Saturday 24 September 2022 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Saturday. 24/9/2022

Monocle Weekend
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This week the UK’s new prime minister gets The Look treatment and we find out why Californians are so desperate to kiss in the rain. Plus: a trip to Lisbon and a Milan Fashion Week round-up. But first, Andrew Tuck.

Opener / Andrew Tuck

Go ahead, make my day

I remember the day that the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979 because it chose my birthday to make its move. I am not suggesting that its hierarchy looked at the calendar and thought, “Ah, 24 December will be a fine day to send the 40th Army across the border because everyone will be distracted by this teenager’s birthday in the town of Bracknell, England.” I understand that it was a coincidence; it’s just that because it was my birthday the date has stuck in my brain. I was precisely 17 that day and I recall the feeling among my equally angsty friends that we were doomed, that events in Afghanistan could so easily lead to nuclear war. And then what would happen to my collection of Blondie records?

But events did not go nuclear and 10 years later the Berlin Wall fell, a moment that would lead to the disassembling of the Soviet Union and the toppling of communist regimes in the empire’s satellite states. Nicolae and Elena Ceaușescu, Romania’s leaders, were executed on 25 December 1989; the Romanians decided not to mess with my birthday that year but, boy, it was a close shave.

This week, on Tuesday, a writer came to see me and we started talking about Vladimir Putin’s call to mobilise reservists to fight in Ukraine and his threat to use nuclear arms to defend Russia. I might no longer be a fretful teenager but someone promoting Armageddon can still dent your sunny mood and make you wonder whether it’s too late to start digging a bunker. Later that day the writer and I exchanged emails, agreeing that we had gone to a dark place and that we should have stuck to our shared passion for good urbanism.

Luckily, the diplomatic world – apart from Putin – moves in more measured ways and while no one seems to be denying that this is a moment of heightened danger, it’s impressive how world leaders have an eye on a longer narrative. They know from history that it can easily take years for missteps to wreak their havoc, that you must stand up to aggression but also bide your time. A fire blanket has been thrown over the Russian leader’s rhetoric and the war continues as before.

Talking of birthdays, last weekend was a joyful if slightly pickling one because on Friday I was kindly invited by Sophie Grove, editor of our sister title Konfekt, to join the celebrations for her 40th (band, dancing, all in the heart of east London) and then on Saturday to celebrate Brenda Tuohy’s 60th (west London, dinner, DJ, lots of vodka toasts). The vodka was apt for the venue, the Polish Hearth Club (or Ognisko Polskie), which was founded during the Second World War by the British government and the Polish government that had been exiled to London after their nation was invaded by Germany from the west and, from the east, by the USSR. (The Soviets said that they were there to protect Byelorussians and Ukrainians trapped in Poland; the names might change but the script does not.)

If you have ever come to Midori House, you will have met Brenda. Her job title says that she runs front-of-house but she is the person that everyone turns to for help; she keeps everything sharp; she has style and presence that captivates anyone who comes across the threshold and also has a great laugh. And she has had a fascinating life. Get her talking about the TV shows that she has hosted. Brenda and Tyler shared a house a million years ago and that’s also when I first met her.

During her birthday speech, Brenda outed me as someone who is also facing the prospect of a milestone birthday. (So that’s the one downside: she’s not the best with your secrets.) And the joy on display at both events made me think that I might relent – until this juncture the news had been under legal injunction. If I do mark the day, though, there is only one thing that I request: could we hold off on invasions and executions for 24 hours, please?

The Look / Liz Truss

Playing dress-up

Modern British politicians tend to choose their heroes from a sparsely populated pantheon (writes Andrew Mueller). On the Labour side of the aisle, Clement Attlee serves as all things to all factions. The Labour left reveres him for expanding the UK’s welfare state, while the Labour right is comfortable with Attlee the hawkish foreign-policy pragmatist.

For modern Conservatives, it’s a choice between Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher (pictured, on right). Boris Johnson was an ostentatious Churchill tribute act, down to the mannerisms and elocution. Prior to arriving at 10 Downing Street, he wrote a dreadful book called The Churchill Factor, the undisguised subtext of which was: do I remind you of anyone?

The house’s new occupant, Liz Truss (pictured, on left), who is currently enduring a singularly eventful first fortnight on deck, is an equally enthusiastic Margaret Thatcher cosplayer. A recurrent motif of Truss’s ascent was photo opportunities featuring sartorial choices unsubtly plucked from the Thatcher scrapbook: rocking a fur hat in Moscow, posing in military gear atop a British tank on manoeuvres. For one of the debates during the leadership campaign, she chose a dark blazer and white pussy-bow blouse that were indistinguishable from the combo worn by Thatcher in a 1979 election broadcast. Truss’s inaugural statement from outside Number 10 was delivered from inside a navy-blue dress with pronounced House of Thatcher overtones.

When confronted with any of the above, Truss has said, “It is quite frustrating that female politicians always get compared to Margaret Thatcher, whereas male politicians don’t get compared to Ted Heath.” She is not wrong about this – but female politicians, unconstrained by the tyranny of the suit, don’t have to dress like their predecessors.

Image: Alamy/ Shutterstock

How we live / Kissing in the rain

Something in the water

A cooling sight greeted sweltering pedestrians last month as they walked down the boardwalk in Venice Beach: a photo booth with rain steadily falling inside (writes Gregory Scruggs). Passers-by were encouraged to step in for the ultimate cinematic trope, a kiss in the rain. Photo snapped, the kissers received a movie poster of their Breakfast at Tiffany’s moment. The backdrop? The Seattle skyline.

The marketing minds behind this travelling rain booth belong to Seattle’s tourism board; it has been making the rounds in hot climes to turn what is traditionally considered the city’s albatross – the gloomy wet season from October to March – into an asset. After a summer of seemingly endless heatwaves, including a September scorcher in which the mercury in Sacramento hit 46.7C, hoteliers are hoping that a chilly mist has started to sound delightful.

Illustration: Mathieu De Muizon

For much of the summer, the Emerald City sat near the top of the list of US hotel-occupancy rates, even holding the number-one spot for a week in August. That streak came during its glorious summer, when a Mediterranean climate descended upon the lush Pacific Northwest. Will the promise of clouds and rain attract tourists on an increasingly hot, dry planet? The Seattle Times already thinks that we are “the envy of a drought-ravaged world”.

The return of what is known as “the Big Dark” is imminent. Winter splits Seattleites into two camps: those who see the sunny summer as an aberration from the natural state and smile in relief at the return of the damp and cold, and those who endure the wet season with a grimace. One thing that unites both camps is that, like or loathe the rain, few make a point of kissing in it. That’s a pastime best left for tourists.

The Monocle Concierge / Your questions answered

Lisbon calling

Autumn’s here and with it comes the bustle of the city-break crowd. Museums, bars, restaurants – and a handy umbrella, just in case. This week the Concierge is in the Portuguese capital and hoping that the weather holds up. If you would like us to send you some recommendations for wherever you are visiting, click here. We will pick one question to answer each week.

Image: Rodrigo Cardoso

Dear Concierge,

My wife and I are off to Lisbon for our 45th wedding anniversary in early October and I wondered if you have any special tips for us.

Many thanks,
Stuart, Gothenburg

Dear Stuart,

We sure do. For an intimate start to the celebrations, Aqui Há Peixe serves some of the best seafood in town in a no-thrills yet elegant setting. The affable couple who run the place, Miguel and Mafalda Reino, also own a sailboat – I’m sure they’d be happy to arrange a surprise boat trip for the special day.

One of the advantages of being in southern Europe is that early October is usually sunny. Bring comfortable shoes and amble the cobbled streets of Alfama with its many Miradouros – a good spot for lunch nearby is the taberna O Velho Eurico. If you want to avoid the hills, another pleasant route is the Tejo promenade, where you can soak up the sun with pit stops for coffee or a drink at the riverfront Maat Museum café (pictured) or Clube Naval. Start off at Torre de Belém and walk back towards the city so that you can time your arrival at the Alcântara dock for sunset. We promise you that the golden-tinted view of the city is absolutely worth it.

After refreshing in the hotel, dinner at the recently opened Rosamar is a good window into the city’s bustling contemporary restaurant scene. Fresh seafood is still the main event but the recipes are less traditional here. If you’ve packed your dancing shoes, head over to Primorosa de Alvalade for a 1970s-themed boogie among Gaudí-esque interiors.

Happy anniversary and fingers crossed that the weather’s nice – if not, email our Lisbon correspondent Gaia at and she’ll be able to provide some last-minute indoor tips. Boa viagem!

Fashion update / Milan Fashion Week

Back to black

This week the streets of Milan are brimming with overdressed fashion-industry professionals attending the city’s fashion week. While there’s certainly a buzz in the air, Milanese designers (just like their London counterparts earlier this week) are embracing a quieter, more sombre mood.

Miuccia Prada and Raf Simons set the tone at the Prada show (pictured), held inside the Fondazione Prada, which was decked out in black cardboard from floor to ceiling and made to resemble a haunted house. As for the clothes, Simons and Prada stripped back the extra large triangle logos and ostentatious embellishments that defined their previous joint collections and focused on the classics: trench coats, blazers, elegant pencil skirts and featherlight knits. Perhaps this was Prada and Simons’ way of addressing the current state of global affairs and recognising that this is a time for a quieter, more discrete approach to luxury. But there was still plenty of beauty in the details, from the raw hems of the cardigans and drapes of satin dresses to the rose brooches that added a touch of romance to this moody collection.

Image: Prada

The solemn mood continued at Boss, which showed an array of sharp black or grey three-piece suits, and Tod’s, where dark leather outerwear took centre-stage. Some signs of optimism were to be found at independent label Colville’s intimate presentation. Designers Molly Molloy and Lucinda Chambers spoke about working with female weavers in Madagascar to design their elegant new range of raffia hats, as well as a Nigerian artisan who moved to Venice for love, learnt the art of glass-blowing and created one-of-a-kind, hand-blown necklaces for Colville. During uncertain times, such stories of human connection and hand craft will ultimately prevail.

Outpost News / ‘Länsi-Suomi’, Finland

Speaking out

Rauma sits on the southwestern coast of Finland, about 225km from Helsinki (writes Monica Lillis). Its charming streets abound with 18th-century wooden houses. It’s also home to Länsi-Suomi, a broadsheet newspaper that has been reporting since the early 20th century. Janne Rantanen, the paper’s editor in chief, tells us about its history and his favourite front page.

Tell us about the history of the newspaper.
Länsi-Suomi was first published in 1905 when Finland was still part of Russia. Many newspapers were founded around that time as a part of the Finnish movement towards free press. Finland became an independent country in 1917.

How did you become involved?
I started as a freelance sports writer for Länsi-Suomi when I was still in high school. After studying journalism at Tampere University, I came back to Rauma, my hometown, and joined the free newspaper Uusi Rauma. Later Länsi-Suomi bought Uusi Rauma (now called Raumalainen). Now I am editor in chief of both papers.

What has been your favourite headline or story published in the paper?
My personal favourite has to be the front page and column I wrote when our local ice-hockey club, Rauman Lukko, won the Finnish League last season. I had waited for it my whole life as the last time was in 1963 – a year before I was born. Ice hockey is huge here. Finland beat Canada in the World Championship final in Tampere. Finland and Canada are probably the only countries where ice hockey is the most popular sport.

Which events will you be covering in the next few months?
There are a few coming up. For instance, Rauma Lace Week, Rauma Blues and Rauma Festivo, a chamber-music week.

Image: Länsi Suomi

Culture Cuts / Read, watch, listen

Innocence lost

‘Redcar les adorables étoiles’, Christine and the Queens. For almost a decade, singer-songwriter Christine and the Queens has been setting the course of French indie pop. With new alias Redcar, that path is straying even further into 1980s territory. Take, for example, “Je te vois enfin”, mixed by producer Mike Dean: it’s a power ballad made for insouciant strutting. An emotional explosion with more than just a suggestion of Eurythmics, “Looking for Love” is another highlight. This operatic album will soon turn into a full musical production, with dates in Paris and London.

‘Best of Friends’, Kamila Shamsie. The new novel from the author of Home Fire is a story of politics, identity and friendship. In 1988, Benazir Bhutto is coming to power in Pakistan. The future looks bright for 14-year-olds Maryam and Zahra, until a mistake at a party forces them to leave their innocence behind. More than 30 years later the pair’s past catches up with them in London. Told in lyrical prose, Best of Friends is a compelling tale by one of today’s greatest writers.

‘Fortune Seller: A TV Scam’, Nicola Prosatore. Series about scam artists are all the rage. Director Nicola Prosatore’s Netflix documentary explores how Wanna Marchi, Italy’s “queen of telesales” in the 1980s and 1990s, fell from grace after a series of scandals. Her sketchy propositions – slimming creams, astrology and lottery tickets – preyed on the gullible and made her millions. Fortune Seller probes her charisma and how it chimed with the opportunism of her time.

These reviews also appear in Monocle’s October issue, which is out now.

What am I bid? / Bond, James Bond

Time to buy

Should you believe that the distance between you and the suave menace exuded by James Bond is only a bowtie’s width, Christie’s has an auction for you – a two-part offloading of Bond ephemera, among which is a fistful of Daniel Craig’s silk neckwear (batch of five, autographed, €5,700 to €8,000).

The online auction, closing on 5 October, features quainter and cheaper curios, including the menu from which Sean Connery orders caviar in Thunderball (bidding has exceeded €1,000) and the cello case repurposed as a sled by Timothy Dalton in The Living Daylights (pictured), starting at €3,400. The bigger-ticket items are on the block in a live auction on 28 September.

Image: Christies/ Danjaq / LLC and Metro / Goldwyn Mayer Studios Inc
Image: Christies/ Danjaq / LLC and Metro / Goldwyn Mayer Studios Inc

When the numbers are crunched, the Bond effect actually seems surprisingly small. The Triumph Scrambler XE motorcycle ridden by Daniel Craig in No Time To Die is estimated at €23,000 to €34,000; a similar machine never commandeered by Bond, according to listings on Autotrader, will still set you back about €14,000. A Range Rover SVR used in the same film is estimated at €90,000 to €138,000 – about what they cost anyway. The highest-priced item will probably be a replica Aston Martin DB5 stunt car, going for about €1.7m to €2.2m. Built for No Time To Die, the silver coupe was modelled to look like it had just emerged from rugged hot pursuit – this might be the first time a prospective car buyer has been charged extra for scratched and dented side panels.


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