Saturday 3 April 2021 – The Monocle Minute

If you started a restaurant, what would the concept be? A few of the team

If you started a restaurant, what would the concept be? A few of the team were pitching amusing – if bound-to-fail – ideas to each other when our managing editor Tom Reynolds offered up The Toast Office. Not only is it a good name, not only does almost everyone like toast but also, as he pointed out, his raw ingredient costs would be very low (you can see why he’s the managing editor) and you wouldn’t need to hire expensive chefs (as I said, you can see why he’s the managing editor).

He even suggested giving the slices of bread serrated edges to make them look like stamps. And with that name there’s also the scope to move into offering co-working services. Don’t give him too much encouragement, however. I need him staying put please.

This week, Volkswagen managed to sow confusion by declaring that it was changing its name to Voltswagen in the US to reflect its move into electric vehicles. Then it had to hurriedly declare that it had all been a joke – an April fool’s prank somehow released in March as part of a marketing bid to drum up interest in the brand. Trouble was, people liked it, so the share price rose on the news and the joke ran away from them. It also failed as a spoof because many organisations go through rebranding exercises that cost millions and end up with far less tolerable outcomes. For example, in the UK in 2001, the venerable Post Office changed its name to Consignia – before swiftly switching back again after everyone wondered what the hell it meant. Was it an unsightly rash? Was there a cream for it? Just imagine where proposals for The Toast Office would be today if that had actually stuck.

This week a race commission in the UK suggested that the term BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) be ditched as many of the people covered by the term didn’t like it or use it. The work of the commission has been highly contentious (it denies the existence of institutional racism) but actually on this issue it found agreement. People feel uncomfortable having their identities stripped of nuance. It’s the same with LGBTQIA. These trains of letters are used by institutions desperately trying to sound inclusive but who end up sounding lazy and even people supposedly represented by this ever-extending chain rarely know what it even stands for.

One offensive name for gay people is “batty boy” but in the UK the name for a bread roll filled with, say, bacon is a “butty”. Even so, when someone opened a sandwich shop near my house called Butty Boys, I was never quite sure if it was an act of defiance, a disarming joke, or just a good place to get a sandwich. It closed down.

Let’s get rid of parking bays on streets and turn them into mini gardens! They had a spree of doing this a couple of years ago around Monocle’s London HQ, along the rather smart Marylebone High Street. Now the soil has blown away and the plants are dead or clinging on for dear life. But some good news: it turns out that they make excellent places to throw rubbish. London is destined to get many more of these cool parklets in the coming months but without adding a gardener to the budget, they are eyesores. The streets looked nicer without them.

The iPad is a boon for seniors with failing eyesight; it’s easy to make text look huge, for example. And the same with Alexa and Siri when you need to know the time. But having just spent a weekend helping a partially sighted senior get used to this technology, I wonder if there’s an opportunity for adapting some old-school bits of kit to make it less daunting. Instead of a sleek Homepod, for example, how about hiding the technology in something more familiar – say a cuckoo clock? You’d say, “Hey cuckoo, what’s the time?” and it would pop out and chirp the answer. Its eyes could be mini-cameras that spotted when you had forgotten to take your medication (“Cuckoo darling, time for the linctus”) and it would happily whistle any tune from the 1950s on request. Well, it’s as good as Voltswagen.