Saturday 13 June 2020 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Saturday. 13/6/2020

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Saturday


Take to the streets

Well, that proved me wrong (certainly not a first). I admit it, I was sceptical that my home city of London would prove to be nimble and generous when it came to fresh ideas about getting its incredible restaurant scene not only back in business but making tasty profits too. However, there are lots of signs that the city could be on the cusp of doing some great things. Landlords and restaurateurs in Soho, for example, are campaigning hard for the neighbourhood to be temporarily pedestrianised this summer to allow restaurants to head outdoors with their tables and chairs. And I hope that this happens.

Sure, we don’t have the most predictable weather – but a cold trickle of rain running down the back is rarely enough to put a Londoner off their veggie burger. Not only is this a chance for restaurants to obey the physical-distancing rules and still have a buoyant business, it’s the sort of spontaneous urbanism that makes people love their city afresh.

A couple of years ago we reported on the story of Liberty Bridge in Budapest. When traffic was stopped from using the crossing because of roadworks, people spied an opportunity and took over the space. They came to drink beer, play music, do yoga. It was a pop-up strip of public realm that came free of charge to the city. People were excited about it. The authorities were initially a little unhappy about the land grab but now, every summer, the bridge is closed during weekends in July so that people can come linger – beer in hand.

It’s a project that I’ve talked about at urbanist conferences – when I’ve been wearing my presenter’s hat (jaunty, fetching, with a big feather) for M24’s The Urbanist, and it’s always the idea that people love the most because it’s simple, easy to replicate and gratis.

And this is what London – and numerous other cities – have as a trick up their mayoral sleeves this summer: the chance to hand over some powers, to loosen the restraints on planning and trust people to do good. Yes, there are fire and safety regulations to keep in place but some spontaneous, temporary, experimental urbanism might not only save the hospitality sector but it could take away the pain and loss of the pandemic and leave people looking back on 2020 as the year when their city was at its very best. And a lot of people will be in a physically distanced queue to toast that.

I remember being about 10 years old, in a rehearsal for the school’s Christmas show. I was in the chorus and the teacher started asking for various rows to fall silent, then for various children to keep schtum. Suddenly I was the only person singing and I just knew that this was going to be the kids’ version of being plucked out of the obscurity of the chorus line to secure a starring role. Except that the teacher said, “Andrew, could you sing a little quieter, please.” My singing career has never recovered. I am the only person I know to have won £50 for the worst voice of the night at a restaurant opening and my karaoke appearances require a duet partner capable of drowning me out.

But on a street in my neighbourhood a man called William Spaulding has been leading alfresco singalongs on Thursday evenings. At first they were a prelude to the clapping for National Health Service staff (Great Ormond Street children’s hospital is mere metres away) but even though the clapping has now stopped, the singing has continued. You get 30 minutes of belters.

Mr Spaulding is the chorus director at the Royal Opera House and this week some of its singers came to join in (or rather lead the whole affair). I sang along and videoed snippets on my phone. I played them back afterwards and was slightly horrified at the singer who was clearly ruining proceedings. You should have heard what he did to “Hey Jude”. And “Somewhere Over The Rainbow”. I would promise to be a quieter presence next week but it’s an oddly cathartic moment. So sorry.


Thin off the ground

The CN Tower, whose famous silhouette has pin-pricked Toronto’s cityscape since it was opened in 1976, might be set to get some competition on the skyline (writes Tomos Lewis). Herzog & de Meuron, alongside the Canadian studio Quadrangle, has unveiled designs for Toronto’s first “pencil tower”: a slender, 87-storey mixed-use building, spearheaded by two Dutch developers, Kroonenberg Groep and ProWinko, and set to reach a height of 324 metres.

The city’s relationship with soaring, glassy towers has been mixed in recent years. Some claim that that building boom created an anonymous cityscape with a flat-pack urban silhouette as the city grew skywards. But many newer developments have aimed to buck that criticism: some with lower-rise projects and others with more interesting and varied street-level spaces worked into their plans.

Given that some high-profile developments have been cancelled during the city’s lockdown, the proposed tower, called 1200 Bay Street, is also a statement of intent that could result in other developers looking to the city’s skyline and dreaming big – well, tall and skinny at least.


Gold standard

Lisa Murkowski, the moderate Republican senator for Alaska, has drawn the ire of president Trump after stating that she is “struggling” over whether to support him in November’s election (writes Tomos Lewis). But has Trump picked a fight with the wrong person? The answer might lie in the glinting gold bracelet around Murkowski’s wrist, which she wears regularly in public. It is an understated totem of her own unconventional electoral history.

In 2010, Murkowski lost her bid for Alaska’s Republican senate nomination. Unfazed, she stood instead as a “write-in” candidate – that is when voters have to handwrite a candidate’s name onto the ballot paper. Write-in candidates rarely win elections – spelling mistakes and illegible handwriting result in many of those votes being disqualified. To help voters get the spelling right, Murkowski’s campaign produced hundreds of bright blue rubber bangles with her name embossed in big, blocky yellow letters for voters to wear into the polling booths. Murkowski won.

To mark that extraordinary victory, her husband presented her with a version of the bangle cast in metal and plated in gold. The bracelet is a symbol of how potent a grassroots campaign can be and how to energise and bring together a disparate group of voters, even if the political establishment is against you. Donald Trump should take a closer look at that bangle – it’s what electoral gold really looks like.


Nitin Sawhney

Musician Nitin Sawhney integrates influences from around the world in his eclectic, experimental compositions (writes Chiara Rimella). Whether working on TV and film soundtracks or developing his own forthcoming album, Immigrants, Sawhney has kept himself busy during lockdown in London. Here he shares a few recent cultural rediscoveries and reveals his favourite radio app.

What news source do you wake up to?
Normally it’s Associated Press, The Independent and The Guardian – but it can vary.

Coffee, tea or something pressed to go with headlines?
Coconut water or carrot juice – I stick to the healthy stuff.

How are you handling working from home?
It’s weird not touring but it’s great to be able to focus on the scores. Just before lockdown I managed to move the studio into my house. In a way, I’m back to how I used to make music in the ’90s. [My upcoming release, Immigrants] has got a “bedroom album” type of vibe; it’s a bit more personal and intimate.

Something from the FM dial or Spotify for your tunes?
I do use Spotify, I go on BBC 6 Music quite a lot and then I have an app called Radio Garden, which has stations from all around the world. You search anywhere on the planet and it will find a radio station from that area – be it China, Turkey or wherever you want.

What’s that you’re humming in the shower?
I might attempt some powerful, operatic Indian classical music or “Nessun Dorma” but normally it’s the “Baked Potato Song”.

Five magazines for your weekend sofa-side stack?
I read New Scientist every week – often cover to cover – The Economist, Sound on Sound, Music Week and Private Eye.

Bookshop you can’t wait to return to?
Waterstones in London’s Piccadilly. I love browsing across the different floors and walking around.

Is there any cultural gem you’ve rediscovered now that you have more time?
I watched Pather Panchali by Satyajit Ray again – and listened to the amazing score. I also revisited Breaking Bad. I liked seeing it again, it’s a great series.

What’s the best thing you’ve watched lately and why? I really liked Normal People – it had great emotional intelligence.

Sunday brunch routine?
In terms of eating, it will be avocado, poached eggs and salad. Then I exercise on the cross-trainer, I do weights, sometimes a bit of kickboxing and then I’ll practise the piano for about two or three hours.

Do you still make an appointment to watch the nightly news? A favourite newsreader perhaps?
I’ll normally watch the BBC’s 24-hour news channel. As for a newsreader, I’ll say Gavin Esler because he’s married to one of my band members.

What’s on the airwaves before drifting off?
Normally Radio Garden: it’s really rewarding doing that. You find amazing gems from different countries and sometimes listen to a language that you don’t even understand. It makes you feel connected to different parts of the world.


Back in business

‘Da 5 Bloods’, Netflix. Spike Lee’s new film, released directly onto Netflix, goes on a journey with four black Vietnam-war veterans who return to the scene of battle half-a-century later. Theirs is not just a trip to come to terms with the past: they fly back to Ho Chi Minh City to unearth treasure and seek the remains of their beloved squad captain. In the process they end up revealing the scars that conflict inevitably causes – and reflecting on race.

‘Your Hero is Not Dead’, Westerman. London-based Will Westerman has long been one to watch and now he has finally released his debut album. Your Hero is Not Dead is a delight packed with artful songwriting that speaks as much to Westerman’s ’80s pop influences as his folky roots. The dreamlike ambience forms a graceful backdrop for his clear, melodic vocals: this is an album to accompany you through a long, lazy afternoon.

‘I Am An Island’, Tamsin Calidas. This poetic and powerful biography by Calidas chronicles the struggle that the author faced when she moved away from her West London home and relocated to a remote island in the Scottish Hebrides. Life in this wild context was far from easy but Calidas’s evocative writing reveals her fascination with the raw power of nature.


Skye plus

The West Highland Free Press has been covering news on the sparse, craggy terrain of Scotland’s northwest coast and western isles for almost 50 years (writes Louis Harnett O’Meara). Its identity is best summarised by its Scottish Gaelic slogan: “An tir, an cànan, ‘s na daoine” (“The land, the language, the people”). Published in English and Gaelic, the weekly paper has been at the vanguard of the Gaelic-language revival and follows an egalitarian, pro-Scottish slant in its coverage. In 2009 it claimed to be the first UK newssheet to divide ownership between its employees, who numbered 10 at the time.

Keith Mackenzie joined the paper in 2003 and though many of those original joint owners have since dispersed, he remained. Born on the Isle of Skye – an island with a population of 10,000, within the paper’s distribution area – his knowledge of local affairs has proved a blessing. Earlier this year he was promoted to the role of acting editor. During the pandemic, Mackenzie made the difficult decision to temporarily shift coverage online and has reduced the team to a skeleton crew of two. “We’re aiming to begin physical distribution again in the first week of August,” he says. “I’ve learned a lot by moving online but it’s not quite the same.”

What’s the big news this week?
We’ve been covering one story about a care home here called Home Farm. Ten of the residents there passed away after testing positive for coronavirus; there were more than 60 people there who tested positive. It’s had a huge impact on families and the community here and the story has made its way into the national news.

Do you have a favourite headline?
Recently the headlines haven’t been too much fun. I remember that we caused a bit of a stir with a story about Kanye West when he visited the Isle of Skye a few years back. Because he has quite a big ego, we thought it would be funny to downplay it a bit. We ran it on page 20 in a very small column. The headline was: “American man visits Skye”.

A recent down-page treat?
We ran a story this week about the ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum. He owns an estate here on the west coast and had plans to build a huge new house on it. But a neighbour of his property, Roddy MacLeod, led opposition to the building’s planning approval. He argued that it would overshadow his home. He won the case and the local council rejected the Sheikh’s proposal. It was a bit of a David and Goliath story.

What’s the next big event?
Well, hopefully the lifting of some restrictions. Tourism is important here and until that industry returns the economy is going to struggle. Schools in Scotland won’t come back until August. Supposedly they are planning on allowing groups of up to eight to meet inside the home at some stage soon, which people are looking forward to.


Understand your audience

With all of the upheaval in our world over recent months, businesses big and small have been forced into a period of reflection. And while the economic consequences for companies in many sectors have been harsh, a window of opportunity has opened to refocus the mission and speak frankly and openly with customers and clients.

On this weekend’s episode of Monocle 24’s The Entrepreneurs, Ariel Childs, the managing director of Monocle’s sister company, Winkreative, says that knowing your audience is essential when looking to drive new business. “This pandemic has been a shock to our global system,” says Childs. “And a shock is just that: a jolt that shakes you up and demands that your business or organisation reconsiders its purpose, what it does, and how it does it. But first you should understand who you do it for.”

Wink partners with leading customer-facing brands across aviation, automotive, finance and hospitality on messaging, strategy and brand story. Childs believes that just as Wink knows its clients through and through, companies in any sector need to read their audience. “We’ve been brought closer together,” she says. “And in some cases brands and businesses have used their communication effectively to deepen loyalty and build advocacy. But now is the time for brands to leverage this not only through messaging and talking to their audiences – but understanding them. To do that you need a two-way conversation. The most important work that a brand or business can do right now is to learn how the mindsets of its audiences have changed. Insight into your audience and creating value for them will be the key to your rebound strategy.”

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


Bright kids

A couple of years ago, Sydneysider Nik Robinson’s children were learning about the future of the environment at school (writes Jamie Waters). “Harry, who was seven at the time, asked me if there was anything we could do to help,” says Robinson. “He was deadly serious and truly believed it was within my power to do something to stop environmental waste. So at first I humoured him and thought about it but soon realised he was right. Maybe I could actually do something to help.”

And so the father and his two sons began work on Good Citizens, a brand that turns plastic PET bottles into natty sunglasses. They settled on sunnies because they wanted a single unit of whatever item they made to be created from a single plastic bottle. “We took a 600ml bottle, weighed it and thenset about finding a product that weighed a similar amount,”says Robinson.

Good Citizens works with a supplier in Melbourne that collects bottles from roadside recycling bins and turns them into flakes and pellets. In a Sydney factory, they’re then sculpted into shades that have a square or round frame in ocean-blue, dark-brown or “lemonade” hues. “We want to turn trash into good,” says Robinson.


Can I ask you to step back?

Many countries are seeing their physical-distancing rules crumble as they either get on top of the virus or decide to just live with it. But in other countries the rules are still there – in the UK, for instance, it’s still two metres, please – but people are just terrible at being observant. The young, the fit and the macho seem to be particularly forgetful or indifferent to the demands. And that’s their choice.

But while on a recent stroll we happened to see several older people being forced to scurry into the road or dive into a doorway as they attempted to dodge pram-pushing parents, young men lost in phone calls and all sorts of self-absorbed nitwits. Be respectful. Let those who feel at greater risk venture out in confidence. And if you are one of those feeling intimidated then, yes, say so. Although Mr Etiquette has long since given up on Mr Tiddly getting the distance message (thank goodness).


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