When Californian Bradley Garrett started doing the research for “Bunker: Preparing for the End Times” — due out this August — he could hardly have imagined how prescient it would be. What was researched as a niche subcultural activity of a few strange evangelical Christians and others, locking themselves away underground, preparing for the end of the world, has become more pervasive than anyone ever thought possible.
So how fascinating to be offered a glimpse into the lives of those who take lock-down to the extreme — those who make their homes in disused nuclear weapon silos, hundreds of feet underground; those ‘preppers’ preparing for the collapse of civilisation, hoarding guns and larders of tinned food. In Kansas you can buy the whole floor of a Survival Condo for $3 million, which offers five years of self-sufficiency underground, for when the end times begin. All this is quite a few stages past wearing a flimsy face-mask as you tentatively make your way over to Tesco to stock-pile your monthly bog-roll.
Full disclosure: Bradley is a friend of mine, and one of the craziest people I know. But crazy in a good way. An academic with a serious point to make, Bradley is also an urban explorer, best known in this country for climbing the Shard before it opened, and for his various brushes with the law for unauthorised climbs of London’s most vertiginous landmarks. As someone who is afraid of heights, I still have nightmares about his description of balancing on the top of one of the chimneys of Battersea Power Station, wind gusting, his footing just one brick wide.
Three years ago Bradley very nearly persuaded me to join him on one of his adventures. This time the plan was to walk round all seven of London’s great Victorian cemeteries — known as the Magnificent Seven — and sleep the night in their crypts. In the end I was too chicken. Both because the idea of sharing a bed with lots of spiders and dead people didn’t entirely appeal, but also because I didn’t have quite the same appetite for unlawful trespass, and indeed, of getting caught.
But all this focus on death, on the end times, and on the exhilaration of near death experiences at the top of a high-rise building, has given Bradley a proximity to death that keeps a person in touch with the things that matter most in life. “Nothing sets your priorities straight better than a disaster,” he tells Stuart Jeffries at The Guardian.
Which is why the great re-set potentially offered by Covid-19 is that of remembering what is most important in life: family, friends, bird-song, silence, French wine and cheese, making children’s dens, the Eucharist, Beethoven, and mowing the lawn. Other lists are available, as they say.
But those who lock themselves away, bunker down, hoping to outlast the apocalypse, are surely missing the point: because your own personal end of the world will always catch up with you. That is an apocalypse no one can outlast.
I have been thinking about “Bunker” for weeks now, especially over Easter as the story of Jesus escaping from the tomb made such a strong contrast with those seeking to evade death by locking themselves back up in a tomb of their own choosing. For whatever else the resurrection means it is surely also that life is a release from permanent lockdown. Which is why I suspect that the evangelicals who run to their bunkers at the first sign of trouble are missing the heart of the Christian story: it’s about freedom and release — not about fear and confinement.