Last Tuesday (21st February), BBC Radio 4’s pm programme broadcast a memorable interview. It was part of their ‘take a leap’ campaign, challenging people to do something extraordiary on 29th February and tell the programme all about it.
The interview in question was with Jeffrey (I am merely guessing the spelling) who suffers from a severe anxiety disorder and therefore hasn’t managed for four years to take the half hour bus trip from his home to Swansea. (EDIT: the BBC has now put a clip online: listen here, from 2:00)
Today, on Wednesday 29th February, he is planning to get on that bus and visit the Quadrant bus station in Swansea. He reckoned that he might even be able to get off the bus and have a coffee in the adjacent shopping centre before he travels back. It sounds like such a simple thing to do – but he described his condition very graphicly and it was quite clear just what a heroic feat this will be for him. If listeners’ reactions are anything to go by, ten thousands of people in the whole UK are now rooting for this one man to get to Swansea’s Quadrant bus station today.
This story made me think back, too … Jeffrey hasn’t been to Swansea for four years – so he’ll still remember the old bus station: I hope the thought of that alone doesn’t keep him away.
It’s worth sometimes to remember the bad old days, just to keep appreciating that things can change for the better.
So here I am, remembering the old Quadrant bus station.
Oh the horror…
– The sheep pens to control the queues.
– The drafty doors which would blow open to let in cold blasts of wind and rain as a reward for those who dared to be first in line.
– The strategically placed ledges for the pigeons to do what pigeons do when people walk past underneath.
– The floor which seemed to be specially designed to be slippery when it was wet which, due to the leaky roof, it almost always was.
– The clock which had stopped, probably years ago, and had never been fixed.
And at night… – well, you didn’t want to be there. Somehow you sensed that in Quadrant bus station, nobody would hear you scream.
It’s worth remembering sometimes just how bad and soul-destroying architecture can be.
I still have the occasional flashback when I walk through the shiny new bus station, with its bakery, cafe and shop (open late, so the whole place feels safer), with its spaces fit to accommodate humans rather than sheep.
It’s amazing how much difference architecture can make. It’s just one of the major changes which have happened recently in this devastated city – and yes, to give credit where it is due, much of this happened with LibDems in charge (I can’t remember a Swansea run by anybody else, and I wouldn’t have it any other way, of course).
Still in spite of all efforts, Swansea was (and is in many respects) home to some of the worst urban development disasters I have ever seen. The old bus station was the very worst, though – as if Thatcher’s notion that anybody over 30 using a bus must be a failure had been cast in grey concrete, with the special aim to make those pathetic pedestrians suffer for their failure, too.
It’ll be a very long time before Swansea’s urban environment lives up to its amazing topographical setting. But a lot has happened since I moved here seven years ago – and in those four years since Jeffrey last made it to the Quadrant bus station.
Good luck, Jeffrey, with your trip today. I hope you make it, and I hope you will be pleasantly surprised!
EDIT: The BBC now has a full report of Geoffrey Harris’s story: