Kate Winslet is a proper Reading girl: unpretentious, zero bullshit, down-to-Earth, funny and friendly.
And this set me thinking about Reading. It seems to me that Reading is the new, er, Seattle. In the 1970s, Reading was known only for the three Bs: Beer (Simonds' Brewery), Bulbs (Suttons Seeds) and Biscuits (Huntley and Palmers). Suttons left Reading in 1976; biscuit-making ceased at the fabulous Huntley and Palmers building (below) in the same year; and Simonds' Brewery left their central Reading site in 1978. Like the Huntley and Palmers building, the brewery site remained derelict for some years, close to the Eastern end of the Inner Distribution Road (IDR). The IDR was a dual carriageway in the centre of town, which had only been half completed. It ended like a ski-jump in mid-air, the road blocked off, motorists forced to peel off down a slip-road to a roundabout. In the centre of town was the dreary Butts centre, the stairs and lifts girdling an artifical fountain, set against a plastic orange-tiled backdrop.
No-one on TV ever seemed to come from Reading, and it was rarely mentioned. Swap-Shop's Keith Chegwin went everywhere around the country for his Swaporama, but he never came to Reading.
And then something odd happened. First, a hideous, sprawling, anonymous timber-frame housing estate called Lower Earley was built. Then, from the late 1980s onwards, service-sector and IT companies started re-locating to Reading. Modern offices were built on the site of the old Huntley and Palmers factory. By the late 1990s, even Microsoft and Oracle had established sites in Reading. A new shopping centre called The Oracle was built on the site of the old Simonds' Brewery. John Madejski invested in the football team and built a new stadium. Even the IDR was completed, and a new link, the A33, was built between it and the M4. Reading was at the epicentre of England's silicon valley.
Suddenly, there were people in the news from Reading. Kate Winslet was from Reading. Then the late Richard Burns, who became the first ever Englishman to win the World Rally Championship, was from Reading. Then Ricky Gervais was from Reading. And now, the football team has scaled vertiginous heights in the Premiership at its first attempt.
So, whither Reading now? Should Reading University, perhaps, set their sights on destroying Oxford's intellectual hegemony in the Thames Valley? Hmmmmm, perhaps that one will take a bit longer.