Saturday 14 November 2020 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Saturday. 14/11/2020

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Saturday


Exercising caution

The first time that London went into lockdown, spring came to the rescue. Skies were a soothing blue for day after day; even the temperature was higher than usual for the season. It meant that, with gyms closed, people took to using skipping ropes in the street, hanging from trees like fruit bats while stretching their backs, and dragging dumbbells to the park to do routines that deserved an Olympic category all of their own. This time – London is 10 days into a perhaps four-week gym-free stint – it’s different. It’s cold, it’s wet and there is no joyful skipping in the streets.

It also means that my yoga class has gone online and, last Saturday, I conceded defeat and joined in. I live in a small house. With a dog. The limitations of this setup soon became clear. Following one wobbly move, my foot fell to the floor, clipping the dog’s drinking water, which resulted in a puddle that coursed across my mat leaving it as slippery as an ice rink. And during the hour-long session the dog variously brought me a limbless teddy bear, a squeaking reindeer that looks as though it’s been hit by a truck, a stolen sock and what was once a happy caterpillar but now resembles someone’s dismembered intestines, and dropped them all at my feet hoping at least for a game of tug. It was when the yoga teacher asked me to mute the mic as the dog was disturbing the class that home yoga lost some of its appeal and my technical skills were once again revealed to be lacking.

That’s why, like lots of Londoners who really should know better and whose knees deserve more respect, I have welcomed back running’s sweaty embrace. In truth, I only ran into its arms because my neighbour was about to start training for a half-marathon and seemed happy to have someone older and less fit to accompany him for the early stages. I understand – it’s always useful to have a doddery sidekick hanging around if you need your self-confidence boosted.

Running, I am told, is spiritual, a time to think, an activity that leaves you feeling connected to nature, to the city. Maybe. After week one, I see it as being more about surprising chafing and a fear of inclines.

OK, there are some good things. For starters, our route takes us down to the Thames where we cross the Millennium Footbridge. That storied view downriver towards Tower Bridge catches me every time. When London is shuttered, when the damp and dark have settled in, the city can feel small, oppressive even, but as you cross the river on foot, you see that vista and know why this is your home. The only problem is that most of London seems to have arrived at the running party long before me and these riverside routes are packed with people darting along in snazzy running gear without the decency to look even a little red in the face.

Another good thing is pace. On our first run we headed off at a far too ambitious clip and for the final kilometre my thoughts were less spiritual and more along the lines of, “Would it be really bad if I got a cab?” Since then, however, we have found a rhythm that has allowed us to both go further and somehow faster, and I have stopped giving longing glances at passing taxis for hire. And perhaps that’s what this whole year has been about – finding a pace that works, putting one foot in front of another, building up some stamina, finding some untapped reserves. And chafing.

Image: Getty Images


Cap in hand

In normal times, there are few more explicit symbols of a candidate’s defeat in a US presidential election than the subsequent contents of discount racks at clothing and memorabilia shops across the country (writes Tomos Lewis). The price cuts wrought upon the T-shirts, ties, socks, keyrings, caps and other political trinkets that bear the losing candidate’s likeness are usually swift and deep. Some of these knicknacks become collectors’ items years down the line. Many, however, wend their way into charity shops or onto online auction sites, where they sit idle, or go for a song.

Donald Trump’s presidential curios will likely have a longer lifespan, however. His refusal to concede the election means that apparel bearing his slogans remains alive with what his supporters believe he represents, rather than being totems to a moment that has passed. And many of these items, such as Trump’s famous, bright-red “Make America Great Again” caps, have long stood for more than simply the man himself – they represent the last stand of an America that many of those who wear them believe is under attack. This year’s presidential merchandise, and its ongoing presence long after election day, might well be a reminder to both sides that the fight isn’t over. The sentiment for others, however, as they bid farewell to, and move on from, the 2020 race, is simpler: been there, done that, bin the T-shirt.

Image: Thomas Prior


Reigning champion

In the late summer of 2017, I paid a visit to the studios of Jeopardy! in Los Angeles for a Monocle report on the enduring appeal of game shows on US television (writes Tomos Lewis). In between the taping of episodes I met Alex Trebek, the show’s beloved Canadian-American host, whose death at 80 was announced last Sunday. “I think we’re a class act,” Trebek told me about the show that he had hosted since 1984. It was a career that garnered him a Guinness World Record in 2014 for the most episodes of a game show hosted by the same person – a title that remains his. “Think of all the turmoil that’s going on politically in the US,” he said. “There’s so much division, yet people of different backgrounds and with differing points of view can still sit down together and play Jeopardy!. Maybe we’re a calming influence in society today. I sure hope so.”

Trebek was treasured by so many for exactly that reason. Jeopardy! is a gentle, encyclopaedic celebration, night after night, of knowledge for knowledge’s own sake, and Trebek was its wise, kindly gatekeeper. Although streaming services and latterly lockdown measures have made solo viewers of many of us, glueing us passively to our own personal screens, Jeopardy! remains a welcome reminder that television can still be at its best when we’re watching it alongside someone else; a show most enjoyed when a household gathers around the box to play along. And even if the armchair competition is hard fought, being gentle, in victory or defeat, as Trebek was, is something still worth playing for.

Image: Annemarieke van Drimmelen


Glam up

UK singer-songwriter Alison Goldfrapp is one half of the musical duo that shares her surname. With seven studio albums since forming in 1999, Goldfrapp are best known for their electronic-pop sensibilities and working with the likes of John Grant. Here, Alison tells us how psychological thrillers influence her music and why you should have breakfast by candlelight.

What news source do you wake up to?
I wake up pretty early, usually about 05.00. I tend to start with various apps: BBC News, BBC World Service and The Guardian, and then later in the morning The Economist and The Atlantic. But I don’t read all of these every day. I can find the news overwhelming.

What have you been working on lately? And from where?
I take photos and draw, which I always like to do. I’m also making music again after a little break. It feels good to be getting back into it; it was a huge disappointment having to cancel shows earlier this year.

Coffee, tea or something pressed to go with the headlines?
When I wake I make herbal tea. At about 07.00 I’ll make a green juice, then move on to coffee when I’m ready to eat. I’m really into breakfast; it’s a ritual I take very seriously. When at home I light candles as it reminds me of breakfasts that I’ve had in Berlin and Copenhagen. It feels gentle and cosy to be in candlelight and makes winter mornings less glum. It can be a meditative and reflective experience if I’m on my own or fun when I’m with my partner [architect Peter Culley] or friends.

Something from the FM dial or Spotify for your tunes?
I listen to the radio some days, circulating between BBC Radio stations 3, 4 and 6 at home or in the car. I sometimes listen to KCRW in the evenings and I like Meet the Writers on Monocle 24 radio. I’ve been listening to Arca’s new album too.

Five magazines for your weekend sofa-side stack?
I read a lot online. For fashion I like Violet, Kunst, Puss Puss and Self Service magazine. In print I buy the photography magazine Foam. Book fairs are my favourite way to look at printed photography: the Los Angeles book fair Printed Matter, typically held at The Geffen Contemporary at Moca, is great fun and inspiring.

Favourite bookshop?
Donlon Books on Broadway Market is the best and cutest bookshop in London. It stocks fun, interesting and rare finds as well as specialising in art, photography and counter-culture books. They’re always super helpful there too.

Is that a podcast in your ear?
Bow Down: Women in Art is a great series hosted by Jennifer Higgie who does a 20-minute chat with a guest about a female artist they think deserves our attention. I recently chatted with Jennifer about the surrealist painter Leonora Carrington for an episode.

What’s the best thing you’ve watched on TV recently?
I May Destroy You, created by Michaela Coel. It was so refreshing to watch something this good and unique on television. I ended up getting addicted to Normal People, and when I was in bed recovering from coronavirus I really enjoyed The Queen’s Gambit.

And what’s your movie genre of choice?
I love going to the cinema regularly. Actually, I enjoy going on my own sometimes. Darker psychological thrillers have long been an influence on my music and I often like to see foreign films, partly because it’s a form of travelling. I often think in visual terms when I am setting a tone for new music, and so films that form an overall landscape of rich visuals, sounds and intentional atmospheres are a big attraction for me.



‘Lost Cat’, Mary Gaitskill. US author Mary Gaitskill made a name for herself in 1988 with her debut collection of caustic short stories, Bad Behavior. Since then, she’s written two further collections of fiction, several novels and a series of unflinching personal essays – of which Lost Cat is one. The short, sharp memoir is an impactful exploration of loss – of Gaitskill’s adopted tabby, her father and the two inner-city children she and her husband hosted for holidays in their house in upstate New York. And, yes, that’s her cat, Gattino, eyeing you up on the cover.

‘The Painter and the Thief’, Benjamin Ree. A Sundance festival winner, this film was initially conceived as no more than a 10-minute documentary about the improbable friendship that developed between Oslo-based Czech artist Barbora Kysilkova and the man who stole her paintings. But director Benjamin Ree soon realised that there was much more depth to this stranger-than-fiction story than an unusual meet-cute. Over a fully warranted feature-length running time, this remarkably moving film paints a detailed and intimate portrait of two good-natured but vulnerable individuals who find solace in their roles as artist and subject.

‘Baby Queen’, Medicine. South Africa-born, UK-based Baby Queen is young (as her pseudonym suggests) but she’s no beginner at pop – and not just because she started making music when she was 16. These are expertly catchy tunes that combine upbeat synths with just the right amount of grungy guitars for explosive results. There’s a lot of on-the-nose satire of online oddities, from dating to social-media posturing, but the result is far from trite. In fact it’s energising and, frankly, irresistible. Start with the 1990s vibes of “Want Me” and you won’t be disappointed.


General knowledge

If you ask an Indian living in the Gangetic Plains where Senapati is, they will probably correct you (writes Prasad Ramamurthy). Senapati means “general” in Hindi, they’ll tell you, and it’s not a physical place that you can visit. Yet a town of that name does indeed exist on India’s border with Myanmar in the remote northeastern state of Manipur. “We’re so neglected and removed from everywhere else that it’s taken more than 10 years for one tarmac road to be constructed here,” says Peter Adani, the young editor and founder of the Hills Hornbill Express. A four-page English newspaper that he started in 2011, the Express caters to the Nagas, a major ethnic group in the region. The big story here (apart from the pandemic, of course) is the prospect of a peace agreement in a decades-old civil war between armed Naga groups, the Indian government and other regional stakeholders. And although this dominates the news cycle in this rural outpost, Adani – who, at the brink of joining the Indian army switched the pistol for the pen – talks about migratory birds and translation faux pas.

What news is catching your readers’ attention this week? The need to protect the Amur falcon, a migratory bird, and the serious need to create awareness of the hunting and killing of wildlife. The Amur is one of the most hunted birds in Manipur. Tens of thousands come every year. Recently the regional authorities have passed orders making it an offence to target them.

A favourite story from a recent issue? I wouldn’t call it my favourite but we recently carried a story on the first-ever mute couple to get married in Senapati. Usually we report on so many serious issues, but this was such a sweet story. I decided to put it on the front page because such stories don’t often get reported. My idea was to encourage people with disabilities and to hopefully change mindsets.

What’s the biggest challenge when running a paper in a remote part of rural India? I spent yesterday apologising to a well-known author and the elders of her tribe after a work by her was inadvertently attributed to the district’s administrator. The tribal dialects are quite complicated so we employ experts to translate. One such individual assumed the author’s folklore feature was written by the district’s administrator and was meant to be translated and published. I’m not familiar with the language and didn’t realise the error until it was too late. Suffice to say it caused a huge stir and, apologies apart, I’ve had to publish a correction in full.

What’s the next big event on your radar? A peace accord, which has been in the works since 2015, should hopefully be packaged and delivered as a Christmas gift to the Naga people.

Image: Christie’s Images Limited


Moon shot

Victor Martin-Malburet was just 15 years old when he bought his first piece of space photography (writes Hester Underhill). It was a large-format portrait of Buzz Aldrin from 1969 (pictured, above left) as he stands on the surface of the moon with the Lunar Module reflected in his gold-plated visor. The photograph sparked Martin-Malburet’s teenage imagination and became the first of thousands of images that he would go on to amass over the following decades. Now almost 40, he has decided to part with his vast collection which is up for auction through Christie’s until 19 November.

“Part of his vision is that these photographs be recognised not just as historical documentation but also as works of art in their own right,” says James Hyslop, head of Christie’s Travel, Science and Natural History department. The 700 lots document every milestone since space exploration began: from Laika the dog perched in her satellite ready to become the first animal to orbit the Earth in 1957 (lot 7, from €1,650) to the ill-fated Apollo 1 crew in 1967 (lot 165, from €4,400; pictured, above right), and the Buzz Aldrin portrait (lot 349, from €6,600). “The whole narrative about putting a man on the moon is one of a really uplifting global achievement,” says Hyslop. “It’s a subject matter that I think will really appeal to people at this particular moment in time.”

Image: Reuters


The calm before the store

The anticipation surrounding Jil Sander’s new collaboration with Uniqlo had been swirling for months (writes Fiona Wilson). I’d treated myself generously to Sander’s first Uniqlo outing and, more than a decade on, I’m still wearing the spoils. This time, the tantalising lookbook confirmed that the new collection would once again offer classic Jil Sander at Uniqlo prices. As the Japanese launch day dawned, the queue at the Shibuya branch – my closest – soon stretched into the distance. By 09.00 on Thursday morning the Uniqlo website had crashed, as so many people were trying to buy, buy, buy. Once the doors opened around Japan, social media was set alight with videos of the mayhem. The scene in Nagoya was something else – a heaving crowd with baskets aloft all trying to get their hands on a puffa jacket or anything at all. Within hours, the online marketplace Mercari was filled with garments being sold on at inflated prices. I missed out entirely. I didn’t fancy standing in the queue and by the time the website was back up, most of the collection was already sold out. What a day for Uniqlo and for fashion retailers who wondered if people had lost their taste for shopping this year. Turns out they were just waiting for something they really wanted to buy.


How can I ask my neighbours to keep the noise down?

Before they were banned, Mr Etiquette’s neighbours were known to host a party or two, often getting a little too merry (and noisy) on school nights. And although one does enjoy a good soirée and have a reputation for being quite the dancer, Mr Etiquette feels that having his house shake like a discotheque at 03.00 on a Wednesday is a little unfair. So how did he raise the matter and ask the neighbours to tone things down a little? Well, through timing and tone, of course.

One the first such occasion, it’s best not to go over there in the heat of the moment. Showing up mid-party in your pyjamas, after everyone’s had a tipple, might be counterproductive; best to ride it out and have an extra coffee in the morning. Second, when you do speak, kill them with kindness. Say that you hope they had a good night but tell them firmly that your household couldn’t sleep, perhaps even mentioning who their behaviour impacted. State that you don’t want to stop them having fun and suggest a solution that might make all parties happier, such as turning music down by 22.00 on a weeknight. If that doesn’t work after the first few tries, you might have to move on to stronger measures: Mr Tiddly has no issue with leaving a message on their doorstep.


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