Saturday 25 April 2020 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Saturday. 25/4/2020

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Saturday


This week’s takeaways

  1. The park’s physical-distancing regulations have been extended to dogs, which henceforth must remain on leads. But, wait a minute, there is no mention on the new signs of the required length of the lead! This explains why yesterday three owners were standing chatting – yes, nicely distanced – with a labradoodle at the end of a 10-metre leash of the type usually used on puppies with no sense of recall; a husky on a piece of rope that was so long it could have secured in position a passing oil tanker; and a schnauzer on a make-do lead fashioned from enough electric cable to rewire an apartment (actually, was that a tool belt around its middle?). As the happy hounds spun around their owners, it was like watching some doggy version of maypole dancing. So far the ducks have been allowed to waddle in their usual feathered huddles, flaunting their familiarity. But I fear they might be next.

  2. Our dog, a fox terrier, is anxious for the groomers to reopen. I know this because when I got out of bed I stepped on a rolled-up blanket – that yelped.

  3. I like reading trade reports to see how the pandemic is impacting various sectors. I knew that things were tough for the future of the hotel industry but, even so, one headline shocked me this week: “Is this the end of the breakfast buffet?” Slow down, cowboy. While caffeine is normally enough to start the day, the breakfast buffet is a seductive siren when you are travelling. Suddenly bircher muesli seems vital; you yearn to choose from a rainbow of fruit juices; even a slab of sleep-inducing French toast seems a wise choice. I will be sad if this is the last I see of the omelette chef. But that’s another story.

  4. London has basked in sunshine this week and there are more people out on the streets. And the sounds from building sites are suddenly a larger part of the spring chorus. A local café has also partly reopened for takeaways; having a coffee made for you is a rare reminder of the old days. With a government that believes that citizens cannot be trusted to know how the lockdown will be eased, some businesses are perhaps edging out of isolation rather than waiting to be told.

  5. Are we allowed to miss things? A Saturday lunch with friends that glides into the afternoon. The tonic of the crowd. A packed theatre where hundreds of people are sharing the same moment and a murmur ripples through an audience. Making plans. Adventuring out. Those things will come back but in the meantime let’s not get too carried away with the idea that Zoom birthday parties are better than really being together.

  6. In emails there’s a phrase that comes up again and again: “strange times”. People avoid the word “pandemic” – and, anyway, it feels off to write, “Hope you are OK during this pandemic.” Instead, when enquiring after your wellbeing, they refer obliquely to “these strange times”. It conjures up images of a mysterious sea fog that’s crept up on us and now refuses to burn off even with the sun out. Indeed, strange times.

  7. How’s your TV viewing progressing? It has been back-to-back detective series in our house. Dark is fine. Gruesome murder not a problem. Miss Marple is more than welcome. There just needs to be a resolution. Good needs to win out. Order needs to be put back in place.

  8. The UK government is yet to say whether the public should wear masks. Dither. But every day you see more people wearing them (even though noses are regularly not covered). Every chemist – drugstore – has them for sale. Meanwhile the hospitals are unable to get stocks.

  9. Is there anyone left on the no-carb diet?

  10. As I mentioned above, the weather has been flawless all week so I’ve been able to work a part of every day on our minuscule yet bushy roof terrace. And this is the bit that I do want to remember. There’s a stillness probably never seen before in London. I’m sitting here now. The only other sounds – apart from the builders – are birds and sometimes a neighbour’s drifting voice. It would be idyllic if the cause wasn’t so painful. Or if a very large pigeon with no sense of physical distancing hadn’t started flying in to join me every day. It will only depart if chased with meaning – an airborne shoe is simply dodged. I’ve tried to explain the two-metres rule but, like the ducks, it has no shame.


Something in the air

Air-conditioning season is upon us in Hong Kong and I’m desperately trying to stay cool at home without switching on the machines (writes James Chambers). Plenty of people enjoy sleeping under a duvet in an air-conditioned ice box but I find myself staring up at my empty ceiling, dreaming of taking off my togs and installing a motorised fan. Most Hong Kong apartments only have air-conditioning units so I would have to move to Southeast Asia to get both: air-conditioning by day, ceiling fans by night. There’s a lot to be said for the soothing sound of blades gently rotating above. A cooling combo also avoids the heated online debates about relative energy efficiency; fans use much less electricity because they only move air, rather than cooling it. But even though they don’t make things cooler, they have a calming effect and add character. We have two at Hong Kong’s Monocle bureau (alongside the air-conditioning) and I’m a big fan.


Small wonders

When I go for my daily dose of fresh Toronto air I feel as though I’ve stumbled into a world of little superheroes due to all the children in full costume, instead of their day-to-day clothes (writes Tomos Lewis). I’ve seen Superman walking through a park (hand-in-hand with dad); Buzz Lightyear on a scooter; a ballerina in a tutu accompanying mum to the shops; a Disney princess on a tricycle. There have been pirates rollicking in back gardens before breakfast, dinosaurs roaming the pavements at sunset and little Halloween witches casting their spells – in April.

A friend in Wales, who has three children under the age of five, fretted last week that she’d never be able to get them to wear normal clothes again. The idea of donning school uniforms once more, she said, brought tears to her children’s eyes. The sartorial genie is out of the bottle. As disruptive as the lockdowns are for the rest of us, they are particularly disorientating for children, for whom schools are closed, friends are out of reach and routines have been taken away. Choosing what to wear – a mask, a crown, the cape of a hero or the cloak of a villain – and creating a world entirely of one’s own making is, perhaps, the one liberating act still available.

We have been told time and again during the outbreak that not all heroes wear capes. That is true. But it is good to remind ourselves that, on occasion, they do.


Ralph Rugoff

Last year Ralph Rugoff, the director of London’s excellent and experimental Hayward Gallery, made a splash on the world stage as curator of the Venice Biennale. Here the US-born gallerist talks us through his lockdown habits and tells us what gems he discovered after a dive into the cinema of South Korea.

What news source do you wake up to? Half a dozen London robins and blackbirds – and a neighbour’s yelping dog.

Coffee, tea or something pressed to go with the headlines?
Coffee with cream.

How are you handling working from home?
I’m resisting the siren call of the sofa so far. Having worked for the first 20 years of my adult life as a freelancer, I’m an experienced homeworker. But I do very much miss seeing colleagues and artists every day.

Something from the FM dial or Spotify for your tunes?
Spotify’s Funeral Dirge channels or BBC Radio 6 Music and, occasionally, KCRW in Los Angeles.

What’s that you’re humming in the shower?
No more showers as I have adopted a no-bathing regime as part of my physical-distancing programme.

Five magazines for your weekend sofa-side stack?
Cabinet Magazine, The Economist, London Review of Books, The Art Newspaper and The Lancet.

Are you a subscriber or more of a newsstand browser?
Subscriber by necessity these days.

Bookshop you can’t wait to return to?
The Broadway Bookshop in Hackney. It’s one of the few shops where I invariably find something unexpected or unknown to me that I want to read immediately, whether fiction, non-fiction, philosophy, whatever.

Is there any media that you have rediscovered now you have more time?
Inspired by the movie Parasite, I’ve been making periodic forays into the incredibly rich cinema of South Korea, particularly films that are sufficiently weird to chime with the times. The Wailing and The Host are two recent favourites.

What’s the best thing you’ve watched lately and why?
Season 10 of Curb Your Enthusiasm because it was absurdly funny.

Sunday brunch routine?
Blueberry pancakes, maple syrup, too much coffee and then a long walk.

What papers and periodicals will be spread out on the breakfast table?
The New York Times, The Guardian, Financial Times.

Do you still make an appointment to watch the nightly news? A favourite newsreader perhaps?
I don’t watch the nightly news but instead listen to radio – usually the BBC World Service.

What’s on the airwaves before drifting off?
White noise.


Motivate your customers

As many of our readers settle into the rhythm of working from home, so too are company founders and CEOs of enterprises big and small. Beyond balancing the home schooling of their children, finding time for a walk in the park and, oh yes, trying to scrape together the cash to make sure that they will have a viable business in the future, many are rightly using this time to remind clients what their company really stands for. For those ventures trying to simplify their mission, reshape popular opinion or even take the business to the next level, thinking foremost about the customer journey can help to make the brand “irresistible”, says proposition-development expert Peter de Boer.

Speaking on the latest episode of Monocle 24’s The Entrepreneurs, the founder of Irresistible Branding in Amsterdam outlined five sequential questions that brands with a winning value proposition live up to:

  1. Are you 100 per cent clear of what you want from your customers?
  2. Are you relevant?
  3. Do they believe you are the best in the world to deliver for them?
  4. What is your differentiator, beyond a logo or ad campaign?
  5. Do you inspire your customers?

“The perks are that if you can answer these last two questions, you’re in paradise in terms of customer relations,” says de Boer. “Because then you are talking to loyal customers, they become your sales force – and the word-of-mouth machinery kicks in. Your marketing and sales costs will drop massively. And churn? There is no churn. They’re loyal, they love you and they stay with you.”

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


Pearls of wisdom

‘How Much of These Hills is Gold’, C Pam Zhang. Beijing-born, San Francisco-based writer C Pam Zhang traces the journey of two young orphans – children of Chinese immigrants – who try to find their place and some semblance of meaning in the ruthless wild west. But this is no bog-standard western adventure novel, it’s a coming-of-age tale that’s made richer by Zhang’s unpacking of issues of race and the inevitable tension that exists between brother and sister.

‘Bad Education’, HBO. After premiering at last September’s Toronto International Film Festival to wide acclaim (particularly directed at Hugh Jackman’s impressive performance in the lead role, which many are calling the best of his career), Bad Education debuts on HBO this weekend. Jackman plays a Long Island high school caretaker who gets embroiled in a huge embezzlement scandal. Such is the scale of the scam that it’s hard to believe that this film was actually inspired by a true story.

‘Wake Up!’, Hazel English. Sydney-born English might make sun-bleached dream pop that’s perfect for her current California home but the singer-songwriter likes to think of her music as a call against slumber. Wake Up!, her debut album, was written to encourage listeners to realise what makes them dissatisfied in any aspect of their life – be it a relationship or the state of the global economy. The message comes laced in wonderful 1960s-inspired psych loops and beach-rock vibes. And you’ll certainly find it impossible to sleep through the high-energy ‘White Noise’, ‘Shaking’ or ‘Milk and Honey’.


On the right track

Farmville, Virginia, has been home to The Farmville Herald since 1890 (writes Will Kitchens). While the award-winning newspaper was first published from inside an old opera house in the town of 8,000, its history hasn’t always been one to sing about. In the 1950s, the Herald’s then-ownership supported “massive resistance”, a policy opposing the integration of white and African-American students in the same schools. When Ken Woodley, editor between 1990 and 2015, learnt of the newspaper’s past, he committed himself to addressing its wrongs by writing about and advocating for reconciliation (he also spearheaded a state-scholarship programme for Virginians who had been impacted by the county’s decision to shut schools, rather than integrate them, in the late 1950s).

The newspaper has since changed ownership. Woodley has retired too but the Herald remains in good hands under editor Roger Watson, a 30-year newspaper veteran. Serving the town and surrounding counties, the paper is published twice weekly and prints 4,000 copies of every edition, while the ongoing pandemic has propelled its online readership to a healthy 75,000. Watson tells Monocle what’s making headlines.

What’s the big story?
This week we’re trying to determine whether the governor says it's time to go out again after the end of May or whenever, are we going to? Are people ready to go to cinemas and restaurants again? Are they going to shake hands? What habits have they changed during this time that they might not go back to? We’re trying to get clarity on that. The second is a county government story. Last week, Prince Edward County did not renew the contract of its county administrator – right in the middle of a financial crisis and pandemic. We’re trying to figure out why.

Favourite headline?
One of our columnists went out on a Sunday morning and found some bluebells: these finicky little flowers that don’t bloom a lot. They’re only around for a short period of time. The headline was, “Just like the bluebells, we will bloom again.”

Best photo?
We [needed] some art for a story about bus ridership being down and we got a great photo of a young lady getting on a bus. The thing about the photo is she’s smiling. She’s beaming. You just don’t see people smiling these days. They’re wearing masks or they’re frowning. Her smile; it brightened up the newspaper.

What’s your down-page treat?
We had one this week about a lady who found an abandoned bear cub. I don’t think I would pick up a bear cub – ever – but she’s carrying it around like it’s a baby. The story is about how she’s taking care of the cub and what they expect to do with it.

What’s the next big event?
The pandemic in Farmville started with Longwood University. A student came back from spring break and brought coronavirus with them. Classes were shut down and the economy dried up from there. [The school] has planned a graduation ceremony in October, when the seniors will come back and get some closure to what’s been a rocky spring. We’re looking forward to seeing them finish what they started.


Celestial bodies

Historic French company Bonhomme is known for its silk foulards printed with images of maps; La Paz is a Portuguese menswear brand whose rugged designs are inspired by the ensembles of Atlantic sailors. This unlikely duo have now joined forces to create a small, quirky collection that’s available on the La Paz website. The patterns for the short-sleeved shirt and two bandannas (white or navy) are printed in Bonhomme’s factory in Lyon, which uses a water-based jet-printing technique and has been awarded France’s prestigious EPV label for industrial know-how. Yet the items differ in one notable way from Bonhomme’s regular wares. “Since the sailors always travelled using the stars as a reference, we asked [Bonhomme] whether they could do a sky map for us instead of the road maps that they usually do,” says La Paz co-founder José Miguel de Abreu of his patterns, which feature constellations as seen from the Atlantic coastline. He’s right: at a time like this, it’s not a bad idea to look to the stars.


Is it acceptable to trip a jogger?

Come now, this isn’t the spirit we are after. Yes, the shutting of gyms has forced their colourful residents into parks to perform complicated routines with kettlebells and skipping ropes, and to pound city pavements with Mo Farah gusto. And, yes, like startled deer emerging from a thicket, they do suddenly appear leaping at you from this way and that. And, yes, we also agree, sometimes their unwillingness to keep a safe distance – two metres please! – is not just irksome but aggressive.

But confrontation is not recommended and the idea that you should give them a shove into a prickly bush, while tempting, should also be dismissed from your mind (although Mr Etiquette has wondered whether it would be admissible to entice Mr Tiddly to leap at them from the garden fence just as they pass). But we are made of better stuff than that. Let them go on their way, breathe deeply and be grateful your feet don’t resemble rubbed-raw trotters when you take your socks off at night. They might be fast but you at least have toenails.


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