Hardly Oxford, Darling! - Reading Festival of Crime Writing Part One
I've been to one or two literary festivals in my time, including Oxford (several times), Cheltenham and the Harrogate Crime Writers Festival (twice). I was therefore under the impression that they were held in genteel middle-England kind of places. I automatically assumed Reading would be no exception. How wrong can you be? Apparently, Queen Victoria positively disliked the place and if you look at her statue in Reading centre, she's turning away from the place.
However, once I'd walked until my feet were sore on the Friday I arrived, I discovered there are charming parts of Reading. I went on the Crime Walk led by David Cliffe on Friday evening, discovering the lovely Caversham and the walk alongside the Thames. We stood by the weir in the dark and were told this was where the baby farmer, Amelia Dyer, threw the parcel- wrapped body of one of her victims. We then walked down a spooky path which led to the road in which she lived, Piggotts Road. We wondered whether the people who lived there now knew about its famous former inhabitant and the numerous babies she'd murdered while in her care. Towards the end of the walk we stood opposite Reading gaol where Oscar Wilde was incarcerated for two years. I shuddered to hear of the acrobatic hangman who used to stand on the convicts shoulders or swing from their feet as they dangled on the end of the rope, their bodies jerking in spasms as they took many minutes to die. I was all too ready for a large Shiraz at The Sun Inn on Castle Street at the end of the Crime Walk. I also needed Dutch Courage before walking the half mile or so back to my B&B which, unbeknownst to me when I booked it, was in one of the seedier parts of town. Help came in the form of a rather timid librarian, Natalie, who'd accompanied us on the Crime Walk and who offered to walk me back, as she lived in a neighbouring street.
Being alone in a strange city can be disconcerting. I always felt safe in Oxford, maybe because it's compact, bijou and comfortably studenty. Reading, however, is a sprawling modern city and without an adequate map, it's easy to get lost. Thank goodness I have a pretty good sense of direction. There are some attractive old buildings in the city which contrast sharply with the huge new shopping complex, The Oracle, alongside the canal where you could also find a whole host of places to eat.. all very similar in style; modern, spartan minimalist decor and expensive wine.
I'll leave you with that thought while I dash off to do one of the many, many tasks on my list today. I'm feeling under pressure to get the next issue of The Yellow Room done and dusted, but admin, housework and ironing are also beckoning. The house is in chaos again. That's what comes of leaving husband in charge of the children for the weekend! More on Reading and the talks I went to later!