Saturday 31 October 2020 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Saturday. 31/10/2020

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Saturday


Breath of fresh air

  1. The radio studios at Midori House can have a magical quality. You head down from the busy editorial floor thinking about too many things, push open a heavy door and enter one of the studios, where the lighting is low and the walls are covered in sound-absorbing acoustic panels. Through a window you can see the engineer and producer but, once you have your headphones on, the world that you just left outside suddenly seems a long way away. It means that when a guest is on the line or, even better, there in front of you, you can connect with them in a way that sometimes floors you and at other times leaves you impressed with their knowledge, compassion, business skills or perhaps abilities in the kitchen.

This week alone I have spoken to people about Joe Biden, the crisis in Yemen and to the former mayor of Washington, Anthony Williams. I also spoke to Deirdre Mask, a former editor of the Harvard Law Review who’s originally from North Carolina and is now a resident of London. She has a new book out, The Address Book: What Street Addresses Reveal About Identity, Race, Wealth and Power. Now I might have also added a little sticker to say, “This book is fun too”.

Mask was just one of those guests who grabs your attention. Over 20 minutes she explained how Roman addresses worked, the history of roads named after Martin Luther King Jr, street systems in Japan, why the Nazis renamed streets – and then the postwar victors too – and how road names have become such an important issue for the Black Lives Matter movement in the US. (Mask is a woman of colour and she said that when she went house hunting in London she nearly took a place on Black Boy Lane but, luckily, somewhere better came up.) Anyway, she was engaging and clever, and I felt that my knowledge had been expanded by the time we said goodbye. And I will be passing on numerous facts from her book at dinner parties (well, when we can have them in London). Did you know that more than 40 per cent of the laws passed by New York City Council have been to change the names of streets?

  1. On calls this week with correspondents, and emails with contacts around the world, there have been many enquiries about how things are in London. Clearly the infection rate is concerning and on my cycle ride home I pass an increasing number of pubs, shops and offices that have been boarded up for good. But people are not giving in and there’s a lot happening in the city.

I just went to dinner at Pantechnicon, an ambitious new Japanese-cum-Nordic food-and-retail project in Belgravia, which was busy on a dark blustery night. I made my second visit to see 14 Cavendish Square, a glorious townhouse that has been taken back to its bones ahead of redevelopment but in the meantime acts as an exhibition space for extraordinary mid-century furniture from Swedish dealers Modernity (you need to make an appointment to view). Even determined restaurants have somehow rolled with the limited opening hours and the need to create outdoor seating, and last night I went to dinner in Soho, which was fun. I am also impressed by the number of people I meet who are starting or planning new enterprises here. People are making the most of every crack in the clouds to get ahead. There’s an admirable tenacity at play.

  1. This coming week the radio studios will be busy with coverage of the US elections, the results and the consequences. It feels as though a Biden victory is likely at this point but few seem happy to place a bet. What will be interesting, if the Democrat does win, is whether he can change the discourse, the tone of rhetoric that fills our days. We receive lots of emails from readers and listeners who make it clear that they come to us because we allow dissenting views to be aired, remain engaged, positive and hopeful, avoid hectoring and don’t follow a party line. But divisive US politics, the virus, Twitter and much more have made even the idea of an open debate or a discussion seem unforgivable to too many people. If this election can help us accept differing views yet know that common ground does exist, that would be what victory looks like this week.


Tomorrow’s world

Keen for a read about the year ahead? Monocle’s The Forecast is out on Thursday and is packed with reasons to be positive, as well as stories to inspire. Check out our Small Cities Survey, which signposts the best second-tier urban centres to live and work in; read about the African leaders to watch; and find key design pieces to invest in. We have advice on the future of industries ranging from aviation to architecture and acting – and we even investigate which nations are the best ones to spy for. Oh, and if you fancy trading in your job to be a rural innkeeper, we offer a few tricks of the trade. Order your copy here.


Political statements

If turnout for the US presidential election continues to break records then there’s one accessory that more Americans than ever before will be eligible to display: a sticker bearing the words “I Voted”. These small emblems are a staple of election days in the US and have become a kind of badge of honour for those who wear them – a celebratory totem to the act of voting that transcends partisan divides.

We can trace the first reported presence of the sticker back to a news item from Florida in 1982, which chronicled several shopkeepers offering discounts to customers who wore “I Voted” stickers in their shops on election day. Today the badges are ubiquitous and their designs differ. Stickers in Kentucky, Alabama and Tennessee are cut to resemble the states’ geographical silhouettes while Alaska’s, until recently, bore a celestial rendering of the Plough constellation, which appears on its flag. In Georgia the sticker takes the shape of the fruit that gave the Peach State its nickname. When New York changed its stickers in 2019, from a beloved design that riffed on the city’s famous subway map, it caused uproar.

In the closing days of a febrile election campaign, slogans jostle for attention and rallying cries lap over one another. But one simple phrase, emblazoned on little adhesive tabs across the county, will cut through all of that this year: “I Voted”. If you have too, wear the statement with pride.


Giving up the ghost

Spare a thought for would-be trick-or-treaters this Halloween as countries around the world ask them to stay at home. In Toronto, even the city’s more spirited residents, who had conjured up novel ways to ensure that young revellers could undertake their rounds as usual, have fallen foul of the city’s coronavirus restrictions. A Torontonian plumber was recently forced to withdraw his “candy chutes” (repurposed industrial water pipes, through which treats could be slid) in response to strict guidelines. It would seem that city officials have become the bogeymen of this year’s festivities. However, the “candy chute” idea has caught on in other Canadian cities, helping to raise money for charity in the process.

Elsewhere in North America, several municipal authorities – New York and Chicago among them – have issued specific trick-or-treat guidelines that include incorporating face coverings into costumes, dotting trails of goodies along driveways or garden paths, and making gloves mandatory when collecting treats. The gaggles of ghouls, witches and other fancy-dress spectres roaming the streets this year might be smaller than usual – but there’s no reason why a tricky Halloween can’t still be a treat.


Altered states

‘Deutschland 89’, Sundance TV. The third and final instalment of this beloved German espionage story, released in the US this week, catapults us into a momentous year for the GDR. Our protagonist, double agent Martin Rauch, is left to pick up the pieces of his organisation and career after the fall of the Berlin Wall. The world is changing and so are allegiances – spies have to move fast.

‘Apart’, Léon. For epic string sections laid over nostalgic melodies, look no further than the new record from Léon. The Swedish singer – real name Lotta Lindgren – created Apart under lockdown restrictions, when she would write songs at her kitchen table before cycling to her producer’s studio to record them. The album’s title and Léon’s honest, introspective songwriting reflect not only her recent breakup but the state of relations more broadly in this turbulent year.

‘Reality, and other Stories’, John Lanchester. UK journalist and novelist John Lanchester’s collection of short stories is all the more frightening for taking a sideways glance at technology through the lens of horror. But there’s a tongue-in-cheek, absurd aspect to it all too: people are trapped in reality shows and devices rebel against their masters in tales that are satirical and sharp.


High notes

Danish singer and songwriter Emmelie de Forest is best known for her Platinum-certified tune “Only Teardrops”, which won her the Eurovision Song Contest in 2013. After touring her most recent album last year, De Forest, like many musicians, has spent a large part of this year at home writing songs. From her base in Copenhagen she tells us why she stocks up on books when in London and how singing in the shower informs her recording process.

What news source do you wake up to?
I usually stay in bed for about half an hour and read all the latest news on my phone. I read the Huffpost and The Guardian apps, and Google News. I also love to see what Katie Couric and John Oliver are up to on Twitter.

Coffee, tea or something pressed to go with headlines?
I started out drinking only iced coffee in the summer but over lockdown I began drinking hot coffee every morning, with lots of oat milk and sugar. It’s best if my boyfriend makes me one on his espresso machine.

Something from the FM dial or Spotify for your tunes?
Always Spotify. I like to start somewhere and just get lost. Recently I’ve come across British-Filipino artist Beabadoobee and US singer Justine Skye. When I work out, I listen to the likes of [Spanish DJ] Anna and Rosalía. If it’s a Sunday morning it has to be Frank Sinatra or Billie Holiday.

What’s that you’re humming in the shower?
I usually hum some of my own music in the shower, especially if I’m in the process of writing a song. I will hum it to myself and try out some words for it. Everything just sounds so much nicer because of the acoustics. I wouldn’t say that I write a song in the shower but sometimes things fall into place when you sing them there.

Five magazines for your weekend sofa-side stack?
Porter and Vanity Fair for fashion; Uncut’s Ultimate Music Guide for an in-depth look at an artist or band – my favourite is the one about Kate Bush; All About History, as I’m a big history nerd; and Monocle, of course, which I discovered after I was interviewed for an article two years ago.

Newspaper that you turn to?
I read all my news on my phone. I’ll buy a paper if there’s a story I just have to read and it’s not online.

Favourite bookshop?
Foyles on Charing Cross Road in London. It has everything and I can spend hours in there. The prices are very cheap compared with Denmark so I always go to stock up on some new books whenever I visit London.

Is that a podcast in your ear?
I’m probably one of the only people in Copenhagen who doesn’t cycle, so I walk a lot and podcasts are perfect for that. I started listening to The Tim Ferriss Show a few years back and this year I’ve listened a lot to WTF with Marc Maron and David Tennant Does a Podcast With…

What’s the best thing that you’ve watched on TV recently?
Babylon Berlin. It’s a German TV series and all three seasons are so good. It takes place in Berlin between the two world wars and has everything from crime and love to politics and action.

Who’s your cultural obsession?
I have many. Most of them are dead, sadly – but not all of them. To name a few: Kurt Cobain, Sharon Tate, Vivien Leigh, Robert Redford, Marilyn Monroe, Kate Bush, Debbie Harry, Johannes Vermeer, Isabella de’ Medici, Anne Boleyn and Tupac.

Do you still make an appointment to watch the nightly news? A favourite newsreader perhaps?
I have to say that the Danish news shows can be a bit boring compared to British and American ones. I always loved the way that Jon Stewart could mix news, politics and humour.

What’s on the airwaves before drifting off?
It depends. I’ll either flip through boring stuff in my Instagram feed, listen to ASMR on YouTube, watch 5-Minute Crafts videos on Facebook, or read a chapter or two of whatever book I’m currently reading.


Living on the edge

John O’Groats is just about as far north as you can go in mainland Great Britain. Popular among tourists as the end destination of a tip-to-tip journey that begins at Land’s End, Cornwall, and runs for almost 1,500km across the UK, the village is home to about 300 souls. Its surrounding region, a county of the Scottish Highlands called Caithness, is one of the most sparsely populated areas of the UK.

Since 1836, the John O’Groat Journal has been keeping these scattered folk informed, circulating 4,000 copies every week. “Caithness attracts a diverse bunch,” says David Scott, a senior reporter for the newssheet, who also reports for the Journal’s sister paper, the Caithness Courier. Scott moved from Glasgow to Wick in Caithness, leaving behind a career producing documentary films for the likes of the BBC. He fell in love with the area’s dramatic vistas and rich characters. “This job isn’t exactly going to make me a rich man,” he says. “But I have the pleasure of doing something that I enjoy.”

What’s the big news this week?
We have the Castle of Mey here, which is owned by the Royal Family. Prince Charles, or the Duke of Rothesay as he’s known in Scotland, has a plan to open the castle to the public and turn it into a year-round attraction.

Do you have a favourite headline from a recent edition?
“Wick optician warns of Halloween sight-mare”. It’s to do with these coloured contact lenses that people have been using to look like demons, ghouls or vampires. They’ve been giving people pretty bad eye infections, according to one doctor.

Do you have a down-page treat?
I love animal stories. We had one recently: “Dachshund reunited with owner after seven days lost in Lairg forest”. I’m a great fan of sausage dogs, having had one myself in the past. I thought that there was no way this dog was going to survive – it’s only a wee thing. But it did, for seven full days in the freezing cold in a Highland forest. A lovely little story.

What’s the next big news?
Recently I wrote a piece on tree fellers accidentally destroying an osprey nest, which is illegal. But I’ve just had a phone call to say that it might still be there. I need to find some more information on this now...


Action plans

We experience the works of great architects when we visit their buildings (writes Nic Monisse). However, it’s rare to witness the design process. Judging by the state of the walls and tables in many architect’s studios, this procedure involves photographs, concept sketches, development drawings and scale models – all of them visual and artistic treats – and plenty of coffee.

Now, thanks to one of the world’s biggest arts organisations, design enthusiasts have the opportunity to pick up some of these rarefied pieces for display in their own home. Design Miami, as part of a fundraising initiative to help Beirut recover from the devastating blast in August, has set up an online sale of architectural paraphernalia. Norman Foster’s sketch of a school in Sierra Leone ($5,000; €4,300), a print of Bjarke Ingels Group’s Copenhill ($3,500; €3,000) and a sculpture (pictured) designed by Zaha Hadid ($3,500; €3,000) are among the 119 items listed.

All proceeds will go towards Beirut Urban Lab, a research organisation that has been documenting the city’s growth and development since 2006. Its knowledge and understanding will be key to helping rebuild the Lebanese capital’s infrastructure and public spaces. The sale, it seems, is kicking off a regenerative process, where profits from one architect’s drawings will help to commission another’s.


How do I make up for a rogue email?

As you know, Mr Etiquette delights in doling out advice. But recently he found himself dismounted from that high horse and seeking counsel for a sticky issue of his own. While emailing some colleagues, Mr E might have, inadvertently he insists, uttered an uncharacteristically ungenerous comment, which came to light when the chain was seen by an unintended recipient. Rumbled.

After being called out on his oversight, Mr E had to deploy a few blunt weapons that are grossly underused by PR agencies when their clients are caught out on Twitter or in the tabloids: a little sincerity, responsibility and, if the situation can bear it, maybe a little humour too. If you’re outed being ungracious, or downright rude, then it’s best to own up and apologise. And mean it. People are slow to seek forgiveness and quick on the defensive, which often makes things worse. Emails are impersonal and misunderstandings on such mediums are many, which is one reason why social media is such a maddeningly unforgiving place to be most of the time.

Remember that most people are usually kind and fair-minded. We all make mistakes: Mr Tiddly, for one, has yet to furnish us with evidence about who ate the goldfish and left those sooty paw prints on the daybed. Reassure people that no offence was intended and push on. The test is how you behave and prove yourself over time, not for every silly thing you’ve ever said. The internet more generally would be a nicer place if this stuck. But now to more pressing matters. Anything to confess, Mr Tiddly?


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