, such as Lucy Hockings, Lyse Doucet and Sally Bundock – authoritative and engaging.

What’s on the airwaves before drifting off?
I try to read in bed for a bit before going to sleep. It’s mostly stuff unrelated to work so I can unwind. It might be a novel, by Murakami or others, or a travel or running magazine – just something to take the mind off the cares of the day.


Home comforts

‘Self Made’, Netflix. At the time of her death in 1919, Madam CJ Walker was one of the richest self-made women in the US. She was also among the country’s first African-American millionaires, having made her fortune selling hair and beauty products aimed at black women – treatments that she had originally formulated for herself. Her life story, an enthralling tale of entrepreneurship and social activism, has been largely ignored. This new four-part dramatisation tries to correct that.

‘The Discomfort of Evening’, Marieke Lucas Rijneveld. At just 28 years old, Marieke Lucas Rijneveld is already a literary star in the Netherlands. After winning the 2015 C Buddingh’ prize for poetry collection Calf’s Caul, she won the ANV debut prize in 2018 for her novel The Discomfort of Evening. Now, thanks to a fine translation by Michele Hutchison, English readers can experience the novel’s heady imagery and sensory language. Set on a Dutch dairy farm, the novel is a visceral portrait of a devout family dealing with grief; the result is both haunting and beautiful.

‘The Performer’, James Righton. The former frontman of British band Klaxons is going it alone and he has taken a much more laid-back route for his solo debut. Fatherhood has changed Righton’s lifestyle and it inspired much of the music and lyrics on the album too. The Performer is largely a chilled 1970s affair filled with expansive psychedelia, tropical beats and delightful piano. Breezy single “Edie”, dedicated to Righton’s daughter, is endearing and charmingly lighthearted.


Island of curiosity

Alderney is one of three island jurisdictions that make up the Bailiwick of Guernsey, an archipelago in the English Channel. A self-governing British Crown Dependency, the tiny island is famous for its fortifications: Iron Age, Romans, Napoleonic and Second World War German forces have all been stationed there. Today it’s home to an ageing community and can only be reached by ferries from northern France and nearby Guernsey, or by a 16-seater plane from Southampton in the UK.

“They say when you land in Alderney you put your clock back 30 years,” says Mort Birch, the 75-year-old editor of the island’s only paper, The Journal. Birch moved here two years ago to be closer to his daughter and his 50-year career in journalism led him to The Journal’s office to offer a helping hand. It just so happened that the editor had resigned the day before so he took up the post immediately. Here he speaks about the island, air links and olive-stone removers.

What’s the big story this week?
One of the main problems we have at the moment is air links with the mainland. We’re going to have to restrict flights due to the pandemic. In the summer we normally have two a day to Southampton but we’re expecting that to be reduced.

A favourite image from a recent issue?
We recently passed a law for same-sex marriage and the first lesbian wedding took place in the summer. During the reception a rainbow appeared over the island; we managed to get a picture of the two girls and their guests framed below it. It was like it had been ordered specially.

What’s your down-page treat?
We have quite a popular column called “What Is It?”. People search their attics and cupboards and bring in items to ask us what they are. We have an older population and these people seem to store all sorts of things; they range from a gadget to remove stones from olives to a detonator that was once used on a James Bond film set.

What’s the next big event?
We do have what’s known as Alderney Week, which is the largest festival in the Channel Islands. We have 40 to 50 events and there’s a cavalcade; something for everyone. Of course, we don’t know what’s happening with it right now but it’s in August and we’re being optimistic.


Sorting hats

Winter is on its way out. And that means that it’s high time to embrace the baseball cap. But if you, like many adults, are worried that a cap might make you resemble an overgrown child, look to Paa. The minimally branded sportswear label was founded by friends Al Verik and Peter Jurado in New York in 2013.

It all started with one cap shape in three different fabrics, says Verik. “While we liked a lot of different headwear shapes – we love New Era’s and Ebbets Field Flannels’ – we wanted different fabrics and no branding,” adds Jurado. “So we thought we could make caps that you could wear with a lot of different things

Our favourite: the US-made 60/40 Pleat cap. Made from 60 per cent cotton and 40 per cent water-repellent nylon grosgrain, the cap has a subtle sheen and high crown, which makes it well suited for those who, like me, have unusually large heads.

After the brand was established, Paa spent three years perfecting its growing line of headwear before expanding into a full collection. Today it includes loose-fitting corduroy trousers; heavy, made-in-Los Angeles pocket T-shirts; and socks crafted in the historic textile capital of the US, North Carolina. “It’s always been grassroots growth,” says Verik. “[The brand] is still self-funded and we grow within our means.”

In February, after seven years in business, Paa hit a milestone of sorts when it made its runway debut at New York Fashion Week. “Basically, everyone who put the show together, including the models, were our friends or family,” says Jurado. “It was a fun, special day for us.”


What can I do?

Well, Mr Tiddly and Mr Etiquette have been a little off kilter this week – so we understand where your existential question is coming from. Around the world people are trapped in their houses, disconnected from friends and colleagues, unable to do all the small things that normally make them happy. But, oddly, etiquette is more important than ever: we need to let the old go first, we need to respect people’s personal space, we need to proffer a smile not a frown, we need to offer our assistance.

And the other piece of etiquette today? We also need to know when to ask for help. As I said to Mr Tiddly this morning, “You need to get your fluffy face over here now and let me have a calming cuddle.” And, for once, he obliged.


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