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The first time they’ve seen snow

Mark Geoghegan 25 October 2016

It's going to be a long winter in the global insurance village.

Some autumns you just know that it's going to be a struggle to get by when the nights draw in and the frost takes hold.

The harvest hasn't failed, but it hasn't been abundant either.

This has been true for a few years now and the grain store is looking a little light.

The insurance body has lost a bit of weight. It's looking leaner and ever so slightly meaner.

But it's not the end of the world. There isn't much fat but there is plenty of muscle tissue. No bones are visible. No ribcages or haggard cheekbones here - yet.

The strange thing is that to an outsider the settlement looks like it is booming.

Failed harvests and desertification elsewhere have led to displacement of the insurance tribes from other classes and territories far and beyond.

The village is bursting at the seams, every available berth taken. New structures - some temporary, some permanent - are being thrown up every day to try to house the new citizenry.

It's a great time to be an architect. There is a flowering of creative energy and capital being expended on construction and a newfound willingness to experiment with designs.

Some of the new buildings are startlingly modern, rising above the skyline in a symphony of glass and steel.

Others are traditional bricks and mortar affairs, even down to the sash windows. They try to look seasoned, but it is plain to see that they are still unweathered. Some get round this problem by using bricks and cornerstones reclaimed from previous edifices once located down the street.

A third style seems to embrace nothing more sophisticated than a makeshift tepee enveloping a meagre fire.

A fourth wraps itself around other older buildings like a strange form of cladding, or flies off at a tangent like a buttress.

A fifth is an inflatable made out of a revolutionary new material that claims to be resistant to the elements.

Still more hybrids mix and match variations, combinations and building materials with abandon. It really does seem that anything goes.

But while on the outside there is ostensibly huge variety, once inside the constructions seem far more familiar. Underneath the creative veneer, the plumbing and drainage is essentially the same as that the village inherited from its Roman ancestors.

The old city sewers are starting to creak and crack under the strain. It doesn't smell good anywhere. Renovation of the pipe network is decades behind schedule.

Meanwhile, an uglier transformation is taking place in wider society.

A new development is that visible weakness is pounced upon with a ferocity that surprises many. There is a widespread impatience with the weak and infirm that grates with the gentler citizenry.

Longstanding residents miss the civil and prosperous old town they used to know. But they don't want to move - and they don't see why they should. In any case, they wouldn't know where to go even if they had the inclination to leave.

Some old inhabitants secretly wish for a hard winter to put the new structures and their occupants to the test. Many look like they have been built with only fair weather in mind and some of the new citizens have never seen snow before.

But the way things are today, provided a construction promises the user a prospective measure of shelter and warmth, willing buyers are lining up.

After all, it is getting colder by the day...

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This article was published as part of issue October 2016/4

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