Fear & Forbury Gardens: Reading in Recovery

Well, that wasn’t supposed to happen, was it?

Now what…?

Reading Berkshire
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The wrong kind of fame

The festival, Purple Turtle, Ricky Gervais. There are a few things that come up in conversations about Reading with people not from around here. Maybe they remember paying £6 for a pint of Tuborg in a paper cup while watching some terrible Foo Fighters set ten years ago. Or they recall the mild inconvenience of getting the bus from the train station to watch their club earn a point in a tedious goalless draw at the ‘soulless Madgeski or whatever it’s called’. 

That’s not really Reading, though. The same as Madame Tussauds and Aberdeen Steak House isn’t really London. Us locals know what makes this a decent town (and it is a town; it always will be, that’s part of the charm). We know what makes this a good place to live. 

Sometimes bad things happen in good places.

The events of Saturday the 20th of June are now fully part of the DNA of where we live. There’s no way around that. The families of those that were murdered will likely never recover, how can they? All we can hope is that their pain dulls a little over time. The town, however, can get over it. We just have to accept that what happened will be one of the things we’re known for. At least for the foreseeable, anyway.  

Reading Berkshire
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Understanding the aim

It’s not just the likes of Doritos, Home and Away and socks that set us humans apart from the animal kingdom. There’s also domestic abuse, nuclear weapons, environmental destruction and random stabbings in parks. Humanity is brilliant, shameful and complicated all at the same time. One of the most important things we have that separates us, perhaps our most valued asset, is our empathy. Lose that and we’re in serious trouble.

Empathy is why we all feel so shitty now. It’s why you might’ve felt like you’d been punched in the chest when the news broke. Understandably, for a lot of people, that sympathetic affinity begins and ends with those people who were killed (and their loved ones). Some of you might be able to extend that empathy, though. ‘What was going through the mind of the man responsible?’ ‘What was the aim?’ ‘What was the motivation?’ ‘What’s wrong with him?’

As a species, we’re obsessed with understanding. It’s why we spend trillions on space exploration. It’s why kids ask hundreds of questions a day. We need answers, we’re hardwired like that. We have to make sense of chaos to quieten our minds. If ignorance really is bliss, someone should tell the human brain.

After the ‘what?!’ comes the ‘why?!’

Unfortunately, anyone seeking any form of cognitive closure here is going to be left hanging. Only there is no ‘why’. There is no motive, no aim, no grand design. Sometimes dreadful things happen and it’s just a fucking great shame.

Reading Berkshire
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To name and shame

It didn’t take long for the name of the attacker to come out. The identity of the man would surely tell us all we needed to know about what had happened. Once his name began filtering out over news channels and on social media, a familiar narrative came back into view. Despite recent tensions across racial lines and Forbury Gardens playing host to a small and peaceful Black Lives Matter earlier in the day, it seemed clear that it was an old foe at work: the Jihadist.

It’s still culture wars, but a different battle entirely.

Perhaps there was a motive, after all. Maybe there was an aim. As evening turned to night and night into morning, police confirmed that they were ‘treating the incident as terror-related’.

And we all know what that means, don’t we?

Details began to emerge. Terms we’ve heard before, albeit not for a while, rang out… ‘Watch list’, ‘previous arrests’, the dreaded ‘asylum seeker’. Things became clear, not only did we have an awful, incredibly traumatic incident to deal with in which three people had lost their lives, we also had the inevitable backlash. The politics. The angry debates. The blame.

Further details soon made things complicated, though. Our assumptions may have been wrong. We heard his name and filled in the blanks. Trouble is? The man with the knife, the murderer, is thought to have converted to Christianity some time ago. There again, he’s also said to have claimed to have been an ISIS soldier and have helped in the overthrowing of Colonel Gaddafi.

What we know for certain is that he’d barely been out of HMP Bullingdon for a fortnight after a short stretch for assault. During his spell inside, the man was prescribed medication for post-traumatic stress and a suspected personality disorder. Previous to that he’d had a history of depression and suicidal inclinations.

Christian, Muslim, religiously fanatical or not, one thing is certain – this were the actions of a deeply, deeply disturbed individual. In all likelihood, a fantasist. 

He was named, you can find his name online. It’s all over the newspapers. Personally, I say let’s forget his name. Let’s cut the man out of the story.

Reading Berkshire
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The blame game

So, then. Who do we blame? We have to blame someone. It’s all we have. When the shock subsides, it’s replaced with anger. There’s nothing you can do to help. Anger needs release. So you blame. In rants to friends or family or your other half, you blame. In hastily-written diatribes on social media, you blame. You’re angry and you’re on the attack. Someone needs to pay.

It’s catharsis. It’s cheap and it works. So who can we blame for what happened?

  • The man responsible? It seems the logical place to start. Let’s blame him for the most part. After all, he was the one that ran into the gardens, knife in hand. 
  • MI5? Some folk will want to attribute some of the responsibility to the intelligence services. If they were watching this character, some will say, why was he allowed to do what he did?
  • Mental Health Services? Could more have been done with the man before the attack? It’s a question a few people looking to scatter the blame may ask.
  • Politicians? There’s always something they could’ve done or not done, right?
  • God? After all, where the fuck was he…?

If it helps you to blame, go for it. We can’t hold onto the anger. Just be sensible where you point it.

Reading Berkshire
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Same again?

So where does that leave us? What now? 

Here’s how I see it. Bearing in mind that I’m the fella who runs Shit Things in Reading, don’t expect any great wisdom here. But hey – it’s 2020 and this is the internet. Websites aren’t exactly difficult to set up.

In the short term, we pay our respects. We give and read tributes. We try to understand what happened and – maybe – why it happened. We accept that, in all likelihood, we’ll never fully understand it. Some shit just doesn’t make sense. 

These things are extremely shocking. With good reason… they’re extremely rare. So don’t be afraid. That’s easier said than done during a time of enormous widespread panic, of course. With millions of people too terrified to even consider leaving the safety and reassurance of their own home. But let’s all try, eh?

At the risk of falling off a cliff of Russell Brand-scale pretension, fear is the only true enemy. There’s no great force of evil out there. Despite what we’re told almost every second of every day.

Sometimes incredibly bad shit happens. This time it happened here. In the shadow of the statue that’s come to symbolise our town… The Maiwand Lion. Not the Cowardly Lion.

So don’t give in. FUCK FEAR. 

See you down the Forbury Gardens soon, eh?

Reading Berkshire
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Brave New Reading: Tarrant’s Run

The following is a short story from a brand new collection of exciting dystopian science fiction set in a post-apocalyptic Reading.

It’s time to don your imagination hat and slip into your enjoyment slippers as you prepare to be shocked! Heartbroken! Thrilled! And touched in places you’ve never been touched before!

This is brave new reading. This is Brave New Reading…

Brave New Reading Tarrant's Run (2)

By Philip K. Dickhead


Chapter 1: The first chapter

Reading, Berkshire. The year 2030.

It’d been ten years since the worldwide outbreak of the cobravirus Codiv-19 and much had changed: society had crashed to a halt, the Earth’s population had been decimated and the Primark in Reading had moved into Jacksons Corner. They were dark and confusing times.

Billions had died in the pandemic of the previous decade. Some had succumbed to the virus itself, but most of the world’s population committed mass suicide after The Great Silicon Valley Crash of 2022. Some dozy IT type spilled a brew all over his laptop or something and managed to completely balls up Netflix, Pornhub and the Gardener’s World bit of the BBC website*. Faced with the prospect of having to survive with just Amazon Prime, Redtube and old clips of Ground Force on YouTube, a staggering majority of humanity had taken their own lives.

Tarrant's Run

Within 12 hours, most of the western world – already completely beaten down, hopeless and starved of love, connection and reasoning powers after almost two solid years of government-mandated self-isolation and social distancing – simply gave up. Many of them, weak and thin, their bodies brittle, died almost as soon as the news of the website deletions filtered through.

Millions just sat, closed their eyes and allowed the life they’d grown to resent and despise so much to escape their failing, decaying vessels. Others sat at the dinner table with their family and ate a final meal, a symbolically last supper together. Like a poisoned shepherds pie or a toad in the hole with sticks of dynamite where the sausages should be.

Society was on its knees. Things escalated, but in a bad way (they deescalated?). World governments collapsed and infrastructure crumbled. You know the drill. The full Mad Max, like. All that kind of thing. This introduction’s already dragged on too long. You get the idea, though. Real dystopian sci-fi sort of stuff.

The world was reliant on technology. Without it, man could no longer survive. His dependence on tech had rendered him all but useless in what was now a much more primitive existence. Even renowned survivalists like Bear Grylls and Ray Mears were buggered – Grylls’ compass was powered by Bluetooth and Mears was notoriously fucking useless without his PDA.

Few men survived the chaos able to navigate the terrain of a desolate, post-apocalyptic world. Those that did were men** who had spent their entire lives actively shunning technology. Men** who had spent almost six full decades fortifying their constitutions against killer viruses with fags and booze. Men** who had hosted the early morning Capital Breakfast radio show from 1987 to 2004. Men** like Christopher John Tarrant (OBE).

 

*The Cloud had been banned the year before because of Greta Thunberg and all that, so this bit does actually work.
** And women too, I suppose.


Chapter 2: Tarrant was coming home

Tarrant was coming home.

He’d been gone a little over three years. With his 80th birthday fast approaching, Tarrant had left Reading a marked man. The truth was, he’d had no choice. The town of his birth, now one of the main hubs of human existence on Earth, had rules. Rules that were not to be broken. One of those rules* concerned something survivors called ‘equilibrium’. In order to keep society fit for purpose, citizens had to be useful. There could be no drag, no burden to the state. 2027’s retirement age was 80. Once you hit the big 8-0, you retired. Permanently.**

You see what I’m driving at here? It’s like that ’60s Michael York and Jenny Agutter film Logan’s Run, isn’t it? That’s sort of why this story is called ‘Tarrant’s Run’.

Tarrant was now 83. Yet he was coming home.

Brave New Reading Tarrant's Run (1)

Years of presenting the BAFTA Award-winning Channel Five show Chris Tarrant’s Extreme Railways with Chris Tarrant had equipped the man with a knowledge of the world’s train networks that was second to only Michael Portillo’s. Tarrant had served for six months as Portillo’s apprentice as the two men toiled together to fix the Newbury to Reading line some years previous. After re-establishing the route in secret, the train-loving team were able not only to set up a direct link between the two towns and run guns, fuel and supplies across Berkshire, they were also able to pop over to Mortimer whenever they wanted for picnics and lovely walks together.

In the acid rain monsoons of 2024, Portillo was killed by poachers from Theale who valued his acid-proof salmon pink double-breasted blazer over his and his bodyguards’ lives.

His master dead, Apprentice Tarrant faced a choice: acquiesce or escape. Be enslaved by the men who had killed his sensei and live chained to a radiator in an abandoned printing supplies warehouse on Arlington Business Park or flee. Tarrant, never a man to do as he’s told – especially when it came to being subjugated by killer gangs of plunderers from Theale or drink driving – chose the latter. He took flight. He went to live somewhere else for a bit. Farnborough, let’s say.

Anyway, where were we? Oh, yes – Chris Tarrant was coming back to Berkshire. Back to Reading. He may have been 83 years old and facing the prospect of execution as soon as he entered the supercity*** limits, but he had unfinished business to see to.

He had to kill Emperor Sir John Madejski (OBE). Which explains why Tarrant was coming home (to Reading).

 

* To be fair, most of the other rules were just parking restrictions and that.
** You were killed, do you see?
*** Reading was given supercity status by King Beatrice in the Arctic Summer of 2023.


Chapter 3: Kindred spirits/The best of enemies

Before The Virus, Chris Tarrant was a wealthy man. A famous man. Popular, rich, cultured and loved by all, he was a king among men. And, as you no doubt know, like attracts like. The only man in Tarrant’s beloved hometown of equal standing was Sir John Madejski, the founder of Auto Trader (basically a Tinder for cars that was originally printed on paper).

The two had been as thick as thieves for decades. Equals, allies, business partners and – most of all – friends. The pair shared everything together: wine, women, big bags of Walkers Sensations, everything. The men even pooled their enormous resources to work on a vaccine for Docid-19 or whatever I said it was called earlier. Billions of pounds were thrown in from each man. Soon, their dedicated team of researchers – most of whom they’d got from Boots and Superdrug after The Great Broad Street Riots of Christmas 2020 – hit the jackpot. They created a vaccine (as it turned out, it was basically just inhaling loads of Lynx Africa). Tarrant and Madejski had the fate of mankind (figuratively) in their hand(s).

Brave New Reading Tarrant's Run

Madejski knew that a vaccine could restore society and bring back normality. His standing in the community, currently so high, would almost certainly change, though. Sure, he’d be a hero – but he wouldn’t necessarily wield the power anymore. He would go back to being That Old Fella in the Suit Who’d Had It Off With Cilla Black. And he couldn’t have that. So long as the people of Reading thought he was funding research and searching for a way to stop The Virus, he was effectively their king.

Madejski buried the vaccine. He ordered his armed junta – former Broad Street Mall security staff – to destroy the labs, shoot the research team and dump their bodies in the River Kennet. Madejski then had the vaccine (a crate of Lynx Africa) securely locked away, a full three miles below the earth’s surface. Underneath where Toys ‘R’ Us used to be. Near Decathlon and Hobbycraft.

Tarrant had to go. Madejski didn’t need to contemplate the repercussions of his partner finding out what he’d done. The former Who Wants to Be a Millionaire presenter’s public persona was one of an affable chap. A good ol’ boy. The reality – however – was much, much different. Tarrant had been in the SAS. In fact, he’d actually completed the SAS and got a promotion to some sort of really hard spy. Tiswas, Tarrant on TV, Man O Man… they were all just cover stories. You’ve seen that film. What’s it called? Confessions of a Dangerous Mind. If you haven’t, it’s about a quiz show host what was a CIA type. It’s based on a true story. It’s good. So’s the book. Anyway, it’s like that.

Basically, what I’m getting at is that Chris Tarrant was fucking hard.

Madejski could take no chances. He needed rid of the man. His plan? To encase him within the Forbury Lion, as fitting his status as a lion amongst men. Madejski would take no pleasure in forcing his oldest friend to suffocate inside a big statue of a safari animal, but in some twisted way, effectively turning Tarrant into the Maiwan Lion was a sign of respect. Of love.

The cover story would be simple – Tarrant was reaching 80 and so would be ‘retired’. Despite being over 80 himself, Madejski avoided Permanent Retirement by doctoring his papers. According to his birth certificate, the old man was 34. Everyone knew it was a lie but, of course, no one dared speak out. Anyway, I think I’d said most people were dead by this point, hadn’t I? I forget. It doesn’t really matter anyway.

To cut a long story short (this is a short story, after all), Tarrant broke out of the Forbury Lion and made good his escape. End of chapter.


Chapter 4: Tarrant was coming home (part II)

Tarrant was coming home. He was still coming home. Nothing had changed on that front.

He’d spent years in exile in Farnborough, stewing over things. It was now time for revenge. Shotgun locked and loaded and slung over his shoulder like someone cool from off of a film who’s doing some revenge, he revved up his big monster car or Humvee thing and sped off from his futuristic house all fast.

He contemplated the words he’d say to Madejski as he blew him away (in all likelihood it’d revolve around ‘is that your final answer?’). As he drove down the M1 – or however you get to Reading from Farnborough – serenity washed over him. Tarrant knew he had one last mission left in him… He would kill the bloke the Reading football stadium is named after (Sir John Madejski).

Tarrant's Run

Fucking Hell, this has gone over 1,800 words, sorry about that. Let’s get on with it…

Anyway, it all kicked off and Tarrant ended up blowing up Arlington Business Park, killing all those poachers from earlier that murdered Portillo. Then he shot President Sir John Madejski dead with a laser gun or something. He took over as Emperor of the supercity of Reading, dug up the vaccine and sorted it all out. He also explained how he got out of being inside that massive concrete lion from earlier. It was all very clever and made perfect sense.

THE END


Brave New Reading Tarrant's Run (1)