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East meets West in our Hong Kong bureau chief’s medicine cabinet, while Marine Le Pen strokes her four cats and Ace & Tate squint for success. Plus, Nicolas Cage plays Nicolas Cage. But first, Andrew Tuck on why time is up for Time Out.
The Opener / Andrew Tuck
Just a couple of weeks ago I wrote in this column about attending the memorial service for my first boss, Tony Elliott, founder of Time Out magazine. Well, this week the current owners announced that, after 54 years, Time Out will cease printing a London edition in June. It’s sad but over the years the company has become as much a food-market operator as a media business and the information that it supplies – mostly recommendations and reviews – is ubiquitous online. Plus, critics have lost their old cultural swagger. It’s now hard to imagine a single reviewer making or breaking a career. You can see why a digital-only future and more food markets beckon. But I am glad that the news broke after the memorial.
After Time Out, I joined The Independent on Sunday and then the daily Independent newspaper, both now also gone as print editions. I promise that it wasn’t my fault. Indeed, in my defence, this week the first boxes of our chunky May issue arrived at Midori House and, as they were handed out to all the team, I couldn’t have been more convinced of the power of print or how modern it can be when done well. Everyone was leafing through the issue, with looks of excitement even on the youngest faces.
The playfulness of typography, the understanding of how the eye scans a page, the beauty of photography set on paper, the way that a great ad campaign makes you linger: these are the reasons why print will remain at the heart of what we do, even as we embrace all that digital can offer (including this emailed newsletter). There’s just something about the way that a magazine catches time, makes it permanent, offers readers a serendipitous journey – and one that they can relive again and again.
We had some nice visitors from Greece at Midori House the other day and they said how unnerving it was to land in the UK and not see anyone wearing a mask. Back in Athens, they explained, people often still wore them in the street and you needed to show a coronavirus pass to get into restaurants and bars. It’s not that the UK has got this thing totally licked: there are still thousands in hospital with coronavirus, hundreds of deaths every week. But even if it’s not really over, it’s over.
Yesterday I put on a jacket that I hadn’t worn for a while and was surprised to find a bunched-up mask hibernating in each pocket. I spoke to someone this week who was irked that his builder had failed to turn up to a meeting because he had “a spot of Covid”. On a recent flight home from Zürich I saw one family openly rebelling at the request to wear masks and the crew told them that it was not a problem – “We are just told to say it.” It has all fallen away so quickly.
Whether it’s coronavirus or Ukraine, in the midst of a global crisis it’s hard to imagine when an end will come, when you will be able to say, “It’s over,” and how you will get to this point. But while events are unfolding, it’s dangerous to listen to too many soothsayers who insist that the world will never be OK again. The commentators and columnists who insisted that the handshake was dead, that French people would abandon kissing when they met, that the office was finished, the commute over and the hotel buffet nixed have been proved wrong. Yes, things are different but not so buckled out of recognition.
There will be no equivalent of a vaccine that gives us such an out from the Ukraine crisis but there will one day be a fudged deal. There will, I am sure, be an end to Putin too, even if we have to wait for God to do his business. But in the meantime it’s vital that we don’t accept this as just the way things are now, even if that’s what the commentators say, because that leaves Ukraine exposed not only to the terrors of war but apathy born of fatalism; of people putting their hands in their pockets to find a scrunched-up “I stand with Ukraine” flyer, now diminished of meaning. It’s a complicated job that we have as non-Ukrainians: to get on with our lives and go to work but have some stamina, keep some anger, to ensure that, like coronavirus, this does not become a story that slips from the news agenda – that we find the way out.
If you like your spy thrillers to have the modesty and charm of John le Carré, then Slow Horses on Apple TV+, about a bunch of discredited, dysfunctional M15 agents, is worthy of your attention. Gary Oldman as Jackson Lamb – the farting, smelly-socked head of this motley crew – is the antithesis of Jason Bourne. Even though there are beheadings and kidnappings, it’s all rather comforting.
The Look / Marine Le Pen
Marine Le Pen, who will soon face her second consecutive French presidential election runoff, has long contended with a twofold challenge in managing perceptions (writes Andrew Mueller). Both the far-right party she has led since 2011 and the surname she has carried all her life are bequests of her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen: a ghastly, xenophobic crank who was himself defeated in a presidential runoff in 2002. Some reluctant supporters of that year’s victor, Jacques Chirac, rallied behind the informal slogan “Vote for the crook, not the fascist”.
His daughter dealt with the party’s name in 2018, rebranding the National Front as the National Rally. Since there’s little she can do about her family name, she has sought to detoxify it; in 2015 she even threw her father out of the party he had founded.
Over the past four years, there has also been a slight but perceptible softening of her deportment. The essentials have remained the same: simple, businesslike, dark blazers and trousers over a white blouse, usually offset with a modest gold medallion. But this time out her hair is longer, her outfits and make-up are more frequently of gentler pastel hues and her overall appearance is less like an Aeroflot stewardess about to plant a bloody mary on your tray table with undue force.
One doesn’t require an advanced appreciation of semiotics to understand what Le Pen is doing. When she appeared on TV channel M6’s political profile programme An Intimate Ambition in November, she was at pains to appear affable, materteral, even slightly dotty, frequently making affectionate reference to her four cats – more suburban cake-baker than populist fire-breather. It’s usually a mistake to judge people by their appearance. And it’s certainly a mistake when that’s exactly what they want you to do.
How We Live / Chinese medicine
When your partner is from a different country, home life can resemble a form of cultural Darwinism (writes James Chambers). The strongest traditions, tastiest food and easier language are adopted by the whole family, while weaker habits and beliefs wither and die. There’s usually a clear winner but not always. Medicine is probably the biggest bone of contention in my Hong Kong household, in which Chinese is eaten and English is spoken. I’m a pill-popping Westerner, while my wife is into TCM, the modern acronym for traditional Chinese medicine. Painkillers and multivitamins have to compete for space in our cabinet with balms, herbal ointments and strange powders. These all-natural remedies come in suitably old-school packaging, often bearing a black-and-white photo of a stern-looking Chinese bloke, and claim to release toxins, restore chi and treat ailments that are entirely new to me.
Our bifurcated beliefs are a microcosm of Hong Kong. Here, Western and Chinese drugs are sold in pharmacies and standard health-insurance policies cover both treatments. I’ve tried TCM in the past for the odd tickly cough but when curiosity gives way to genuine concern I quickly run back to the evidence-based arms of Big Pharma. Some TCM recipes might be as old as Jesus Christ but their ability to cure the sick can be similarly faith-based.
For me, the pandemic settled this argument for good. During our hour of need the world turned to Western science and we collectively rolled up our sleeves. For my wife, however, getting three jabs of Pfizer’s finest had no bearing on TCM. She isn’t alone: Hong Kong’s government has sent residents two packs of herbal pills that claim to “clear scourge” and “discharge heat”. This coronavirus care package is part of a larger push to promote TCM. Beijing has successfully lobbied the World Health Organization to endorse it as a treatment for mild symptoms of the virus.
TCM is being politicised at a time when the West is looking for answers about the original cause of the pandemic, which makes that endeavour seem doomed to fail. What’s more, this could transform a medical schism into another front in the great contest between the US and China. There’s a time for hospitals and pills and there are times to consider natural alternatives, whether that’s Easterners sipping mugwort mixtures or Westerners smoking medical marijuana. Now that’s settled, here’s the next cultural divide: education. Hand me those headache pills.
House News / Monocle Quality of Life Conference
Spring has sprung. There’s blossom on the trees, people in the parks and the Monocle Quality of Life Conference is less than two months away. Join our editors and some of the world’s boldest thinkers, industry leaders and creative talents to learn how to improve your life and build a brighter future.
As well as a packed schedule of talks, panel discussions and screenings at Chanel’s new Le19M complex, there will be bountiful breakfasts, salubrious lunches and guided tours around the city. The conference will end with dinner and dancing at La Coupole until late, naturellement.
To see the speaker line-up and secure your ticket, click here. À bientôt!
Interrogator / Tristram Hunt
Tristram Hunt is the director of London’s V&A Museum, one of the world’s best-known art and design institutions. The former Labour MP for Stoke-on-Trent Central assumed the role in 2017. During the lockdown, Hunt wrote The Radical Potter, a biography of British industrialist Josiah Wedgwood. He speaks to us about strong Yorkshire tea and the V&A bookshop.
Coffee, tea or something pressed to go with the headlines?
Always tea to begin with: strong Yorkshire tea with a dash of milk as a kind of industrial boost to the water. Then coffee.
And for breakfast?
I have a grapefruit and muesli for breakfast every day. It’s not very exciting.
Do you have a favourite bookshop?
Yes, the V&A’s bookshop. It has such a wonderful collection of catalogues, with subjects ranging from Dior to fabrics, from Frida Kahlo to the great works of design. You’ll find all of the wonders of the museum in a nice, accessible shop, including books related to our Fabergé and Beatrix Potter exhibitions.
Do you prefer Saturday or Sunday?
Saturday. It has a sort of freshness.
Five magazines from your sofa-side stack?
I read Apollo, The Art Newspaper, London Review of Books, FT Magazine and Monocle.
What’s your newspaper of choice?
The Times. I used to read The Guardian but I migrated to The Times about five or six years ago.
Any movie recommendations?
I enjoyed The Power of the Dog. You have to wait quite a long time for the payoff but it comes.
What do you listen to before drifting off?
I don’t listen to anything but I do read. It has to be fiction, though – you can’t drift off to nonfiction.
Culture / Watch, Read, Listen
‘The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent’, Tom Gormican. Perhaps Nicolas Cage was in on it all along. In director Tom Gormican’s new comedy, the 1990s action star and source of affectionate derision leans into his ironic status by playing a version of himself. The plot, in which an out-of-work Cage becomes involved in a CIA operation to take down a notorious criminal who happens to be his biggest fan, is almost irrelevant. The film’s appeal rests on the fact that it’s an extensive tribute to Cage’s weird and wonderful career, which the actor is more than willing to send up.
‘The Return of Faraz Ali’, Aamina Ahmad. It’s 1968 and inspector Faraz Ali heads to the red-light district in Lahore’s ancient walled city as riots erupt. As a child, Ali was plucked from his home and sent away to live with a wealthy family; he has long ignored his modest roots. This changes when his influential father asks him to return to his birthplace to help cover up a murder. What follows is a riveting exploration of the dangers of patriarchy, politics and power.
‘Troostprijs’, Merol. As well as being an actress, Dordrecht-born Merol (aka Merel Baldé) has become popular in the Netherlands and Belgium as a fiery popstar who is outspoken about female sexuality. In her debut album, however, she reaches beyond irony and sex for the ever-fruitful themes of relationships and unrequited love. But her irreverent energy remains: stick “Gemengde Signalen” on for a taste.
Ad of the Week / ‘Bring on the Sun’, Ace & Tate
They say that a picture speaks a thousand words but Ace & Tate only requires four (writes Georgia Bisbas). In its latest campaign, “Bring on the Sun”, the Dutch eyewear brand focuses on why people need sunglasses instead of showcasing its latest range. Though the new collection features razor-sharp silhouettes and classic frames in a range of summery hues, these are nowhere to be seen.
It’s a bold move not to include the product you are selling in an advertisement. Similar tactics have been employed in campaigns for Heinz tomato ketchup and Coca-Cola in the past but neither of these products provides such a visceral function as sunglasses. Thierry Brunfaut of Base Design, the studio behind the ad, says that Ace & Tate strikes the right balance of being serious about what it does but staying appealingly offbeat. So bring on the sun. Just don’t forget your shades.
What Am I Bid? / ‘MY Kahu’ superyacht
Auctions are full of backstories (writes Annabel Martin) – but will the provenance of a superyacht currently berthed in Torquay Marina, southwest England, have bidders’ nostrils flaring? Belfast-based auctioneer Wilsons is selling MY Kahu on behalf of the UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA), which seized it off the Devon coast last September with €190m worth of cocaine on board. The six men arrested in the operation would have slept quite soundly on the 37-metre yacht, which boasts five staterooms for guests as well as accommodation for four crew members.
Built in 1979 for the Royal New Zealand Navy, MY Kahu was converted into a pleasure craft in 2012. It is unknown when she was first repurposed for criminal activity. The Belfast Telegraph reports that the last known value of the boat was €1.5m, which should float the hopes of taxpayers, as money from the auction of goods seized by the NCA is put back into the public spending pot.
There will be an open day for viewings, strictly by appointment only, a week before the auction commences on Wednesday 27 April at 15.00.
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