Saturday, 22 October 2011

St Paul's: what's the problem?

If you haven't been down to Paternoster Square, you might have a rather grim, media-fed image of the Occupy London protest camp outside St Paul's. I was surprised when I went there on Wednesday to find that the neat and tidy tents were well to the left of the main entrance; the steps up to the two doors, and the entire area around Queen Anne, are completely clear, and welcome as ever was to the hordes of tourists who are now busy snapping the interlopers. When I went back yesterday evening on my way to the Hvorostovsky recital at the Barbican, the path to the side door which leads to the restaurant and shop had also been cleared.

So far, too, it seems, all is extremely well organised: the toilet facilities, the cooking area, the 'Star-Books' stall run by those against the preposterous closure of the libraries. Sure, there isn't one point being made here, and some are bound to be distinctly fuzzy; but it's an arena for ideas. I saw no hint of the off-their-heads ferals who made Parliament Square such a dodgy place to be earlier this year.

But is it safe? St Paul's, having officially told the police to clear orf from protesters who so far show no signs of making trouble, and fielding a clergy many of whom are fundamentally sympathetic, now says it has to close its doors. It didn't make a very clear case for this yesterday, only loosely citing 'health and safety' issues*. The protesters countered that they'd checked with the fire brigade, which apparently has no problem. Worse, the 'first closure since the Blitz' line kow-tows to the worst kind of Daily Mail 'national shame' mentality.

That said, it's clear that there are some potential hazards here, and the main one - that the violent fringe could hijack the cause - is certainly problematic if, as I understand it, St Paul's is liable for anything that happens on its territory. But sadly this hasn't been spelled out properly so far and the cathedral has only itself to blame for vague publicity.

Today, incidentally, you probably won't be hearing from a closed cathedral the thunderous sounds of Liszt's Prelude and Fugue on BACH on the mighty organ - the chromatic upheavals of which contributed to my being sick in the porch of Norwich Cathedral in the early 1980s. As Jessica Duchen reminds us, it's the exact 200th anniversary of the Hungarian's birth. Here he is looking across to the cumbersome facade of the Esterhazy Palace at Eisenstadt (the inscription on the other side is rather odd, claiming Liszt as foremost son of Austrian Burgenland).

And here's his Blauer Salon in Eisenstadt's splendid Landesmuseum, reassembled lock, stock and barrel from the Schottenhof in Vienna.

I really don't have any Desert Island Discs for the occasion, unless it be Arrau in the Benediction de Dieu or Margaret Price in the Petrarch Sonnets, two of which Hvorostovsky spun rather beautifully in last night's recital. Most of the rest I can take or leave - my loss, I know; but so much Chopin last year spoiled me for returning to Liszt's piano music and finding it wasn't as miraculous, under all the wrappings, as I used to find it. Postscript: but then I listen to Cziffra in the Transcendenal Etudes, and I start changing my mind again...

*I've received further clarification from the St Paul's publicity department on what these problems consist of. They list:

· Presence of unknown quantities of flammable liquids.

· Smoking/drinking within the tented areas.

· Potential gas safety within the catering facility.

· Compromised free fire exits, usually open now closed but manned.

· Slips, trips and falls exacerbated at night with cover of darkness.

· Due to the darkness issues on North side, use of naked flame lighting.

· Sleeping risk within the tented area, if fire should break out.

· Public heath issues

a Sanitation

b Food hygiene

c Rodent/pest issue

· The issues of rope/guy-lines attached to trees, bollards, lamp standards possibly causing injury to face/neck/upper limbs and trips on low level guy-lines.

· VIP security due to camp protest.

All of which I can see the point of, but two questions remain: whose land is this (one recent report suggested it was a patchwork of St Paul's, City of London and free-for-all territories)? And exactly how does this rebound on entering and using the cathedral - is the fire risk too great?


Susan Scheid said...

I've made only a couple passes at Liszt--and a third now with the disk that came this month of orchestra works. For whatever reason, he doesn't seem to hold my attention (certainly not like this wonderfully insane Turangalila, which I'm listening to now). Perhaps I'll try those Etudes . . .

David Damant said...

The protestors outside St Paul's Cathedral just do not look at the fundamentals. No economic system can run fault free by itself, not even the best one, the free market. The recent economic crisis would have been far less severe, and more easily managed, if governments had not overspent, central banks had not prostituted the money supply, and regulators had controlled the risk profile of banks. These authorities - unlike the bankers - had no personal financial interest in assuming that the good times would last for ever. Yet we had the disgraceful statement by Gordon Brown " I have abolished boom and bust". What the psychologists call the Madness of Crowds is more widespread than in the banking parlours.

But wait! What if - in say 2002 or 03 - the government had refused to spend more on the Health Service, banks had been forced to restrain their activities, interest rates had gone up curbing house purchases and making existing mortgages more expensive? What would the Red Tops have said? Would there have been protests on the steps of St Paul's about the ruthlessnes of men in grey suits and their reactionary financial policies?

David said...

I think that, though their beefs are manifold and sometimes vague, many of the more informed ones are, like you, saying that capitalism per se makes the world go round, but that the recent behaviour of the banks has to change. And I agree. They're trying to find ways, not just shouting 'death to capitalism'.

But as you know, this can't be summed up in two paragraphs.

David Damant said...

I agree that the comments made by some of the protestors have been sensible. But I maintain that the first fault, and the first route to solutions, lies with the authorities. A first year MBA student would have condemned the balance sheet of Northern Rock - what were the regulators doing? ( this oversight is unbelievable - it was staring out of the accounts) If the central banks flood the economies with money, is it surprising that the bankers extended themselves too far? How many of the protestors would have refrained from making a million by taking steps enabled by all that money?

Something must be done and governments representing the people must do it: and by employing tools already to hand. I think (difficult to see exactly) that the lessons have been learnt

Howard Lane said...

Sadly the study of complex systems ('cybernetics' although this doesn't mean computer science), which has made clear the fundamental instability of unregulated systems for decades, is not on the vote-catching and profit-reporting agendas of our politicians and financiers.

But anti-capitalist protesters recognise this and, free of vested interest, are proposing a total structural rethink. In this at least they have a better understanding of the situation.

The current government take shelter behind condemnation of Labour's years of mismanagement but are silent about who deregulated the system in the first place: 'In the UK, Big Bang became one of the cornerstones of the Thatcher government's reform programme.'

Susan Scheid said...

Interesting discussion sparked by the non-Liszt part of your post. I remember when the Occupy Wall Street protests started up over here,I had trouble deciphering the message and tried to think what it should be. Over here, I think a lot would be gained if the 1933 Glass-Steagall Act were reenacted (it was repealed in 1999), but I'll admit that placards reading "Reenact Glass-Steagall" just don't have the ring (back in the day) of "Make Love, Not War."

David said...

Interesting. Howard, you're right about the structural rethink, though the path is vital - it will have to be achieved through government and due democratic process. What I'll be interested to see is if any of the proposals put forward by Occupy translate into legitimate action. At least they're getting plenty of media attention to try and clarify some of their better-articulated points.

To add to the grey area of the cathedral's health and safety issues, it seems that a spokesman for Occupy claims that the H&S committee of the City of London has no problems with the way they're conducting themselves.

David Damant said...

Howard Lane refers to " the fundamental instability of unregulated systems" That was my point. There is no system that does not need regulating, and the failure was not the tremendous mechanisams that have arisen in the last decades but the fact that they were not correctly regulated. The deregulation of the eighties was valid since it removed outdated practices. Undesirable regulation should have been replaced by new controls and disclosures.

Never forget that the new devices such as derivatives can vastly increase the efficiency with which capital is employed, to the great benfit to all members of society. But like the apple that Eve gave to Adam these devices have provided us with the knowledge of good and evil, and it is the fault of ourselves - essentially our governments - if we do not use this knowledge correctly. But do not blame the tools

You can blame in onto Adam
You can blame it onto Eve
You can blame it on the apple -
But that I can't believe

[PS These views were put forward in an official international arena in 1994 by a body of international investors. Modesty prevents my mentioning the chairman]