10 January 2008

My railway station has been turned into a shopping centre

I spent the day in Birmingham today. In spite of its boast of having more canals than Venice, and laudable attempts to reconnect its present citizens with their more radical ancestors such as Thomas Attwood, it remains an unnattractive city, more dedicated to commerce and consumerism than culture.

For most of my visits I have been met by a friend and whisked off by car, or else have travelled by Birmingahm's excellent internal train system out of the urban sprawl around New Street. Today, however, I had to fight my way out of the station to the nearest bus stop. It seemed that this was not encouraged and, looking back, I realised why. New Street Station is these days only an afterthought, the troglodyte sidekick of The Pallisades shopping centre. Visitors are signposted away from the trains past the tempting shop-fronts, the palace of urban consumption.

I pondered on the word 'pallisades', which offers the tempting prospect of sofas and gowns fit for royalty but reminded me instead of coercive fencing, corralling unsuspectnig travellers into a compulsory shopping experience. The sense was reinforced by the Bull Ring shopping centre across the busy highway.

Resisting attempts to be branded I had refused coffee in any cup marked with a corporate logo, on the train as well as in the station, and was now determined to find a non-chain cafe. A piece of toast seemed out of the question, and I was equally reluctant to spend money on a 'six-inch torpedo' from Subway. Eventually, down an unappealing side street, I found the Little Tea Shop. My milky coffee was relabelled as a 'cappuccino' and the price inflated to £1.80 but it arrived in a china mug and I settled for that.

The Turkish owner hummed along to 'Dream a Little Dream of Me' and I thought about Mama Cass, whose terminal tragedy resulted from over-consumption but who none the less continues to comfort those of us finding it increasingly difficult to stomach the inhuman world of transactions between cattle, mediated through brands rather than relationships.

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