The pencil drawing above is a surviving sample of the life drawing work that I did at sessions in Reading during 1986-7. If you understood the word “Reading” here as referring to the reading of a book, then the title and first sentence of this post must have seemed quite meaningless.
In fact, Reading in this context is the name of a town in England, about 40 miles west of London, and it’s pronounced “Redding”. Reading forms the hub of an area known as the M4 Corridor, where huddle many of Britain’s remaining electronics technology industries. That was also true in the 1980s, when Britain had many more such industries than it does today.
Reading was perhaps first made famous during the nineteenth century by Oscar Wilde, who was imprisoned in Reading Gaol, and wrote a lengthy poem called The Ballad of Reading Gaol. In that poem, he wrote:
In Reading gaol by Reading town
There is a pit of shame…
I’m glad to be able to say that the hours I spent in Reading were definitely not in any “pit of shame” (except perhaps for certain pubs…).
More recently, of course, Reading has again achieved fame as the birthplace of comedian Ricky Gervais, who wrote a movie named after an area of the town: Cemetery Junction.
A New Venue
In an earlier article, I described how I attended Life Drawing classes in Andover during 1985-86, while I was living there and working for Link Electronics. Unfortunately, despite having created some brilliant products, Link turned out to be just one more failing British company, with the result that I was laid off in June 1985, when their management decided to shut down the design and manufacture of television cameras.
After searching for suitable alternative employment for a few weeks, I accepted a Design Engineering position with a small digital video equipment company called Questech, who were based in Wokingham, Berkshire. (As you may have guessed, because it has become such a repetitive theme, Questech is also now long out-of-business.) Although I was still living in Andover, I could no longer attend the sessions at Cricklade College, so I looked around to find something similar in the nearest large town to Wokingham, which was Reading. I eventually found a suitable class at a branch of the University of Reading, on Bath Road.
Just to demonstrate that life drawing models aren’t always female, here’s an example of one of my drawings from Reading that featured a male model.
However, those drawing sessions were not by any means the first time I’d visited Reading, because I’d had a somewhat ambivalent connection to the town since 1978.
I had actually first traveled to Reading in 1978, while living in Coventry. While at school in Scarborough, I had had a crush on a girl who had gone on to study at the University of Reading. Had I been more mature, I would have realized that my crush was futile, but I was just another irrational teenager…
Thus one day—her birthday, in fact—I had the “bright idea” to go to Reading and seek out her room in the beautiful Wantage Hall.
I don’t think that I was really intending to try to meet up with her during that visit, but in fact I did, along with her new boyfriend! Fortunately, it all seemed to go fairly amicably, which perhaps was partly because she was still half-asleep during our unplanned meeting! It turned out to be the last time I ever saw her, which was probably just as well for all of us.
I did spend some time wandering around the town. One of the first features that struck me was the Town Hall, which, for people of my age, was very reminiscent of the building in the children’s animated series Trumpton.
Reading has some fairly pleasant footpaths along the banks of the River Thames. I took the photo below, of Caversham Bridge, while walking alongside the river in rain.
The arms below are those of the Borough of Reading, which used to appear on the sides of all Reading Transport buses.
The Equalizer Stops By for a Pint
When attending those 1980s drawing sessions, I rushed there straight from Wokingham, immediately after finishing work for the day. Once the drawing session was over, I was naturally hungry for dinner, so I would visit a local pub before beginning the journey home to Andover.
One pub that I frequented nearby was, and still is, called the Lyndhurst. Below is a modern Google Streetview of the location.
When I visited the pub in those days, one regular customer was a man who never offered anyone his name, but was known by the bartender as The Equalizer [warning: link plays video]. This was because he looked quite like Edward Woodward, who at the time was starring in an American TV series as the eponymous character. I still don’t know who the man in the pub was, so maybe someone will read this article and enlighten us?
As I said, the Lyndhurst is still in business today, serving good food, so probably worth a visit if you ever find yourself in Reading!