‘For most people, time spent in Berkshire brings on a feeling of vague dissatisfaction, like that experienced after finishing a family bag of Revels.’
Earning the average wage, bringing up the average number of kids and being being as typical as possible, the people of Berkshire spend their days busily lifting the humdrum to soaring new mediums.
Every morning, the commuters of Reading and Bracknell take their positions on the same platform spot clutching the same skinny latte, open the same pap freesheet newspaper, and allow their brains to be occupied with the same mental tumbleweed. After working their 39.4 hours a week, they take home their average pay packet to spend on petrol for their mid-range Honda and Tesco supermarket shop, before slumping down onto the Ikea sofa to watch the top three most-watched programmes on television that evening.
Living with such averageness is not necessarily a depressing existence, as most Berkshire residents will tell you while sipping a branded alcoholic drink enjoying a current advertising tie-in to a primetime ITV drama. It’s perfectly OK, they say, nodding contemplatively in unison with their partner, the rest of the pub and, eerily, everybody else in the county.
As you might expect from a place so comfortable with the mundane, Berkshire displays a visceral intolerance towards the unorthodox and talented, something Oscar Wilde once found to his cost. Imprisoned in Reading for what was described at the time as a ‘social indiscretion’, the great social commentator and wit bounced back, thumbing a nose at his detractors after scoring an enormous commercial success with his ‘Oscar Wilde: Chatty Man’ TV series.
9th Century – Alfred the Great’s forces fight Scandinavian invaders at the Battle of Ashdown, and go on to inspire the future Liberal Democrat leader by finishing in third place.
1643 – With the English Civil War at its height, Royalist and Parliamentary armies square up for the Battle of Newbury.
1644 – Royalist and Parliamentary armies meet again for the second battle of Newbury after Oliver Cromwell demands a slow-motion replay to determine whether the King’s forces were offside.
1958 – The country’s first Little Chef opens in Reading. The chain redefines the phrase ‘comfort break’, offering weary motorists crap food in conditions sufficiently unsanitary to encourage faster driving.
1973 – Berkshire born Mike Oldfield releases Tubular Bells. The album breaks many musical conventions of the time, including that of music being enjoyable.
1974 – Groundbreaking reality television programme The Family is filmed in Reading, following the progress of the Wilkins family attempting to adjust their daily lives to the presence of an omnipresent Geordie voiceover.
2007 – City officials are left unsure at how to react after Reader’s Digest announces that Reading has been named as the worst place in Britain for families to live, but that on the other hand, also been entered into a £10,000 reader prize draw.
Did You Know?
Berkshire is the final resting place of some major figures in British history, including former Prime Minister Herbert Asquith, buried in Sutton Courtney churchyard. Asquith presided over a tumultuous time in British history that saw the rise of the suffragette movement, Irish Home Rule, and the last Prime Minister that will ever be called Herbert.
Reading is the only city in the world to have its name associated with a hobby more popular than the place itself. Appropriately, it has inspired several of the country’s finest writers, but only for them to convey how much they dislike it.
During the 1950s, Greenham Common was the focus of protest for a 40,000-strong Women’s Peace camp. An inspiration to feminist activists across the world, the movement saw a new generation of men adopt pacifist ideals and boil-in-the-bag cooking.
The Spice Girls once shared a house in Maidenhead for a year preceding their rise to stardom. Later accounts reveal frictions developing in those early days, with Baby described as a neat freak, and Sporty accused of never leaving the toilet seat down.
Thanks to its proximity to a wholesaler of white handkerchiefs, Oakley Court was used as the headquarters of the French Resistance during World War II.