Saturday 11 April 2020 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Saturday. 11/4/2020

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Saturday


Lockdown logic

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How long will it take for there to be a rallying song for these strange times? Or a good novel or cinematic thriller that’s inspired by coronavirus? Or art? Although, hopefully, not too many poems. While the edge of the pandemic’s reign remains distant and undetectable, and any vaccine hero is still unknown, perhaps the world of the arts will have to wait (though I have no doubt that Netflix is already hearing pitches for TV treatments). But the absent musical anthem is harder to explain.

In the UK they have re-released “We’ll Meet Again”, a song from the Second World War that did the trick back then but won’t do now (even if the sentiment is so rich that it was referenced in the Queen’s address to the nation last weekend). Something unifying like Pharrell Williams’s “Happy” is, well, perhaps too jolly. And it’s impossible to get lots of musicians together to record a stirring Band Aid-style song. I listen to the lyrics for the number one in many countries right now, “Blinding Lights” by The Weeknd: “I’ve been on my own long enough… I look around and Sin City’s cold and empty.” Perhaps we already have the song and just didn’t spot it.

Hard to believe
At the park there’s a man lurking by the bushes. He’s got a camera with a telephoto lens as long as his arm. He’s here not to spot a rare bird in the trees but to try to catch out people sunbathing, sitting on a bench, talking to someone who does not live in their household (I know this because a few hours later I check the tabloid sites to confirm my suspicions and there are his pictures). He’s also got a series of people allegedly cycling too close to one another. But they are not what they seem to be. He’s simply used the lens to make it look like people are super close by shortening the field of vision. With a country on edge, it’s incredible why anyone would try to sow unease.

We can make it
It all started off so promisingly. People said that this forced downtime would see a resurgence in handicrafts, in people fixing and repairing, and learning new skills. I know that I succumbed. Just before the lockdown hit, I stocked up on Farrow & Ball paint, determined to do some decorating. The tin remained unopened for three weeks but last Sunday there was a gap in my schedule of conference calls and radio – surely enough time to do a trial wall? Well. Crikey. The paint went on like sludgy icing; you’d stand back and see that what had been a smooth, if scuffed, surface now resembled something from the “this ain’t looking hopeful” chapter of a dermatologists’ handbook. Meanwhile, anything within a 3km radius took on a white-freckled appearance. It was deeply unsatisfying.

But it also makes me wonder when we finally get back to work what my colleagues Tom Reynolds and Will Kitchens will look like. Both boasted that they would be making their own clothes while out of the office but if their sewing skills match my efforts, we might be in for some unusual visions. Indeed, will all our offices be filled with a parade of terrible haircuts, an abundance of macramé plant-pot holders needing willing takers and people sporting home-knit sweaters with mismatched sleeve lengths? In the meantime I am securing the services of a professional decorator to correct my efforts as soon as the lockdown ends.


That’s a wrap

You’ll be hearing a lot more wrapping on Monocle 24 next week. That’s because we are launching a new 15-minute show that wraps the day – and sets it up for our listeners on the US west coast. Anchored from London and Zürich, the programme will deliver highlights from The Globalist and The Briefing with views from our key editors. Tune in at 21.00 and midnight London time. Monocle 24 has gone from strength to strength in recent weeks and we have more great changes lined up too. Thanks for listening.


Social climbing

When the schools closed here in the UK, I despaired – along with every other parent probably – at the prospect of doing two jobs badly when it seemed I barely had enough time to do one adequately (writes an overly modest Tom Edwards). Once that selfish panic passed, my worries turned to how children in lockdown would get their daily dose of learning and, more importantly, their fix of friends and fun. It’s a pleasure to report that our neighbourhood kids seem unperturbed by the pandemic and are finding novel ways to stay connected.

Exhibit A: homemade rainbows in windows so that pals can spot each other’s houses while out on their once-a-day exercise. B: inter-garden conversations. My elder son summons neighbours near (and surprisingly far) by scaling a tree and bellowing, “Fred here. Who is there?” until someone answers. C: (my favourite) waving at strangers. On the aforementioned constitutional, you’d be staggered at the ripples of joy that two children can create by simply waving at every passing driver, cyclist and socially distant pedestrian. I’ve even started getting involved: it’s the perfect therapy if you’re feeling the strain.


Suited and rebooted

It's last Friday I am trying something new. I put on a suit, a pink T-shirt and my best trainers (writes Jamie Waters). Dressed in this finery, I walk the three steps from my bedroom to my living room-slash-office. I am taking part in Glamour Friday, a social-media movement started by a German author that is quietly taking hold as a way to lift spirits during quarantine. I wore this exact ensemble to the Monocle Christmas Party in December. Back then, I fitted in with my colleagues. Now, in my living room, I do not fit in with my housemates. “Where are you going today looking all fancy?” they chim, bemusement etched on their faces. It is odd to receive such feedback from a pair of corporate lawyers who are working on deals while resplendent in athleisure. The world is indeed upside down.

But it turns out that there is something to this idea of dressing up in lockdown – I mean actually dressing up, as if you were going to a smart cocktail party or any other ritzy occasion. Others are finding this too. Swedish fashion editor Konrad Olsson is wearing suits and ties every day and captions his Instagram photos with “No Casual Fridays in a Crisis”. There’s also a “Sunday best” social-media call to arms started by a New York journalist. Beyond looking sharp for client video calls or Zoom drinks, this is about the simple fact that donning our fanciest duds can boost our mood – however briefly – by creating a sense of occasion and providing a much-needed escape from reality. In dark times, we do what we can.


It may be a good time to find funding

The pandemic – and the gloomy economic picture it has created – has seen many entrepreneurs scaling back plans to grow their businesses. But as the team from Seedlegals says on the latest edition of Monocle 24’s The Entrepreneurs, there is never a perfect moment to chase the next funding round, launch a new product or, indeed, launch a venture.

“I don’t think there is ever a right time to start a business,” says Deborah McGargle, chief legal officer for the UK-based platform for start-up funding. “For me, now is as good a time as ever. If we look at the real success stories to come out of the back of the last recession – WhatsApp, Groupon, even Uber – they were all being thought through during those terrible times. And look where they are now.”

McGargle points out that while angel investors and venture-capital firms might be more conservative with their cash as they safeguard their portfolios, raising money is always possible if there is a market for your product or service and the value proposition is high. A mistake that many founders make, according to Seedlegals co-founder and CEO Anthony Rose, is that, “They assume they need to build something, where actually the real problem is having people want what you build.”

Get your questions in now for next week’s panel:


Sarah Gray Miller

Previously editor in chief of Country Living and Modern Farmer, Sarah Gray Miller focused her remit on food last year when she was appointed as the head of Saveur, returning to the title where her career started. Here she talks about how her Mississippi upbringing still shines through in her culinary choices and how she’s found relief in cooking in her upstate New York home during lockdown.

What news source do you wake up to?
The New York Times, via the paper’s daily email briefing.

Coffee, tea or something pressed to go with headlines?
Two cups of no-nonsense, machine-brewed Cafe Bustelo coffee, taken black.

How are you handling working from home and staying in touch with colleagues?
Saveur has a tiny dedicated editorial staff – just a handful of smart, hardworking women – and we had developed a shorthand before the pandemic. We do a pretty good job of communicating via text and Google Hangouts. Thank heavens for teleconferencing. I’m spending the weekends and evenings stress-cooking, just like everyone else who’s stuck at home. On the agenda tonight: Argentinian empanadas.

Something from the FM dial or Spotify for your tunes?
Neither. In the car I listen to The Spectrum on SiriusXM Satellite Radio – a mix of classic and alternative rock. At home I put my Apple Music library on shuffle.

What’s that you’re humming in the shower?
“And It’s Still Alright” by Nathaniel Rateliff; “By and By” by Caamp; or “Might Be Right” by White Reaper.

Are you a subscriber or more of a newsstand browser?
Both. I tend to buy a lot of trashy celebrity rags at airport newsstands. Somehow there’s less guilt associated with that guilty pleasure if consumed on a plane.

Bookshop you can’t wait to return to?
Square Books in Oxford, Mississippi.

What’s the best thing you’ve watched lately and why?
I love, love, love Breeders. Such humour and pathos. It makes me laugh, then breaks my heart, then makes me laugh again. And I’m glad that Brockmire has returned for a fourth season.

Sunday brunch routine?
I’m from Mississippi originally so I adore a good breakfast casserole, usually made with the previous evening’s leftovers. The best is after taco night: torn-up tortillas layered with leftover peppers, onions, beans and eggs, with cheese poured over the top, then baked for 30 to 45 minutes. Served with salsa and sour cream. Pure bliss.

Do you still make an appointment to watch the nightly news? A favourite newsreader perhaps?
I don’t but I’m a huge fan of Robin Roberts on Good Morning America. We should all strive to be such decent human beings.

What’s on the airwaves before drifting off?
I typically read myself to sleep. Mostly novels. But right now I’m reading Brenda Maddox’s biography of Rosalind Franklin, the little-known female scientist who laid the groundwork for [James] Watson and [Francis] Crick’s DNA discovery.


Emotional journeys

‘Sharks in the Times of Saviours’, Kawai Strong Washburn. Hawaiian-born Washburn’s debut novel traces the life of young Nainoa Flores from the moment that he’s saved from drowning by a shiver of sharks – yes, sharks – off the coast of the author’s native island. With rich, inventive prose, the novel traces the adventures of this “miracle boy” through the collapse of Hawaii’s sugar-cane industry and his pursuit of the American dream, which leads him across the Pacific to the mainland US. More than a sweeping coming-of-age story, this is a colourful ode to Washburn’s homeland.

‘Run’, HBO. Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s brilliant series Fleabag won her so much international kudos that any new show that the British writer-cum-actress is involved in becomes unmissable. Here she’s producing while long-term collaborator Vicky Jones (the pair worked together on the gripping drama Killing Eve) is in charge of the writing. Run is a comedy thriller about two former lovers who decide to stay true to a pact they made 17 years previously: if either texts the word “run” to the other (and gets the same response), they will meet at Grand Central Station, leave everything behind and embark on a cross-country adventure.

‘I’m Your Empress Of’, Empress Of. American-Honduran Lorely Rodriguez, aka Empress Of, has released a record that is at the same time an admission of vulnerability, a call for self-respect and a hymn to resilience. That her third album should also be a synth-laden, salsa-infused marvel makes it all the more bewitching. Written in Rodriguez’s east Los Angeles home over the course of a two-month hiatus from touring, these songs chart the emotional spectrum of heartbreak: from the drunken-night-out declaration of “Love is a Drug” (“I know sex can be a drug but I just wanna be touched”) to the passionate cry for help of the album’s evocative finale, “Awful”.


Ripple effect

The Yadkin Ripple is the only newspaper solely dedicated to Yadkin County, a rural wine-producing region of 38,000 residents in northwestern North Carolina (writes Will Kitchens). The newspaper was founded in 1892 by Mattie Johnson Hall, who then published under the pseudonym Meddlesome Mattie. Today, the weekly is published on Thursdays, while its staff – along with sister newspaper The Tribune in Elkin, North Carolina – also publish quarterly wine magazine On the Vine. Kitsey Burns Harrison has been a staff reporter at The Ripple for six years, netting multiple North Carolina Press Awards in the process. She tells us about the latest goings-on in Yadkinville.

What’s the big story?
This week’s main story is about Yadkin County-based company Indera Mills that is producing protective cloth masks to sell to the public. The company’s usual product is thermal underwear. They began last week making 1,000 masks a day and hope to produce 10,000 a day to meet demand. Our second main story is a reminder article on completing the 2020 census. Our state could potentially gain an additional seat in the House of Representatives so local officials are really pushing residents to complete it.

What’s your favourite headline?
Last week I wrote a story about one of our high schools, Starmount High School, whose students have been rehearsing for weeks for their production of The Addams Family musical, which has now been cancelled. The headline was “Addams Family Stays Home”.

What’s your down-page treat?
This week’s is about how two local arts councils, as well as individuals, are coping with social distancing by staying [artistically] active at home, whether by making Facebook videos of themselves singing or continuing with online rehearsals for a theatre production scheduled for later in the summer.

What’s the next big event?
It would have been the Yadkin Valley Wine Festival but that has been cancelled, as well as so many other things. There is another wine festival, the Yadkin Valley Grape Festival in October, that hopefully will still happen. It is certainly a challenging news time, especially for a small paper like The Yadkin Ripple, as most of the events we usually cover have been cancelled. But our county commissioners are expected to livestream their next meeting later this month. That will be a first for our county.


Tidy desk, tidy mind

Do you find you have an endless backlog of emails? Is your desk invisible under piles of paper? Is your diary filled with meetings with people you don’t even want to see? If the answer to any (or all) of these is yes, then you might want to get your hands on Joy at Work: Organising your Professional Life, the latest work from Marie Kondo. Her book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, has sold 12 million copies and spawned a hit Netflix series. And now, having cleared out our wardrobes and restored good cheer to our sock drawers, the pint-sized queen of decluttering is turning her attention to our workspaces.

Tidying, Kondo says, is not simply a matter of organising stuff; it’s about bringing clarity to our lives and deciding what’s really important. KonMari devotees find that once they’ve sorted their homes, they start making life-changing decisions. In this book, co-written by psychologist Scott Sonenshein, Kondo tells us that mess is a “magnet for misery” that lowers productivity, reduces motivation and leads to an all-round negative mindset – all bad news in the workplace. The same goes for digital clutter: those overflowing inboxes are a joy-inhibiting disaster, holding us back from professional success.

Through chapters with titles such as “How Tidying My Workspace Changed My Life” and “Are Messy People Really More Creative?”, Kondo shows us that clearing our desks, getting on top of our schedules and detoxing digital data will enable us to work more effectively. It’s easy to sneer but Kondo has always been onto something. And with so many people working from home, this seems like a good moment to take stock and reflect on how we would like our working lives to look in the future.


How do I sign off an email these days?

Well, Mr Etiquette has been a little flummoxed too. The usual cheery messages of, “I trust you have a fun weekend planned” or, “Have a great evening” seem a little misplaced. And, besides, recipients are likely to wonder, “Is it the weekend?” as days merge, while “great” evenings find them dredging the far corners of Netflix – yes, we’ve watched Tiger King (Mr Tiddly was aghast and made me promise never to make him go anywhere near Joe Exotic). You could just add your name or perhaps a “regards” but then that seems a mite uncaring at the moment.

However, this week we received an email that ended with the flourish, “Be brave”. That was going too far the other way. While many people have opted for, “Stay safe”, Mr Etiquette and Mr Tiddly have been using, “Take care” and finding ourselves really meaning it. Anyway, must dash, I have bought a mullet wig, à la Joe Exotic, and am about to give Mr Tiddly the fright of his life.


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