Saturday 17 April 2021 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Saturday. 17/4/2021

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Saturday


Points of pride

Being a royal correspondent never sounds like much of an ambition for a journalist – you get to write about a small group of people who would prefer never to talk to you (unless their hatred of their family has momentarily risen above their disdain for the media or they are in need of some urgent PR). Plus, everyone imagines that your house is full of commemorative dinky cups and saucers, and tea towels festooned with images of various jubilees, now-failed marriages and stern royal residences. Perhaps it is.

And if you attempt to have a bash at doing some critical reporting on the topic, you will soon be put in your place by your fellow royal commentators, whose ranks include those arch snobs who know every detail of palace protocol, or at least pretend to when invited on to US television shows. “Her Majesty is very fond of a Hobnob biscuit, which must be served on a plate from the tea service given to Queen Victoria by the Archbishop of Lima in 1897. If no Hobnobs can be found, you may serve her a Curly Wurly.” Today the whole of this Debrett’s-wielding mob will be clucking away on every channel as Prince Philip’s funeral service takes place at St George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle.

Yet, while we mustn’t get too giddy here – there are plenty of people who couldn’t stand the man and can’t tolerate any of this royal malarkey – there is another fascinating story in play here today. The recent warm, generous coverage of the prince’s life and achievements (and even the celebration of his so-called gaffes) has seemed to be motivated by something more than the man alone. Something harder to define but potent.

After a year of the pandemic, of grubby politics, of people being taken down for the slightest verbal slip, of endless stories about Brexit and why the UK is doomed (and I speak as someone who voted to remain in the EU), of talk of the union with Scotland breaking and that Oprah interview, it feels as though this is a sort of rallying moment for many – a time to accept that they kind of like their country and even some of its on-paper-bonkers institutions.

These things usually prove fleeting but whether it’s sport, anniversaries of great events or a moment to mark the end of a well-lived life, people need moments when there is something approaching a national mood. Perhaps that’s why in a fractured Britain, with pubs reopened and the vaccination programme proving a formidable success, that the death of a 99-year-old has become – for some – a moment to be a little proud of who they are. Well, at least until Monday.

I went to Zürich to see our chairman and editorial director, Tyler Brûlé, to discuss a big project for Monocle and start planning how it will all unfold. It has been the longest time that we have not seen each other in person since we launched the magazine in 2007. Here’s what I can report. He’s changed his look: hair down to his waist (and were they extensions braided in?), he has a sort of Tulum hippy vibe going on, has had both his ears pierced and was sitting oddly after getting a tattoo on his rear. Calm ye! Of course, not. He was just the same annoyingly sparky, engaged, dapper fellow as always.

But it’s strange that no matter how many phone calls and video conversations I have had with all sorts of people in the Monocle network, you don’t really know what people are thinking until you see them and, in conference-call land, you also end up missing a whole world of spontaneity, serendipity and speedy inspiration. We managed to plot, plan and achieve more in a few short days than would have ever been possible on a screen.

I have noticed this again and again as people have come back to the office, or I have met friends who have been hiding away for months – you align in seconds and gauge people’s moods with nimble-toed accuracy and clarity. And, as ever, it makes me think that we need to be together with friends and colleagues as soon as the rules allow us to.

Mention of the Archbishop of Lima always amuses me (hence sneaking him in earlier). It’s because there’s a story of dubious authenticity about George Brown, the UK’s secretary of state for foreign affairs in the government of Harold Wilson in the 1960s. Brown liked a drink and was said to have humiliated himself while at a welcome reception in Latin America. It was claimed that he had approached a woman dressed in red and asked her to waltz, only to be told, “I will not dance with you for three reasons. The first is that you are drunk. The second is that the band is not playing a waltz but the Peruvian national anthem. And the final reason is that I am the Cardinal Archbishop of Lima.”

Enjoy your weekends.


Bowled over

Prince Philip might not be at the top of your list of British style icons but as we bid farewell to the consort this weekend, we’re also losing arguably the best-dressed member of the British monarchy (writes Hester Underhill). Granted, that might not be saying a lot (see the Queen’s 1999 Royal Variety Performance look, a colourful harlequin sequined top with a lemon skirt) but the prince was consistently sharp in Savile Row tailoring and smart John Lobb leather shoes. Perhaps his most iconic look was that of his final official engagement in 2017 (pictured), when he emerged outside Buckingham Palace in a bowler hat and trench coat to greet a group of Royal Marines.

Originally designed in 1849 for gamekeeping and riding, the bowler soon became the headwear of choice for civil servants, clerks and bankers, and was de rigueur for such professions by the turn of the 20th century. No one fashion item quite encapsulates historic Britishness like it: it’s stiffly anachronistic and formal, much like the royals themselves. With the death of Prince Philip, we might just be saying goodbye to the last person who can truly pull one off. Though, please, do feel free to prove us wrong.


Personal boundaries

The rise of the amateur statistician in the past year has been well documented but there’s been little talk of another new calling: the loophole hunter (writes Nic Monisse). Varying degrees of lockdown and quarantine limiting international movement have seen many travellers get creative when it comes to crossing borders. Among them are Canada’s “snowbirds”, who winged their way to US sunspots during their country’s cold winter and are now facing mandatory and expensive three-day stays in government-approved hotels should they fly home. Unless, that is, they return to their roosts via the land border, by which no hotel quarantine is required.

Much to the chagrin of officials, it’s a workaround that many retirees and sunseekers have exploited by flying into northern-US airports, such as Buffalo and Detroit, before taking a cross-border cab home. And, with international travel on the rise as we head into the warmer months, expect to see similar scenes unfold between the loophole hunters and public officials, as the means and modes by which borders can be crossed are tested. In the meantime, however, if you’re a taxi driver in the US, it seems it’s best to have your passport handy.


Rolling review

Minh Bui Jones is editor and publisher of Mekong Review, Asia’s answer to the famous literary quarterlies from London, New York and Paris. The Vietnamese-Australian launched the title in Cambodia in 2015, naming it after the famous Asian river, before returning with his Rolodex to Sydney, from where he continues to commission reviews, essays, short stories and long-form articles by some of the brightest and best writers in the region. A veteran TV and print journalist, Bui Jones and his Welsh wife co-founded The Diplomat, a current affairs title first published in 2002. Here he tells us about a Chinese-American film worth watching and some out-there Vietnamese music.

What news source do you wake up to? ABC News, The Sydney Morning Herald, my old paper and the Australian version of The Guardian. I start local and then go to the rest of the world: The Washington Post, The New York Times and The Economist follow.

Coffee, tea or something pressed to go with headlines? I start the day with two or three espressos; I drink a lot of coffee. I move to tea at about 14.00 or 15.00, and then by 17.00 it’s ouzo or a beer – I loved Beerlao when I was in Cambodia.

Something from the FM dial or Spotify for your tunes? When I want to tune out, I listen to a lot of 1960s and 1970s Vietnamese music. It’s very strange and heavily influenced by American rock and psychedelic music. A lot of those musicians in Vietnam, especially in Saigon, would be entertaining the GIs and the GIs would be introducing them to American music. There’s a particular musician I love called Trinh Cong Son; he was our Bob Dylan.

Brunch routine? In winter, because of the year we spent in the UK, I tend to focus on a full English breakfast that will take us right through to dinner; the whole shebang. I really like a breakfast that goes well with coffee, so I also love French breakfasts: baguettes, cheese, beautiful ham, even pâté. I can sit there for two or three hours and read all of the weekend newspapers.

Are you a subscriber or more of a newsstand browser? An inveterate newsstand browser. That’s where my love of magazines started and that says something about me as a magazine editor. Because I come from that browsing tradition, the magazines that I produce kind of conform to all of those imperatives: the cover has to be attractive and the headings have to be simple. Passersby only have a split second to look and make a very quick judgement.

Favourite bookshop? I live in Glebe and there are two fantastic bookshops close by: Gleebooks, which has been around for more than 40 years, and the University of Sydney’s bookshop, which has all these esoteric titles that academics are drawn to – so I am well catered to there. There’s also a place a bit further away in Newtown called Better Read Than Dead; it started out life as an anarchist bookshop but now it’s a bit more civilised.

What’s the best thing you’ve watched on TV recently?The Guns of Navarone.

Is there a cultural gem you have recently rediscovered?Smoke. It’s a 1990s film based on a story by The New Yorker writer Paul Auster. The characters are very cleverly pulled together by the act of smoking and buying a pack of cigarettes.

What’s on the airwaves before drifting off? If I have a good book on the go I will be reading it. The last one was called Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland by Patrick Radden Keefe. It’s a brilliant book on the IRA in the 1970s. It’s quite an indictment of Gerry Adams and a stunning piece of journalism that I couldn’t put down.


Self discovery

‘Enter the Zenmenn’, The Zenmenn. Uncharacteristically for a time when social media has dispelled many myths surrounding people’s favourite musicians, there’s a well-calculated aura of mystery surrounding The Zenmenn. Released by Dutch label Music From Memory, their debut album Enter the Zenmenn is made up of atmospheric soundscapes that alternate between the avant garde and the perfectly peachy, with something of an Asian tinge to the instrumentals.

‘The Hard Crowd’, Rachel Kushner. The new book from the Booker-shortlisted author of The Mars Room comprises 19 essays written over the past 20 years. With characteristic confidence and poise, Kushner takes on highly charged issues in electric pieces that range from autobiography and personal reflection to literary criticism. She revisits her fuzzy youth in San Francisco’s dive bars and her fondness for classic cars; she reports from a Palestinian refugee camp and shares insight into cultural figures such as Jeff Koons. Whether or not you’ve read her novels, this wild collection will entertain and inspire.

‘Mare of Easttown’, HBO. This forthcoming drama follows the trend set by Big Little Lies and The Undoing, by hiring an Academy Award-winning actress in the title role – in this case, Kate Winslet. Directed in a naturalistic style by Craig Zobel (of The Leftovers fame), the story follows a detective struggling to piece together a murder that has rocked a tight-knit community in rural Pennsylvania, while battling problems of her own.


Island issues

For well over a century, leading regional newspaper Ålandstidningen has been keeping the citizens of Åland well-informed (writes Gabriele Dellisanti). Squeezed between Sweden and Finland, the autonomous Swedish-speaking region is spread across thousands of islands, 60 of which are populated. Based in the capital, Mariehamn, the newspaper is published six times a week and has a circulation of more than 8,000. Editor in chief Daniel Dahlén tells us how the introduction of new custom tax regulations risks upending the region’s economy and about the success of the paper’s new comic strip.

What’s the big news this week? New regulations on customs are a big threat for businesses in the Åland archipelago, which relies heavily on the shipping industry. We aren’t a part of the European tax union and new administrative regulations will come into force on Monday. These are quite complicated and will make it difficult for Åland-based companies to do good business with the rest of Europe. People are upset and businesses here are protesting.

Do you have a favourite story from a recent issue? The small island municipality of Sottunga [population 100] might be forced to reopen their school, which has been closed for years due to a lack of pupils on the island, after a demand from two resident children.

What’s your down-page treat? We launched a comic strip this week. It’s called ‘Carpe Diem’ and people seem to really enjoy it. We see it as a Swedish twist on American cartoonist Gary Larson’s ingenious comics. The strips joke about everything from tweeting zebras to Google’s efforts to visually document the entire planet. There are no recurring characters, which means that we have the freedom to develop new ideas endlessly.

What’s the next big story on your radar? The local hospital is figuring out ways to transport patients requiring special care to hospitals in Sweden and Finland. In some cases, patients are flown to Turku or Uppsala, north of Stockholm, but the airport here will be closed this summer. So many are trying to find a viable solution.


Diamonds are forever

On the opening weekend of this year’s Major League Baseball season, reigning World Series champions the Los Angeles Dodgers wore fancy gold-trimmed jerseys (writes Andrew Mueller). Several were put up for a charity auction on the Dodgers’ website – including that of celebrated right fielder Mookie Betts (pictured) – and the fêted team are continuing their fundraising efforts this week with the sale of another Betts jersey; bids start at $600 (€500).

They will doubtless raise a tidy stack: one of the happy outcomes of the fact that sports fans are hopelessly soppy saps who’ll buy anything with their team’s name on it. I write as one such enthusiast, specifically where the Australian Rules side Geelong are concerned, and am currently drinking from the emblem-adorned coffee mug to prove it. Most sports memorabilia is (like this mug) tacky trash. But some attract real money. Last November, a 1952 baseball card of the late New York Yankees legend Mickey Mantle fetched $5.2m (€4.3m).

Despite this, it’s tough to recommend sports memorabilia as an investment and it’s next to impossible to know which tchotchke is going to pay off due to what history, scarcity or myth may accrue around it. However, the Dodgers jerseys may be a safe bet, as these things go, especially one worn by Betts. A mere baseball he signed raised $420 (€350) – and he’s still alive.


One to check out

Hermès is celebrating the opening of a new shop in Tokyo’s Shibuya neighbourhood by unveiling a line of special edition products to sit alongside its jewellery, fragrance, leather goods and silk collections. Of particular note are the uniquely numbered Mega Chariot pocket squares and ties by Japanese designer Daiske Nomura, which sold out in no time.

But even if you missed out on a new necktie, the shop is worth a visit. And, judging by the two-hour wait to get in, Tokyo’s fashionistas have cottoned on to this. (Don’t worry, there’s no queuing down the street; Hermès will send a text when it’s your turn). Paris-based architecture firm RDAI has created a gallery-like space complete with the Hermès Ex-Libris logo in mosaic, a leporello with drawings by French artist François Houtin and a bamboo sculpture created by Shoryu Honda. Other touches include dressing room curtains made from handwoven silk and a Japanese garden on the upper floor, with moss brought in from Kyoto. So more reasons to browse than just the clothes.


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