Paying to piss

“What the hell’s happened to Sheffield train station?!” was what I was thinking as I got off the train, on a Wednesday afternoon. A sudden violent interruption of being greeted with red ‘NO ENTRY’ signs (the stairway to the platforms has been split into two sections, making everything feel a little uncomfortablly formal as was walking down in single file). Then, turning to head to the toilets, I found that I was halted by barriers asking me to give 30 pence for the right to relieve myself. Why, I am thinking (with a fair bit of frustration), does Sheffield seem to be trying to be like its more authoritarian Yorkshire brother Leeds? (with the recently built St Paul’s City Lofts skyscraper in mind; a towering yuppie tower dipped in a corporate veneer and with ground level surroundings in which anyone without a suit and tie on would look like a potential threat to security – a type of building seemingly, already omnipresent in Leeds city centre). Do the decision-makers for Sheffield (who are supposed to have its interests at heart) believe that this is really progress?

Leeds, the city that I had just travelled on the train from (regardless of its remaining qualities, especially its old pubs) seems to be well over a decade into an extreme gentrification and commodification of the entire city centre, until it is nearly at the point where it is almost out-of-bounds to those who live in the surrounding poor inner city areas. Around the outskirts, one will find some of, what must surely be, the most deprived areas in this part of the country, whilst the centre gleams with ever-more shining towers, outdoor bistros, and horrendously expensive shops. Outside the covered walkways, one will still find a fair few of the victims who have to live in the sink estates surrounding the city centre (arguing on the streets with their spouses or fellow family members, confused as to the cause of the state they’ve ended up in) but, with the advertisements of the city’s future plans teaming-up with the already ‘cleansed’ areas, one realises that it is only time before these people won’t be even allowed to walk the streets of the city they call home.

But this process is happening everywhere (check out the new Trinity Walk shopping centre in the nearby city of Wakefield – a completely unnecessary addition to the city for nearly all except those behind it), It’s just that Leeds was possibly quicker to get there. The reason why the toilet pay-barriers in Sheffield bother me, is because, out of all the cities and towns in this area, Sheffield still currently seems to possess more culture, greenery and more of an alternative to a place dominated by money only (both officially and unofficially: the city is draped in street art like no other northern city), highlighting it as an hot-bed of alternative thinking and creativity – basically, even if only slightly, Sheffield seems to point to a more positive, even more progressive, future, than most cities currently do here in the U.K. But nowhere is safe.

The Government slashing of state funds is exacerbating this process, forcing such public places as train stations to charge people for what once was free, and forcing organisations, councils and charitable trusts to further-more allow the corporations into their living rooms in order to survive (The charitable trust I work for is now receiving funding from the Shareholders of Santander, one of the world’s largest banks, correlating with a period in which it has suffered funding cuts from government body sources – without a doubt, ethics become less important in times of struggle). The government’s (the Conservative-Liberal democrats coalition) “the cuts are a necessary evil” rhetoric is (to anyone who suspects thus investigates) total bollocks and is actually a policy for economic shock therapy (a way for capitalism to worm its way into any remaining publicly owned assets, or create a new market through generating fear of not doing so, brought to our attention in Naomi Klein’s must-read book The Shock Doctrine). It is a disaster capitalism tactic; forcing everything (through fear) to become more profit-making orientated. In this case the fear dispelled was of a ruined nation/total economic ruin – “worse than Greece” – and enough people bought the idea that the cuts were necessary, even if they didn’t agree – mentally hemmed in by the fact that the governments best of worst enemies (Labour) said they’d still also make the cuts, just over a longer period of time and in a ‘nicer’ way.

Frightened into succumbing to the wants of the free market-loving establishment – all parties above incorporated (fuck me, it gets me angry when people still refer to Britain as a democracy just because I can voice this without fear of being beaten with a club) – we are being herded like farm animals into more company-friendly fields. Basically a city is becoming a place that is officially out-of-access to anyone who isn’t there to shop, or who doesn’t have surplus cash (a social-cleansing – getting rid of all that is ‘unsightly’ and all that one needs to forget about if they wish to spend/consume friction-free, without any niggling doubts about the impact of doing so – which is already the case in the white-washed indoor shopping malls). Is it not insane that now people in city centres actually think to themselves “I can’t really afford to piss right now”?. We already have to pay for drinking water (disguised a physically-enhancing ‘special’ mineral water), now we have to pay when we need to return it.

What this does at a fundamental level – when money is required to allow our body to proceed with functioning (which makes this ever-so scarily close to a stage when oxygen becomes a commodity, which – looking at the way things are heading – doesn’t seem completely unrealistic) – is make money issues swell to have a ever-more dominant presence in our lives; the need to have it, the need to be able to make it, make us more focused on looking after ourselves and ourselves only (or at least the family unit), making the need for it more and more viscous. This is perfect for all-pervasive capitalism to keep on regenerating itself – it is one continuous shock therapy. This process will continue to exacerbate the problems currently affecting our society – clone town centres sealed off from clone ghettos.

Let’s imagine a city centre full of drinking water fountains, free public toilets, fruit trees lining the shopping streets, indoor communal places where you can enter without being required to buy something within 5 minutes of being in there. The issues of crime and vandalism (which many may raise as an stoppage to such plans) are very tiny obstacles to say the least, as vandalism is usually a reaction of people who have (by the very processes of capitalism taking land away from the public) been made to feel like they belong to no place. A capitalist society will only ever seek to solve the problems caused by capitalism by becoming ever-more authoritarian.

In line of what I was previously saying about Sheffield, the city does currently have really nice places where one can sit and not have to pay for something, including the indoor peace gardens which do open for most of the hours in a day (although the presence of figures who seem to be a a cross between bouncers and policemen, under the Orwellian title of ‘community support officer, does lessen the relaxation of the place). But I fear that if (and probably when) the money gets even tighter, franchises will move into these areas, making one have to purchase something in order to be there.

I believe that one must always do what they can to try to make the world better, and not just seek to make themselves better than others, but all-pervasive capitalism makes doing so excruciatingly hard, when one is always undergoing the shock therapy mentioned above. This has been a 250 year old scam which is really start to take the piss (quite literally) now.

p.s: If people see this as catastrophising, then perhaps I need to state that I see capitalism as causing catastrophising loops which are difficult to ignore. But truth be told, I currently attend Cognitive behavioural Therapy sessions in an attempt to overcome my negative thinking cycles in relation to my personal/social life. However, I am in disagreement with seeing my concern over climate change/the destruction of society by capitalism as located (just as my paranoia and low self-esteem can be) with an inner negative thought pattern that treats opinion as fact (and the reaction of “it’s just a case of being able to switch off now and again” is missing the point of what I am getting at): perhaps I am completely right and these ‘global’ patterns will be perpetuated and exacerbated (as with my own inner negative thought patterns) because society itself is locked in a negative vicious cycle – a self-destructive cognitive pattern which is reflected in the psyches of many in a late-capitalist society who attend such therapy sessions for help! And in this light, is not reasonable to suggest that it is the world that currently has the mental illness, not the individuals who are suffering? (I see the impersonal striving of capitalism, and the power that protects its endeavours, as the source of these negative planetary cognitive loops. Indeed, part of the reasoning in deciding to go to Cognitive Behavioural Therapy was to get rid of my perpetual walls, in order for me to be more of use in helping/being part of a change. The dilemma lies with the difficulty in taking only want I want to take from it, without coming into conflict with its own agenda, which, of course, is coated in the ideas of the ruling ideology: for example: at one session it felt like I was being encouraged to see likely outcomes of runaway climate change as opinion [things I expect to happen, because of my ‘catatrophising’] rather than fact, and it seemed to me that there was an encouragement to simply forget and to take the line of “there’s nothing I can do myself about it, and I’m sure the government is doing all it can do prevent this happening” – a way of seeing things which runs in perfect harmony with the ruling ideology’s attempts to condition us into being simply isolated, self-orientated individuals, who let ‘the leader’ (whoever that may be) sort things out, whilst we do our best to get along with our lives. However, I am still attending CBT with the hope of benefiting from the merits which shouldn’t need to be entangled with the ideology’s agenda).

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About John Ledger

A visual Artist, eternal meanderer and obsessive self-reflector by nature, who can’t help but try to interpret everything from within the tide of society. His works predominantly take the form of large scale ballpoint pen landscape drawings and map-making as social/psychological note-making. They are slowly-accumulating responses to crises inflicted upon the self in the perplexing, fearful, empty, and often personality-erasing human world.

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