Didcot is rather a non-descript town. The building of the Great Western Railway from London to the West Country sparked its growth in the 19th century. After 160 years since the passing of the Act authorising construction of the line, Didcot is still an important railway junction for North-South and East-West traffic, with connections to Oxford and the North, London, Bristol and the South coast.
Originally a railway town, the local businesses have changed with the times with the atomic energy establishment at Harwell International Business Centre a major employer as is National Power whose cooling towers can be seen for miles around. It is a 2,000 megawatt coal-fired station with a 650ft chimney and six 325ft cooling towers. During the mid 1970's I lived right next to this power station, and I have to admit that it gave off the most unusual sounds every once in a while!
Friendly back-street local
Comfortable and well-run community pub which retains the public bar / lounge bar divide - one a boistrous bar with games and the other quieter. The base for a number of local community activities.
The beer is Wadworths of Devizes, a little further east than its usual haunts. The Malt 'n Hops Ale is recommended.
A decidedly unamused Queen Victoria
Just behind the back end of Marks and Spencers is a statue of Queen Victoria. In case you don't know, Queen Victoria was Queen of England for over 60 years and was Britains longest serving monarch. She had a reputation for speaking her mind. So it is not perhaps surprising that she is showing her opinion here!
Occasionally Queen Victoria's headgear changes, and her crown is replaced by a traffic bollard or pigeon, but she always looks decidely unamused.
Rumour has it, that the reason she is facing away from the town is due to her dislike of Reading.
Life as a Reading resident.
I've lived in Reading for about ten years now, and having lived in London before, it doesn't compare. It's not that Reading is boring; you just have to entertain yourself and look around for the quirkier things.
Cosy, homely pubs without blaring music do still exist., even in the town centre which is mostly populated with Yates', Walkabouts, and terrible chain pubs. (There's even an eighties-themed bar...) For example, The Hobgoblin on Broad Street, ironically situated opposite The Oracle. Reading has had much regeneration since the mid-nineties, and unfortunately doesn't blend together very seamlessly.
If you're looking for nightlife beyond cheesy music, cheap drinks, and 17 year-olds desperate to pull, you're unlikely to find it. The Fez attracts a more studenty crowd and sporadically has semi-famous Indie bands; there is a supposedly Alternative nightclub at the sticky-floored mess that is The After Dark every few weeks, but this generally consists of three Strokes songs played in a row and something by Joy Division.
One nice point about the town is the transport links. Reading is only a short (10 minute) train ride away from quainter, and completely unaffordable to live in towns and villages; Henley; Pangbourne; Goring & Streatley, etc. Windsor is nearby, too. (So is Slough...)
It's also greener than other small towns -- there are a spattering of parks throughout, although it goes without saying they are to be avoided when it's dark. Forbury Gardens is situated in the town centre, and contains the infamous stone lion and Reading Abbey. It's also nearby to Reading Gaol. Yes, the same one immortalised in Oscar Wilde's poem. That might seem scary, but Toys R Us and Homebase are near to the jail, too. Forbury Gardens is not threatening or dangerous during the daytime; it's the sort of place where businesspeople go to eat their lunch or sunbathe on pleasant bank holiday weekends. And it's fun to laugh at 14 year-olds in Slipknot or Mudvayne hoodies fall over trying to impress the girls with their lack of skating skills.
In fact, Reading is quite safe in general. I feel perfectly comfortable walking home on my own when it's dark. If you're staying near Cemetery Junction, Whitley, Newtown or the Oxford Road area, take a taxi at night.
The thing to be remembered about Reading is that it's unlikely to be anything more than a large shopping centre for Berkshire's denizens -- why build a plethora of tourist activities 40 miles from London, and getting to London Paddington only takes 25 minutes by train?
Nonetheless, if you're stuck here for a few days after Reading Festival or have some friends here to visit, you'll find enough to keep you pleasantly occupied.