Thursday. 27/1/2022

The Monocle Minute

Image: Getty Images

Opinion / Fergus Butler-GALLIE

Laughing matters

“You’ve got to laugh, haven’t you?” This is what profoundly irritating people say in response to minor inconveniences, such as getting a parking ticket or being crapped on by a bird. As a coping strategy, it seems to belong to the smug, comfortable early years of the previous decade, rather than the fraught early years of this one. Telling people these days that they have to laugh could be enough to precipitate a full-on nervous breakdown.

Still, it might be better advice than it first appears. The 2020s’ gifts of continuing plague, looming war and widespread societal venom might not seem to be obvious launching-off points for laughter. But a cursory look at history suggests that real humour is more often born of adversity than comfort. Cervantes wrote Don Quixote after an extended period as a galley slave. Jonathan Swift wrote Gulliver’s Travels as what we would probably now understand as a manic depressive. The satire boom of the 1950s was initiated by men who had known the horrors of the Second World War up close. Bad times make for good jokes.

Humour is not just an effective coping mechanism but an essential attribute in an increasingly dog-eat-dog world. For me personally, humour is an essential tool in my work as a clergyman in the Church of England, where it is important to be able to laugh at folly. Funerals are much better accompanied by laughter than tears. But, before that time comes, make sure you spend as much of 2022 as possible laughing. After all, if you don’t you’ll cry.

Fergus Butler-Gallie is a clergyman and writer whose essay on the link between comedy and religion appears in Monocle’s humour-themed February issue, which is out today.

Image: Shutterstock

Geopolitics / Ukraine

Gathering storm

As all eyes remain fixed on Ukraine’s borders, states and multinational blocs around the world are preparing themselves for the worst. Richard Shirreff, formerly Nato’s deputy supreme allied commander in Europe and author of the all-too-prescient “future history” book War With Russia, believes that individual Western powers must act. “The best signal would be to actually put boots on the ground in the Baltic states and show our willingness to defend them,” he told Monocle 24’s The Briefing. “This is arguably the most dangerous moment for Europe since the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. But Nato itself can do very little if Russian troops cross the border. Ukraine is not part of the alliance and the one certain trigger that would lead to World War Three would be for Nato to get involved in the defence of Ukraine.” What it can do, however, is impose sanctions and maintain a united front. “There can be no hint of any divisions within the alliance,” adds Shirreff. “Bearing down on Russia financially and economically will hurt.”

Hear more from Shirreff on the latest edition of ‘The Briefing’ on Monocle 24.

Image: Getty Images

Politics / Italy

Deciding vote

The wonderfully complicated process of electing Italy’s next president does, at last, hot up today. To get to this point, a two-thirds majority has been required among the 1,009 so-called “grand electors”: the two parliamentary chambers plus regional delegates that together decide the head of state. Today a simple majority of 505 is required in the fourth round of voting. That means a higher chance of getting a candidate over the line, despite the almost even split between the left and right.

So what can we expect? Fewer blank ballots being cast – there were more than 600 yesterday – and possibly a frontrunner emerging. Two key names in the hat are current prime minister Mario Draghi and Pier Ferdinando Casini, the centrist former president of the chamber of deputies. The former’s election would be a constitutional first that could cause the government to collapse; the latter is by no means assured. With frantic negotiations between factions ongoing, this is a game of push and pull that isn’t over yet.

Image: Getty Images

Energy / Lebanon

Powering up

Lebanon struck an agreement with Jordan and Syria yesterday to import electricity using the latter two countries’ power grids, a move that is expected to give Lebanon two extra hours of mains power a day. Its energy minister, Walid Fayad, called the deal a “modest but very important agreement for the Lebanese people, who need every extra hour of electricity”. No kidding; the press conference announcing the deal was interrupted by multiple power cuts. Although Lebanon has not had 24-hour mains electricity since 1990, electricity was increasingly reliable until the economic collapse that began in 2019. In the past few years, power cuts have lasted up to 22 hours. Diesel shortages are also common and even those who are lucky enough to afford pricey generators should welcome the news; that is, as long as details around World Bank financing are ironed out and Lebanon’s fractious parliament manages to ratify the deal.

Image: Alamy

Hospitality / UK

Last supper

British restaurant company Corbin & King became the latest casualty of coronavirus when it was put into administration this week by Thai hotel group and majority stakeholder Minor for reportedly not meeting its financial obligations. Chief executive Jeremy King and Chris Corbin started the group in 2003 and it made its name with a clutch of riotously good restaurants, including The Ivy and Le Caprice. With the future of the firm – which currently runs popular spots such as The Wolseley, The Delaunay, Brasserie Zédel (pictured) and Fischer’s – in question, hungry Londoner’s eyes will now turn to an ongoing high court case that will decide whether Corbin & King’s insurance provider, Axa, is liable for losses the group suffered during the UK’s rolling lockdowns. It may not be enough to save it from the administrators but if Corbin & King can convince the court that its insurers should pay, other restaurants will have plenty to chew over.

Image: Imigo

M24 / Monocle On Design

Restelo, Plank, ‘dugnad’

We tour a Lisbon neighbourhood brimming with beautiful buildings, meet a classic Italian furniture brand that is rapidly modernising and explore the Norwegian concept of dugnad.

Monocle Films / Global

The Monocle Book of Homes

Allow us to introduce you to The Monocle Book of Homes. A guide to exceptional residences, the title is packed with beautiful photography, inspiring stories ­and few tips on making the most of your living space. So what are you waiting for? Come on in. Available now at The Monocle Shop.

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