Daily Archives: July 27, 2007

Unusual recital

Tonight’s concert was basically a recital by Howard Skempton of his own works.  All the works were very short miniatures, and it must be quite a challenge to compile a complete concert from them.  That is, as opposed to including a smaller number of Skempton’s works in a mixed concert, as we have done in the past.

I find his music quite hard to place.  The most famous influences  he spoke of include Britten (who encouraged the young Skempton in the 1970s) and Cage, but neither of them seems to have been more than a minor influence on the musical style.  The flavour overall was quite spartan, and put me in mind of Philip Glass minimalism, for which I don’t much care.  Webern also sprang to mind in the context of such miniatures.  But some of the pieces were also quite fascinating, and overall it was an interesting evening.

One overriding criticism: the church was an utterly unsuitable venue for such a concert.  A formal setting is not what it needed, and horribly uncomfortable pews only make it worse.  It works well for more conventional concerts such as Wednesday’s and tomorrow’s, but not for this.  Skempton’s evening would have been ideally set in a piano bar.  Or, here in Tavistock, in the big ballroom of the old town hall, which is available for such functions.  Then we, the audience, could have sat around tables with glasses of wine while Skempton performed for us, for a really great evening.

As on Wednesday, I went there alone.  But today I wasn’t amongst strangers; Harold (formerly of Opera SouthWest) was already there, so I sat down and started to natter with him.  Then John joined us (sans Helena, who was working).  And after the concert, John and I adjourned to the Market Inn for a couple of pints.

A useful scapegoat

By developed-world standards, and particularly for a country with such a benign climate, the recent flooding has caused hardship on quite a large scale.

At the same time, some people will inevitably benefit from it. Most of that is entirely legitimate: builders and repairers, suppliers of food and goods to replace what’s been damaged/lost, etc – all indirect beneficiaries whose markets suddenly grew.

Will there also be direct beneficiaries? Well, there’s financial and political capital to be had. There’s damage and dilapidations, both preexisting and caused by the flood. Large figures are floating around: estimates for total damage, insurance payouts, uninsured losses, and state help (taxpayer payouts). The latter is the most controversial, with politicians and other representatives of the affected areas staking out their claims.

First up was about a month ago when Yorkshire caught the brunt of the first round of flooding. The prime minister announced help for the afflicted areas, and someone from Hull (Mayor? Council leader?) complained bitterly that it was utterly inadequate. That’s reasonable: it’s his business to get the best deal he can for his city, and he’d be failing in that if he sounded satisfied when he judged he could hope for more. Today we had a councillor for Gloucestershire telling us road repairs alone would cost £25M in her county. Same story: she wants the best she can get for her area.  And they all want to stake out positions.

All of which begs the question: what is insurance supposed to be for, if the taxpayer is going to fork up when a disaster happens? And why is a victim of flooding more deserving of being bailed out than a victim of vandalism, burglary or fire? Could it be because it’s a public/media event, and politicians need to be seen to do something? What, me, cynical?

Well, if I were from the insurance industry, I’d be looking at policies with explicit exclusions for large-scale natural disasters, on the grounds that there’s public money to cover them. Save a fortune!

Where there’s public money, corruption inevitably follows. The representatives of Hull, Gloucestershire and other affected areas have legitimate needs, but how could they resist the temptation to absorb at least some general backlogs in repairs and maintenance into the cleanup budgets? Shortfalls in funding – real or manufactured – may then become a convenient scapegoat for general failings.

And if there’s a hardship fund for uninsured individuals, the same applies. The insurance industry has ways (albeit imperfect) to detect and deter fraud. Taxpayer-funded schemes lack the expertise and manpower to detect either fraud or real hardship, so it’ll be the professional con-men who stand to benefit most from public money.

That at least could be alleviated if distribution of the public funds was outsourced to the insurance industry. Except of course, they’re already working flat out to deal with their own business.

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