The cost of comfort
It costs more money than ever before to keep a human being alive, content and comfortable. The concept of premium has lost all meaning, because even the most basic services, experiences and goods come with a price tag.
First, there is rent to pay, or a mortgage if you are lucky. Then there are household bills for everything from gas and electric to water and television. The government even taxes fresh air in 'under-occupied' council houses, adding another exploitative cost just because they can.
That brings us to council tax, an exorbitant penalty for having the audacity to settle in a certain town, city or borough. You want your bins emptied, too? Sorry, there’s a charge for that.
Then we have national insurance and car insurance, health insurance and phone insurance. We have road tax and stamp duty, admin fees and booking charges. Oh, and that wage you earn each month? Yeah, the government will take twenty percent of that, too, thank you very much. Even more if you have a particularly successful career.
If you don’t want to walk to work in the pissing rain, you are going to need a car, or at least a train ticket. That will put another dent in the bank balance.
If you eschew social convention and steadfastly march about town, you’re still going to need an Uber to transport your shopping back home. That’s going to cost you a fiver, maybe more during periods of high activity. How dare you need a lift with your aubergines and carrots?
And so you arrange to meet your friends for a good old moan about Brexit and foreign aid, IKEA and the scandalous price of Chicago Town pizzas in Tesco Express. Only there is nowhere to sit without buying something to justify your annoying presence.
You have to purchase a coffee to sit in Costa, or at least a chocolate muffin, and even the library will kick you out if they suspect lingering. Nando’s beckons, and before you can say medium butterfly with spicy rice, you’ve just spent another twenty quid on chicken and chips.
Encountering a free parking space is now rarer than seeing Everton win a trophy. Rubber on tarmac? That shit costs money.
You need twenty pence to have a piss at Lime Street and a pound to use a trolley in ASDA.
You need £50 to park at Thurstaston beach all year and £30 to buy a railcard that gives you 30% off tickets, allowing you to visit London for the staggeringly cheap price of £145.
We have descended into a nation of angry Roy Croppers, storming into Aldi with seven bags-for-life brought from home to avoid the 9p penalty for needing plastic to carry our cucumbers and Muller yoghurts.
In London, you have to pay £11.50 to drive in certain postcodes between pre-ordained hours. In Birmingham, you have to pay £6.40 to drive on a motorway that isn’t congested. And in Merseyside, you have to pay £1.80 to drive two miles through a darkened tunnel that connects Liverpool and Birkenhead.
You decide to get away for a while, to rest and recuperate in another country, far away from the utter carnage of another Saturday trying to buy a desk in Argos. Travel is cheap these days, right? Well, the tickets can be, but if you want to sit next to your partner, that’s extra. If you want to take your own possessions in your own suitcase, that’s extra. And if you want to be transferred to within six hours of your final destination? You guessed it - that’s extra, too.
Through gritted teeth, you endure another holiday in Salou, surrounded by corpulent people wearing Glasgow Rangers shirts around the pool. After eating incessantly at the all-inclusive hotel, you return home three stone overweight. Propaganda shames you into visiting the gym. Maybe you’ll have a swim while you’re there. However, those precious treadmills and that holy hot tub are only accessible if you earn approximately £26,000 per year. The cartel wins again.
So you resolve to study, hoping to increase your chances of landing a job that allows you to exercise anywhere other than in the streets, where the rain still hasn’t stopped. You want to attend university and nourish your brain, bettering yourself with new skills? That will be £36,258, please. Don’t worry, though, you can pay in monthly instalments until you’re 65.
Back to work. Back to the grind. Back to paying for toilet roll and toothpaste, tampons and tinder.
You have to pay to private companies to remove asbestos, a lethal product sanctioned prolifically by post-war governments.
You have to pay United Utilities to remove rainwater from your rooftops and pavements, even though you have zero control over the weather.
You have to pay the council to lower the kerb before building a driveway, the only way to park your car within a fifteen-minute walk of the house.
You even have to pay the living costs of an unemployed family residing in Buckingham Palace.
It’s all too much, so you go for a walk. You stop at the corner shop for some cola bottles and a loaf of bread, but there’s a minimum spend of £5 on your card, sir. Out of embarrassment, you have to use the ATM, which charges you £1.50 for the inconvenience of dispensing money, literally the sole purpose for which it was designed.
The cola bottles hurt your teeth, so a dental check-up is required for £20.60. The subsequent root canal treatment sets you back £59.10, and you have to pay for glasses just so you can read the horrifying bank statement.
Back at home, you want to watch a film, but the act of searching Netflix for two hours before watching eight minutes of a dreadful documentary about drugs in Mexico costs £5.99 per month.
You scroll social media instead, finding humour in a New York Times headline about Donald Trump’s daily escapades, but the article lives behind a paywall, and you can’t read it without subscribing for six months, signing your life away in the process.
Totally fed up, you fork out hundreds of pounds for a pug, your very own cheerleader in the demoralising crusade of modern life. Then your landlord invokes clause 7.2 in the lease agreement, demanding an extra £20 per month in doggy rent, and chronic breathing problems necessitate another crushing direct debit with the village vet.
The weekend rolls into view, so the car needs cleaning. Negotiations start at £13. If you want to put air – literal air – in the tyres, a luxury extra, you’ll have to get some change. Back to paying £1.45 for fruit pastels to get cashback in the petrol station. Back to dreaming of a timeshare jet wash, the ultimate treat for any weary adult.
You pay £23 to watch a fifth division football match, capitalism dressed as escapism. One team is sponsored by a Chinese betting company; the other bears the slogan of an international airline. Incongruity reigns supreme. The stadium has been renamed after a local furniture store, while everything down to the match ball is slathered with branding.
Ennui sets in, dissatisfaction grows, and sertraline is suggested as a cure for the chemical imbalances in your brain. Each prescription costs £9, and if you are referred to a specialist, parking at the hospital will cost £3.20 per visit. Therapy starts at £45 per session.
You plod along with life, reluctantly paying for three minutes of relaxation in those comfy chairs at the airport and for your kids to wear their own clothes on dress-down Fridays at school.
You pay for water in restaurants and water at home, water in bottles and water in hotels, even though it’s a naturally occurring substance funnelled through the bank account of billionaires who woke up one morning and decided to control its distribution.
You pay to watch Champions League football on one channel and NFL on another. You pay to listen to music on YouTube while still being able to use other apps simultaneously. You pay to stay warm as companies do the same with gas as they do with water and coal.
When it’s all said and done, and you have just a pair of Joy Division oven gloves to show for the £1.2 million you have earned in monthly instalments across a 45-year career, you have to pay for your own funeral, your own hole in the ground, your own headstone, and even your own urn if you prefer to be cremated.
Such is the cost of comfort nowadays. Such is the price of burdening society with your presence, even after death. Planet earth and everything therein spins forth as one giant billboard, one humongous opportunity for commerce. We’re pawns in the corporate machine, robots trained to launder bourgeois satisfaction. One day, it will all go boom! I wonder who will pay the final bill?