Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Dan tells me about Reading...

I'm going to Reading twice in the next week or so; once on Friday on work business, and once again next week for Womad. In the pub, stewing on our pints, I asked Dan, "so, what's Reading actually like?".

For a few minutes he looked down at his pint and said nothing. And then this was what he said...

"I know where the epicentre of new Labour, corporate, consumerist blandness lies. I know it well. It's in Reading, Berkshire.

I have found myself having the same recurrent daydream recently, where I am on the BBC2 show Room 101 and Paul Merton asks me what I would like to condemn forever to that room in Broadcasting House made famous by Orwell. I quite enjoy it really, so many things leap into my thoughts of what I think the world would be better without - SUVs, this morally corrupt and tiresome Labour government, Razorlight... but the one thing that leaps higher than the rest is the town that I grew up near, Reading. My simple but long held grudge against the place is that despite its affluence and its growing population it can’t rise above the terminal blandness and ‘middle Englandness’ it seems to have always had.

OK, a little history. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s Reading was described as the ‘average town of Britain’. Well deserved too, for had you visited this town during this period you would have witnessed the badly planned emergence of a country market town into what its leaders hoped would be a regional commercial and transport hub.

Situated nearly midway on the M4 corridor between London and Bristol, Reading did grow rapidly and succeeded in attracting businesses to central Berkshire. Hordes of the middle classes followed (my family included) and the suburbs swelled and merged with surrounding villages. The town built amongst other projects what was called the ‘Inner Distribution Road’ (or IDR for those from the ‘Ding) smashing through poor neighbourhoods and linking together larger roads in its path. The citizens of Reading could now visit their concrete Civic monstrosities - such as the Hexagon theatre - with comparative ease. Or they could go to… well that’s about it really. Since the closure of its last live music venue there’s been nowhere for a mid to large sized band to play. The arts centre in the town's south keeps a small flame burning but Reading doesn’t generally seem to be put out by it’s loss.

The town points to the fact that it hosts the Reading and Womad festivals and true enough they are long standing fixtures, but they are both located away from the town centre and you would be hard pressed to find any representation of either of them around town aside from going in to HMV to buy tickets. Womad even advertises itself as being held in Rivermead, not Reading. The music Reading likes is heard coming out of its late license bars on Friday and Saturday whilst Bouncers outside places with names like The Ice Bar and Reflex check to see if you are wearing smart shoes and an obligatory shirt from Top Man or H&M.


Reading is rubbish… Reading is awful local radio. Jingles for ‘Reading Bedding’ and local car dealerships are built around Robbie Williams songs which then echo down the streets and in the shops.

It is bored and dissatisfied young people planning their escape, it’s a football club who plays in a shed resembling an out of town B&Q and whose torrid home games with their dire atmosphere are (ahem) bound to take the Premiership by storm this season.

Reading is bland office blocks dominating the sky line which are filled with no-name insurance companies. Reading is the ability to build yet more blandness whilst not realizing the towns’ already major flaw. Reading is ensuring its population is enslaved to the pursuit of owning every little desirable commodity bought from its multitude of retail outlets (found of course everywhere else) and filling its 4 bedroom houses above the level of the dado rails with stuff nobody needs. Reading is the uncomfortable mix of new highly paid IT workers and their families mixing (or not) with the working classes of the west of the town.

Reading is a rip off, Reading is unfriendly, Reading is in a rush to purchase and then to get home.

There is thankfully a resistance movement to the all encompassing blandness, though. Small bands of the resistant hang out in some of the very few independent bars. As you enter one of these you are given a knowing smile as if you too have survived the street fighting outside, made it in and are amongst friends now. I remember the Friends Solidarity Centre and café Iguana in the town being like this. There is then perhaps hope.

I wonder that if John Betjeman was alive today he may be inspired to write something like;

Come friendly Hezbollah rockets and fall on Reading!
You can start maybe with Reading Bedding…

Sorry Reading, I wish you well but you really are the pits."

Thanks Dan!!


Stephen Holmes said...

I had a girlfriend once who lived in Reading. She always tried to avoid going home and I assumed it was because she didn't want to see her family. But after we eventually went I realised that there was a much more sensible reason for not wanting to go there. It's a shithole!

Tim Rutherford-Johnson said...

Slough's only a short way up the Thames Valley, so Betjeman's bombers wouldn't even need to make a second trip.

jonathan said...

Hope you're not suggesting that Betjeman is behind Hezbollah. Now we'll have bombs raining down on Trebetherick...

Stephen Newton said...

Pleased to see Razorlight make it to Room 101.

Anonymous said...

Great post!

Anonymous said...

I thought your comments on Reading were a bit harsh. There are a lot worse places in England...Swindon? Milton Keynes? Slough?

Dan said...

There are of course worse towns in Southern England to live in but my longstanding gripe with Reading is that it has the means to improve itself but never does.

Despite its money it fails to diversify away from building yet more shops and office blocks. Arts, entertainment and civic spaces are overlooked and as a result the town has a hard, uncared for feel.

Anonymous said...

Firstly, PMSL.

Ok. I've lived in Reading for 14 years. You call it a shithole!?
I ask you, how can you say that when you just sat in your car listening to radio stations with adverts for Reading Bedding - which tbh i've never heard of :S ?

Where exactly do YOU come from anyway?

Rob said...

You have been in Reading for 14 years and never heard of Readding Bedding?! You obvisouly have never been subjected to 210fm.

Anonymous said...

I love this so much. I lived in Reading for two years (unfortunately) & finally am free from the shackles. I even had a boyfriend who refused to leave 'because it's the centre of the universe'. Lucky escape for me.
I always struggle to describe Reading to people who have never been, but now I'll show them this... I usually say that the people think they are something they are not, with no goods to back it up, who go to the same bland places every week & are always spouting feminist garbage 'because they are soooo intelligent darling'.
Why would you ever leave Reading when you've got 'the festival' & 'the after dark' ( is scumsville btw)? I'll tell you why, because Reading is all that is wrong with the UK.
And if you're thinking of moving there, don't! It will chew you up & spit you out, I got out just in time. Phew.