The Changing Face of Consumerism: Public Opinion, Booze Culture and Bartering

The local newspaper recently ran a front-page headline about proposals to open three new pubs in York’s city centre. Two local breweries – The Leeds Brewery, formed as an offshoot of the York Brewery, and the Ossett Brewery, had submitted plans to take over vacant premises – one a former cafe, the others retail units, previously an estate agent and an army surplus store.

The objectors raised all of the concerns you’d expect them to. Predictably, there was concern about the city centre becoming a mecca for drinkers, that having such a concentration of licensed premises would send a message that York promoted the already endemic booze culture that is, we so often told, a leading problem in Britain that causes the taxpayer billions, and that the opening of these three new hostelries would encourage an even greater influx of stag and hen parties and cause violent, alcohol-fuelled crimes and other such sordid scenes to soar.

But these aren’t the kind of places rowdy stag and hen parties would frequent. we’re talking about traditional ale houses that would also serve traditional pub grub. The kind of places tourists – particularly those from America and Japan – flock to in their thousands in order to experience a slice of culture they simply do not have back home. As a historic city, visitors to York want to see and sample tradition. They also want refreshment.

Other critics argued that it was essential that the city preserve retail premises for retail when conditions improve. Will they ever? This is also the same council that approved another out of town retail park, which objectors – not least of all local business owners – have opposed on the grounds that by taking the retail trade away from the city centre, the place is slowly dying. It’s a complex argument, not least of all because the major chains and small independent stores serve different markets. Nevertheless, they can’t have it both ways, by encouraging more retailers to move out of town and then complain that there is an abundance of vacant premises once occupied by retailers, especially in the middle of a lengthy economic downturn. Remember the words ‘credit crunch’ and ‘recession’? For some reason, people seem to think things are improving just because the FTSE’s up and more houses have sold in the last 6 months – never mind the huge numbers of redundancies announced by large employers like Aviva, Co-op and HSBC.

There is of course another angle to this, namely, if everyone’s redundant, they’ll need nice pubs to sit in and while away the hours as they drink their redundancy pay-offs and dole cheques.

The same day I read the article, I was walking home through the city’s pub-packed centre when I ran into musician, poet, diarist and rambler Mark Wynn, a man who’s inspiring in his complete disregard for any kind of consumer trends or capitalist-led operating models of industry. As ever, he’d been travelling the length and breadth of the city, the county and the country, playing poorly-paid gigs in pubs of the very sort the Leeds and Ossett breweries run and giving away most of his CDs for nothing or in exchange for a beer. It’s something to be applauded. he’ll never be rich, but in sharing his art, he never goes thirsty. Moreover, his approach represents the epitome of the punk ethic: he’s out there doing it himself on zero budget and building a fanbase from a grass roots level. that’s what I call sticking it to the man!

We exchanged pamphlets: I had the very last copy of my Liberate Yourself! pamphlet folded in my bag (there are now 100 copies in circulation, and having been left on trains, in pubs, inside self-help books in WHS and who knows where, their whereabouts and readership I haven’t a clue) while he had a batch of a new A5 publication called Dirty Work containing some selected highlights of his spectacularly off the wall and very funny tour diaries and, stapled inside the back page, a PVC wallet containing his last album. Arguably, I was up on the deal, but these things always balance out over time (some weeks later, Dirty Work 3 would see the light of day, containing more rampant ramblings and a new CD EP by Mr Mark E Wynn with additional text by Sam Forrest of Nine Back Alps and The Sorry Kisses, and myself). The important thing was, we had traded our art with one another, we’d both received something we wanted and what’s more, the cash-free barter had taken place on the street. Retail outlets are just so last year.

 

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Shops? Who needs ‘em?

 

And if you’re loving my work, The Changing Face Of Consumerism – the book – will be out some time in June.

The Worker pt. 3: Wednesday Morning 3am

Holy fuck! He awoke with a start. He had been deep in sleep, in the middle of some long and winding epic dream. There had been some crazy alarms and sirens, fires everywhere and bombs dropping…. but in a jolting instant he realised that the alarm of his dream had been the alarm clock by the bed. How long ha it been going? He checks the time: 8:02. Fuck, shit, bollocks, bugger fuck cunt, he’s going to have to get a move on. He hauled his arse out of bed and threw on yesterday’s clothes that were strewn at the foot of the bed. No time for breakfast – he’d used up the last of the milk yesterday and hadn’t made it to the supermarket since – he brushed his hair, cleaned his teeth. He was running late, so no time for a shave today. 8:27 and he’s having to run to make the 8:30 bus: the bus-stop is an eight and a half minute walk but he can make it in half that at a run. He hates running, because he’s not fit – too much beer, too many cigarettes – and he hates arriving at work an exhausted ball of sweat. But he can’t be late. He’s in luck: the bus is running a couple of minutes late, and he arrives, panting and thoroughly fagged out just as it pulls up.

9:00 on the dot and he’s made it to the office, firing up his workstation, positioning his chair, the usual routine. The phone rang. He took the call, went through the scripted schpiel, dispensed some pointless information to the frustrated old goat at the other end of the line, updated the systems, shunted some papers around. Rinse and repeat. The phone rang. He took the call. Etc. Such is the daily grind of the 9-5.

The calls kept on coming and the papers kept on piling up, and while he was on the rota for taking his lunch hour from 12:30 to 13:30, he was stuck on a call with some irate customer and wasn’t able to get away until 12:50. But then, the phones were supposed to be manned by a certain number of staff – 10, equating to 50% of the team – at any given time, and the workshy heifer at the next desk was late back from her lunch. When she did arrive, he noted with disdain just how badly she was starting to smell, a side-effect of her fucked-up interpretation of the Atkins diet. As she ploughed her way through a large bag of pork scratchings, he paused when she realised he was clocking her, his face conveying a disgust and disbelief it was hard to disguise. She explained – not for the first time, and with a cloud of deep-fried and seasoned pork rind gusting from her chops as she spoke – that she could eat all the fats she wanted, but absolutely no carbs. Sure. His boss was circling like a shark. He couldn’t fathom why the power-hungry corporate tosser had taken such a dislike to him, but it seemed as though he was on a mission. He has to watch his back: one step out of line and the boss would be on him, and could bring him down. He’d seen it done before.

 

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An office, 7am today and funnier than Ricky Gervais will ever be

He was getting hungry and struggled to contain his frustration. It was the same pretty much every day and the days had a tendency to run together, like watercolours on saturated paper. He could feel himself getting down. He was in a rut and he knew it. Same shit, different day and no mistake: every day drains into the next, and every day is exactly the same. Could be worse, he reminded himself. It was only work, after all, not his life. His evenings and weekends were his own, at least. Please give me evenings and weekends…

Lunch: he nipped out to the sandwich shop at the top of the street, bought a nutritionally vapid ham salad sandwich on flaccid white bread. The ham was dry, anaemic, the salad wilted to fuck. Sluiced it down with a can of Tango. He could ill afford to dine this way as he was well in the red and pay-day was still a fortnight off, but he simply couldn’t find the motivation to prepare a packed lunch.

His truncated lunch hour – he had to be back by 13:30, and while some of his colleagues were capable of getting away with pulling epic skives and late sign-ins, he was neither comfortable with nor in a position to do the same – was over all too soon and he returned to his desk, signed back into his terminal and the onslaught, the grind continued. The influx of work – phone calls, emails, paper correspondence – demanding his attention was ceaseless. 5:30 seemed a long way off.

The cleaner came round on her weekly circuit, with a bucket containing a couple of inches of fetid brown water and a Jaycloth, which she proceeded to smear over each desk in turn, before lifting the receiver of any phone not in use – or even phones in use if headsets were plugged in – and wiping the mouth and earpieces with the same crutty cloth. No rinse, only repeat: six, eight, ten desks and telephones would get this once-over before the encrusted cloth was returned to the bucket for a brief swill.

5:30 rolled around eventually, he switched off his workstation, clocked off, took a long, long piss that felt like heaven, and left the building. He’d hoped to get a couple of pints in after work, but Steve was taking his girlfriend out for a meal and Simon had his mum coming round. At the bus stop, his bowels started growling. He didn’t have log to wait for a bus home, but it got stuck in traffic. Discomfort began to nudge at his lower abdomen. The jam seemed to last forever, and he was practically touching cloth by the time he got home. He threw his jacket over the back of the sofa and went to curl one out. The relief!

Movements complete, he cracked open a can of beer. It didn’t last long. What to eat? There wasn’t much in. His funds were low and he’d not had the cash or motivation to make the trip to the supermarket at the weekend. A sad, salt-heavy microwave meal for one sat brooding in the back of the cupboard, so he nuked the plastic tray and chowed down the stodgy collation without enthusiasm, washed it down with a second can of lager. It was piss, but it was cold and alcoholic. He wanted more, so nipped round to the offy a couple of streets away and stuck a couple of four-packs on special on his credit card. He’d worry about paying it off later.

Cracking open the first of the eight fresh cans, he flicked on the TV but there was fuck all on so he fired up the PC and surfed for porn. He whipped up a serving of cream, then idled away the remainder of the evening on Facebook and another half dozen tins. Midnight rolled around and rather worse for wear, he decided it was time to hit the sack. He needed to sleep: there was work tomorrow.

 

 

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