Mamma mia! Italians invade Reading!

Italian students at the English language summer school at Bradfield College. Photo : Pierluigi Lippolis

This year, the Whitley Pump’s very own theatre reviewer Gillie Tunley helped teach English to Italian students at Bradfield College, an impressively beautiful independent school near Theale. The students spent a day in Reading and shared their views on the town.

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The fate of the Whitley Conduit

Drawing of the Whitley Conduit 1908 by Mr T.T. Cumming – Berks, Bucks & Oxon Archaeological Journal Vol 14

The Whitley Conduit on Highgrove Street was probably Reading Abbey’s drinking water source until the Abbey’s dissolution in the sixteenth century. The conduit existed at least until 1908, when Edward Margrett described the remains and requested that the municipal authorities repair it. But what happened to it after that?

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Twinned with the Whitley Pump – Woolhampton Drinking Fountain

Woolhampton’s drinking fountain was presented to the village (which is on the A4 halfway between Reading and Newbury) by Miss Charlotte Blyth, a member of the family who owned the Woolhampton estate at the time, to mark the diamond jubilee of Queen Victoria in 1897. The inscription on the wall inside says “Righteousness Exalteth a Nation. Victoria R.I. Diamond Jubilee 1897”.

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Whitethroats and I

by Adrian Lawson.

Whitethroat. Photo: Nikola Middlemast

If you see me at this time of year, I am usually not walking very fast – I am scanning the fields and bushes on my regular walks looking for the common whitethroat. From spring and through the summer there are quite a few of them scattered around Reading, skulking in bushes or patches of bramble, and singing their curious scratchy little song.

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Munchees happy café

I spent a year unemployed in Reading in 85-86 and it made me feel pretty low. It is incredible how quickly your self-confidence ebbs away when you are in that situation. On Giro day I used to treat myself to a meal out at this friendly café at the Butter Market called Munchees; I would have usually have either the burger or fish-n-chips and a milky coffee. A waitress would take your order and you paid at the counter afterwards. Back then, there was a big bloke with a moustache running the place who always made you feel as you were on to a bargain by knocking 10% off the bill and you would be offered a free lollipop on leaving.

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1962 air crash wreckage found at Kennet Meadows

By Adrian Lawson.

Coley Meadows (c) Adrian Lawson

I met the owner of part of Coley meadows many years ago, and he told me a fascinating tale of two aeroplanes colliding there. He described the area where he thought they had crashed, and for many years I kept my eyes open for any sign. When the Fobney Island nature reserve was being dug I had hoped to find some evidence, but there was none. I looked it up and found a news report; the crash happened on 4 November 1962. There was no detail on the actual location, so I asked a few of the more senior residents, but strangely nobody knew much.

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Redbrick blackbird

When you hear a very loud, varied, flutey birdsong from your roof or TV aerial at sunset or sunrise in these early months of the year, then you will be most likely listening to a male blackbird. The juvenile first-year males sing in January and February and the older ones follow from around March. Quite why these sentinels of the natural world have such a boring name in English is hard to understand; there are plenty of other black-plumed avians. They are lovingly called merle in French and merl in the old Scottish dialect.

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A portal to a parallel Whitley

Nick Garnett (Whitley Flamboyance Festival)

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.

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Nigel Pounds’ response to…

Nigel Pounds

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.”

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How many Harrison’s Barns were there?

Plan of the 1643 siege of Reading defences – north is at the bottom of the page. © British Library Board (ADDMS.5415.E.3.)

The heritage antenna on Katesgrove Hill crackled into life when it received a transmission from the Reading Borough Council planning committee webcast in November about possible English Civil War defences underneath a town centre site proposed for redevelopment .

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Fidget and Bob on Kennet Island

Shuet and Breege at Fidget and Bob’s on Kennet Island

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.

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The Dairy, the Ice House and Park House bar at the University

With help from Sue Beckett, Matt Davies and Simon Sheppard.

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.

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Beer and cheese make people happy

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.

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