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The view from Katesgrove Hill

Mamma mia! Italians invade Reading!

Italian students at the English language summer school at Bradfield College. Photo : Pierluigi Lippolis

This year, the Whitley Pump’s very own theatre reviewer Gillie Tunley helped teach English to Italian students at Bradfield College, an impressively beautiful independent school near Theale. The students spent a day in Reading and shared their views on the town.

Italy wades into the ‘Reading city’ controversy

In England, a city isn’t defined by the size of a settlement; the status has to be declared by the monarch. Attempts to persuade Her Royal Maj to magic Reading into a city have so far been thwarted by lesser, meaner towns offering their first-born to the nobility, or so I have been told.

“Reading is a little town in the south of England,” said Francesca, Dario, Diego and Daniele, cleverly avoiding accusations of lèse-majesté.

“I expected a little and isolated town, but it actually was a big city,” added Lisa bravely.

“I had imagined it to be like a little city with narrow streets, but it seems like London because it was big and with large streets,” said Pierluigi, who now plans to share leg-irons with fellow revolutionaries on the trip to Australia.

Alessia may have managed to save her compadres from an ignominious transportation with a cunning volte-face: “all of us thought that Reading was a little city… instead Reading is a beautiful town.”

The Forbury

Forbury Gardens. Photo : Pierluigi Lippolis

The group were most impressed with Reading’s “most important park” Forbury Gardens. Fie on thee, Prospect Park!

“I was surprised by the ruins of the abbey since I didn’t think to find them there,” said Lisa.

“I recommend to you to visit the [Maiwand] Lion and the ruins of the ancient abbey. The town is also famous because Jane Austen studied there,” said Letizia.

“Another symbol of the city is concerned with contemporary history, since the Maiwand lion, a majestic scuplture in Forbury Gardens, is a war memorial of the Battle of Maiwand,” said Emanuela, sarcastically referring to the 1878-1880 Afghan war as ‘contemporary’. Such sarcasm is required by law for any patriotic Italian visiting a country with a recorded history of less than 2500 years.


Queen Victoria Street. ‘Terracotta’ is a word with no equivalent in Italian. Photo : Pierluigi Lippolis

You’d expect young Italians to have a sense of style, so it comes as no surprise that they were impressed with Primark on Broad Street.

“We looked around in Primark and we were about to buy some clothes, but the queue was too long, so we gave up and went to other shops,” wrote Eleonora, Elizabetta, Ginevra and Valeria. “We went to Kiko, an Italian cosmetic shop. We were surprised to find this shop in the UK.”

“There’s a shopping centre called the Oracle where you can find Starbucks and Primark and [you can] spend a lot of money, since nothing is truly expensive,” wrote Lisa, no doubt commenting on the recent fall in the value of Sterling against the Euro.

However, coffee is always important. “I also had a frappuccino from Starbucks: it was delicious!” said Alessia.

Letizia said that the Oracle shopping centre was “so big and cute.” I assume this is some kind of Latin response to retail architecture incomprehensible to cold-blooded northerners.


Italian students visiting the Abbey ruins. Ruins as impressive as these are unknown in Italy. Photo : Pierluigi Lippolis

Our Italian students were impressed at how the council had managed to prioritise the cleanliness of the town centre by abandoning areas that don’t raise adequate business rates. Actually, they didn’t quite put it that way; instead, Letizia diplomatically said that “streets and cars are so clean compared to Italy.”

“Reading is a very clean and typical town,” said Eleonora, Elizabetta, Ginevra and Valeria. “The town itself had a very calm and enjoyable atmosphere.”

“If I thought of a typical British town, Reading would appear immediately in my mind; red houses made of bricks, clean streets full of shops, and a river,” said Lara.

Summing up

The ‘contemporary’ (pah!) Maiwand Lion in the Forbury Gardens. Photo : Pierluigi Lippolis

Martina and Chiara were suitably impressed with the town, saying “the first impression you receive as soon as you get [to Reading] is that you will never get to see something like that again.” How true that is, even today.

Pierluigi conjured up a brilliant slogan worthy of the Scarfolk tourist board: “although it seems boring, it was really cool!”

Emanuela managed to rescue the situation. “It is surprisingly compact. It is easy to get from one place to another, but you’ll always discover new restaurants, fun shopping areas and parks.”

Bradfield College.

With many thanks to the staff and students of the Bradfield College English language summer school. I think your English is brilliant and I hope you all had fun! The same goes to the students, too!

  1. Oxford international junior programmes
  2. Bradfield College


  1. Bravissimo Signor Adamo, grazie mille!😃

  2. Perhaps by ‘contemporary’ our Italian friend was referring to the futile recent attempts to intervene in Afghan affairs where the Russians failed in the 1980s and the Brits in the 1880s. After all, ‘the only lesson we learn from history is that we never learn from history’. Surprised though that they preferred Starbucks to Costa and Cafe Nero!

  3. Thankyou, John.
    I really enjoyed talking with the students; they were a charming, light-hearted bunch who were serious about learning English, and I was treated to a delightful insight into the priorities of Italian teenagers!

  4. I read this article with all the attention and accuracy I could give to it and the more I read it, the more I can affirm with certainty that is possible to write a nice and enjoyable article without crossing the line where sarcasm becomes annoying.
    You wrote about a group of teenagers who opened their minds and shared their opinions without even counting the possibility of being judged.
    According to me, this is not an enjoyable article about a group of teenagers who visit, on a summer school trip, a new place they have never seen before, it could have been like this, just quoting their observation without adding annoying comments, but in the end it didn’t seem exactly like this.

  5. Giovanna – I’m sorry you didn’t like it. I thought the students were brilliant and had a real sense of fun, and fun is something that young people are really good at. Just listing what the students said would not have been interesting to read and I thought that attempting to transliterate it into colloquial Reading English, which tends to include a lot of joshing, might also have been useful for the students to analyse – although I appreciate that subtleties of tone are difficult to interpret in a language not your own. Here is another example of self-deprecating Reading irony in action: . You see? We all do it!

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