Saturday 9 October 2021 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Saturday. 9/10/2021

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Saturday

Opener / Andrew Tuck

For what it’s worth

Some years ago I developed an unusual – and thankfully fleeting – habit: I started looking forward to my Sunday evening televisual appointment with the BBC’s Antiques Roadshow. The programme might wrap itself in more layers of gentility than a Victorian lady in a flouncy petticoat (think plummy presenters with hair as lacquered as a shiny dining table; a celebrated country pile as the backdrop, that theme tune) but what really makes it so watchable are things much more delicious than that.

First, there are the unsuspecting folk who don’t realise that their ancestors were probably thieves. They arrive with a pair of elaborate silver candleholders and some half-baked story about how their great-grandmother was so loved by the family she worked for that they told her to take whatever she fancied when she retired. Of course they did, my dear. Then there used to be all sorts of colonial and military booty that I suspect would not be allowed on air these days: roof tiles pinched from the Forbidden Palace, a maharaja’s knickers. But the bit I used to savour was watching how the show let the air out of people’s dreams of untold wealth in front of your eyes.

Sometimes the presenter would explain that said object seemed to be a later imitation, had been glued back together or was rather commonplace, making its owner feel both poorer and publicly belittled. Even if they did enthuse about, say, an ancient grandfather clock, they would then add, “At auction this might make £100.” The poor sap now realised that basically they had wasted their life polishing this ugly brute (clock, not presenter) but now were stuck in front of a TV camera and needed to somehow pretend that they had never been bothered about the money. So, again and again, they would say the same phrase through gritted teeth, “Oh really, as much as that.” And then the presenter would use the equally reliable phrase, “The most important thing is that you get pleasure from it.”

Value. It feels like such a solid, dependable word. What we, what things, stand for. What monetary or personal significance we attach to something. But on some days it’s a strange concept to grapple with.

This week we gave something to someone we know whose life is not easy and probably not organised in the way that most of you reading this column would find comfortable. There are no drugs or drink involved but some issues for sure. The gift was of modest monetary value but was something they had hinted that they desired and would value. On a phone call 24 hours later, however, they told us that they had gone to the local pawn shop and sold it – and for a sum that was woefully low.

Try untangling the value that we had tried placing on a gift. The fleeting value it retained for someone whose life is not plain sailing. The value put on it by a pawn shop. What was it actually worth? I just don’t know. But I found the experience infuriating – and unreasonably so because, really, once gone from our hands, it was none of our business whether it was valued.

You’ll also remember that earlier this year I banged on about the death of my partner’s aunt and all that that entailed. Selling a house after the death of someone in the UK can be long-winded. First, you have to get probate (my partner’s job as the executor) to disperse the estate. Then you “exchange” on the sale with your buyer – this finally happened on Monday – and this is the moment when nobody can back out. And then you “complete”. That date is set for 25 October. Keys will be handed over.

While most possessions have long-since been dispersed, it’s now time to get rid of the furniture and this week has been a painful revenge re-enactment of Antiques Roadshow. In our post-coronavirus world, you send pictures of potentially valuable items to auction houses and a young man with a posh name – Archie, James – sends back their valuation verdicts. Turns out that a Georgian cabinet is “of little commercial value”; sets of glassware will be accepted but “please remove all sherry glasses as there is no market for these”; even many of the things that they want have suggested reserves so low that hiring a van to haul them to the auction house comes with the risk of any potential profit evaporating. How can a table valued for centuries have less worth than a new MDF one from Ikea? But we cannot keep these things; we have no space. So we have to hope that someone else will buy them and cherish them.

And maybe that’s all our friend has done too. Simply thought, “I hope the gift ends up somewhere where it will be cherished; it cannot stay here because, for now, money is what I need.” And perhaps when the pawn shop owner stated his derisory offer, the response, uttered with relief, was, “Really, as much as that?”

House News / The Monocle Media Summit 2021

Read all about it

Don’t miss out on the Monocle Media Summit in London on 14 October. Celebrate a decade of Monocle 24 radio and hear why being present and in the moment matters now more than ever. Appearing this year are Finnish TV anchor Matti Rönkä and his BBC counterpart Mishal Husain; award-winning CNN chief international correspondent Clarissa Ward; Zeit Magazin editorial director Christoph Amend; Jess Henderson, author of ‘Offline Matters’; journalist and broadcaster Christine Ockrent; cultural commentator Peter York; founder of Magculture, Jeremy Leslie; and Paul Ronzeimher, chief reporter at Bild-Zeitung. Plus: friends old and new from Monocle 24’s first 10 years on air and a front-row seat to watch a special edition of The Monocle Daily broadcast live on location. Get your ticket today at

The Look / KFC clothing

Feather in its cap

Fast-food chain KFC is dipping its beak into fashion: its Spanish arm is teaming up with Barcelona-based streetwear brand Kaotiko for a capsule collection (writes Stella Roos). Its T-shirts and sweatshirts, which were released last week, have been emblazoned with the company’s slogan, “It’s finger-lickin’ good”, while a jacket, trousers and socks come in a new KFC chicken print with golden wings against a pale background.

And while you might wonder why anyone would voluntarily wear an outfit decorated with pictures of poultry (and doubles as an advert for a fast-food chain), it’s not the first time that the worlds of fashion and the high street have collided. German supermarket Lidl’s primary-coloured €12.99 sneakers now fetch a fortune on reselling platforms while, in the upper echelons of luxury, Balenciaga recently unveiled its second collaboration with plastic shoemaker Crocs during Paris Fashion Week.

But perhaps a bigger question is: why would a fast-food chain even want to make clothes? “Why not?” says Beatriz Martínez, KFC Spain’s brand manager. “Fashion is very close to younger generations and our goal is to be part of their day-to-day life.” Kaotiko is racing to meet the demand. While we’ll pass, it seems that the collaboration is, for some people, finger-lickin’ good.

How we live / Camper vans in Finland

Into the wild

Over the past year, Finns have taken the term “remote working” literally, with white-collar workers heading out into the wilderness like never before (writes Petri Burtsoff from his desk at home in Helsinki). And to get there, city slickers are investing in camper vans. Long considered the preserve of hippies and surfers, they are now the vehicle of choice for accountants, actuaries and lawyers intent on hitting the open road, with dealerships now straining to meet the demand. The growth is so strong that there has been an increase of more than 75 per cent in vehicle registrations for motorhomes in the past year, with Finns now owning more camper vans per capita than any other nation in Europe. The media has jumped on the bandwagon too, with newspapers and magazines running stories asking, “Which camper van is best for you?” or “How to get your hands on a camper van.”

I ask my neighbours, whose large Sunlight Cliff is parked in our shared courtyard, what the appeal is. “We bought it so that we can work anywhere we want to,” the young couple tell me. Their model is equipped with sun panels that produce enough electricity to let them go off-grid. “We drove it to the wilderness of northern Lapland for three weeks and worked from there,” they say. “It was nice to be able to fish and hike after work.”

But the camper van boom has resulted in a new problem in Finnish cities: where to park them? It’s a quandary that is surely paving the way for another boom: camper van winter storage. I can offer a fetching spot in a shared courtyard in Helsinki if anyone’s interested.

The Interrogator / Liza Donnelly

Funny business

Liza Donnelly has been drawing cartoons and writing at The New Yorker for more than 40 years. Known for her witty takes on everything from global politics to race relations, she is one of the magazine’s most prominent illustrators. Her influence is such that she was made a cultural envoy for the US state department to speak about freedom of speech, cartoons and women’s rights. So it’s fitting that her forthcoming book, Very Funny Ladies, published by Rowman & Littlefield, is a celebration of the women cartoonists who have graced the pages of The New Yorker. Here she tells us what she reads on her sofa and about her favourite independent bookshop.

Image: Eric Korenman

Where do you get your morning news fix?
I wake up to The New York Times and The Washington Post online. If I’m near a TV, I put on CBS Mornings.

What kind of music do you listen to?
I mostly listen to jazz but I just discovered that I love Hozier, an Irish musician who writes a lot of socially conscious material.

Any humming in the shower?
Not me. I am a quiet shower-taker.

Which magazines are on your weekend sofa-side stack?
The New Yorker, of course, and Women’s Review of Books.

Any favourite bookshops?
Oblong Books, an indie bookshop in a small town nearby. It’s great at suggesting books and hosts lots of great author talks.

Favourite podcasts?
I listen to a lot of books on tape but I am not much of a podcast-listener. Maybe I just haven’t found the right podcast.

The best thing you’ve watched on TV recently?
Apple TV’s The Morning Show, a great series about #MeToo in the TV news media.

What’s your current cultural obsession?
I love most comedians and have friends in the business. I’m obsessed with women who do stand-up and create forceful, feminist comedy.

Do you watch the nightly news?
I don’t watch it any more, which is a sign of the times. I get my news all day through email alerts and Twitter. But when I do watch the evening news, my favourite newsreaders are Norah O’Donnell on CBS and Judy Woodruff on PBS.

What do you listen to before drifting off?
There’s an app on which I can play the sounds of crickets and chirping birds. It’s very calming.

Culture / Visit / Read / Listen

Where to next?

Kunsthaus, Zürich. Zürich’s much-anticipated Kunsthaus extension opens to the public this weekend. The huge David Chipperfield-designed building was finished a few months ago but has now been filled with artwork. The new structure more than doubles the original display space making the Kunsthaus Switzerland’s biggest art museum. New exhibition rooms will be mainly focused on modern and contemporary art, including works from the Looser Collection of abstract expressionism and arte povera, and the Merzbacher Collection, featuring Pipilotti Rist’s immersive, psychedelic “Pixel Forest” installation.

‘Crossroads’, Jonathan Franzen. The first volume in Jonathan Franzen’s new trilogy is a detailed family portrait – the acclaimed American novelist’s strong suit. Crossroads follows the Hildebrandts in the early 1970s: Russ, a suburban pastor, is preoccupied by a feud with a colleague and the attraction he feels towards a new parishioner. His wife, Marion, is struggling with her own demons. As are their children: Clem, at college but not sure he shouldn’t be in Vietnam; Becky, wondering what to do with an unexpected inheritance; and Perry, who’s always stoned. As attuned to the cultural shifts of the era as he is to the inner battles of his protagonists, Franzen is in fine form here.

‘Mercurial World’, Magdalena Bay. Los Angeles-based duo Magdalena Bay’s debut album is an upbeat delight that leans heavily on retro video game aesthetics. On this jolly record, the pair have fun with the over-the-top hyper-pop of “Halfway” and “Follow the Leader”, as well as the charming, modern-day cruise music of “Hysterical Us”. Single “Secrets (Your Fire)” is another excellent example of how the band is rethinking and modernising vintage beats. This is a colourful and exciting first effort: we can definitely see Magdalena Bay packing out arenas very soon.

Outpost News / ‘The Arran Banner’

Close knit

Often called “Scotland in miniature” for its highlands in the north and lush green pastures in the south, the Isle of Arran has become a popular tourist destination in recent years (writes Grace Charlton). Every summer, holidaymakers flock to its largest town, Brodick (population 4,500), which is known for its castles, beaches and whisky distilleries – and a thriving media scene. In 1984, its local newspaper, The Arran Banner, was featured in the Guinness Book of Records for being “the most read within its circulation area”, with a readership of 97 per cent. “We cover everything that happens on the island and we’ve been accused of attending the opening of an envelope,” says Hugh Boag, the paper’s news editor, who has worked at the publication for eight years. He tells us more.

Image: Alamy

Tell us about the history of ‘The Arran Banner’.
We were founded in 1974 by a group of islanders and it was run completely independently until 2003, when it was taken over by The Oban Times [on the mainland]. But we still operate everything from the island, apart from the printing, which is done in Glasgow.

What’s on your radar?
We’re waiting for our new ferry. There have been huge delays over that. And another big issue is affordable housing. There’s just no housing for young people to buy on the island; they’re priced out by holiday homes. They go to university and Arran needs people to come back but those on the island have a limited chance of getting into the housing market. Thankfully, 34 new council houses have been developed, for the first time in 30 years; they’re due to be completed in the next couple of months.

A favourite recent story?
There was a big row because the council wanted to close all the public toilets, but how can you be a holiday destination without any loos? At the time of the council election I had a headline called “A penny for your votes” because people were getting really incensed that the council would do this [to save money]. They said it was too costly to maintain facilities – but it’s not a good way to attract tourists.

How do you give your readers a break from hard news?
We like to cover community events. We’re coming up to Halloween, so we’ll be going around the island to take pictures of children in costumes. We put the “first day of school” pictures in. Anything that’s community-oriented, we’ll be there.

What am I bid? / Herbert Kasper

Dressing rooms

While working as a couturier’s assistant in 1950s Paris, Herbert Kasper bought his first artwork for $100 and, evidently, never stopped. The late American fashion designer’s vast collection, which ranges from modernist masterpieces and contemporary photography to 16th-century mannerist drawings, is going under the gavel across over a dozen auctions at Christie’s this autumn.

Kicking things off this Thursday is the dedicated live sale called Always in Style: Old Master Drawings from the Collection of Herbert Kasper. Although Rubens’ small sketch of a very muscular leg (lot nine), which is estimated to sell for between $200,000 (€173,000) and $300,000 (€260,000), threatens to steal the show, the star of the auction is “An Angel in Flight”, a delicate drawing by Giuseppe Cesari from 1610 (lot 23, pictured, left) that could fetch up to $350,000 (€303,000). “Not only is it the best drawing in the collection but one of the artist’s best drawings in his known body of work,” says Jennifer Wright, of Christie’s New York.

Wright’s favourite spot in Kasper’s Upper East Side apartment was the sitting room, where framed Old Masters sketches complemented a sky-blue Helen Frankenthaler painting, “Napoleon”, which will be on offer alongside Pablo Picasso’s “Verre et bouteille sur une table” (pictured, right) at Christie's auctions in November. “Kasper wasn’t a check-the-box collector,” says Wright. “He bought what he wanted to live with. As a result, it all worked together.” Even those who don’t submit a winning bid can take something of Kasper’s ethos home.


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