Saturday 18 April 2020 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Saturday. 18/4/2020

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Saturday


How to see in the dark

01. Call Jan Gehl now
At this point it’s hard to imagine what’s on the other side of this tunnel. Indeed the tunnel is so much longer than you had anticipated that you are beginning to have a strange thought: is there an end to this tunnel? OK, perhaps you don’t have those moments.

This week I found a calming antidote when I interviewed Jan Gehl, now 83 and the world’s best-known urban designer, for the June issue of Monocle and a forthcoming episode of The Urbanist. I called him at his home in Denmark where he is social distancing with his wife and, as he picked up the phone, he was contentedly crunching his way through a carrot. A big one. It appears that he’s both a sage and a Bugs Bunny impersonator.

Perhaps a couple of the questions were tinged with my angst: would the world be changed permanently, would social distancing rules put an end to communal living, shared space? But his response was clear.

“No,” he said. “I have a strong belief in homo sapiens as a social animal that likes other people and likes community. And so, I think that after a short scare, we’ll be back to business as usual.” Although he did believe that the world of independent shops would suffer and that, for him an upside, we could see cruise ships being banned from docking in cities.

My takeaway? Sometimes all you need to steady your outlook is someone with longer vision than yourself – and a belief that walking in your garden eating a delicious carrot while we wait this moment out is just fine.

02. Where can I sit?
There is one place, however, where surely there will be a slow return to the old ways. Recent years have seen the rise of the so-called nomadic worker: a generation of people who are able to run their worlds from a laptop while perched in cafés and hotel lobbies. And they have had their corporate equivalents: the hot-deskers; people denied their own desk in a cost-saving drive masked as some form of creative freedom. But all of this feels very uncomfortable now. If they cannot secure a clean desk that’s all theirs, many people will choose to stay working from home until the virus is not just under control but gone. And if cafés have to space out seating – cutting the number of covers – well, then the headphone set who sit there typing all day and buy only the occasional flat white will be very unwelcome.

03. This business could clean up
Here’s a good business opportunity emerging. Yesterday I watched a chic woman renting a ride-share bicycle. Before she got on, she pulled from her handsome soft-leather tote a large anti-bacterial spray probably taken from her kitchen, a disposable cloth and gloves, and did a thorough cleanse of the seat and handles. If we are going to need mobile cleansing units in our bags for moments such as this, then I predict the rise of numerous handbag-sized spray guns in fetching colours to match your style and all sorts of new leather accessories to hold cloths and gloves. But before designers spring into action, could I also request a carrot holder too please: I need the Gehl carotene hit.

P.S. Right to reply
In last week’s column I hinted that I was doubtful whether two of my colleagues would have made much progress on their aims to become proficient makers of clothing during lockdown. Some suggested that I had been unfair. So let’s hear what they have to say for themselves. Tom Reynolds, managing editor: “I confess that my sewing machine remains untouched. My wife is a stylist so I feel a lot of pressure winding my bobbin up in front of her. Maybe I will use the dust that has gathered on the machine as some sort of stuffing for the cushions that I’ll make.” And our writer in Toronto, Will Kitchens: “After amassing an unnecessarily large collection of handleless tote bags, I thought it time to turn my pin-pricked fingers to a shirt or a pair of trousers. I was wrong. What’s a dart? A sloper? A French curve? Please send instructions for the macramé plant-pot holders that you mentioned.”


Action stations

Tuning in to Monocle 24? Good. We hope that you are enjoying The Late Edition, our new end-of-day wrap, and have been able to hear the audio version of our good friend Mr Etiquette, the editors’ long reads and a host of other new treats.

The other good news is that The Monocle Book of Japan is shipping early. This handsome large-format book is ready for delivery today. Just head to our online shop​ to get your hands on this new and exhaustive survey of the nation, covering everything from culture and food to architecture and mobility.


All tie-dyed up

It’s a weekday afternoon and I’m busy working (writes Jamie Waters). A white T-shirt is curled up in a ball before me. I pull on a pair of latex gloves that are far too small and soon they break, leaving the tips hanging limply from my fingers like a sad rooster’s comb. I funnel pink powder into a squeezy bottle and fill it with water. I refer back to my guide, which is written on a big multicoloured box ornamented with phrases such as “Design Studio” and “Mess Free”. It recommends that it’s suitable for ages “six plus” in cartoonish yellow writing.

I am joining other restless housebound folk and embracing tie-dye. The technique, which peaked in the 1960s during hippie mania, has yo-yoed in and out of style over the years. Now it’s enjoying a renaissance, as fashionistas appear on social media clad in head-to-toe designs – many of them homemade. Its popularity makes sense: the patterns pop on screen and the practice taps into the DIY craft movement.

But it turns out that it’s trickier to do than I thought. My “ages six-plus” kit contains 22 steps. Far too many. So I turn to a YouTube tutorial. I opt for the “crumple” method that promises lovely cloud-like dustings of colour. I scrunch up my T-shirt and stretch elastic bands around it so that it becomes a ball. I drench it with dye and leave it overnight to marinate.

The video lied. I do not have a runway-worthy masterpiece. My T-shirt almost looks ashamed of itself: its torso is a great white expanse and it only has a few paltry splotches around the neck and arms that look like angry sunburn. But I’m hooked. I’m going to re-dye it. And then I’m going to dye my socks, my shorts, my underwear and my jeans. I’m going to keep dyeing until my wardrobe is a speckled rainbow mess and I’m a flower child who’s ready for Woodstock. Maybe, by then, we’ll be allowed back in the office.


Focus on your cashflow

This week, the International Monetary Fund warned that the global economy could suffer the worst downturn since the Great Depression. But whatever the facts and figures show in the weeks and months to come, serial entrepreneur Debbie Wosskow, founder of the women’s members’ club Allbright, advises business owners to act today to make sure that they can thrive when life returns to normal.

“Cash is king,” said Wosskow on the latest edition of Monocle 24’s The Entrepreneurs. “Focus on your cashflow runway above all things and manage costs as quickly as possible and as deep as you can go, while retaining the core of the business and your core team. Make sure you can live to fight another day.”

This week’s expert panellist, Stefan Allesch-Taylor, reiterated the importance of finding the extra cash to keep the real “assets of your company” – your team – in place for whenever things get back to normal. “It’s going to be a hard road back to where we were,” says the professor of entrepreneurship at King’s College London. “And you are going to expect 150 per cent from those people and you’re going to want them to give it.”

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


India Mahdavi

Paris-based designer and architect India Mahdavi has made a name for herself with her instantly recognisable, colour-popping approach to all the interiors she’s worked on. Mahdavi has applied her hand to hotels, restaurants and shops in London, Mexico City, Tokyo and beyond. Here she tells us how her son, Miles, is responsible for her music discoveries and making scrambled eggs at the weekend.

What news source do you wake up to?
France Inter – my favourite French wavelength.

Coffee, tea or something pressed to go with headlines?
Could be coffee, could be tea, could be ginger, lemon and honey.

How are you handling working from home?
My studio is round the corner – literally two minutes’ walk – so I have the choice. That’s a luxury these days.

Something from the FM dial or Spotify for your tunes?
Spotify for discovering artists who I have never heard of before – such as Tame Impala, Maria Benz and Jorja Smith – but also for going back to classics, from Marvin Gaye to Nina Simone. All this is thanks to my son, Miles.

What’s that you’re humming in the shower?
I am the worst singer.

Five magazines for your weekend sofa-side stack?
Architectural Digest [French and US], Elle, Frame and Corriere della Sera’s Living.

Are you a subscriber or more of a newsstand browser?
I subscribe, mostly because all the newsstands have closed, one after the other. It’s such a pity.

Bookshop you can’t wait to return to?
Galignani on Rue de Rivoli and L’Ecume des Pages in Saint Germain.

Is there any media you have rediscovered now that you have more time?
I watched all the seasons of Fargo, which I thought was fantastic. Also movies from time to time: The Age of Innocence, Marriage Story…

Sunday brunch routine?
Catching up with the weekly papers, going to the organic market, then scrambled eggs prepared by Miles. Also reading and work.

What papers and periodicals will be spread out on the breakfast table?
The New Yorker, Télérama, Le Canard Enchaîné. And La Provence to get the news from Arles, where I have a house.

Do you still make an appointment to watch the nightly news? A favourite newsreader perhaps?
It’s getting difficult to watch the news too much as it’s anxiety-inducing, so I prefer reading on my iPad: The New York Times, Le Monde, BBC News and the Financial Times.

What’s on the airwaves before drifting off?
I don’t need the airwaves to drift off.


Freedom of expression

‘Sawayama’, Rina Sawayama. British-Japanese singer Rina Sawayama isn’t holding anything back on her debut album, a powerful genre-bending record that’s nothing short of pyrotechnical. Old-school Britney-style pop meets hard-rock riffs in surprising songs that are experimental and fascinating. But there are catchy dance-floor fillers too, such as ‘Comme des Garçons’, and all of the tunes convey Sawayama’s confidence. Self-acceptance is, after all, the record’s fil rouge. Exploring family history and identity, these songs are about loving yourself – wherever you feel that you belong.

‘Home’, Apple TV+.Home is a nine-part documentary conceived by a team of film-makers and producers that includes Matt Tyrnauer, the man behind Citizen Jane and Studio 54. The series takes us inside some of the world’s most innovative and socially progressive residences, including a verdant and self-sufficient ‘Naturehouse’ in Sweden and an infinitely rearrangeable shoebox flat in Hong Kong. Shot with arresting ultra-HD camera-work, the episodes celebrate the beauty and tactility of the buildings, yet are at their most compelling when they allow the people at the centre of the stories to recount what the projects mean to them.

‘Pools’, Lou Stoppard. The wonderfully liberating power of swimming might not be something that many of us can enjoy right now but with Lou Stoppard’s evocative new book, Pools, it’s easy to dream of the moment when we’ll be able to dip our toes into the water again. A writer and a curator – who’s also behind the North exhibition at London’s Somerset House – Stoppard has selected compelling photos by the likes of Martine Franck and Alex Webb to chart the ideals and the glamour that always swirl around our memories of the pool.


Sound effects

Monocle’s Toronto bureau, on College Street, is home to a cosy, felt-lined radio studio designed with acoustics in mind (writes Will Kitchens). But coronavirus, as it tends to do, has forced us to adapt – in this case our homes, from where we now broadcast. We’ve uncovered nooks and converted closets, all in pursuit of the perfect at-home radio studio. Bureau chief Tomos Lewis recently shared a photo of his own set-up: a fort-like structure comprising blankets, all designed to preserve his dulcet Welsh tones when on the airwaves.

Armed with a few tips from Monocle 24’s audio experts, I’ve also constructed an at-home radio booth, although it hasn’t solved one nuisance that I love dearly: a small, blond-haired dog named Bowie. 
Now accustomed to being by my side all day, Bowie is proving reluctant to separate when I shut the door to my home recording studio. He voices his displeasure from the other side. A few yips. Then a few scratches. He turns my monologues into dialogues – and the memory card in my recorder is quickly filling with half-finished, unusable audio.

I have a newfound respect for all the parents out there who are balancing the demands of their careers with their now home-schooled children. Recently I have found that the solution, albeit not a perfect one, is to put Bowie to work. I sit him in a chair beside me, pray that he’ll stay silent and hope that his big mop of blond curls will help soak up the echoes.


Print of whales

Matt Markham has lived in the rural town of Ashburton on New Zealand’s South Island for most of his life. His parents trained racing horses, which put Markham in good stead for placing canny bets as he grew older. In a bar one evening, his wagers caught the attention of a sports reporter from the local paper, the Ashburton Guardian. He was offered work on the spot. That was 14 years ago and Markham has since worked his way up to the role of editor for the town’s daily. First published in 1879, the Guardian is one of New Zealand’s oldest papers and has been covering the area’s goings-on for as long as there’s been a town there. It’s a point of pride for the community – and for Markham. When he answers the phone to Monocle, news is breaking. “A whale washed up on a nearby beach last night,” he says. “We’re just trying to get on top of it now.”

What’s the big story this week?
Coronavirus, of course. New Zealand is in complete lockdown and only essential services continue to operate, which includes local newspapers. We’ve had a lot of good feedback about how great it is for people to still get a newspaper on their doorstep every morning. We try to balance coronavirus coverage with things that make our readers smile.

What’s your favourite recent headline?
The New Zealand government is allowing local districts to request funds to kick-start the economy once we’re out of lockdown. Ashburton council has applied for a number of projects: a new bridge, an upgrade to one of the water supplies, a railroad and a new civic complex. We ran with: “Shovel ready”.

Do you have a down-page treat?
We have a daily cartoon – just one image but it’s always well received. Recently, a local member of parliament has been trying to get a four-lane highway built but the government isn’t playing ball. Our cartoonist ran with an image of a government employee shovelling a pile of written excuses that he’s sat on towards the Ashburton MP.

What’s the next big event?
This beached whale. They don’t turn up very often around here. We’re just trying to keep it alive at the moment; my team is speaking to the department of conservation now. The Maori people deem them sacred, so I’m just looking through their process regarding how this should be dealt with.


Is it OK to enjoy social distancing?

Oh, thank goodness you asked. This week Mr Etiquette spent several minutes going through his diary and erasing event after cancelled event. There was cousin Susan’s third wedding in Scotland (the first two had been more than enough, thank you); the invitation to a naturalist neighbour’s party to celebrate the launch of his new book, Slippery Customers: A Life With Eels (which one would have felt obliged to buy and have signed, making re-gifting an absurd hope); and, also struck through, the school reunion (“Both of your daughters are now at Oxford? How interesting.”)

In a jiffy, a world of costly train tickets, false smiles and unremarkable wine vanished. Poof! And in its place came the promise of reading, pottering in the garden, good wine and Mr Tiddly’s undemanding company. So, yes, it is OK to enjoy your social distancing but, whatever you do, please don’t say a word to cousin Susan.


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