Saturday 30 May 2020 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Saturday. 30/5/2020

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Saturday


Welcome sights

London is edging back and not waiting for edicts to arrive from central government – and why would you now that acting on personal instinct has been sanctioned by the prime minister as a reason to ignore the lockdown rules? (If it’s not a story that’s come to you from sunny England this week, just google “Barnard Castle” and “eye test”.)

The coffee shops near my house are not only open but now have queues and more people are dressed in suits with their office security passes hanging from lanyards around their necks. Increasing numbers of restaurants are open for takeaways and have pop-up grocery shops out front doing a brisk trade. There’s more traffic. More building. More roadworks. And twice this week people have instinctively shaken my hand and nobody has panicked afterwards. At a grassroots level people are charting their own routes ahead – all because central government has lost its credibility.

One of the things that I hope sticks from these past months is the confidence that people have found to use the space just beyond their front door – especially when they have no garden, balcony or roof terrace to retreat to. With streets being quieter, people have placed deckchairs on their door steps, marked out the pavements for their kids to play hopscotch, set up paddling pools, found spaces to work from on their laptops, planted flowers and exercised. And I can confirm the claim of our fashion editor, Jamie Waters: there really are a lot of men skipping.

But how do we make the city even more alfresco this summer? In Zürich our café has benefited from a relaxing of city ordinances and has been able to take over more pavement space for outdoor tables and chairs so that patrons can be spaced out. I wish that was being encouraged in London – while leaving room for people to get past, of course. This week outdoor markets will be allowed to open again in parts of the UK. And so why not encourage every shop to set up outdoor stalls? Sadly, although many people might think that the Swiss are sticklers for the rules, I have a feeling that London councils can beat them at that trick. So I won’t get too excited yet about the possibilities of a great outdoors revival.

OK, so I have several younger, fitter neighbours who have also been swept up by the skipping craze. You hear the whizzing rope, see their focused faces and wonder – is it really that hard? I made a passing comment along these lines to one of them this week and, next thing, I found myself holding on to the nice leather skipping rope that his girlfriend had bought for him and was given skipping instructions. At first I was jumping too high; apparently my Michael Flatley impersonation was likely to be cardiac-arrest inducing. After a few more goes, however, I had finally got the cute, if mimsy, little jump sorted (imagine a rabbit that’s just had some great news: “the price of carrots has fallen to an all-time low”). I could feel my face reddening, my heart pounding; this was tough. I gave back the rope. Now that I have seen how modern masculinity has changed so much, I have invited the neighbour for a lads’ night of hopscotch and might even borrow my sister’s childhood Barbie so that we can do its hair together.

Talking of trying new things, while London awaits the easing of restrictions, colleagues have been trying out new looks because of the absence of their regular hairdressers. Some have gone number-one-setting shaven-headed, others have ever more flowing locks. There’s some experimental moustache cultivation happening too; it makes for a visually entertaining video conference call. By the time we all get back to the office I have a feeling that the team might resemble the cast of an amateur dramatic version of Pride and Prejudice, which unusually includes a few Buddhist monks and a couple of First World War fighter pilots. Might be fun.


Come together

Monocle is hosting its next event for readers in September. The one-day get together draws on our new radio interview series, [The Chiefs Edition}(, hosted by Tyler Brûlé, and will be a forum in which CEOs, chiefs of staff and chief risk officers take to the stage to explain what they believe should next happen in their sectors. Our editors will also be revealing their forecasts for everything from design to retail.

We’ll be meeting in St Moritz and there will be lots of opportunities to fill your lungs with fresh air, get a new perspective and chart a positive course over the mountains that lie ahead. Full details will be announced in the coming days but to register your interest please contact Hannah Grundy at


Living the dream

The architraves have been painted, the bathtub freshly caulked and, after much shelf-shifting, table-turning and cabinet-carrying, I think I’m ready to look at some other apartments (writes Tom Reynolds). Which is why I was delighted to receive a message telling me that the housing market is back open in the UK, with estate agents allowed to host viewings once again.

Full disclosure, I’m not actually planning a move but, after exhausting every option to make my place feel fresh, playing pretend has become a hobby of mine. Setting a reasonably unachievable budget and ploughing through postings, I’ve amassed volumes of research. But have our needs shifted over the past weeks? My current central location and minuscule balcony have been a great benefit but if I’ve learnt anything then it’s the value of a garden, a tight-knit community and a convenient high street. Maybe a private pool would be nice too; I’m after a dream apartment after all, so I can add what I want.


Safety campaign

On Monday, Joe and Jill Biden paid tribute to US military personnel, as is customary on Memorial Day in the US, with a wreath of white flowers at a war memorial in Wilmington, Delaware (writes Tomos Lewis). The Bidens’ appearance was notable not only because it marked the first time that the Democrats’ presumptive presidential nominee had been seen publicly since US lockdown measures began in mid-March – but also because the couple wore masks.

The black face coverings, paired, by Joe, with his go-to aviator sunglasses, were striking. The colour reflected an even more sombre moment than usual – the US coronavirus death toll passed 100,000 this week – and the masks seemed to be a statement of intent by the Bidens. It was as though they were saying to Americans: “We are in this with you; if you are being asked to cover your faces in public, we will too.”

For those Americans adjusting to wearing face coverings in public, there was another quality to Joe Biden’s mask that struck a chord: it didn’t appear to fit him. His nose seemed squashed beneath the taut black fabric, his ears wrenched forward by the straps. This opened Biden up to pot shots from Donald Trump and others. The president intimated this week that Biden’s mask was a symbol of weakness, a confirmation of frailty. Trump’s personal calculation on wearing a mask seems to be dictated by vanity. But even with his face revealed he is masking the new stark realities facing Americans.


Agnès B

French fashion designer Agnès B is a master at making wearable womenswear but she has a penchant for the arts too. Her gallery, La Fab, which hosts her 5,000-strong artwork collection, opened in Paris earlier this year. Here she reveals which films and books have recently captured her attention – and why she loves a long bath and late-night Instagram.

What news source do you wake up to? I love to stay quiet in my own mind when I wake up – I love to watch the spring, with the beautiful weather. I read Le Monde eventually. I like that newspaper, I have it delivered.

Coffee, tea or something pressed to go with headlines? I take a coffee with milk and a tartine of bread and butter. I love French bread.

How are you handling working from home? I create so many things: I take photos; I draw sometimes. I go through old pictures and books. It’s a very inspiring time, there are so many things to do.

Something from the FM dial or Spotify for your tunes? I put on records like my old Rolling Stones. I even know the scratches on the vinyl.

What’s that you’re humming in the shower? I phone from the bath and I take a long time. I like that moment very much.

Magazines for your weekend sofa-side stack? Sometimes I read M Le Monde and Vogue but I prefer books. I’m very interested in politics so I read [weekly French news magazine] L’Obs sometimes.

Bookshop you can’t wait to return to? I love the Café de Flore in St-Germain-des-Prés. I’ve spent all my life there. Next door is L’Écume des Pages, a very, very nice bookshop. It’s open late, so I love to go there in the evening.

Any cultural gems you have enjoyed now that you have more time? I watched Rocco and His Brothers with Alain Delon. I was very moved by watching it again. I have also read Le Consentement by Vanessa Springora – it’s a great book.

Sunday brunch routine? No, because I hate routine. Plus, I’m not sure what day it is. And we are not a very brunchy country so it’s not in our roots. I love it when I go to the UK though.

Do you still make an appointment to watch the nightly news? A favourite newsreader perhaps? We do – but I’m sad when I watch the news. As for the newsreader, I’m more of a butterfly I’m not faithful to one.

What’s on the airwaves before drifting off? I look at my Instagram. I can see that some people don’t go to bed very early; they are bored with nothing else to do at 02.00. You don’t feel alone.


Star turns

‘Space Force’, Netflix. When Donald Trump announced in 2018 that the US was launching a new celestial military branch, it was only a matter of time before his confused brief for the force became comedy fodder. Enter Steve Carell (pictured) and John Malkovich, playing a four-star general and scientist respectively, who begrudgingly team up to launch a defence agency. Space Force is set to reach new heights in comic writing and delivery.

‘Sorry for Your Trouble’, Richard Ford. Pulitzer prize-winner Richard Ford’s short-story collection paints a vivid set of portraits of displaced men who are caught up reflecting on the past. Written in precise and lyrical prose, Ford’s newest book is a beautiful set of meditations on the power of memory. There’s both love and regret on these pages.

‘Domesticated’, Sébastien Tellier. There’s a self-conscious, comedic and surreal touch to Sébastien Tellier’s persona. In this latest album, the French dandy chronicles and celebrates the mundane aspects of life, which led him to become domesticated (laundry baskets and house chores included). His music, however, remains as sultry and as sexy as ever. Whoever said that everyday life doesn’t call for high-pitched sax solos?


Snooze bulletin

The nightly childhood ritual of the bedtime story has found an adult audience during the pandemic, with legions of celebrity storytellers stepping up to lull us all to sleep. One of the first big names to proffer gentle, heartwarming tales for bedtime was country-music singer Dolly Parton. She was filmed tucked-up in her own bed – in full hair and make-up with reading glasses perched at the end of her nose – while dressed in a fetching set of comfy, figure-hugging teal pyjamas, printed with white crescent moons. Michelle Obama followed suit from her library and Hollywood actresses Amy Adams and Jennifer Garner are raising funds for charity by pairing celebrity readers with sleepy-eyed audiences.

When the real-life tales that we’re told day after day in press-conferences and daily briefings are so troubling, the bedtime story is a balm, particularly for people in isolation. Publisher Penguin Random House has donated dozens of its audio books to the UK’s hospital and prison-radio stations to ease the burden for those incarcerated in wards or cells during the pandemic.

Some museums, shuttered by the outbreak, are getting in on the act too. The New Museum in New York recently launched a bedtime audio series in which notable musicians and artists read letters, prose or passages from their favourite books. So if you’ve ever dreamed of having Iggy Pop perched by your bedside to usher you into the land of nod at the end of another day, now’s your chance.


No half measures

Sint Maarten (population: 40,000) is a constituent nation of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. It is not to be confused with Saint Martin (population: 37,000), the French overseas collectivity that occupies the other half of the same 88 sq km island in the northeast Caribbean (writes Louis Harnett O’Meara). Though the two territories share a single landmass, they operate with entirely different governments, languages and currencies, as was agreed in 1648 by the Kingdom of France and the Dutch Republic. The island technically marks the only place in the world where France shares a land border with the Netherlands.

“It’s a good selling point: a little bit of the Caribbean, a little bit of Europe,” says Gordon Snow, editor of Sint Maarten’s newspaper, The Daily Herald. A family-run business, the Herald has made its mark on the region with a 4,000 print run distributed across its home island as well as Sint Eustatius, Saint Kitts and Anguilla. However, as Sint Maarten’s economy is heavily dependent on tourism, Snow fears there might be choppy waters ahead now that many countries have imposed travel restrictions.

What’s the big story this week?
During the pandemic, the Dutch government has agreed to step in and give the Dutch Caribbean financial assistance. But you’re not just getting money; you’re getting money with conditions. And we have a history of governments that have not kept a good financial household. So the Dutch are really expecting us now to cut down, with cuts to our civil service, cuts to pay for parliamentarians and, we expect, cuts to much more. People are angry because they see it as a kind of neo-colonial intervention.

A favourite picture?
Sint Maarten’s private and public-sector labour unions called for a meeting with the government to clarify what cost-cutting measures were going to be needed as a condition of the Netherlands’ financial aid. We ran a photo of the letter they submitted collectively to the prime minister and his colleagues, along with their request for a meeting.

Do you have a favourite headline?
We ran one on the above subject: “Jacobs calls conditions for Dutch financial aid ‘indecent proposal’”. Our prime minister, Silveria Jacobs, is clearly not happy about the conditions offered. Movie buffs might recall Indecent Proposal, a 1993 US film in which a married couple’s relationship is put into turmoil by a stranger’s offer of $1m for the wife to spend the night with him.

What’s the next big event you’ll cover?
Next week is the official start of the hurricane season. We’re in the middle of a hurricane belt and the season lasts for about three months every year, so it’s always a cause for concern. Everybody’s looking towards the African coast to see if there are any storms developing that might come our way. Also next week we’ll see the third phase of relaxation measures as we come out of the lockdown. From then on we can go to the beach and enjoy playing sports again.


Should I reopen my restaurant?

This week’s guest on Monocle 24’s The Entrepreneurs, David Abrahamovitch (pictured), advises restaurateurs to think long and hard about how they go about reopening as restrictions ease. Abrahamovitch is CEO and founder of London-based hospitality group Grind, which has 11 cafés and restaurants across central London.

“As business owners we are all very keen to open again, it’s our natural instinct – but sometimes doing nothing is the best course of action,” he says, adding that it might be worth maximising on furlough schemes to help retain cash and staff while doing what you can to negotiate on rent. “Unless you are multi-site, with deep pockets and keen to ‘test and learn’, then opening too soon might do more harm than good and burn precious cash,” he says. “Coming out of lockdown will be a marathon, not a sprint.”

Abrahamovitch also warns that with physical distancing restrictions, the restaurants that already operate on very thin margins at the best of times will struggle to make ends meet. Now might be a good time for them to rethink their offering. “The reality is that things are going to take a while to get back to normal, so trimming complexity, streamlining and being super focused on what you do best will be very important.”

Get your questions in now for next week’s expert guest:


How do I write a letter?

As Mr Etiquette has grown weary of email, text messages and video-conference calls, he has yearned for an old, neglected friend: the pen. Secretly, Mr Etiquette has feared that, in the years since the advent of email, even he might have forgotten how to draft a good letter. (What should a cursive uppercase ‘G’ look like? How do you grip a pen with élan?) But these fears were unfounded. After dusting off the cobwebs, Mr Etiquette has since taken to letter writing with zeal, dispatching notes to former lovers, pen pals and distant aunts.

But how does one craft a letter in 2020? Start by remembering that it’s not a handwritten email. Also avoid the trite and formal openings, such as “I trust this finds you well” or “Per our last conversation”. All those exclamation marks peppering the page are unnecessary. And yes, without a spell check or the privilege of a backspace button, mistakes might happen. But remember the famous words of instructional painter Bob Ross: “We don’t make mistakes, we make happy accidents.” Just as when Mr Tiddly tips over the pot of ink and tracks his paw prints across the writing paper.


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