Last weekend Reading and Caversham had its annual invasion of what our local evening newspaper persists in calling ‘the great unwashed’ for the annual Reading Pop Festival. They began to arrive a day earlier than usual – on the Wednesday – and this year the police set up temporary police booths at the railway station, so that they could search all those arriving by rail for drugs and weapons and they made 140 arrests. It appears that some of the young people had come up with what they thought were ingenious ways of hiding drugs – inside tent poles, chocolate spread jars, and hair gel tubes, for example – but the sniffer dogs did a good job!
However, the vast majority of festival-goers were good-spirited, law abiding and co-operative. By Thursday the town was gridlocked by all the fans coming in by coach and car and, both on Thursday and Friday, I found it necessary to allow extra time for my bus journeys across town for appointments. From the bus it was interesting to see all the temporary stalls, selling all kinds of things from tee-shirts to food and drink, that had sprung up all along Caversham Road. There were some very amusing woollen hats with long tails worn by a number of fans.
There were many more pop fans than ever before, demonstrated by the fact that last year there were 60,000 who came to the Festival and this year they numbered 80,000. With 200 bands performing over the weekend, there were a few problems associated with such a huge crowd of people. Crowd control, as the fans who had not obtained tickets via the Internet queued for tickets, was extremely difficult. Not least, there were the same number of toilets as last year and this caused stampedes to use the toilets. This was made worse when one of the toilets was set on fire and went up in flames. Inevitably, when you consider the amount of drink that fans carried on to the site, there were a few incidents for the security police to deal with, but the vast majority had a really fabulous time.
This year a temporary pedestrian bridge was constructed over the Thames to provide easy access for those fans who camped on the Caversham side of the river near the Warren, but there were still boats carrying fans across as well. As you can imagine, such huge numbers of visitors to Caversham made quite a difference to its normal residents. Fans who came by car left their cars all over the normally quiet streets of Caversham Heights instead of the special Festival car park. It was advisable to visit the supermarkets very early before the fans were up and about or after the bands had begun their performances, though the latter meant that things liked cooked meats were sold out by that time. Some residents opted out and went into Henley for their weekly groceries. However, this year the wind must have been in the other direction because we could barely hear the music in our gardens and there were no complaints on that score.