Sunday 29 March 2020 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Sunday. 29/3/2020

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Sunday


Time to act

How’s your mood today? You don’t need to answer just yet. Go and fix yourself another coffee, scratch the dog (I said dog but you can scratch wherever you like, it’s just us after all), pull open the blinds and then settle back in to your favourite Sunday read. OK, now how’s your mood?

Given the global reach of this bulletin, your current mental state might very well depend on where you’re reading it. If you’re on a remote vineyard in Tasmania then life might be pretty much as normal. Heaven knows that wine sales must be enjoying a healthy spike at the moment. If you’re in the heart of Paris, in a well-decorated but rather small apartment, then you’re likely hatching some kind of escape plan and dreaming about heading south as soon as possible. And if you’re in Washington, your thoughts are probably jumbled because of the confused leadership, the partisan media and the absence of a wise voice of calm behind a podium or even a news desk.

For the past two weeks I’ve been doing a morning mood check. I suspect that I’ve already had the virus (no clinical backing to this claim, by the way) but didn’t notice it as I’ve surely built up some kind of immunity. Clearly all of my time spent in aircraft cabins breathing purified sneezes, burps and farts has created some level of defence. At least that’s the hope.

For the most part, I’m an optimistic, positive and strong-willed sort. After all, why would I push on with doing a print magazine when everyone says to do otherwise? Why run shops when we’re told that all the action is online? As I’ve always had a bit of an independent streak, I like running to the fire, going dodging in other directions and finding the tasty sliver of opportunity rather than the gooey, overloaded slice.

Most days I’ve been waking up in generally high spirits. For sure, there’s been the odd flash of, “Are we really living through this?” But I swiftly move on, go out for a run and think about all the tasks at hand: ensuring that I can give a strong steer to my colleagues and also our readers, listeners and viewers. But I can’t lie and say that it’s all bunnies and tulips every hour of the day. I also get properly wound up by many things that are slipping by completely unchecked by governments and media. Allow me a moment.

  1. Enough with thanking China for sending masks here and supplies there. For good measure, let me add Russia too. China needs to stop kicking out journalists from respected news organisations. It needs to pipe down and stop trying to score points in the midst of a crisis that started in Wuhan. And Beijing needs to put in place, immediately, serious measures that put an end to the poaching of endangered species and the consumption of wild animals that we now know have played a part in countless virus outbreaks. It’s time to pull the curtains on the diplomatic soft-shoe show and rethink our relationship with Beijing – politically and commercially.

  2. It’s also a moment for news editors to park the fawning namechecks for big-name auto and home-appliance entrepreneurs who are suddenly rushing to either manufacture medical machines or procure them. It’s wonderful that it’s happening but this is not the time for raising PR profiles. Get on with doing your job. The recognition can come later.

  3. If we don’t collectively do something to support small, independent enterprises, we’re facing a world that will be dominated by ugly box stores, more tired chains, bland media outlets, cookie-cutter gyms and uniformly dull sandwich shops. This is the time: support your local baker, the challenged news kiosk, the small bookshop or even the family-run media company. One comes to mind. Buy bread, stock up on magazines and send a stack of books to your parents. The big and predictable might be the easy option in these times but the local and independent needs your custom at this critical time.

There, I’ve said it and feel much better for it. As my colleague Andrew pointed out as we spoke on The Briefing, we need to be positive but we’re also allowed to get angry as we work through this. Now back to where we started: I wonder if there’s something light and crisp from Tasmania down in the wine cellar? Will report back next week. Cheers.


Food for thought

Will the coronavirus clampdown, a full fridge and a lot more time in the kitchen mean that we eat better this spring? Not if all the shelves being emptied of lousy batch bread, crisps and UHT milk are to be believed. Yes, bad food keeps well, usually because of all the sugar, salt and preservatives, but there’s another crisis in the offing. In a few short weeks many of the small, honest and interesting food firms that make our cities sing have shuttered and the supermarkets have swooped in and gained ground on what was already an unfair fight. This isn’t about bashing the big guys – we’ve all got to eat – instead it’s about remembering the role that chefs, smaller food shops and independent growers can still play. It’s about the tantalising fact that customers are, or were, finally beginning to demand transparency and trust from farm to fork – before quickly turning back to Tesco when the smaller players need them most.

The whole food conversation needs to cover a lot of things, from food security to how to safeguard the jobs of hospitality workers. It also needs be about how we can keep up the momentum rather than just ceding our trust to brands that deal in bulk. At Monocle we’ve long devoted our food coverage – on Monocle 24 radio as well as in our magazine and books – to the small brands that are doing it better, the restaurants creating community hubs and the independent shops touting sustainability and sensible production.

All of which, sad to say, are now in jeopardy as never before. Wherever this finds you – and within whatever impositions placed on your movement – smaller food producers, shops and restaurants need your custom and kindness. Their survival will affect the richness of our cities and the fabric of our food infrastructure long after quarantines are eased and life returns to normal – and it will return to normal.

The fact that this virus likely started at a Wuhan wet market (maybe with an ill-advised bat barbecue or pangolin pie), presses home the notion that what and how we eat is important in avoiding risks as well as keeping us fighting fit. Fingers do need to be pointed about how all this began but that’s not for now. Right now, we need to shop locally and support our friends and communities, as my esteemed colleague outlines above. We certainly won’t judge if you swing past the neighbourhood bakery and pay a little over the odds for a sourdough loaf, or if you open a nice bottle of something from the independent vintner on the corner.


Flexible working

Confined to my flat in Athens, I’ve decided to give connected fitness a go (writes Venetia Rainey). The premise is simple: two-way video calling that allows you to choose from personal training or group classes. It’s just after lunchtime and, after limbering up for a spot of yoga, I’m sitting on my mat, ready to log in and join Livekick’s virtual class.

“Welcome everyone, I hope you’re keeping safe in these uncertain times,” says yoga instructor Olesya from her immaculate apartment in Munich. Five thumbnails of people wave back from various (messier) living rooms around the world. Then it’s on with the class, which comes complete with in-depth explanations of the tricky camel and locust poses. It all feels oddly normal, except for the few bored-looking pets that are wandering in and out of view.

Livekick is just one of dozens of companies operating in this space. Peloton, for example, offers virtual bike rides as well as hundreds of other classes – some live, some pre-recorded – that can be completed with or without its costly equipment. Industry giants, such as Italian firm Technogym, are also getting in on the act. All of this predates the pandemic, of course, but with gyms around the world now closed, it’s an excellent time to be in the business of providing new ways to work out from home. Now, who’s up for a virtual post-workout drink?


Still on the boil

Tomos Parry is the head chef of Monocle favourite Brat in Shoreditch (writes Louis Harnett O’Meara). After the news that his Michelin-starred restaurant needed to shutter due to UK coronavirus legislation, Parry has been doing everything he can to maintain a lifeline for his loyal staff and customers: that includes trying to turn his restaurant into a makeshift farm shop and opening a home-delivery service. We phoned Parry, who was taking a breather while anticipating both the birth of his second child and the refreshing taste of a sherry and tonic.

Where do we find you this weekend?
At home in Hackney, east London, not far from the restaurant in Shoreditch. There’s plenty of green space here, which is good for my three-year-old son to run around in. My second child is due this week so there’ll be another one to look after. The food and drink scene is typically brilliant here – we would normally take a wander to the Pavilion Café by the lake in Victoria Park.

How are you handling all this extra time at home?
We tried to turn our business into a farm shop last week, once it became apparent that the restaurant couldn’t open any more. But that also became hard, so that’s on pause for the next few weeks while we get our heads together. My days now are filled with looking after my son and doing a bit of gardening – he’s very impatient for the plants to grow.

Soundtrack of choice?
At work I’ve been playing a lot of Welsh folk music from the 1960s and ’70s. I understand the words as I’m Welsh but it’s beautiful to listen to either way. On a Sunday it’s quite relaxing, quite psychedelic. At home, if my son isn’t taking over the music, I might listen to a little bit of David Bowie or some Nick Cave.

What’s for breakfast?
Normally poached eggs. We’ll also often make pancakes so my son can get involved – it’s always a blend of keeping him entertained and eating well.

News or not?
I try not to listen to the news every day and just catch up on Sundays to really digest what’s going on. I have my subscription to the FT for the features and long reads, so I’ll set some time aside to go through the news like that.

Walk the dog or downward dog?
No to both. I do a little jogging to clear my head if it’s been a particularly stressful week.

What’s for lunch?
I’ll be cooking at home this Sunday. I’m lucky with the restaurant as I can get some amazing stuff in. I was able to pick up some nice items from our suppliers ahead of the lockdown – we got some beautiful beef ribs, partly to support the business and partly just to enjoy them.

Larder essentials that you can’t do without?
Good quality olive oil and very good dried noodles from the Asian supermarket. I also bake a ham and eat it throughout the week with some olive oil on bread. And a few nice beers, of course; there’s a place called Clapton Craft, which I like.

Sunday culture must?
I used to read a lot of boxing journalism when I was younger. I don’t box myself but I always listen to a BBC podcast for the week’s boxing news while I’m cooking.

A glass of something you’d recommend?
On the weekend I drink sherry and tonic. Add lemon and it’s very refreshing – you can drink a few without feeling it, so they’re perfect for a few little top-ups throughout the day.

Dinner venue you can’t wait to get back to?
The River Café in west London, by the Hammersmith bridge area. It’s an Italian restaurant that has some of the best food in London. It has huge windows and a big green expanse in front of it. It’s pure escapism.

Would you usually lay out your look for Monday? What would you wear?
Absolutely not. I’m usually wearing chef’s whites all week.


Baked plum with orange and mascarpone ginger crunch

Our favourite Swiss chef and recipe writer shares a plum recipe (literally) for those looking to indulge this weekend. You can keep the dish seasonal by replacing the eight plums with half the amount of apples or pears, depending on what’s fresh and available.

8 plums
Juice of 3 oranges
2 cinnamon sticks
1 star anise
1 vanilla pod (seeds removed)
¼ teaspoon cardamom powder
100g ginger biscuits
180g mascarpone

Preheat the oven to 180C. Halve the plums (and remove pits). Put them in a pan with orange juice, cinnamon, star anise, vanilla and cardamom. Cover and bake in the oven for about 25 minutes. Turn the plums in the liquid and bake for another 25 minutes until the pulp is soft and the skin shrivels.

Crumble the biscuits by hand, or for more fun place them in a plastic bag and thump them repeatedly with a rolling pin until they form large, uneven crumbs. Mix biscuit with the mascarpone.

Arrange plums on plates and serve with the spiced orange juice and the ginger mascarpone crunch.


Immune to trends

Over the past decade, the so-called “wellness” movement that captivated urbanites around the world has often focused on the glossy, vitamin-rich life that comes from drinking green smoothies and completing barre classes (writes Jamie Waters). It’s about feeling wholesome and looking good (on the internet, to strangers). Now, though, in the midst of a pandemic, “wellness” has become less about getting a glow and more about the base concern of staving off illness. The gym classes are shut and the juice bars are closed, after all.

Media Eghbal, head of content strategy at research firm Euromonitor International, says that shoppers across the globe are stocking up on foods that claim to boost immunity. These include herbal medicines and supplements, such as ginseng in Korea and dairy in China, where, somewhat bizarrely and probably to help the farmers, authorities recommend that citizens consume milk products to build up their immunity. Despite the questionable efficacy of many such supplements, Eghbal says that the enthusiasm for alleged disease-fighting products could represent a long-term shift in consumer mindsets that lives on beyond the pandemic. Glass of milk anyone?


Welcome arrival

Tokyo International Airport – Haneda, to you and me – is the best-connected airport in Japan but it’s long lacked a well-stocked bookshop (writes Junichi Toyofuku). Today, however, a new chapter began with the opening of Tsutaya Books. On the fourth floor of the newly added Terminal 2, where All Nippon Airways now operates some of its international flights and connects passengers with domestic services, the bookshop stocks 11,000 books and 9,000 magazines, including plenty of titles in English. Customers can nab a coffee and browse through the rangy 30 metre-long magazine “street” or kick back in one of the 54 chairs.

The inventory includes Japanese culture, travel, photography, literature, design and architecture. There are made-in-Japan souvenirs such as sensu fans by Nishikawa Shouroku Shouten, fragrances by J-Scent and tsumiki wooden toys designed by Kengo Kuma. For business travellers, four private meeting rooms are available to hire next to the bookshop. We’d like to see more of these airport bookshops across Japan – and further afield too, when flights resume once more. The bar has been raised.


Just like the movies

Solace is being sought in culture and media and it’s a wise gallery, magazine or broadcaster that knows how to stay close to the attentions and affections of its consumers; to warm the cockles of their hearts with a weather-eye on the horizon (writes Robert Bound). With just this in mind, the ever-impressive independent film magazine Little White Lies has just launched its Movie Matchmaking Service to pair self-isolating folk with films they’ll love. An email to will get LWL’s editorial team whirring into action like a satisfyingly human algorithm primed to fire off a handful of titles to suit your mood.

Which mood? “The majority of people so far are searching for films that are on the brighter side, with some uplift potential,” says the magazine's editor, David Jenkins. “Otherwise, it’s the complete other side of the spectrum: nasty, gory, bleak horror movies. Nothing really in between.” Sounds about right.

To test the service, we imagined (or are very much living) three scenarios that are in need of celluloid sympathy:

1) I’m home alone and can’t concentrate on work.

Watch:The Money Pit. Tom Hanks and Shelley Long in a charming ode to long-game productivity and looking beyond the horrors of the present.

2) I’ve watched all the Studio Ghibli films on Netflix.

Watch: Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis, a hilarious and poignant animated coming-of-age tale set during the Iranian revolution. Or Don Hertzfeldt’s lucid, moving, animated It’s Such a Beautiful Day (available to rent from the director’s Vimeo channel).

3) I fear the apocalypse – what can cure me?

Watch: Claude Lanzmann’s epic Shoah and reflect on the testimony of survivors from a time when it was thought the world was going to end (but it didn’t). Or just indulge in the hectic poetry of the Sandler-verse and watch Happy Gilmore again.


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