By Robert Butroyd:
Rav Sanghera wrote a play about it, Gerard Benson wrote two poems about it, and I’m standing with my back to the Victoria Hotel next to Fran, and we’re staring at it. At first glance it appears to be apologising for even being there, tucked away below the road. Apologising for replacing the double arched roof and fluted columns of the demolished Bradford Exchange with a functional angular box. But maybe Bradford Interchange is not the blight on the spirit that it thinks it is. Rav Sanghera thinks it’s a place full of fascinating stories. Someone at ‘Metro’, the ‘combined authority’, or whoever runs it now, thinks it has potential as an art gallery. Gerard Benson certainly thought it a place of poetry. So, we head across the road.
Fran spots the fractured white sails above the entrance. But what sort of ship is this? She compares it to stepping into Sydney Harbour with its famous Opera House, and its roof of white sails. In the canopy, above the queuing taxis pumping the air with diesel fumes and the drone of their throaty engines, I see the sails of an Egyptian felucca floating dreamily down the Nile. Rising above the sails the pyramid of glass resembles the bridge of a cruise ship, where the crew, thinking it a good idea at the time, took a short cut, maybe the Suez Canal, and having badly lost their way intended to moor up for a short while, but rather liked the place and decided to hang around.
Inside, the grumble of diesel is mixed with muffled conversations, instructions, exclamations, and the random bleeps of modern life: Greggs' oven warning the bacon will burn, reversing buses, pinging mobiles. The departure boards, timetables, shops, and commuters rushing for buses, trains and home remind Fran of the Paris Metro. She’s not thinking of the daily commute, but the first steps on a journey to a more romantic place. The interior reminds me of a place designed by airport architects: functional, a people moving machine, not a place to linger. But linger we must, as buses run late, or we run late, or we go to the wrong platform, or we misread the timetable, or granny is on the next bus, having missed the one we came to meet. Maybe that’s why someone thought to hang paintings along the top of the walls on the upper concourse. Something to distract, keep us out of mischief, keep us on our toes, keep us asking questions - not wrong ones like, where’s my bus? But right ones like, why are there these paintings of elephants, seals and clowns? Who painted them? Who put them there, and why haven’t I noticed them before?
Of course, there are other things we can do while we wait. How about a bit of dancing? Fran thinks it’s an intriguing idea. So did Gerard Benson. It was a moment three little dancing girls probably forgot as soon as their bus arrived, but it was a magical moment captured in his poem, ‘Snapshot: Interchange Bus Station.’ But dance, where? The three girls, up past their bedtime, watched over by their chatting mums, were inspired by what appear to be random patterns made by the red and blue tiles on the floor. The design may once have had an intention though it is hard to see now what that might be. Looking down Fran sees fragments of a star, oblongs, parts of a chessboard and other more peculiar shapes. Dancing to ‘an inner music’, the girls choreographed their moves between the lines, jumping together from one tile to another, flailing their arms. Children, expressing themselves in the moment, before they are told they can’t: can’t dance, can’t paint, can’t sing, can’t act, can’t write, told so often that in the end they can’t, and so, in the end we don’t. A moment of inspiration captured by a poem. Fran wonders ‘who sets down standards to tell us we are not good enough to do these things?’
On our way out we stop at the information point and Phil behind the desk is pleased that we ask about the paintings, telling us they are hung there all year, only taken down at Christmas. We are pleased too, pleased because they are unexpected, almost hidden, and that someone has made the effort, the effort to hang them and take them down, and then re-hang them. There can’t be any money in it for those who run the Interchange, whoever they are, or for the bus companies, or the artists. Until Fran pointed them out I had never even noticed the paintings below the roof, but now I see them, I hope the bean counters in accounts don’t. For now, I’ve found my ship, a ship of camels and clowns, of dancers and elephants, of stargazers, and joyful time wasters. This cruise ship can stay.
This essay was inspired by:
Brief Encounters at Bradford Interchange, a new play by Rav Sanghera, Freedom Studios
‘Community Pride’, ‘Interchange Bus Station at Night’, and ‘Snapshot: Interchange Bus Station’, all by Gerard Benson (2014) The Bradford Poems, smith/doorstop books
Unnamed Artists, Bradford Interchange
Robert Butroyd is the editor of Good Companions around, an online project inspired by J.B. Priestley, who took delight in what we are often told are places of little consequence, but through closer inspection are found to be no such thing.