A few columns ago, I mentioned the trend for giving dogs human names – I heard of a Dennis just this week. The dangers of this movement became clear last Saturday when I bumped into a friend walking her often-grumpy dog in the park with her neighbour. I mentioned to her that it was good to see Rufus behaving so well and clearly in a good mood for once. The neighbour jumped in with, “Yes, Brian is very happy today.” Clouds parted: Rufus is the son who works in banking; Brian is the dog. This is a friend I often see when we are both with our hounds and, looking back, I think I flipped the two names in my mind many months ago but my confusion had just been patiently ignored. Thankfully, I didn’t ask if I could give Rufus a stroke.
But I have form on this. We have a nice DIY man who fixes things in the house. He is called Elder but the name wouldn’t stick so I used to think of him as Pliny the Elder to aid my recall. How the name of a Roman philosopher was supposed to help I am not sure but it did at first. Of course, I then suddenly started calling him Pliny – as in Pliny the painter. He looked bemused and after that I avoided any mention of his name for some months.
Tom, our head of radio, shows us his young son’s Christmas wishlist, which includes the modest (cake) and the far more ambitious (snow leopard). Tom has suggested that a snow leopard might need quite a lot of attention but his son is confident that it can live in his bedroom. But who else would have such wonderful present demands – an oil-rich potentate? If Tom did give way and get the snow leopard, it would certainly trump all the Monocle dogs. Although it might snack on them too.
The cultural challenges of moving to another country are well documented. Well, perhaps not this one. A friend has just moved back from New York to London with his girlfriend. Over drinks he mentions that he has a problem with his ankle and I presume that this is a consequence of his determined running habit. Not so: it turns out that for the first time in their lives they are living in a house, not an apartment, and one that has a lot of stairs. Both of them have been taking numerous tumbles, on one occasion surfing all the way down to the basement after a bad trip. Hence the hobble.
I have just lost my wallet twice in a matter of weeks. The first time it arrived back at Monocle in an envelope with no note and all intact. The second time I left it in an Uber. The driver brought it back and refused to take any money by way of thanks. People, it turns out, are very good. But the social experiment needs to end there. Otherwise there will be no Christmas gifts under the tree.
And finally. Well, the most important bit. Happy Christmas from everyone at Monocle. What a year – but here’s hoping that you have a fun time, some rest and time to recharge.
The first time I met my partner’s nonna (writes Ed Stocker), a typical Venetian dish was on the menu: lesso. It is, put simply, boiled meat. That day the meat in question was beef tongue, which had taken on a grey pallor due to all the stewing, and I had to force it down while smiling through my teeth. Its one saving grace was the pearà, a peppery bread sauce, that came with it.
This year, as I experience my first Christmas in Italy, I’m learning a few things. I’m told that Christmas Eve is all about fish and Christmas Day might well see a reappearance of lesso (here’s hoping it won’t be tongue again). There’s also talk that the lone Englishman may contribute and everyone seems really keen on this concept of a “roast” – especially beef. I’ve just about managed to explain what a Yorkshire pudding is (my Italian is improving) but I haven’t quite had the heart to explain that not many people in the UK eat it over Christmas. Procuring a turkey – not to local tastes, I’m sure – might be one step too far.
Gaudy, colourful and always replete with images of snowmen, strings of lights, wintry landscapes or other yuletide totems, the Christmas jumper has become a fixture at this time of year (writes Tomos Lewis). In the US their debut came in the 1950s, when singers such as Dean Martin and Val Doonican crooned their Christmas classics on television wearing what were then known as “jingle bell sweaters”.
To many, they are among the tackier trinkets of the Christmas period and, in some cases, represent the excesses of fast fashion. To others they are a heartwarming sign that the holidays are here. They’re big business too: fashion houses, media franchises and individual celebrities have all jumped on the bandwagon in recent years with their own designs. They often represent a prescription of festive fun – via office parties, festive pub crawls and charity Christmas-jumper days at schools and workplaces – but the appetite for them remains strong, despite many of those forums being out of bounds this year. So if the holidays feel different this year, we might be forgiven for donning this sartorial guilty pleasure. If you do, be sure to wear it – figuratively or literally – with bells on.
Born in Taranaki on New Zealand’s North Island, Lucy Hockings’ talent for journalism eventually led her to London, where she now works for the BBC. For the past 10 years, she has served as lead presenter for the organisation’s world news, a position that’s seen her anchor coverage for almost every major event in that time, from tsunamis in Asia to the US’s 2020 election. She has also interviewed prime ministers and royalty. Here she runs us through how she unwinds with the help of a petite Portuguese vineyard, a good romcom and a pavlova.
What news source do you wake up to?
Newsday on the BBC World Service. It provides me with a snapshot of what’s happening around the world.
Coffee, tea or something pressed to go with headlines?
Definitely coffee. We’re currently subscribed to Volcano Coffee Works. This month’s delivery came with beans from a carbon-neutral farm in Costa Rica: notes of lemon, maple syrup and vanilla.
What have you been working on lately?
I’m working on developing an ancient quinta [agricultural estate] in Portugal’s Alto Alentejo. We found a wine press made from Roman-era stones and we’re developing a small biodynamic vineyard. The property had its own grape variety and we’re exploring how best to bring it back to life.
Something from the FM dial or Spotify for your tunes?
We all like BBC 6 Music in our house but Spotify tends to take precedence.
What’s that you’re humming in the shower?
I’m ashamed to admit it’s KSI’s Really Love, featuring Craig David. I have tweeny kids...
Five magazines for your weekend sofa-side stack?
The Gentlewoman, Noble Rot, The Sunday Times Magazine, The Economist and The Hackney Citizen, a well-written, beautifully conceived local paper that fantastically represents my community. It also has an amazing review section that features a resident food historian.
Newspaper that you turn to?
The staples: The Guardian, The Times, The New York Times. I also love The Atlantic – Ed Yong’s coronavirus coverage has been exceptional.
Broadway Bookshop on Broadway Market. It’s not big but the collection of books is wonderfully curated. I always come away with something new and unexpected.
Is that a podcast in your ear?
I recently discovered The Briefing Room with David Aaronovitch and it’s become a must-listen. And Psycomedy with Nathan Cassidy – he talks to stand-up comedians about the psychology of their craft. Really fascinating.
What’s the best thing you’ve watched on TV recently?
Without a doubt it’s Schitt’s Creek – how did I not know about this series before all those Emmys? Catherine O’Hara is my favourite person on television.
Who’s your cultural obsession?
Phoebe Waller-Bridge. She’s so ferociously talented and the characters she’s given us are so complex and brilliant.
And what’s your movie genre of choice?
If I’m completely honest, romcoms. Any era, any language, any time.
What’s your favourite Christmas tradition?
As a British-cum-Canadian-cum-Kiwi family, there are a lot of traditions to honour. But if I was to narrow it down to three food-related things it would be ham glazed with maple syrup on Christmas Eve, a multi-bird roast for Christmas dinner – the kids love the notion of birds stuffed inside birds – and a classic New Zealand pavlova for dessert.
What’s on the speakers before drifting off?
My husband’s new album About Land. He’s part of Mira Pardelha, a Portuguese-Canadian collective. It’s gorgeous.
‘Olga’, Bernhard Schlink. This story of a Prussian orphan who falls in love with an aristocrat at the turn of the 20th century is as much a tale of a troublesome relationship as it is of Germany’s history through wars, colonial invasions and adventurous expeditions. These landmark events are just as important as the characters’ inner lives and the filters through which they view reality.
‘Pandora’s Jar: Women in the Greek Myths’, Natalie Haynes. In an insightful retelling of age-old Greek myths, classicist Natalie Haynes focuses on the women whose complex characters and epic stories are not as well known as their male counterparts. This is no earnest, scholarly tome, however; it’s a funny and breezy book, and beautifully bound at that.
‘Twelve Nights’, Urs Faes. A short, sharp novella, replete with the bitter cold of winter and the intensity of emotion that’s a hallmark of the holiday period, this is Swiss author Faes’s first title to be translated into English. We’re on the trail with Manfred as he travels through the snowy Black Forest to his childhood home, while confronting the memories of his past.
One of the inumerable places dubbed the “Paris of the North”, Tromsø is among the last patches of civilisation in Norway en route to the North Pole. The city of 65,000 has gained a reputation for good music, food and theatre. And, of course, a thriving print culture. In July we spoke to Stig Jakobsen, who was then editor of the town’s newspaper, iTromsø. Stewardship of the daily has since passed on to Trond Haakensen, who has presided over a leap in readership during 2020 and maintained a hefty subscriber base of about 8,000. He tells us what he is expecting to make the news over Christmas and how deep the snow gets in his backyard (hint: very).
Best Christmas story so far?
Winter in Tromsø means two months without a glimpse of sunshine. It feels even darker this year because of the pandemic. That’s why the best story is about our Christmas lights – the city has strung more than ever across our streets. It lightens things up a bit when you walk through town, in the literal and the figurative sense.
How’s the paper doing?
Quite well, considering. Income from advertisements might be a little slower than usual but people are reading the paper more than ever. Two thirds of our readers are digital subscribers and the online traffic has been high, which is very satisfying. People in Tromsø are keen to read more local news, particularly in relation to the virus.
Any polar expeditions on the agenda?
Well, we live above the Arctic Circle, so technically we’re in the Arctic. But there’s quite a way to go before you can get to the North Pole, even for people from Tromsø. So I think that our journalists and I will have to stick to the snow here in our gardens – it comes in December and lasts until May. The snow-depth record in Tromsø? 240cm.
Ponchos, worn today by everyone from cyclists in London to fashion-savvy crowds in Tokyo, have their roots in South America, where they have remained a wardrobe staple for thousands of years. As such, local knowhow when it comes to their making remains high. It’s that expertise that UK-based brand Aessai is tapping into, a move that’s allowed it to focus on a sustainable and transparent chain of supply.
Led by Argentinian designer Rebecca Kramer, Aessai is partnering with South American communities and female craft collectives to produce handsome, hand-spun ponchos, shawls and scarfs in merino and alpaca wools. The result? Simple, timeless garments, made well – and the perfect gift for a loved one to keep cosy in this winter.
At Christmas it might seem obvious that bigger is better. It is the season for excess: more people, more music, more chatter, more fun. But over the 2020 festive season, Mr Etiquette is facing, for the first time in his life, a Christmas spent with a group of people he can count on one hand. But perhaps (whisper it) that’s not such a bad thing.
This year, less is more. Christmas doesn’t always have to be marked by a big bonanza and, during trying times, that’s probably not appropriate anyway. Instead, it represents a good opportunity to regroup, relax and enjoy things being a little lower-key than usual. It has been too long since many of us saw our families; now is the time to focus on shoring up ties with our nearest and dearest. That includes the Tiddly clan too, of course.