Journey to the End of the World: Review of an Apocalyptic Event

Journey to the End of the World: Review of an Apocalyptic Event
Preston Bus Station

Preston Bus Station: the hanging gardens of Lancashire?

It felt like a journey to the end of the world. I’m guessing that, if you live in Preston, it’s quite easy to find your way into the bus station. And if you arrive on a bus, of course, it’s just a matter of sitting there and being delivered. I don’t know Preston that well, and get easily mazed by the one-way system. So, on Saturday night, I was flushed with success at finding a parking space within visual range of the iconic Brutalist hulk which is currently Preston’s transport hub. With the wind blowing straight from the plains of Siberia, however, it was not so good to realise that I had no idea of how to get in. Bent against the icy blast, the end of the world felt uncomfortably close as I followed a chain link fence around the side of the concourse, and clambered over a wall.


Bus stations tend to be big and draughty and largely composed of concrete. That’s how I remember the bus station in Swindon when I was growing up. I’ve just been to check what that one is like now, and Google images reveals that it’s been tarted up with some snazzy red metal and glass canopies. Preston’s bus station looks as if it won’t get a chance for a facelift, being earmarked for destruction by the council sometime in the near future.


Waiting for the Apocalypse to begin at Preston Bus Station

Waiting for the Apocalypse to begin at Preston Bus Station


The evening’s event, The Journey to the End of the World, started with the Noize Choir. We’d all been given headphones, through which we were fed the eerie sound of a thousand bus stations. The multi-layered result – the shhhing sound of sliding doors being closed, the reversing beeps and revving engines – was amazing. I forgot to listen to the overlying prose from poet Bruce Rafeek, what with watching the faces and mouths of the choir, although the odd line came through. I particularly liked the image of the station breathing crowds in and out, and I know the idea of a secular cathedral came up a few times, along with a call to the populace to take what was their right. My boyfriend unwrapped his scarf for long enough to mutter something about ‘Communism’: a little harsh, but it was very cold. And his comment made me see the whole as a kind of Socialist Workers’ requiem mass, which seemed fitting.


Bruce Rafeek and the Noize Choir

Bruce Rafeek and the Noize Choir


Poet Shamshad Khan started her performance with a moment of silence: this may have been a technical glitch, but it linked her contribution beautifully to the bus station theme. You know the one, wait for ages for a poem to come along, then you get four at once. And they were poems suffused with a personal immediacy, a feeling enhanced, as with the choir, from having the sound delivered directly to my ears. Working along the lines of mortality, the first poem looked at the movement towards death. I loved it, and had my phone out jotting down memos of significant lines. It turns out, though, that noting ‘theatre end’ doesn’t mean much the following day. Shamshad, if you read this, can you remind me what it was I was trying to remember? An image that stuck, perhaps because of the transport setting, was that of people leaving for death early, to avoid the rush. Inspired.


It turns out that bus stations are perfectly designed for performance: those queuing up pens are made for the gathering of an audience. MC Brad Bromley led us around, his disembodied beatbox sounds pulling us along like the Pied Piper. His stories reflected the everyday drama of the station, telling of love and betrayal. He had silent actors waiting at each stage, sometimes almost indistinguishable from the drifting youngsters who appeared to be waiting for more than a bus.



David Hartley: you have been warned!


And on to David Hartley. There was a story. He didn’t need to worry about not finding a volunteer for the role of protagonist in the ‘Choose your own Apocalypse’ story: Emma leaped into it. And it was gripping, even if (or perhaps because) at every turn she chose the other option to the one I would have taken. Would the world have been saved if David had been following my choices? Maybe not. But I wasn’t the only one to be fully engaged with the progression: everyone present had their mouths open in anticipation of the next step. When Emma chose to cut the yellow wire on the bomb, one audience member let out a shout of ‘Nooo!’. I knew how she felt. But Emma did a great job, in spite of having her nose flattened, a gun held to her head and, ultimately, choosing the wrong wire (well, we did tell her…) and blowing up the world. I really wanted to come back for the second performance to see what happened with different choices. The overall question being asked was whether we really can choose our endings, or whether our attempts at self-determination are always doomed to failure. And how you decide who is telling the truth. As anyone who has been watching ‘Utopia’ can tell you, sometimes it’s hard to spot the real villain…


Awaiting the end in the Station Cafe

Awaiting the end in the Station Cafe


So we’d had endings. Thoughts of mortality. The demise of relationships. The options of alternative apocalypses. Shepherded into the sanctuary of the bus station cafe, we now came to the end of our journey. Phil Ormrod’s performance brought to life a couple taking a break in the cafe. Unknown to either one or both of them, they are facing life and death decisions. She is plucking up the courage to tell her boyfriend that she is pregnant. He thinks she’s in a bad mood because his idea for her birthday present isn’t good enough. Beyond the windows of the cafe, world annihilation is rolling towards them. Will they have time to resolve their misunderstanding, or will outside events sweep them away before a resolution is reached? Echoing the poems of Shamshad Khan, Ormrod skilfully brought us to a consideration of threshold moments, those small everyday events that might just be the last things we experience.


I was asked at the end how I felt about the bus station and, by implication, its imminent demise. I had to admit that, before it was pointed out to me, I’d never really noticed it. And, of course, that’s the point. We rarely notice things when they’re around all the time. We don’t miss things until they’re gone. I’ve been sitting here for some time now trying to think of ways of describing the building, not in the general terms of ‘iconic’ or ‘landmark’, but what it actually looks like. It’s surprisingly hard, perhaps because it looks like nothing else on earth. A vast, sideways radiator? Doesn’t quite capture it… The interviewer told us that a Saudi prince was so taken with the bus station that he had a replica built in his back garden, the swooping white layers turned into hanging gardens.


What did the evening’s event bring to the discussion? Partly, it was a sense that everything has its appointed end, however much we rail against the prospect. But also, it showed that the moment of destruction often comes when we least expect it, when we no longer have the option to act. The destruction of the bus station has been foretold in very concrete terms. We know about it, therefore we have the opportunity to do something about it. If you Google ‘Preston Bus Station’ you will find, amongst the many incredible images, a vibrant campaign to save this landmark building. Who’s to say that ‘60s Brutalism is less valid than Tudor half-timbering or Victorian grandeur? In the meantime, whatever the final result, I’m glad I witnessed the Journey to the End of the World.


The Journey to the End of the World was brought to us by the marvellous They Eat Culture, and the equally wonderful Lancashire Writing Hub

You can find out more about the campaign to save the bus station on this Facebook page

Photographs of the event are by  Bernie Blackburn, and you can see more of them here






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