Within the old Whitley borders, and built on the sewage plant that had been the origin of the Whitley whiff before new facilities were built on the other side of the A33, Kennet Island isn’t everyone’s cup of tea as a place to live or visit. Some people point to its isolation from the town, the zombie-film-like soulless streets and architectural sameness as the downside. On the upside, it’s clean and safe with some nice foliage, there is a hospital for a minor op and it’s close to the football and Kennet Meadows; you can even walk or cycle by the canal from central Reading. While most Islanders are hunkered down in their living machines, two resident pioneers are working hard at building a smart and tasty new business, situated slap bang-in the middle of the estate’s rather wonderful and a bit mad waterfall-bedecked piazza. Breege Brennan and Shuet Han Tsui are the friendly, busy folk behind the memorably named Fidget & Bob and generously agreed to talk to me about it.
While our University students are engaged in scholarship sublime or out volunteering, or maybe just kicking wheelie bins down Hatherley Road after flooding Reading pubs dressed as golfers (for reasons I don’t want to understand), you could be using one of their three great bars, where well-behaved townies are welcome. All three have reasonable prices and well-trained, polite staff, but refreshingly little else in common with each other. I have been wearing the hair-shirt by breaking dry January and drinking and eating in all of them. They have varied opening times, so best to check the links.
Every working morning I sleepwalk off the Emerald number 5 bus and take a slow short-cut through the Edwardian-style Harris Arcade. On my way I pass what I can only describe as the most promising and welcoming chairs in Reading, outside the Grumpy Goat shop. Then this sharp thought comes into my blurred mind – instead of going to work I could sit here all morning drinking beer and eating cheese. After all, beer and cheese; what’s not to like? I was kindly given some time to pop-in for a chat to get a taste of what this business is all about and I was given some jolly good info too.
William Morris once said “have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful”. You can find something that fits that adage at the Age UK shop on Whitley Street or you can donate something you don’t love or need, and please someone else, while supporting a cause that affects us all in some way. Last month, I saw a raspberry beret in the window and the search is now on for a charity shop leopardskin pillbox hat. I popped in to ask friendly assistant manager, Jackie, about how it all works and what life is like behind the counter.
If you are out on the local roadway or on the pavements grey and you are looking for an interesting walk or a peaceful place to visit, then just over the old Whitley borders across the M4 there is a beautiful church that is almost a thousand years old.
Glen Dinning is the 25 year old enthusiast behind Blue Collar Food, which can be found at the Butter Market on Wednesdays, the summer foodie events at the Forbury and other recent well-received markets in Henley and Guildford. In a town where a wagon-train-like huddle of feisty independent shops and cafés survive and sometimes thrive amongst a Scooby Doo background of chain coffee shops and retail, Glen is a true innovator and entrepreneur, but he’s not a bit like Del Boy or the Wolf of Wall Street. He is a friendly Reading geezer with a blue and white hooped heart who has already achieved great things with a smile on his face and a large portion of savvy and sheer bottle. He agreed to meet me over a pot of tea to give up some of his business secrets and tell of future plans (and perhaps seek investment in my toast business). He had his phone turned off and he paid for the tea.
Reading based naturalist and bicycle kitchen pioneer Adrian Lawson makes an unlikely Professor Higgins, but for the last three years he has been helping refugees learn to speak English at the Reading Refugee Support Group. We met up for a relaxing carafe of loose leaf tea in the smart C.U.P. café at St. Mary’s Butts for a chat about his voluntary work.
Whitley library was built in 1935 in the classical and confident municipal style of the time, and is a stand-alone building in smart red brick, with a lovely scrolled Bath stone cartouche at the top with “LIBRARY” written on it. It stands on Northumberland Avenue next to a roundabout at the heart of south Reading. There is a very similar library building in Palmer Park and the style does seem to project a pride in civic life, education and the burgeoning welfare state with that glorious dawn of the National Health Service just a war away.
I was on a lunchtime walk from work with colleagues recently and among them was Jamaican-born Rastafarian, David Archibald. David’s knowledge of the Afro-Caribbean history of three Katesgrove buildings had us all enthralled. He gave us some real insight into the cultural and socio-political side of life growing up in Reading in the 70s and 80s. With vivid joy, he talked of the great times he had at the Apollo Youth Club, the Caribbean Club and the Central Club; David explained most of his life at the time revolved around social gatherings with music at the heart of everything.
For 11 years, the Rising Sun Arts Centre in Katesgrove has been hosting a regular tribute night featuring the work of iconic song writers and artists. From David Bowie to Carole King, Depeche Mode to Kate Bush, amateur troubadours and musical all-comers have been welcome to perform their songs without audition or prejudice.
Felix Brunner is a builder, an artist, a former school teacher and educationalist, a Peace and Green Party activist, Reading fan and the owner pioneer of Reading’s most marvellous independent arts and music venue, the Rising Sun in Katesgrove. He is also the loudest whistler I ever heard.
Gordon Greenidge – hard hitting West Indies batsman and Alfred Sutton schoolboy is honoured in an incredible performance in the cricket pavilion at Reading School for 3 nights this week. The two actors playing the young and older reminiscing cricketer set this unusual theatre in the round on dramatic fire with their dazzling energy and intimacy.
This is the play where Shakespeare put language into orbit, elevating words far above their station and onto a higher shelf of consciousness and depth. Any amateur production of Hamlet is ambitious; the lead actor has 1400 lines if played in full, and you need to be thespian mob-handed to cover so many other roles and speaking parts. Even the minor roles seem to have more layers than the earth’s crust. But the Progress is a theatre with ambition, courage and enthusiastic actors who seem to pull off most theatrical challenges with brio and aplomb. Even so, I would hate to “go on alone” for such a challenge (West end actor-speak for sober) and for the audience, a large G&T would seem mandatory.
Whitley raised sporting legend Lawrie Sanchez has had the most amazingly varied life and career, including some great highs. He has appeared on University Challenge, scored a winning goal in a cup final, run a successful Reading bar and nightspot, been the first to be sent off for committing a professional foul, got a university degree, cycled to Amsterdam, walked the Namibian Desert, steered Northern Ireland football to their most successful period (until recent success), raised Wycombe from the doldrums to football league success and a cup semi-final, managed a team in the Greek Premier league and even helped relegate Swindon!
If you are a newcomer to Reading, the Berkshire county town and capital, then there a few things of which you should be made aware.