Saturday 11 May 2024 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Saturday. 11/5/2024

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Saturday

Song and a dance

This week, we take to the stage ahead of Eurovision, plan a ramble around Taipei and serve up some tennis-inspired looks. Plus: we turn over a new page with the help of our readers’ favourite books. But first, Andrew Tuck gets us out of the gate…

Illustration: Mathieu De Muizon

The Opener / Andrew Tuck

Worth the wait

On Tuesday evening we landed at London City Airport just as the UK’s border-control system was going into meltdown. As we – me and editor Josh Fehnert – got to the now-kaput e-gates, the immigration staff were still in the midst of working out what the hell had just happened. A passenger waiting in front of us helpfully called out, “Have you tried turning it off and on?” Realising that it was going to take more than that simple procedure, laptops arrived and the staff began manually entering arrivals’ details into the database. Fortunately, we were through with only a modest delay.

Meanwhile over at Heathrow, a far busier airport, a colleague’s flight had touched down on time. She was then told that she would have to sit tight as too many people were stuck in the immigration queue – she would end up sitting there for three hours. Once she finally exited the terminal, the train services to London had ended for the night and it was a bun fight for the taxis – families with children, people fainting. She told me that people who couldn’t afford a £70 (€81) cab ride were bedding down in the airport.

I promise that I had nothing to do with any of this, so why did I look around at the people waiting patiently at London City Airport and feel like apologising? Perhaps explain that it isn’t always like this. But, actually, UK airport arrivals often are like this. Rail strikes that knock out the Tube or a shortage of ground crew that leaves you lingering on a plane waiting for the air-bridge to be connected are too often people’s first impressions of the UK. I have a feeling that quite a few who landed here on Tuesday evening have been left thinking that we need some help.

Back at the airport, however, the mood was good; nobody was losing it. Families with children were guided to the front of the line and the official who allowed me back into the UK was humorous and couldn’t resist the urge to apologise. She clearly has the same trait as me.

Travelling around the world on behalf of Monocle, I am often asked about the health of the UK – and, even now, why Brexit happened. The questioners often have that concerned face you reserve for asking about a wayward cousin. I still hate that decision but London remains a vibrant place in which to anchor your business. Yes, the government might be hell-bent on stymieing the global movement of talent and the seamless exchange of goods to Europe but the city endures.

On Wednesday, I headed over to Olympia with Monocle Radio’s David Stevens to record an interview for The Urbanist. The home of one of London’s most storied exhibition centres is undergoing an epic makeover that involves the addition of a state-of-the-art theatre, a music hall, art school, two hotels, offices and numerous bars and restaurants. It’s the creation of a vast new work-and-entertainment district and has required an investment of £1.6bn (€1.8bn). We met the men who made this possible: Yoo Capital co-founders John Hitchcox and Lloyd Lee, now the business’s managing partner. I asked them about London; about their faith in this city. While they also had few words of encouragement to say about the government’s policies, they both spoke with enthusiasm about the creativity and dynamism of London. I’ll let you know when the interview is airing.

Perhaps London is always a bit like this – wonky and wonderful at the same time – but it would be nice if you could feel that its stop-starts were fewer and there was more space for big thinkers.

In the end, the UK’s immigration IT woes were resolved after several hours, though I am not sure how they concluded the outage. Did they unplug it after all? Give it a good shake? Who knows. If you are coming to the UK, please be willing to suspend your judgement until you have least made it out of the airport, whenever that might be.


Style and sustenance

Undeterred by a hold-up at the airport, Gucci has touched down in London as creative director Sabato de Sarno’s first cruise show will take place in the UK capital on 13 May (attendees will find a Monocle-made surprise in their totes too). To coincide with this, Gucci has collaborated with Monocle on a takeover of our Chiltern Street café in Marylebone.

Image: Peter Flude
Image: Peter Flude
Image: Peter Flude

A new awning in Gucci’s signature Ancora Rosso was unfurled yesterday and will be up until the end of the month. In the meantime, there will be special giveaways at the café next week. We hope to see you there.

Gucci x Monocle runs until 31 May at The Monocle Café
18 Chiltern St, London W1U 7QA

Image: Law Roach

THE LOOK / Tennis sexy

Challenge accepted

Much of Europe’s spring has remained resolutely coiled (writes Robert Bound). But at the cinema, thanks to Luca Guadagnino’s Challengers, it’s all racquets-at-sunrise, mixed-up doubles and the height of sticky, sultry summer already. On the streets, it’s catching. All the world’s a court. Last week on a breezy Côte d’Azur, the poolside waiting-staff of the Grand-Hôtel du Cap-Ferrat served and rallied around like new tour novices in crisp white cotton. This week in London, flashes of sun served as spotlights and photo-ops for short shorts, little Lacoste tennis dresses, languorous limbering-up in tube socks and hair worn in lustrous, bouncy ponytails.

The tennis look is a very good look. For the amateur hoping for tips on perfecting a rapier backhand, Challengers contains little technique. The cinematic sport is intrigue, jealousy and desire with the odd serve and volley tossed in to show off some trim behinds and muscular thighs barely contained by not-that-much tight, white linen (40-love to the film’s costume designer, Jonathan Anderson, for many of the excellent garments). Instead, the flick has unleashed and given licence to the “anyone for tennis?” crowd for whom dressing the part is the thing: a long, belted shirt-dress, a cricket knit slouched like a scarf, maybe even a racquet strung over the shoulder as you saunter for pastries and the papers in the morning. When summer finally splashes, we’ll all have it down to perfection. The awkward first serve on a fresh Saturday morning – now there’s the real challenger.


Floats your boat

To coincide with Monocle’s May issue, which contains 50 book recommendations from well-known folk and friends of the magazine, we asked you, dear readers, to send your own bibliographic top tips. Here are another three that we can’t wait to dive into.

‘Originals’, Adam Grant.
“This book might not turn you into the most interesting person in the room but it definitely helps you to think like one. It provides practical strategies to nurture originality and explores the psychology of creativity and risk-taking. Originals got me through the first months of the coronavirus pandemic and helped me keep an open mind when the world was closing down.”
Veronika Dimitrova, New York, USA.

‘Sailing Alone Around the World’, Captain Joshua Slocum.
“This book has been in print since 1900 – and for good reason. Captain Slocum chronicles his epic solo voyage around the world in the 37-foot [11-metre] sloop, Spray, in 1895. It is one of the greatest sea adventures of all time. A timeless work that can be read again and again, it presents a vivid view of the world and the state of civilisation in the 1890s. I plan to reread it again soon.”
Terry Craig, Saskatchewan, Canada.

‘Les Choses’ (‘Things: A Story of the Sixties’), Georges Perec.
“This had a profound effect on me in my early twenties and still resonates with me every time I move house, visit a flea market or do a clear-out. I read it when I was still house-sharing and in my first post-university job. I gorged on the short account of a young couple who meet, decide to live together, find an apartment and then start buying things. The book is a quest for truth and meaning through work or things, or both.”
Malika Browne, London, UK

If you would like to share your favourite book with us, get in touch here. We will publish another three next week.

Illustration: Mathieu De Muizon


Upping the tempo

It is hard to pinpoint universal trends at the world’s largest singing contest – where, quite frankly, anything goes (writes Fernando Augusto Pacheco). From goth to electro-pop, and even the occasional silky ballad, the contest offers a vast array of genres, outfits and hairstyles. But if there was one thing that could be determined from the class of 2024, it’s that 1990s Eurodance is back with a bang, a whistle and a thudding beat. Mirroring its popularity in the charts, this year’s edition offers three strong acts that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Bravo Hits compilation from 1997.

Dutch entry Joost Klein’s Europapa, an infectious love letter to Europe (and his dad), has a happy-hardcore vibe with its four-to-the-floor beat and kick drums. Honourable mention must also go to Kaleen from Austria, who isn’t shy about drawing a straight line between the heady days of Aqua, Whigfield and Gina G with her We Will Rave. Finland’s effort, meanwhile, points to the kookier days of the decade. Windows95Man offers an eccentric tribute to the seminal operating system, replete with hot pants and a giant denim egg. When it comes to favourites for taking home the top award, it’s an open field; one that lovers of 1990s European rave music will be very glad to dance all over.


Follow your nose

The Monocle Concierge is our purveyor of top tips and delectable recommendations for your next trip. If you’re planning to go somewhere nice and would like some advice, click here. We will answer one question a week.

Image: Li-Han Lin, Sean Marc Lee
Image: Li-Han Lin, Sean Marc Lee

Dear Concierge,

I will be in Taipei in mid-June for a conference. I look forward to visiting Perfumer H (after reading about it in Monocle) to choose a fragrance and some candles for my wife. I would appreciate some advice on what else to do during my 10-day stay. My conference commitment will be very low-key.

Marcel Berkhout

Dear Marcel,

Taipei is an eminently walkable city, with neat tree-lined avenues and smaller side streets that hide cafés, bars, noodle shops and boutiques. Public transport is convenient and cheap but wandering by foot is our favourite way to discover unexpected outposts and neighbourhoods.

In terms of culture, the National Palace Museum is a must-see, with hundreds of thousands of artefacts and artworks from imperial China. Songshan Cultural and Creative Park is a lovely space to wander for modern art and design exhibitions. Eslite Spectrum – a four-storey branch of the iconic Taiwanese bookstore – is just across the street. Smaller museums such as Jut Art Museum and the Museum of Contemporary Art Taipei are worth a visit too.

After stopping by Perfumer H, you might try La Brume (pictured, centre), a small perfumery run by a Taiwanese-French couple, and Kamaro’an, a design studio that makes bags and accessories inspired by indigenous Taiwanese materials and craftsmanship.

For an afternoon pick-me-up, stop by Hermit’s Hut, a modern tea house run by Vicky Chien, who apprenticed with tea masters across the country for 20 years before opening her own venue. A detailed menu breaks down every option, from oolong and pu’er to tea cocktails, if you feel like it. For later in the evening, explore some of Taipei’s many cocktail bars – Ron, Wa-Shu, Bar Mood are all great. If you prefer wine, Café Society Taipei, a wine bar run by a couple from Hong Kong that serves Cantonese and French cuisine, and often collaborates with Taiwanese chefs on special dishes (think beef-noodle soup, paired with the perfect red).

With 10 days to spare and a relaxed schedule, definitely take some time for a day trip. Taipei is surrounded by beautiful mountains and hiking trails are abundant – one classic route is the Xiangshan Trail, which loops around Taipei and offers stunning views of the city from above. Beitou hot spring is accessible by metro and just beyond it is Yangmingshan National Park (pictured, bottom), with its volcanic slopes, tranquil lakes and Chinese pavilions. If you would like to venture further afield, charming second cities such as Taichung and Tainan are no more than a few hours away on the high-speed rail. Have a great trip!

Image: Ministero Della Difesa

WORDS WITH... / Stefano Costantino

Ship shape

Rear Admiral Stefano Costantino of the Italian Navy is the force commander for Operation Aspides – the EU’s maritime-security initiative that protects Red Sea shipping from attacks by Iran-backed Houthi militias based in Yemen. He is serving aboard the Carlo Bergamini-class frigate Virginio Fasan. Here, he tells us about what his crew is doing to combat air threats and shares what it’s like to deliver protection to ships in the region.

Can you describe a (relatively) typical day at sea onboard the Virginio Fasan?
Warships are complex military machines, activities never stop when the vessel is at sea. Every crew member has specific tasks to perform that are fundamental to the ship’s operational effectiveness. The current mission is to deliver protection and reassurance to commercial ships transiting the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden. The working rhythm on board meets the highest possible standards from 07.00 until dinner. Overnight, about half of the crew continues to stand watch and keep on high alert.

You shot down a Houthi drone on 29 April. How do you determine which projectiles to target and how much time do you have to decide?
The decision to use weapons in defence of merchant ships is based on the threat’s features, including its distance away, speed and, in the case of aircrafts and missiles, altitude. Surface-to-air missile systems are very effective at countering incoming air threats, especially enemy missiles. Unmanned aerial vehicles are slower and have a more predictable trajectory, so guns can be used against them instead. There is a limited window in which you can down a missile.

Do you think the Houthis are actively trying to sink ships or do they just want to cause a nuisance?
It is hard to comment on their strategy. Their regular attacks on maritime traffic that Aspides is mandated to defend are seemingly designed to keep attention on their claims. On the other hand, it is difficult for them to justify attacks that result in the death of seafarers – as happened in the case of the MV True Confidence [which was attacked on 6 March].

For more on the latest in everything from defence to affairs, pick up latest issue of Monocle or subscribe today so that you never miss an issue. Have a great Saturday.


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