This may be of specialised interest.
Reading regularly figures in top fifty lists of crap towns in Britain, and I can’t argue with that, not having visited, let alone lived in, most of the others. I don’t want to go into the details of what constitutes a crap town (although I could, believe me), but I’ve been spending some time recently thinking about relocating, so here’s the case for the defence [*generalised: a couple of more personal items in the footnote]:
The Inner Distribution Road. This bisects the town with an amalgam of seventies concrete brutalism and upgraded ancient routes – sometimes briefly disappearing entirely – in order to, well, distribute inner traffic, I suppose. The flyover by what’s now the Oracle was, I’m told, left uncompleted for a long time, earning it the nickname ‘The Ski Jump’. This road has a unique feature: the sliproads are dual purpose, serving both for joining and for leaving the IDR. Try and map that onto a motorway junction and you may get a feel for how this has contributed to Reading’s special style of driving.
Brickwork. The old houses are built with local bricks (once made, confusingly, by the London Brick Company) in distinct shades of red and grey arranged in patterns, up the side of a wall, which to an amateur eye are random but in fact must conform to arcane rules, which have been known to hold up planning applications for years. Anything that can achieve that, whilst also being beautiful, has to be kept and cherished.
Smelly Alley. Union Street, to give it its official but never-used name. it’s definitely an alley, not wide enough for two prams to pass, as I observed the other day on my way to Frost’s, the fishmongers, from which Smelly Alley gets its name. I’d searched them to make sure they still existed – they certainly do, have a look. I said “I’m making a bouillabaisse”, and walked out ten minutes later with monkfish, cod cheeks, giant prawns, mussels and clams. When we’d eaten it, B and I had a conversation about localism. “It’ll come around, eventually,” she thought. If you agree, please seek out and buy from wonderful shops like Frost’s.
The Prom. This is the gateway to the best walks in Reading, which are beside the Thames. Turn left from the car park (still free, though the cash-strapped council are targeting that) and you’ll follow the wide river, full of canoes and cruisers and swans, past posh palaces on the other side, with their pergolas and turrets, and jetties, some possibly with green lights at the end. Turn right and you’ll enter a confusing world of gasworks, confluences, brick bridge arches (constructed in the Reading style), and low-rise hitech offices on the widening horizon. And a couple of good old run down riverfront pubs.
The Oxford Road. (The ‘The’ is essential if you want Read-Cred.) This is just down from where I live. At my last count there were seventeen hairdressers/beauty parlours/tattoo joints. I haven’t counted the halal butchers yet, nor the thriving charity shops or the community centres. Willis and Shorts, the newsagents where I buy my paper, is a community centre. There’s another one just across the road, jointly run by the council and the police. What were we saying about localism?
* Reading also contains at least two of my favourite bloggers (although one of them has, temporarily I hope, given up), and a lot of my good friends.