I was born at Northwick Park Hospital in Harrow and for the first 6 months of my little life I lived in a flat in Wembley with my mum and dad. I don’t know why we moved to Woodley when I was about 6 months old but we did and I’ve lived in an RG post code ever since. So while I’m not technically Reading born and bred I’m most certainly Reading bred and can’t really imagine living anywhere else.
Until I moved in with my boyfriend when I was 20 (which is way too young, don’t do it kids!) I lived in Woodley which is one of my all time favourite places in the world. It’s a small town east of Reading and I love it, love it, love it. I may mention that again at some point.
Originally we lived in Colemansmoor Road so my first school was Rivermead (not that Rivermead, you know, the one where the Levellers played in 1993 and I wasn't allowed to go, it's a different Rivermead). I was there a very short amount of time before we moved across Woodley to Ravensbourne Drive and I in turn moved to Woodley Church of England Primary School. Good old C of E!
In my short time at Rivermead I managed to inadvertently make an enemy in the shape of Samantha. I think Samantha was a bit older than me, maybe the year above, I reckon she must have been at least 6. She had a mean face with really pointy features and was frankly a horrible girl. I used to take a £1 note (yes I really am that old that I was around in the time of £1 notes) to school in a little brown purse that was on a cord strap across my body for my dinner money (no topping up apps from your debit card in those days). One day in assembly I felt like something weird was going on. I didn’t really understand it (because I was 5) but I suddenly became aware that mean Samantha with her face made of triangles was rummaging about behind me rather than sitting nicely with her legs crossed listening to the teacher like I was. Unbeknownst to little innocent round faced not very pointy Kirsty Velk, Samantha was in the middle of committing a very serious crime. She was stealing my £1 note! Thinking about it now is really winding me up. How dare she? What sort of person steals from a 5 year old? What a cow.
I can’t really remember the sequence of events that followed (probably something to do with it being 37 years ago) but it became apparent at lunch time that I no longer had my £1 note in my little brown purse. I remember a teacher or dinner lady accusing me of losing or forgetting it but I knew that hadn’t happened. My mum is very well organised and prepared and would never have sent me to school without everything I needed and I had been instructed to only open my purse at lunch time to give my precious note to the dinner ladies so I knew I hadn't lost it. I was sure that Samantha with a face made from sharp angles had something to do with it but with no concept of theft or any inkling that someone would behave like that towards another person I was at a loss to explain it. After a bit of investigation by some grown ups it transpired that blade face Samantha had in fact pilfered my lunch money and for some bizarre reason decided to rip it up and try and flush it down the toilet. I mean, what even is that? Literally the worst thief ever. Have a word with yourself Samantha.
Now, I am not one to bear a grudge (this is a massive lie) but I really wish I could remember her surname so that I could Facebook stalk her and judge her now. I did a search for “Evil Samantha Pointy Face” but nothing came up. I expect she’s doing time for pick-pocketing. Rightly so.
Anyway back to Woodley which I love. Woodley is one of those places where you see people you know all the time. You don’t necessarily know them by name or to talk to but you know their faces. You kind of grow up with them. Evil Samantha’s mum was one of those people I used to see all the time in Woodley. When I worked in Waitrose while I was at school she used to come in sometimes and I would give her the right evils. Samantha got her face from her mother who looked very much like she had been sucking on a lemon. I’ve not seen her for years so I have made the assumption that she has died. There can’t be any other explanation, they were proper Woodley people who would never leave Woodley (literally just made a another massive assumption here, she may well be sunning it up in the Bahamas on her daughter's ill gotten gains).
When I moved to Woodley C of E (the original site on Church Road, yep, another indicator of how old I am) I remember seeing some familiar faces as I had gone to the nursery school across the road from there. I remember everyone staring at me like I was from a different land, not just the other side of Woodley. The girl who showed me around the classroom talked to me really slowly and loudly like I was foreign. I had gone to nursery school with her, she knew who I was and knew I was English so I don't know what that was about! She ended up becoming my best primary school friend with whom I had many Woodley based adventures in the years that followed.
Woodley C of E is a really old primary school, established in 1855 and was incredibly proud of its links to St John's Church and the history of the town. It moved over to the site on the Airfield where it still stands today in 1988 as I moved into the 3rd year (or Year 5 in new money). I remember being told that the Airfield in Woodley was where Douglas Bader lost his legs during the war. I didn’t really know who he was, what the war was or how you would even begin to go about losing your legs but it was a fascinating fact that I hope comes up as a question when I finally get accepted to go on The Chase. You don’t get facts like that in Caversham or Tilehurst do you? No you do not. That’s why Woodley is the best. I love it.
There’s a roundabout which I like to think is the centre of Woodley but in reality it isn’t really, it's kind of off centre. It’s the famous Just Tiles Roundabout so called because to the side of it stands the shop Just Tiles. Do you see how they came up with the name? In case you were wondering Just Tiles sells tiles. The Just Tiles Roundabout is one of those brilliant places where people hang manky old sheets with spray paint on wishing Bob a happy 50th birthday or Jason a happy 21st with a terrible print out of him as a baby that you can’t really see because you’re too busy trying to drive round the roundabout and it’s been raining so all the ink has run.
The 4 exits from the roundabout lead to the 4 places in Woodley I cared about as a child which is probably why I think of it as the centre of Woodley:
Butts Hill Road which led to my house
Headley Road East which led to school
Loddon Bridge Road which led to my best friend’s house
Headley Road which led to Woodley Precinct
Turns out there’s actually a whole other bit of Woodley around South Lake (which I thought was just a Primary School that beat us at netball, didn’t realise it was an actual place with an actual lake) that I never really knew about until my boys started going to school over that way. I’m not a Woodley expert, I’m a fraud! Still love it though.
Anyway, let’s move swiftly on to Woodley Precinct. Oh Woodley Precinct how I love and adore you so very very much. I don’t think I’ve ever been to Woodley Precinct and not seen someone I know or at least recognise from Davinia Hart’s parents to Evil Samantha Pointy Face’s Lemon Sucking Mum to Anorak Man who was the weirdo on the bus that my brother and I used to get to school to a selection of now old ladies who I used to work with in Waitrose in the late 90s who are all called Pat, Sue or Lynn.
Woodley Precinct has been home to some amazing shops in its time, these are some of my all time favourites that are no longer with us:
Bejams that is now Iceland which was only opened by flipping Princess Anne in the 80s. I remember going to see her open it with my mum. I had literally no idea who she was and just remember being really disappointed that this princess wasn’t dressed like Cinderella or even wearing a crown. I seem to remember her wearing a beige raincoat but might have made that up. Whatever she had on it definitely wasn't a ballgown and there was no fancy headgear.
Mark One which was the record shop which is either New Look now or a bit of Waitrose. It was opened by Fuzzbox in the 80s around the time they released Pink Sunshine. I queued for what felt like HOURS with my best friend and her older sister to get my 7 inch single signed. We very nearly didn’t get in. I can still feel that rising panic we felt when we were nearly at the door and they said they were going to close. Tense times.
Bookcentre which was where The Card Factory is now. Literally the best (and only) place for books in Woodley. I don’t know many times I dragged my mum in there all the way to the back to get the latest Nancy Drew Files or Baby Sitters Club book.
Freelance Fabric which was where Peacocks now is. They sold fabric, funnily enough and haberdashery. Mr D and I bought our net curtains in there when we first moved in together. Cool story right?
Maxwells which was opposite Waitrose probably around where The Bosco Lounge is now. Anything Maxwells didn’t sell wasn’t worth having to be honest. They sold lamps, haberdashery, nails, screws, pet food, goldfish, lighbulbs literally everything. I remember it smelling like sawdust and dog biscuits and they had those old tills that were pre-decimilisation. I remember a lady working in there who had really bouffanty hair, it was a bit like walking into some kind of time warp. Maxwells was opened by a man called Max Steggles in the 1940s and remained open until 1995 (that was only 2 years ago right?) and if you lived in Woodley during that time and don't still feel a connection to Maxwell’s in some way then you are dead inside.
Fun fact: Max Steggles also invented the Woodley Carnival. Ohhh Woodley Carnival, there's another delight! It might need it's very own post one day. Maybe I'll do a review of the next one (if Covid hurries up and naffs off).
Nowadays, the precinct is basically full of coffee shops, hairdressers and charity shops but I still think it's great and the improvements the council have made to the seating and play areas are nice… (ooh that was a bit of a grown up thing to say!) Not too nice obviously but just nice enough.
The dream for me is to move back to Woodley one day as we currently live in Earley which is close but not close enough. The boys go to school in Woodley though which was a happy accident. We looked at the schools in our catchment area and they were ok but then we went to visit the one they go to and just loved it. It’s a small school which back in the day had a different name and a bad reputation (admittedly we’re talking 30 odd years ago) but it’s just lovely now. They have a brilliant headteacher and deputy head and the teachers that the boys have had so far have all been great. What I love most though is the fact that they go to a Woodley school just like their mummy did.
There is nothing snazzy or flashy about Woodley. It is not a glamorous or particularly desirable location. For me though, it's like a lovely big cuddle. It’s familiar and comforting and I understand it. It makes me feel safe and I love it.