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Roundabout Reading

Updated: Aug 30, 2022

Gucci has a new ball!

Her old ball was lost when she bumped it over the back fence with a volleyball move that popped it up and over into a thick and inaccessible forest.

It’s been heartbreaking for her not to have her ball, even though her owners said not to worry about it. I fretted about it so much that we finally ended up buying her a new one.

Oh, the look on her face! She was so happy.

We got out and about Reading a bit this week. Most importantly, we visited the local museum. Twice. And headed back to the Abbey ruins for a part we missed last time.

The Reading Museum is lovely, and the best part of all was that it was free. (How I love free museums!)

We learned that Reading was built upon what they call the “three Bs”: beer, bulbs, and biscuits. This refers to three major companies in the town that helped it to prosper and grow. But a museum docent whispered that Reading is sometimes said to have had “four Bs”—if brickmaking were included.

A good portion of the museum is devoted to the Abbey, but I’ll spare you that since I already shared so much about it in a previous newsletter.

However, you will remember (I hope) that I mentioned how the earliest known six-part harmony in Britain, the song Sumer is icumen in, was created in the Abbey around 1240. Well, this enormous painting is meant to represent the Benedictine monk who composed this “Reading round” (shown in his left hand).

You can listen to the song again here:

This painting was completed in 1920, and you can detect some of the zeitgeist of that era in this painting.

Speaking of paintings, this one won my heart:

The painting is titled “Trial by Combat,” and it was painted in 1918. Its description states that Henry de Essex was accused of cowardice by Robert de Montfort after Henry II’s military expedition to Wales in 1157. In the confusion of the battle Essex had fled, thinking the King was dead. The King was not dead, but was nearly defeated because of Essex’s flight.

To clear his name of cowardice, Essex decided to stand trial by combat—a fight to the death used in place of a trial in court. The painting shows the battle taking place on an island now known as De Montfort Island, with the King and nobles looking on. During the fight, Essex has a vision of St Edmund and Gilbert de Cereville, both of them men he had wronged. During the battle, de Essex is wounded and appears to be dead. His body is taken to the Abbey, seen in the background, where he recovers consciousness and announces he will remain at the Abbey as a monk.

I love the mystical vision of the ghostly apparitions approaching overhead! It gives me chills. My big disappointment was that the gift shop didn’t sell a postcard of this image, sigh…

Upstairs in the sculpture gallery, I swooned over this gorgeous art deco carving.

It’s titled “The Embrace,” and was sculpted by Robert Gibbings between 1924 and 1933. For a minute there I felt like I was in New York!

The museum also featured lovely mosaics that had been unearthed in the area. This mosaic is one of 13 that were found at the Roman town of Silchester, which was excavated between 1890 and 1909. It was probably installed in the mid-second century AD by wealthy “Romanized” inhabitants.

Thousands of artifacts were discovered at the site and deposited with the museum. This mosaic (along with two others) was conserved and put on display for the first time in the year 2000.

We returned to the museum on Saturday in order to take a guided tour of a copy of the Bayeux Tapestry (known as the “British Bayeux Tapestry”), which was sewn by 35 members of the Leek Embroidery Society between 1885–1886, before being taken on tour around the country. When the ladies ran out of travel money, they sold it to the Reading museum for £300.

The tapestry spans two entire rooms, so I am showing you only a small section here. (Technically, it’s not a “tapestry” but rather embroidered panels.)

The guide walked us through the whole thing, beginning to end, and it was marvelous. He even pointed out where the ladies had embroidered shorts onto a rather indecent fellow who was well endowed. It was an amazing tour through history and symbolism, and we would have missed all the intricate details and contexts he pointed out to us if we were left to ourselves.

After our tour, we walked around the area a bit and enjoyed the sights.

I’m always delighted to catch up with my namesake, Queen Victoria:

We were astonished to encounter this little factoid about Paddington Bear:

Who would have guessed that Paddington Bear originated in Reading?! (He made such a splash at the Queen’s Jubilee.)

On a personal note, my husband’s father was one of those same children sent to live in the countryside as a child in England during wartime. It was a pretty horrible experience since he fell into the hands of unscrupulous thieves, which ultimately influenced his decision to immigrate to Australia.

And now, sound the trumpets. I got a haircut (the first one since leaving France)! Altin was my hairdresser, and he knew his stuff!

His cut might have even outshone the work of my favorite hairdresser in L.A. (but don’t tell her I said so!). Either way, it feels great to have bouncy hair again, especially during this heatwave.

A few days later, we headed back to the Abbey ruins so we could explore the Oscar Wilde walk.

Oscar Wilde was jailed after a disastrous libel case led to the revelation that he had sexual relationships with men, which was illegal at the time (and considered scandalous). He was sentenced to 2 years hard labor.*

This brick wall and building behind me is the infamous Reading Gaol (pronounced “jail”) where Wilde was imprisoned in cell number 3.3 between 1895 and 1897.

After he was released, Wilde wrote a famous poem, The Ballad of Reading Gaol, about his experience. Portions of the poem are shown in cursive on the fence along the river path (as seen behind Robin, below).

These benches parallel the fence along the wall, and feel so very The Importance of Being Earnest to me with their incongruously cheerful red color.

The experience of his incarceration seems to have broken Wilde, as he died shortly after being released.

Reading prison was closed permanently in 2013, and nobody knows what will happen to the site. Various discussions are underway, including an offer from the street artist Banksy to help bankroll the purchase to turn it into a cultural center.

Here’s a painting Banksy did on the wall of the prison:

As we circumambulated the facility, we chanced upon a security guard leaving the building at the end of his shift. Introducing himself as Nigel, he proceeded to tell us terrific stories about the place. Prior to his security job, Nigel worked at the prison as a guard for nearly 30 years, during the time it was still used to incarcerate felons. He rattled off the names of some infamous inmates, but since we are visitors to the UK, they were mostly unknown to us.

One thing he recounted that was of interest was how he and the other guards always felt there was something different about the cell where Oscar Wilde was held—he said it had a “presence” that made him feel uncomfortable. He proceeded to explain he was not at all superstitious, but he just knew something was “off” whenever he passed that particular cell, and tended to avoid it. Cue the Twilight Zone theme song!

Gucci got a great workout on our walk, and she was grateful for the water Robin brought along for her.

She also enjoyed a carrot.

Oh, for a dog’s life, when one can revel in the joys of a new ball, some water, and a crunchy carrot.

We’re savoring our time with Gucci because it’s slowly coming to an end. Another transition is soon upon us.

In the meantime, I have much writing to do in preparation for my presentation for the Jungian Polish conference—wish me luck!

warmly, -Dr. Vicky Jo

*I got so interested in Oscar Wilde’s story that I dove headfirst into some fascinating research which I considered including here. Instead, I made the choice to write it up in a separate document, which may be found here:

Robin says it’s a great read, and here’s a teaser for it:

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