Behind the curtain - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Saturday. 13/5/2023

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Saturday

Movers and shakers

We ease into the weekend by trying on a pair of Swedish fishermen’s boots for size, pondering this year’s conspicuous lack of Eurovision scandals, exploring Japan’s northernmost island with the Monocle Concierge and plenty more. But first, here’s Andrew Tuck on the people who make it all happen.

Opener / Andrew Tuck

Joining the dots

The bunting might be down and the crown jewels safely back in the Tower of London but I want to return to the coronation festivities here in the UK – well, in my ’hood, at least. As I mentioned in last week’s column, neighbours who live on an adjoining street had applied to have a section of it closed for a few hours on Sunday afternoon for an alfresco party and an invitation had generously been extended to several people on my road too. I had a sneak peek at their preparations as I walked the dog in the morning and, apart from a few tables being set up and children running around in the suddenly safe street, it all looked fairly quiet. I told the other half that we would just go to show our faces. Several hours later, we were sitting in the organisers’ garden after having had an amazing sunny afternoon meeting lots of people with whom we live cheek by jowl and yet had never spoken to. What united us for those few hours wasn’t a passion for royalty – though there was a cardboard representation of Charles and Camilla, the sort with the faces missing so that you can insert yours (I demurred, worrying that I might look like the spitting image of the new queen). No, what brought people together was a protagonist – someone who had been willing to apply to the council for the road closure. A new space to explore and take over – a modest piece of shuttered road. And, finally, people’s desire to feel like part of a community.

Leo, our actual neighbour, came with us. He has just turned 87, is always dapper and has a better social life than I do. Just before the street party, he popped by as he thought he might have won some money in the lottery – he appeared to have five correct numbers. So, sitting on our sofa, he produced his ticket with a flourish. My partner checked it online but there were no winning numbers. It turned out that, perhaps a little dusty from the night before in the pub, he had been comparing the stub that showed the numbers he had requested when purchasing his ticket with his receipt – which, of course, matched. Anyway, it gave me plenty of ammunition to tease him with. The trouble is that he’s always ruder and faster than I am. “Leo, I am so disappointed; I was already planning what to pack for our cruise,” I said to him at the street party. “Oh, don’t worry, I have already booked you a cabin,” he shot back. “I believe the ship is called the Titanic.” As the sun set, I enticed him from the party and we sauntered home, arm in arm. And I promised never to tell a soul about his lottery error.

Every few weeks we organise a moment at Midori House that we call The Mingler. It’s what it says on the tin: something that brings together everyone in the building. The format is always the same – a couple of team members step up to tell everyone what they have been up to (professionally) and we invite an outside guest. On Thursday I got to host and, first up, Nic, our design editor, revealed the key themes and trends that he had seen in Milan at Salone del Mobile (Nic is also a stand-up comedian and not shy of roasting his boss but it went off without incident). Then Hannah, who organises all of our events, explained how she put together our Asheville outing and all the planning going into this summer’s Quality of Life Conference in Munich.

Our visitor was Pip Jamieson, CEO of The Dots, a social network for creatives – imagine Linkedin without the suits. She spoke about how dyslexia had added to her success, why she had bought a forest to offset her company’s carbon footprint and about “the pivot”. Jamieson now licences the software behind The Dots to more than 20 other companies and, in just a couple of years, that has become the key part of her business. This pivot was born of necessity: when the pandemic began, The Dots, which was making revenue from being a place to seek work and offer jobs, temporarily lost its purpose. But her software that lets you create a community was suddenly in demand. (It means, for example, that people attending an event can share their contacts on your app, not on Linkedin. They are in your world.) Once again, you have the magical mix of a protagonist who sees an opportunity to bring people together, who understands the elements needed to build a community and invites others in. But, I ask, does she have an amusing octogenarian neighbour?

Monocle Concierge / Your Questions Answered

Northern lights

The Monocle Concierge is our purveyor of top tips and delectable recommendations for your next trip. It’s also on hand in audio form on Monocle Radio, with reports and the latest travel news from around the world. If you’re planning to go somewhere nice and would like some advice, click here. We will answer one question a week.

Dear Concierge,

We are thinking of heading to Hokkaido this summer and exploring the island by public transport. We would love to hear of any affordable local gastronomy secrets and lesser-known cultural or nature sites worth visiting.

Thank you,
Clannah Goh,

Image: Alamy

Dear Clannah,

Many travellers associate Hokkaido with winter sports. While the powder is indeed first rate, Japan’s northernmost island, which makes up about a fifth of the country’s land mass, is well worth a summer trip for its wild, open spaces, cool climes and fields of wheat, lavender and grazing cows. Hokkaido’s remotest spots will be out of reach without a car but there is still plenty that is accessible. You will probably arrive at Sapporo; spend a night at the hot spring hotel Yuen Sapporo and head to outdoor outfitter Shugakuso to pick up some walking gear and an all-important bear bell. (The ursine population in Hokkaido is large and not to be trifled with.) Shugakuso’s noticeboard is filled with excursions: think guided Nordic walking, trail walking and canoeing.

If you want to learn about the history of the Ainu, Hokkaido’s indigenous people, visit Upopoy National Ainu Museum, which is accessible by train from Sapporo. In the other direction, the city of Asahikawa is home to some of Japan’s best wooden furniture makers, while Biei is a small town that has become a culinary magnet, celebrated for its rolling landscape and its fresh produce. Book a room and a table at Hokuei Komugi no Oka (Hokuei Wheat Hill), a restaurant, hotel and cooking-lesson complex in a former school. Finally, head to the rugged wilderness of Daisetsuzan, Hokkaido’s largest national park, which has soaring volcanic peaks, deer and those famous bears. Don’t forget that this is onsen (hot-spring) territory; a soothing bath is never far away.

How We Live / Eurovision scandals

Flap happy

Some enjoy the Eurovision Song Contest for its pageantry (writes Andrew Mueller). Some for its choreography. Some for its costumes. A few, even – unfathomable degenerates to an individual – for the music. This correspondent, however, looks forward most to the scandals, rows and stramashes inevitably occasioned when more than 30 countries present themselves to the planet, then jostle for the same spotlight. This year, as of this writing, I’m somewhat dismayed by the lack of brouhaha.

I’m talking about flaps of the calibre served up by Cyprus in 2021, when angry local bishops declared that Elena Tsagrinou’s entry, “El Diablo”, was a literal rather than metaphorical invocation of Beelzebub. Or when Georgia got thrown out of the 2009 contest for refusing to change the lyrics of “We Don’t Wanna Put In” (you can probably see what they did there). Or when Spain came to the UK in 1982, during the Falklands War, and performed a conspicuously Argentinian tango. Or, going back to 1978 (here’s one for the real heads), when the pertinent broadcaster in Jordan refused to show Israel’s entry, instead filling the screen with daffodils, and when Izhar Cohen and the Alphabeta then topped the voting, announced that the winner was Belgium’s Jean Vallee, who came second.

This year there has been a disheartening absence of this kind of commotion. It might be that everyone is behaving themselves in recognition that the 2023 contest isn’t about them but about Ukraine, a country with actual reasons for grievance. My fellow aficionados of Eurovision-related diplomatic controversy are reduced to sullenly hoping that tonight’s final ends with a fight in the car park.

Fashion Update / Kosuke Kawamura

Hybrid theory

Uniqlo and Theory’s new shop in London’s Covent Garden features two novel attractions: a Re.Uniqlo repair studio and a UTme! service for designing your own shirts (writes Jack Simpson). Originally a 19th-century coachbuilding hall, the space is built around an atrium that floods the space with natural light. On the top floor, in-store café Katsute100 serves Japanese teas and bites; it’s a first for a Uniqlo shop in the UK.


Kosuke Kawamura is the new creative director of UT, Uniqlo’s graphic T-shirt line. “UT offers self-expression and art to all, which gives me a lot to play with,” Kawamura tells The Monocle Weekend Edition. As an artist and former UT collaborator, Kawamura understands how to foster new ventures. “We’re looking to build on the success of the Basquiat, Warhol and Haring collaborations,” he says of UT’s collection of T-shirts featuring works by the three artists. Behind the graphics, Kawamura has already reimagined the products’ shape and fit, with looser sleeves and a breezier silhouette – just in time for summer.

The Interrogator / Abbas Akhavan

Behind the curtain

Abbas Akhavan is a Montréal-based Iranian artist. His exhibition Curtain Call, which explores shared cultural heritage from the ancient world through to the present day through a series of installations, opens in June at Copenhagen Contemporary art centre. Here, he tells us about his morning routine, his favourite Montréal bookshops and his top tunes for drifting on – rather than drifting off.

What news source do you wake up to?
Ideally I wake up to no internet. We tend to set our phones on aeroplane mode the night before and stay disconnected until an hour or so after we rise. I like to start the day with a coffee, a book and some music without lyrics.

Do you have a favourite bookshop?
The Word in Montréal on 469 Rue Milton. The Canadian Centre for Architecture also has a great bookshop.

Which radio station and DJ do you listen to?
I like the CBC’s classical radio stations. As for DJs, Frank & Tony, Mehmet Aslan, Nina Kraviz, Hadi Zeidan and Tala Mortada.

Any film recommendations?
I recently saw a great Swedish film called Border. A longtime favourite is Before Night Falls.

What about books?
I tend to read three or so books at the same time, not because I’m really smart but because I am a slow reader and have a very short attention span. I’m currently reading Queuejumping by Marina Roy, who is brilliant, and How to Do Nothing by Jenny Odell. I’ve just finished James Baldwin’s Going to Meet the Man. I’m also trying to read more poetry, especially by Aisha Sasha John and Ocean Vuong.

What do you listen to before drifting off?
Chihei Hatakeyama is a constant. I listen to it to drift on rather than off. Also, Hope Sandoval.

Culture Cuts / Read, Listen, Watch

Shining a light

‘Mister, Mister’, Guy Gunaratne. Dylan Thomas Prize winner Guy Gunaratne’s latest novel tells the story of Yahya Bas, a British man who finds himself in a UK detention centre after fleeing the conflict in Syria. There, he is met with a number of questions: what led him to the desert? Why did he turn on his own country? Over the course of the novel, Bas attempts to answer his interrogator, Mister, by recounting his story in spurts of energetic prose.

‘AmaXesha’, Bongeziwe Mabandla. The new album from Bongeziwe Mabandla, one of South Africa’s most-lauded contemporary musicians, is a beautiful mix of electronica and Xhosa folk produced by Mozambican Tiago Correia-Paulo. This mysterious, ethereal record is embellished by Mabandla’s rich and melodic voice. Highlights include the sunny “Hlala” and the emotional punch of “Hamba”. It’s no wonder that previous tours of his home country sold out in no time.

‘Return to Seoul’, Davy Chou. Having been adopted as a small child, French twentysomething Freddie travels to Seoul to find her birth parents. Her father responds but her mother doesn’t. Park Ji-min delivers a nuanced performance as a young woman struggling to meet expectations about who she is supposed to be in this touching portrait of the unsettled identities of people who grow up between cultures.

What Am I Bid? / 1977 Lamborghini Countach

Hot wheels

The Lamborghini Countach was not designed to be subtle or to appeal to the subtle. First unveiled in 1971, this was a supercar for the kind of brash, preening larrikin who regards the up-and-down, clenched-fist gesture from the passing proletarian pedestrian as a kind of applause. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Rod Stewart was among the purchasers.

Image: Sotheby's

The singer’s 1977 Countach LP400 in bright red, which he owned for 25 years, is on the block at this year’s iteration of Sotheby’s Villa Erba sale on 20 May. It is not quite in original trim: it was right-hand drive when Stewart bought it in Australia and he later had the roof replaced with a removable targa top; subsequent owners restored the roof and converted it to left-hand drive.

Stewart has been a regular Lamborghini customer, which means that the market for Lamborghinis once owned by him is readily assessed and seems pretty robust. A yellow Diablo, also subsequently driven by British wrestler Kendo Nagasaki, sold for about €200,000 in 2015; a blue 1971 Miura fetched more than €1m in 2016; and a black 1989 Countach went for about €500,000 earlier this year. Bidding on this Countach is expected to end in the vicinity of €1m. Every gear shift tells a story.


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