Category Archives: Silly British Things
While yes, I am crazy, but there was a special reason – the Preston Bus Station is not exactly just any old bus station, and my interest in it ironically has nothing to do with buses!
It is one of the most striking examples around of Brutalist architecture, dating to 1969. If you don’t know, Brutalism is a particular harsh (brutal, shall we say?) version of Modernism, typically carried out with sharp geometry and loads of concrete. Wikipedia as always provides some good info, and interesting to see that its Brutalist Architecture page mentions some familiar characters – the Trellick Tower which we immortalized last year as the ugliest building in London, the Washington Metro, and three buildings at my alma mater (the law school, Forbes Quad – sorry, called Posvar Hall now, and my own School of Information Sciences building).
The Preston Bus Station, which with space for 40 buses on each side of the building is claimed as the second largest bus station in Europe, has gotten some wider attention because it is in danger – for more than 10 years now it has been on the chopping block. This has raised some very interesting issues – on the one hand, it is an amazingly awful (hell, brutal – see pictures below) structure that certainly doesn’t seem “fit for purpose” anymore, it if ever was. On the other hand, however, it is a landmark; the people of Preston have actually voted it as their favorite building, and it really captures the architecture and style of the time period.
Britain has a preservation movement that is even stronger than the US, but not surprisingly it is mostly focused on much older stuff. What timeframe is appropriate for something to become historic? Certainly lots of recent-past structures are demolished without thought, and that has happened throughout history – but after some period of time the thinking changes and those things that were viewed as so awful become quaint or retro or whatever.
The plan has been to knock it down and build a new city-center shopping complex; there have been several petitions to grant it landmark (known as “listed” here) status, all rejected. The fight continues, and the economic slowdown has perhaps lessened the demand for the new shopping center. Advocates have quite a nice website with a petition and a lot of other information about the building at http://www.prestonbusstation.co.uk.
So, what do you think – should this building be preserved? Check out the rest of the pictures below to see the retro interiors!
Overall, it was well worth our 15-min stop to see this potential landmark that is listed on the World Monument Fund’s “endangered monuments” list. I’m certainly in favor of saving it, but I have to admit I’m not exactly sure how to do it. It doesn’t seem to be too popular or useful as a bus station, and conversion to something else would quite possibly ruin it. In a bigger world city it could be a cool museum of brutalism perhaps, but I’m not sure that Preston can sustain that.
So, we finally did it. After more than a year and a half in this country, we finally drove a car on the wrong (er, I mean left) side of the road! As part of the long weekend trip to Cornwall, we planned to “hire” a car for 24 hours to see some of the country and to get us to and from the Minack Theatre (more on that in a separate post from Astrid).
The results? Well, in short, it was both easier and harder than I expected. All along I was worried that my impulse/instinctual reaction would be to swing the car to the right - into the path of oncoming traffic! The good news is that, as I had been promised by others, that was not a problem at all. Not once did I have an urge to move the car to the right, and not once did I turn into the incorrect side of the road.
The problem was judging the left side of the car; I had absolutely no clue where it was, and as a result tested out a few curbs, and Astrid was sweating it in the passenger seat as we passed perhaps a bit too close to some objects (like parked cars and centuries-old stone walls) on the right. I do believe, however, that this was mostly due to the “car” we got.
So, let me try to explain briefly what happened. I reserved an intermediate-sized 4-door sedan with an automatic transmission for 9am on Friday. However, Enterprise failed to deliver; they did not have such a car available, and after first promising it at 11:30 they didn’t show up to pick us up until just after 12, and we wound up having to drive with the Enterprise guy nearly an hour north (out of our way) to liberate the above monster truck from a field next to a tent on some farm. This was after a few failed attempts by the Enterprise guy to locate it – damn this country with no street numbers (the address was something like Rose Haven, Cornwall, England – very helpful).
I tried to drive a hard bargain and at least succeeded in getting 25% off the price, but was also told that we’d still have to return the car before noon on Saturday because that’s when they close (and otherwise we’d be stuck at the Enterprise office, which is a couple of miles at least outside of the town). So, we tried to make the best of it and set off from the middle of nowhere to drive down the coast.
The real problem was the road width; in sections where the road had a center line that I could hug, it was ok. But in lots of places there was no center line, because the road wasn’t wide enough to mark it, and in more than a few places the road was barely wide enough for one car! In those cases, when someone was coming the other way, I had no sense at all of how far over I could go to the left. Believe it or not, there are at least a few double-decker buses roaming around these roads too (including the open-top Route 300 Cornwall Explorer) – luckily we didn’t ever meet one of those, or it could have been really ugly!
Not only were the roads narrow, but of course there are no shoulders either. Most of the roads were very tightly buffered by what looked like a hedge of green…we found out (by looking, not by bumping into, luckily!) that these were mostly stone walls that are so old that they have become completely covered in vegetation. In one spot, there was a little rise next to the side of the road with a cow virtually hanging over the road!
Overall, though, the payoff was well worth it, as we enjoyed these spectacular views. And we learned to INSIST on a small car next time. I am confident enough, though, that I think we can hire a car and tour the more remote parts of the country (as well as Ireland), and I wasn’t quite ready to say that before last weekend.
I thought about trying to find some sparklers to celebrate American independance, but then I realized that it only gets dark these days at about 10 or 10:30, and I turn into a pumpkin at about 9!
There are 3 Americans working in my office, so today we did a boozy lunch (although in a typical American-puritanical spirit we ended up NOT having any alcohol – very odd) and went to the Texas Embassy. No, it’s not an actual Embassy, just a very clever name for a restaurant. It’s even right by Trafalgar Square, where many of the real embassies are … but it’s still just a restaurant. They have real Tex-Mex food though, which I was pretty excited about. (You can’t get a decent burrito in this country to save your life!)
I ordered a Dr Pepper, which is also pretty rare to find on a menu, and was only slightly disappointed when it came served with a slice of lime. It’s like they got it 95% correct, but still managed to screw up the details ! The same thing happened with my chimichanga, which was quite good! The guacamole was NOT made with mayonaise (a frequent sin over here), and the refried beans came with the typical glazed grease that makes them so yummy. But the rice came with peas! Now I ask you, who in Texas OR Mexico would ever serve their rice with PEAS?? It was pretty funny. So we laughed, but we also enjoyed and ate far too much — which, I’m pretty sure, is what a lot of Americans are doing today back in the States. Mission accomplished!
So here is a shout out to all the friends and fam back home … Happy Fourth of July! Enjoy the hotdogs and beer, and watch out for wild sparks tonight!