Saturday 22 August 2020 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Saturday. 22/8/2020

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Saturday


Banks for the memory

Every week in the UK brings news of another international bank, investment firm or City institution announcing that it will never require staff to come into work ever again (Schroders) or, if they do, will force them to go into quarantine for two weeks if they dare to travel with ordinary people on public transport (the Carlyle Group). The financial world is doing a very good job of implying that the pandemic is nothing to do with them and that, if you don’t mind, they’ll wait this one out. Meanwhile there are other businesses making headlines too – the ones that are laying off staff as retail crumbles and restaurant groups stutter.

These two stories are not unconnected. The chief execs running for the hills (or at least second homes in the Cotswolds) are turning their backs on myriad businesses, small and large, that in the past have taken care of their glass-tower employees via their shoe-repair shops, florists, cafés, car washes, hairdressers, cocktail bars and more.

In good times companies talk a lot about corporate social responsibility and how they support the community. But now? When times get tricky then it feels as though many of them are all too willing to wave bye-bye to all that. What’s most galling is that the deserters come across as being rather smug about their decisions and oddly proud of shifts that will leave so many small businesses to fend for themselves, or more likely fail. Clearly, social responsibility has its limits.

I’d recommend that, after their country walk, the Cotswolds bankers watch the Apple TV series Home. In particular the episode about the artist and activist Theaster Gates, whose home is the South Side of Chicago. We interviewed Gates for Monocle some years ago for a story on urban heroes. Since then he hasn’t paused and his legion of achievements is inspirational.

Gates grew up in this neighbourhood but the luck of having a good family, talent and an education that delivered meant that he could have left for a leafy outpost long ago. However, he had a commitment to place and wanted the South Side to have the things that you’d find in white neighbourhoods. But the South Side was in bad way. There was a so-called “white flight” postwar and as these residents left the inner city so did the resources and the jobs. The South Side fell into decay when people became nervous of the big, bad city.

Today, however, where other people see a long-derelict property, Gates sees a home, a library, a coffee shop, a meeting space, artists’ studios, even a sawmill. One of the buildings that he’s taken over and given new life? A bank. When things got difficult the executives closed down this important part of the community and, a few years ago, it was earmarked for demolition. Then Gates stepped in. Today it’s the Stony Island Arts Bank, which includes one of the most important archives of black culture.

And all this has happened because of one person’s unwillingness to run away from adversity. Gates has used his ability to bring people into buildings and make them feel safe and wanted. And though the Square Mile is not Chicago’s South Side, it needs more people who have the grit of a Gates. People who know that crowing about never having to go to work again has brutal consequences. People who understand that we only make communities when we sit together. And that Chicago, London, Paris et al deserve better than this.


Positive thought

Two things to tell you. We have a new book at the printers, right now. The Monocle Book of Gentle Living is all about buying things that last, cooking easy dishes, living in nurturing spaces, getting off social media, looking around and being nicer to one another. Be among the first to own it by visiting the Monocle Shop. Shipping is free.

Secondly we have launched our Digital Editions package, which is a simple way for subscribers to read the magazine on their phone or laptop. You can take out a digital-only subscription or have it all: print and online. The Digital Editions also come with a series of exclusive online city guides. Find out more and subscribe here.


Best foot forward

Kamala Harris formally accepted the Democratic party’s vice-presidential nomination on Wednesday evening during the first-ever national convention to be held virtually in a presidential election year (writes Tomos Lewis). One thing was missing from her address, however: a glimpse of what she was wearing on her feet. Harris has long chipped away at our notions of the kind of uniform that politicians are expected to wear. She’s done so, most noticeably, through her choice of footwear – a pair of classic Converse sneakers.

Harris has worn the shoes regularly in public, particularly on the stump during her own presidential run last year. Smart-casual can be a tricky look for a politician to pull off – the mix-and-match of formal clothing paired with more relaxed pieces often ends up making a politician look neither. Harris’s Converse, however, don’t appear to be a gimmick; she simply looks comfortable. And, as the election campaign gets underway in earnest, a comfortable pair of shoes will be invaluable, particularly for someone treading a path to the vice-presidency that no one like her has trodden before.


Emma Tucker

With a career that’s spanned the Financial Times, The Times and FT Weekend, Emma Tucker was appointed to the role of editor of The Sunday Times in January 2020; it was the first time the vaunted paper has had a female editor in more than a century. Here she tells us why she no longer listens to music from her youth and which jazz ensemble she hums in the shower. To hear more of her perspectives on media, join Emma and Monocle’s team of editors at our high-altitude summit – The Chiefs – in St Moritz this September.

What news source do you wake up to?
While still in bed, and in this order, emails – a quick skim through morning newsletters from The Times, Financial Times, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Quartz, The Atlantic, then The Times app, followed by Twitter. Once out of bed I switch between Times Radio and BBC Radio 4 while in the shower and getting dressed.

Coffee, tea or something pressed to go with headlines?
Tea, strong, with milk. I make a whole pot, just for me.

Something from the FM dial or Spotify for your tunes?
I made a vow about four years ago that I was not going to listen to music from my younger years any more. I was sick of it. So I signed up to Spotify Premium, asked my sons to put together a playlist and I've never looked back. It coincided with me taking up running much more avidly so it all came together. I cannot bear to listen to podcasts while running.

What’s that you’re humming in the shower?
“Juan Pablo” by Ezra Collective.

Five magazines for your weekend sofa-side stack?
Magazines? Apart from he Sunday Times Magazine and Style, I only read stuff on my phone.

Are you a subscriber or more of a newsstand browser?

Bookshop you can’t wait to return to?
Waterstones in Cheltenham. We go to the literature festival every year and Waterstones decamps to a tent on site. I always end up buying loads.

What’s the best thing you’ve watched of late and why?
I will bore on forever about how brilliant the French spy series The Bureau [Le Bureau des Légendes] is. I am jealous of anyone who hasn’t yet seen it.

Sunday brunch routine?
On a good day, tea in bed looking at the papers. On a bad day, fielding “issues”. Or I switch my phone off and read a novel –it’s the first day of my weekend. I also like to run around the local parks while the rest of the house sleeps and buy pastries from the local German bakery.

What papers and periodicals will be spread out on the dining room table?
The Sunday Times.

Do you still make an appointment to watch the nightly news?
More or less. Pretty much always the BBC News at 10. And Newsnight, if I can stay awake.

What’s on the airwaves before drifting off?


Home truths

‘John Was Trying to Contact Aliens’, Netflix. This does-what-it-says-on-the-tin documentary follows John Shepherd from North Michigan in his absurd 30-year-long pursuit to contact aliens by using radio equipment that he constructed in his home. Only when seeing the size and scale of the technology do viewers realise how wholeheartedly committed to the project that Shepherd was: the monitors of his set-up are so huge that they look like something from the set of a 1960s science-fiction film. This strangely absorbing documentary is evidence of the lengths that people will go to follow their ambitions.

‘Cumbia Siglo XXI’, Meridian Brothers. Rhythmic Colombian cumbia has formed the backbone of the Meridian Brothers’ musical style since the five-piece started playing together in Bogotá in 1998. The experimental bent of the group’s singer, composer and multi-instrumentalist, Eblis Álvarez, has always made the band’s take on age-old rhythms unpredictable. Their latest album is no exception. Drawing on influences as diverse as krautrock and reggaeton, the LP turns cumbia on its head.

‘All Men Want to Know’, Nina Bouraoui. It’s easy to understand why this much talked-about autobiographical novel dominated the bestsellers charts for so long in France. Now available in English, it slides between author Bouraoui’s childhood in her father’s home of Algeria; and Paris in the 1980s, which is where the family flees to after a violent attack on her French mother. As the teenage Bouraoui becomes an uncomfortable habitué of a lesbian bar, her awakening as a writer intertwines with her evolving sexual identity.


Small print

Palau, an island nation in the Western Pacific with a population of about 20,000, has the smallest capital in the world (writes Louis Harnett O’Meara). Set on Babeldaob, one of the Palauan archipelago’s 500 or so tropical islands, the ‘city’ of Ngerulmud is home to just 400 people. But what the nation’s seat of governance lacks in size, it makes up for in aspiration: the settlement features a scaled-down replica of Washington’s Capitol Building, and its legislature – featuring senate, house and president – is a model in miniature of US federal government.

“They copied it all exactly,” says Ongerung Kambes Kesolei, laughing. It’s a reflection of the country’s cultural allegiance to the US, he explains, born in part from its former status as a US territory and its long-standing military ties. As editor of Tia Belau (circulation: 1,000), Kesolei stresses that he has covered plenty of bureaucratic procedure in Ngerulmud. But he, his team of six, and some 11,000 other Palauans actually live in the city of Koror. From his office there, he tells Monocle about the happenings on these golden shores.

What’s the big the news this week?
Our top story concerns a US military vessel with more than 100 marines aboard. They came to repair an airfield on an outlying island and do some community work. But there’s been a lot of debate about why the ship was allowed to weigh anchor because Palau has been entirely virus-free and we have banned all international flights and cruises. It’s been seen that US soldiers have a high rate of infection in [the nearby island nation] Guam and people are concerned that they will bring the virus to our country.

Do you have a favourite image?
I attended one of our night markets a couple of weeks ago. Typically, they cater for tourists who come to scuba dive in our waters but this one has continued to operate even though nobody is visiting. Islanders and expats go to enjoy the food and listen to musicians from the different villages. I photographed a group of young Palauan dancers in traditional palm-leaf dresses and it came out beautifully. We ran it on page one.

What’s your down-page treat?
We have popular editorial cartoons illustrated by a Palauan guy. He studied art in college in the US and when he returned we encouraged him to draw them for us. His latest is one of congress looking disgruntled because the president wants to open the country back up but they’re in disagreement. There’s a feeling in the community here that our president is moving too soon.

What’s the next big event?
In Palau, baseball rules the sports world. Our championship games began last week and the first one drew a huge crowd of about 500 people. There are five games in the season and it looks as though it’s going to be a popular one.


Tell your story

For a certain set of entrepreneurs, the time and research that’s put into building a brand and creating a marquee offering might feel like travelling to the ends of the earth. But beyond making the best product possible, according to this week’s guest on Monocle 24’s The Entrepreneurs, the key to a company’s success lies in telling its story to the people who can help you sell it.

Tim Warrillow is the CEO of Fever-Tree, which grew out of a simple idea to create a better tonic water into a brand that took a huge market share from a global behemoth. Warrillow traversed the globe with co-founder Charles Rolls to source ingredients for their product. This journey included being held at the wrong end of a Kalashnikov while travelling to meet their future quinine supplier in Africa. “The way that we went about marketing is really built on that sort of ingredient storytelling because we didn’t have big budgets at all,” says Warrillow. Telling your story to anyone who will listen, he says, can lead to good press and greater brand interest.

“We spent an awful lot of time very early on talking to the bartending and mixology community and doing simple tastings,” says Warrillow. “Also chefs, who themselves go to great lengths to find ingredients. Storytelling has been essential for us not just in terms of explaining to the consumer about the product but actually getting people in the trade to talk about it. And now it’s a very important platform for us.”


Sleeper hit

You’d be forgiven for not dedicating much thought to sleepwear, instead opting to spend your money on clothing that strangers will see and judge you for – that’s the point of fashion, isn’t it? But if that old T-shirt you’ve been sleeping in has become frayed and filled with holes, it might be time to invest in pyjamas.

Earlier this summer, Tekla – the Copenhagen-based bedding, blanket and bathrobe label – unveiled its first sleepwear collection: a genderless range of slightly oversized pyjama tops, shorts and trousers. Constructed from 100 per cent organic cotton poplin, they’re soft to the touch and come in a range of pastel hues and vertical stripes.

While Tekla’s sleepwear may have been the perfect uniform for the past few months, when the rituals and comforts of home assumed new significance, they can also head out the door with you back into the real world. No, we wouldn’t recommend you don the entire head-to-toe ensemble on the street, but a pair of summery drawstring trousers – like Tekla’s – is perhaps the best get-up for some late-night alfresco dining. Nobody has to know that technically they’re pyjamas. And even if they do discover your secret, maybe “having just rolled out of bed” isn’t so much of an insult after all.


Do I give the delivery men a hand?

Alas, there’s a good reason why Mr Etiquette is not named Mr Muscles: these pencil arms aren’t designed to haul heavy furniture up multiple flights of stairs. As a result, Mr Etiquette has become accustomed to welcoming delivery men into his home and he’s perfected the art of being a gracious host, rather than an overbearing yet fleeting one.

While whipping up a tray of nibbles is unnecessary – a bit creepy, even – a cold glass of water or something equally refreshing goes a long way on a hot summer’s day. What about a tip? That depends on what part of the world you’re in (and whether the delivery men have left a hole in your wall or not). But what Mr Etiquette can tell you, with great certainty, is that nobody likes to be told how to do their job. Don’t hover. Don’t watch their every move. You’re better off keeping your eyes trained on Mr Tiddly anyway. He’s sharpening those claws, ready to dig into the new sofa at any moment.


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