Saturday 4 September 2021 – The Monocle Minute

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We often take the same route around Regent’s Park with the dog, stopping first to get coffee, sometimes meeting friends. The repetition allows you to catch the daily shifts of the seasons without having to trek out of the city to somewhere truly rural. Today the vast horse chestnut whose boughs we walk beneath is dotted with spiky cannonballs and its leaves are turning brown. It’s clear that autumn is waiting in the wings.

London has had a disappointing summer, so to think that it’s almost over is, well, annoying. Unlike last year, during the first lockdown when the sun blazed, this year we have had too many low-slung, metallic-grey skies. We turned the heating on in August in our house; I cannot ever remember doing that. Yesterday as I walked to lunch, some people had given in and had collars turned up on autumn coats and even scarves. September.

It hasn’t quite been the alfresco summer that had been planned for, which will not have helped the restaurants and bars that needed the summer boost to refill coffers. I also imagine that many of the people who were trying to sound jolly about holidays in the UK this summer have already made pacts to head to the Med next year (on Monday we had dinner with friends just back from so-called “glamping”, who said it was so damned cold that they couldn’t sleep).

However, this sense of both the seasons changing and the pandemic losing its controlling hand on what we can do seems to have brought with it other pleasing changes too. People I meet are full of plans, hatched out both in cold tents and on sunny loungers. They are fired up for change, ready for a new term.

At Monocle, this moment has meant some long days working on a makeover of the magazine that will shift how it looks, reads and feels. Now, these endeavours always come with a note of caution and you have to ensure that you don’t mess with anything that’s sacred. (Once, when working on the relaunch team for a newspaper, we were warned by the editor in chief that under no circumstances could we move the crossword, as that would anger more people than anything else and he couldn’t face the letters – no pun intended.) So the changes are both meaningful and subtle. They will allow us to deliver new regulars; consolidate a move to longer reads; introduce new talent from fashion stylists to illustrators; and allow our ever-measured opinions to be sharper on the page. Make sure you are signed up for the October issue.

This week, for a short piece that ran in The Monocle Minute on Design email newsletter, I found myself on a phone call to Montgomery, Alabama. I wanted to write about a new book, called Of Common Origin: New Architecture of The American South, about a group of southern-states architects. It’s by Barrett Austin. It seems a moment ago that he was working for Monocle, first in our New York bureau and then as our southern US correspondent. But it had actually been a few years since we last spoke and, as well as the book, he has a family now and is working on several property projects. It was nice hearing his sentences dotted with “y’alls” and to be back in touch with someone who had made a meaningful contribution to our success. Dinner in London will happen.

When people decide that it’s time to move on from Monocle, I rarely try to persuade them to stay if their decisions are clearly considered and, as with Mr Austin, they obviously have other wonderful adventures ahead. You just hope that paths cross again and that the experiences will be valued and useful; I was happy when Barrett said that his years at Monocle had encouraged him to bring out the book with a series of deals brokered to sidestep traditional slow publishers. Helping people around you is perhaps the best thing you can get from being an editor, a manager.

And, again, perhaps it’s the leaves changing, the world opening up and new possibilities beckoning, but we are going through a small changing of the guard at Monocle as new horizons call for some: Louis, an editor of this newsletter, is off to live in Mexico; Hester on our books team is off to Spain. But hopefully we will be writing about their books and triumphs too in the future. Other people, in turn, are having their first days at Monocle.

So while the softening of the sunlight and darkening of the evenings might mean the end of another summer in London, in the end I welcome this moment as a time for us all to plan, plot and make anew.

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