Whitley Amateur Boxing Club is right at the heart of Whitley, both in location and spirit. In just three years, a lot of hard work from locals has seen this small hall in Callington Road transformed into a hub of community boxing and exercise activity that is well equipped and staffed. The place is packed to the rafters with talented fighters, hopefuls and enthusiasts, six days of the week.
Last year I got a text from a mate who lives in the flats opposite the John Madejski Academy (JMA). He said that there was some sort of uprising going on and the gates of the JMA had been flung open to unleash an alien entourage, who were now parading through Whitley looking like an escaped troupe of space-age circus performers or an absurdist dream made flesh with dancing, klaxons and odd machinery.
Redbrick poet Nigel Pounds is one of many talented poets, musicians, writers, dreamers, drinkers and schemers who live in Katesgrove. His new work My response to is available on Amazon at a very reasonable 99p (not a pound) and contains 22 honest poems that really are his cri de coeur. On reading these poems, I am reminded of this lament from Allen Ginsberg: “poets are damned… but see with the eyes of angels.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Mick Jagger was not the only musical luminary to grace Milman Road. Musician Rob Rose, who died in 2014, lived on the road from 2012.
When Oscar Wilde visited the Huntley & Palmers biscuit factory in 1892, he simply wrote ‘poet’ as his profession in the visitors’ book. It is this affirmation that I think poets first crave; simply to be called a poet. Nigel Pounds is a poet bubbling with enthusiasm about his new work tentatively titled ‘my response to’. His 2015 fat volume called Spark was a vivid, angry, albeit romantic look at the injustices of love and life. Nigel says his new work is even better.