Welcome to my home town: Reading was more of a community than I ever realised

Published on The Independent on 25th February 2021

Reading is the sort of place that people only get excited about once a year, when the Festival is on. The rest of the time it’s lost in the homogeneity of commuter towns, never gaining the notoriety of Slough as the worst place to live in England, nor with the culture and postcard views of Henley-on-Thames. It’s just a vast, suburban sprawl that bleeds and blends into more of the same.

I never wanted to move to Reading. There was a choice, you see – we had to live somewhere near Bracknell for my dad’s work and, for some now unfathomable reason, I was quite taken in by the promise of an astroturf pitch at a school in Winchester. But the world conspires against you when you’re 14. Somehow, despite failing French in the entrance exam, I got into the girls’ grammar school in Reading where the outdoor space was negligible and a mounted portrait in the main hall proudly proclaimed: “John Kendrick, the founder of this work house”. But at least it was academically excellent.

So it was that my formative years were spent in this humdrum place where I made friends, lost them, rekindled some and laughed and cried with wild abandon. I went to house parties at homes of people whose names I can no longer remember, kissed secret boyfriends in verdant gardens and fell too madly in love. But I was living in a bubble, one pressurised by this collective drive to achieve great things. And like all bubbles, mine burst.

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