A journey into fear, brutalising the boundaries of theatre and theme parks.
The Facility is a horror maze built in Birmingham but constructed in the consciousness of the customers. Imagine a twisted hybrid of The Twilight Zone, Crystal Maze and Shawshank but with dizzying disorientation and in your face frights. People arrive as happy customers but are dragged into a sadistic scientific experiment and become the lab rats in the cage. A cage welded together from nightmares and insanity, emanating from the brilliantly twisted minds of the creators. Queuing to be processed in The Facility unsettles the punters. Initially chatty, a skirling soundscape soon stuns their innocent insouciance. Screams from processed victims and howls from within the walls sows disquiet in their bones. Knowing they are about to be processed but with absolutely no idea what that means, they could walk away, they could choose to leave. But then the steel door opens. Like lambs to the slaughter, they file in fearfully. No longer punters, they are now experimental subjects.
And then it begins.
Ordered by anonymous military and medical personnel, subjects are selected, numbered and told to obey the strict rules. Resistance, in the best Vogon tradition, is futile. Any subject foolish enough to revolt against authority is guided, in no uncertain terms, back on to the painful path of processing. The disorientation and psychological pressure increases inexorably. There are no safe spaces within The Facility or the swirling psyches of subjects. Computer-driven effects amplify and enhance the true special effects; the staff and permanent patients of The Facility. Played by an excellent team of actors, they expose the subjects to madness, not at arms' length but barely at nose length. They know the secret ways through the maze, enabling them to appear from every unexpected direction.
All sense of time and orientation is taken from the subjects, and the only way out is a harrowing descent into the darkened depths of The Facility. Contorted patients scream from the cells and writhe in their shackles. They are the victims of the sadistic scientists, now merely statistics of medical failure. Like irradiated incubi and savage succubi, they want to share their infection with the processed subjects, enticing, entreating and excoriating. I thought I was protected by rationality as I analysed The Facility. When the walls moved and patients roared, I recalled the classic Psychology experiments conducted by Zimbardo and Milgram. My sang-froid was swiftly shattered by a psychotic patient wielding my personal phobia and I ran from The Facility with the other screaming subjects.
If you are brave, or foolish enough to be processed, you can book your journey into fear on twistedattractions.co.uk
Standard ticket price is £8.50 with special deals for groups and extreme experiences. Every single subject that I interviewed thought it was fantastic value and far better than any horror movie or theme park.
Please do read the warnings on the website very carefully and take heed. This is not a journey for the young, the infirm or faint hearted. Don't wear high heels and glamorous clothes. Even I dressed down for the occasion. Leave your bags and hats safely at reception and don't even think about taking a camera or phone. There are no opportunities for photography in The Facility. I only managed to smuggle out two photos.
Despite the psychological terror, The Facility is physically safe. Subjects are closely monitored and there are escape routes, so the only real danger is within the mind. You have been warned. Will you be processed in The Facility?
The Deputy Prime Minister said, in a speech at Oxford this week:
'Isolationists. They are not thinking about Britain's interests. They shroud their narrow nationalism in the language of patriotism. They mask their hostility towards Europe as British bulldog spirit. But these are false patriots.'
I spoke with Adrian Goldberg @RealADGoldberg on BBC WM @BBCWM in a discussion about Nick Clegg's headline-grabbing comment.
Adrian chaired an on-air debate and passionate views were expressed on both sides of the argument. One lady recalled her childhood during WW2 when the skies of Europe were dark with bombers, and declared she is against positive engagement with our partners in Europe.
The bombers darkening the skies of Britain during WW2 were not only Dorniers and Junkers from Germany but also Wellingtons and Lancasters, flying from here to bomb people in Europe. My parents witnessed this two-way traffic during their wartime childhood and members of my family were killed and injured. When I was a child, the skies were still dark with bombers. I remember the way my school-mates would cheer when 'Concorde' flew over our school. I didn't cheer because I knew it wasn't Concorde but a delta-winged Vulcan bomber. And it was armed with a nuclear bomb.
Avro made both the Lancaster bomber of my parents' childhood and the Vulcan bomber of my childhood. Both aircraft threatened friend as much as foe. Our Lancaster bombers killed French and other allied people during WW2 in what is now cruelly dismissed as collateral damage. They also killed thousands of German children who were utterly innocent of any crime and were not responsible in any way for Hitler and the Shoah (Holocaust). The Vulcan bombers I witnessed on a regular basis were threatening the very people who had sacrificed so much to defeat Nazism - Russians, Poles and Czechs. These people were not our enemy. NATO may have been locked in conflict with the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact but the people of those countries remained our friends. After the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of Soviet power, people from Eastern Europe were able to renew our friendship and in some cases, became new neighbours.
We only survived WW2 because of the selfless service of brave people who joined us from all over Europe, from the Commonwealth, and from other allied nations. Mian Khan was barely more than a child when he was killed aged just 17 in 1944. This brave young man, a Muslim from Punjab, gave all his yesterdays so we may all have a peaceful and prosperous tomorrow.
The central inscription on Mian's gravestone says 'He is the forgiver'; the lower is a verse from the Qur'an, 'We are from God, to Him we shall return'. Thank you to Riza Ünal @runal70 for kindly translating the beautiful Arabic script into English.
Out of the dreadful maelstrom of WW2, a dream was born. A dream of a Europe of peace and unity. A dream that the continent would never again be scarred by the cruel claw of war. This is the dream upon which the EU was built. This is the dream that has ensured that we, the people of Europe, continue to solve our conflicts with negotiation and diplomacy and not with bullet and bomb.
I am grateful to Khan and his friends, including my grandfather, for saving us in WW2.
I am grateful for those who built the peace after the war, especially Clement Attlee who also helped to found the UN.
I am grateful for leaders like Angela Merkel who have prevented the division of Europe and the return of war in the chaos following the financial crisis of 2007/2008.
Winston Churchill was an inspirational war leader but he campaigned equally vigorously for peace after 1945. He famously said in 1954 that 'jaw-jaw is always better than war-war'.
A peaceful, united Europe is the embodiment of that sentiment and I always vote to support it.
I am avowedly politically neutral and am personally middle of the road and centrist. I value politicians of all parties who work for unity and prosperity for all. I know many excellent Councillors, MEPs and MPs from the Conservative, Green, Labour and LibDem Parties and also many good independents too. I wish them all well in these elections.
Please vote in the local and European elections on 23 May 2014.
Please vote for a candidate who will work diligently to serve the people.
Please vote for a candidate who supports positive engagement in Europe.
Please vote for peace, prosperity and unity.
Please vote against hatred, division, racism and discrimination. Politicians that promote these views are not only cruel and dangerous but are traitors to our forebears who won the war and built the peace.
Matthew Ward, 21.05.14
The Industrial Revolution began in Britain, in part, due to an accident of geology. All the essential materials could be found together, unlike in other counties with advanced scientific and technical abilities. The pioneers of modern industry combined these essential raw materials with their inventiveness to produce prosperity. The Industrial Revolution only thrived because of railways, enabling the rapid, low-cost movement of materials, people and finished goods between manufacturers and markets. It was this combination of Brains, Steam and Speed that supercharged the Industrial Revolution and made Britain the workshop of the world.
For 63 years, the industrial heritage and history of steam locomotion has been preserved and celebrated by the Talyllyn Railway. Slate from Snowdonia clad the roofs of the world. Where dusty stone-laden wagons once trundled and clattered, visitors from every continent now delight in the glorious landscape of North Wales.