Saturday 20 June 2020 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Saturday. 20/6/2020

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Saturday


Some sunny day

This week Dame Vera Lynn died at the age of 103 (see Friday’s Monocle Minute). To anyone outside the UK, or those who are just too young to know, she was the singer whose hits encapsulated the fears and hopes of families and military personnel during the Second World War. And her song “We’ll Meet Again” has become woven into the British psyche, referenced again and again as a siren of optimism and of love and friendship put on hold – just for now, just until this sticky moment has passed. But she wasn’t just the “forces’ sweetheart”. If you grew up in the UK in the 1960s or 1970s, you would see her on chat shows or performing on Saturday night variety programmes (weekends were definitely not rocking on TV back then).

When you look back at your childhood – whenever that was – from an increasingly distant vantage point, you see it in sharper and sharper relief. My parents had listened to Vera Lynn in the moment – my dad as a soldier. Of course, as a kid, this all just seemed a lot of ancient history.

But now, as I look back on that world from here, I realise how much my childhood was shaped by events that happened to other people; my parents’ thrift (socks darned), self-sufficiency (they never had a credit card) and diet (there was always a corner of the garden left for growing vegetables). And that feeling is even sharper for many of my contemporaries in London whose family names tell of displacement, exile and terror as their families sought refuge in the Second World War.

The ways in which these tremors of history work was also made clear this week while binge-watching the documentary series Chasing the Moon, which charts the space race between the Soviet Union and the US, culminating in the first moon landing. The initial echo from history is that both nations’ space programmes were aided and shaped in the early years by scientists from Nazi Germany – in the US by Wernher von Braun; he made the Nasa programme what it was.

And then, when space exploration lost its lustre and tens of thousands of scientists and researchers were sent packing, many of them headed off to start the technology and computing firms that have left the US in pole position in this race ever since. Again, while this “space generation” knew that they were living through an historical gear shift, it would be another 20 or 30 years before they really understood how this had helped to mould them.

So trying to understand right now how this moment in history will shape people’s lives is tricky. Writing for Monocle, economist Daniel Kahneman gives an even earlier example of history’s aftershocks. “People who lived through the Great Depression were affected for the rest of their lives,” he writes. “It changed their attitudes to chance, to events, to control and to money. They were financially more cautious and less trusting of the future. They knew the unthinkable could happen. This pandemic is different to the Great Depression but it will not be forgotten quickly.”

Sorry kids, but it might only be as the grey hairs multiply that you will get to see what today’s history will do to you.

In last Saturday’s Weekend Edition, I wrote about the street singalong that happens every Thursday in my neighbourhood, led by William Spaulding, chorus director of the Royal Opera House. This week he was accompanied by a member of the chorus who, as a tribute to Vera Lynn, paused proceedings to sing “We’ll Meet Again”. Surrounded by the houses, with the tree canopy acting as a makeshift opera-house roof, her voice gave echo to the past. But as you looked around and saw kids dancing and people of every age and background listening and singing along (how do people in their twenties know the words?), she also gave voice to hopes for a better future – whatever that turns out to be.


The bark side

It’s late at night and, after weeks of hot weather, rain is bouncing off the pavement outside my flat (writes Genevieve Bates). I have to be up in six hours and want nothing more than to sink into bed. But the dog needs to be taken out. Except that it doesn’t because my dog isn’t real. We head out anyway. I try to exchange empathetic smiles with a fellow walker as he wrangles his umbrella, dog lead and poop bag but my lack of a visible canine companion is a barrier to camaraderie.

Like many whose travel plans are on hold, the teenage members of my household have decided that this summer is the perfect time to get a dog. I’ve always felt that there is a dog-shaped hole in our lives but my husband is firmly anti-pet and, without forthcoming vacations as an excuse, has told the kids that they can’t have a dog because they aren’t capable of looking after it. Hence our current charade. To prove him wrong, my son and daughter have committed to the meticulous care of imaginary dogs. We have a pack because we couldn’t agree on a hypothetical breed. Irish terriers shot to the top of my list when Ariel Childs from our sister agency Winkreative brought a charming hound called Lady Wicklow into the office a few months ago. My pragmatic daughter has determined that a teacup poodle would be best suited to apartment living; her brother wants a long-haired Alsatian named Rex, who although only a (pretend) puppy now is still quite an imaginary armful when we mime carrying him on Tube escalators. Luckily our nearest station has lift access for when fake Rex gets too big to hoist in our arms.

Have we gone completely barking? Skulking in the street at midnight while a made-up pet empties its fictional bladder does feel a bit ridiculous. But if that’s what it takes to be a supportive parent, well, it’s the leashed I can do.


Crown rules

These days, forward-thinking female royals are expected to be both stylish and socially aware, their every word and garment mercilessly scrutinised (writes Fiona Wilson). Japanese royals are relieved of that pressure by making almost no public utterances and sticking to a tried and trusted dress code that is so rigid that there is no possible danger of putting a foot wrong. The basic look for a public engagement is a high-necked frock, sensible mid-heeled shoes and a sturdy pillbox hat once unflatteringly compared to Magewappa (a traditional craft that involves bending wood with steam). The outfit is finished with white gloves and a single string of pearls.

This ultra-conservative style can’t be described as unfashionable given that it’s a look all of its own; neither copied nor particularly criticised. Age is irrelevant too: Princesses Mako and Kako – 28 and 25, respectively – stick to the dress code, as does their aunt, Empress Masako, who has fully embraced the royal uniform with high-collar jackets and brimless hats. The idea of the royals being ambassadors for Japanese fashion is a non-starter. Favouring one brand over another would be a diplomatic no-no and everything about the Japanese royals is as neutral as possible. Instead, they rely on a coterie of discreet designers such as Tae Ashida, whose late father, Jun, dressed the royals for years. Shoes are from Ginza Yoshinoya, founded in 1907, and hats from the salon of the late Akio Hirata (his daughter Ohko is now in charge).

The style standout is 85-year-old Michiko, now Empress Emerita and mother of the current Emperor, who has been an elegant fashion icon since she first appeared on the tennis courts of Karuizawa with Crown Prince Akihito in the 1950s. Her chic ensembles wowed then. Now her delicate hats and nipped-in jackets convey an independence of spirit that she could never express in words.


Mimi Aborowa

Ìrìn Journal is a travel magazine that focuses on Africa, one city at a time. The inaugural issue explored founder and creative director Mimi Aborowa’s own hometown of Lagos, with bright photography and stories on everything from art to fashion in the Nigerian city. In this interview, Aborowa reveals a few more select picks from the city (including its best bookshop) and shares her magazine reading list, too.

What news source do you wake up to?
I don’t wake up to the news per se; I will read it on Twitter on my phone. I subscribe to Bloomberg QuickTake, the Financial Times and a Nigerian newspaper called This Day.

Coffee, tea or something pressed to go with headlines?
Juice all the way. Sometimes I have hot water with lemon, ginger and honey.

What’s that you’re humming in the shower?
I don’t just sing; I perform. I’m always singing. Maybe something new by Wiz Khalifa.

Papers delivered or a trip down to the kiosk?
Newspapers get delivered to the office; we get the Nigerian titles Punch, This Day and Vanguard.

Five magazines for your weekend sofa-side stack?
My favourites are Fare, Apartamento and, obviously, Monocle. Then some new ones I’ve discovered are Oath, an African magazine featuring African photographers and telling stories from the continent, and Fifty Grande, which focuses on travel and food around the US.

Are you a subscriber or more of a newsstand browser?
I’m very visually led; I’m a cover junkie. So I’ll see what’s popping out to me, then browse and mostly buy new things.

Favourite bookshop?
In Lagos, the Jazzhole is perfect. It’s a record shop, bookshop and café, where you can read different books with a cup of coffee. If in London, Magma.

What’s the best thing you’ve watched of late and why?
I started watching The Final Table, a food show on Netflix. Every episode focuses on a different country and chefs of different nationalities compete to show their interpretation of that cuisine.

Sunday brunch routine?
I have a list of new restaurants in Lagos to work my way through. Otherwise I’ll go back to Nok, which is my favourite. I’ll have pancakes, French toast, juice – everything.

Do you still make an appointment to watch the nightly news?
I don’t make an appointment but CNN is always on; it’s not a conscious effort.

What’s on the airwaves before drifting off?
I mostly listen to podcasts, maybe the I Said What I Said podcast, while the TV is making noise in the background.


Poetic justice

‘Mr Jones’, Agnieszka Holland. Polish director Agnieszka Holland is an expert at gutsy 20th-century historical reconstructions. In this film, a political thriller, she tackles the Holodomor, the 1930s Soviet-orchestrated famine in Ukraine, through the eyes of a Welsh journalist determined to get to the truth. His fearless reporting angers Moscow and is discredited back home. This parable about the importance and credibility of the news media resonates sharply today.

‘The Vanishing Half’, Brit Bennett. Born into a black family that has felt the full force of racist abuse, two identical twin sisters leave their home in 1950s Louisiana in Brit Bennett's second novel. Yet the lives they end up living differ greatly because of their attitudes to their heritage. Due to her lighter complexion, Stella decides to “pass as white”; her career and story quickly take a very sharp turn away from that of sister Desiree.

‘Patience’, Sondre Lerche. When Norway-born Sondre Lerche reached the end of a gruelling tour to support his energetic 2017 album Pleasure – he performed no less than 140 times in a year – he decided to slow down. He moved to Los Angeles, took up running and channelled his newfound calm into the ambient sounds of Patience, his new full-length LP. Its hushed single “Why Would I Let You Go” sets the tone for an album that’s easy to relax to.


First with the news

Through a newspaper as well as radio and television networks, Wawatay Communications Society has provided news for the Nishnawbe Aski Nation in northern Ontario since 1974. “Wawatay is a storied franchise,” says John Gagnon, CEO and publisher since 2014. “We came from just about nothing and built this up. It’s managed, administered, written, and published by First Nations.”

The monthly Wawatay News publishes not only in English but also Ojibway, Oji-Cree and Cree. Wawatay’s mandate is to preserve historic languages and report on First Nations communities and culture but the newspaper is outward looking too. “What we feel is really important is to bridge the gap between First Nations and Canadians,” says Gagnon. “In 200 years we’ve seldom sat down and broke bread so we’re trying to build a relationship.”

After learning that plenty of Europeans have developed an interest in First Nations culture, Wawatay is even exploring distributing their newspaper overseas. But for now, 6,000 copies of the monthly newspaper are sent to the 49 communities of Nishnawbe Aski Nation, as well as the region’s cities. Gagnon tells Monocle what’s making headlines.

What’s the big story?
The communities here are very vigilant about coronavirus. They’ve shut down any travel from the outside. The only plane coming in is for food and fuel. While coronavirus has mostly been under control, we have a new case in one of our communities: an 80-year-old gentleman. The virus could wipe out a community because there’s so much overcrowding [due to insufficient housing]. Basically, when we signed a treaty, the Canadian government said that they were going to take care of our healthcare, education and housing. But they didn’t keep their word. Somebody made a good point the other day: the Canadian government found CA$45bn (€29.4bn) in a matter of days during this pandemic but for 30 years they haven’t been able to fix the problems in our communities.

A favourite headline?
I hate to toot my own horn but I write publisher’s notes. One is: “The imposition of law compliance versus self-governance and sovereignty.” Because airways and radio were not considered when Treaty 9 [the Canadian government’s accord with First Nation communities] was signed, we never gave up our airspace rights. As a sovereign nation that never gave up our airspace rights, we should be compensated by the telecommunications and airlines that use our airspace. We should also have our own broadcasting regulation body that looks after radio frequencies. It would create employment, which is something we direly need. But it’s also another means of looking after our own infrastructure, which gives us purpose.

What’s the next big event?
We have Indigenous Day on 21 June. We’ll have a whole section on what our communities are doing. Who knows what this year will be like because of lockdowns but usually our elders will cook goose over a fire and teach hunting and other skills. It’s all cultural-based: dancing, singing and having fun; getting your feet into the earth and knowing that we’re part of it.


No time to rest

Lockdowns and the brutal economic picture they have created have led a lot of tough conversations. And just as companies have used this time as an opportunity to re-engage with their clients and customers, and to reframe their mission statements, the momentum in recent weeks towards ending systemic racism has made those conversations even more immediate.

On this week’s episode of The Entrepreneurs, guest Nils Leonard (pictured), founder of London-based branding agency Uncommon Creative Studio, says that as companies reset their course, they should remember why they started – especially for those who work in creative industries that help to formulate brands and guide communication. “Creatives are dealers in hope,” says Leonard. “They are in the business every day of seeing something that isn’t there and believing that one day it might exist. Our job as leaders is to set this creativity free in everyone around us, to bring hope to bear in a time when it’s easy to get caught up in fear and doubt.”

Leonard adds that this is much easier to do in person. “It is a cunning facet of this virus that it exposes the true human weakness: our inability to be alone,” he says. “Isolation is kryptonite to progress, so make calls, stay noisy and refuse to let a colleague be just a name in Helvetica on a video chat. As we retreat from this virus, remember not to hide from life. Lethargy, cynicism and doubt are viruses too. Remember that the quickest route to failure is never to start.”

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


Trunk show

Whether it’s for a dip in the Med or morning laps at your local pool, it’s time to pick up some new swimmers now that the weather is heating up (writes Jamie Waters). Where to turn for something different? You could start with Round Rivers, a new label from Zürich. Founder Peter Hornung collects plastic bottles from the Limmat river before sending them to a Swiss recycling plant to be processed and then to northern Italy where they’re spun into maillots, bikinis and trunks in navy, black or cherry red. The Venetian women’s brand Lido also pursues a restrained aesthetic, creating dreamy one-pieces in sun-faded shades of terracotta and sage green, while up-and-coming Rio de Janeiro label Haight makes high-waisted bikinis – plus beach-ready accoutrements such as flowing dresses – in Brazilian workshops.

For smart swim shorts ideal for sunset strolls, you can’t go past Monaco’s Beach Club Apparel; the brand’s chunky blue-and-white striped Riviera design is very The Talented Mr Ripley. As for swimming briefs? They might be risqué to some but they help you swim faster – and, much more importantly, leave you with good tan lines. Swedish underwear brand CDLP (which is expanding into sportswear) or Aussie brand Commas should do the trick.


Can I play music when picnicking in the park?

It’s a sunny Saturday and Mr Etiquette is planning on spending it in his favourite park with a modest picnic of cheese and crackers and expensive Spanish sardines (only the finest for Mr Tiddly). One item that hasn’t made it into the basket? The portable speaker.

You see, the park has its own peaceful soundtrack: birds singing, leaves rustling and people giggling and gabbing. Like most things, there’s a time and place for loud music – a discotheque at 02.00, for instance – and blasting it across the park gives people no option but to listen or leave; a tad unfair in Mr Etiquette’s books.

But that doesn’t mean that it can’t be played. With physical-distancing laws on the out, might we suggest switching to a 2-metre social-listening rule instead? Play your music but keep it to a level where it can’t be heard beyond your immediate group of friends. We’d much rather hear laughing than music blasting, even if all the jokes do have to be explained to Mr Tiddly.


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