At first glance Didcot isn’t easy to love.
In a way it’s Oxfordshire’s grubby neighbour, and you can imagine Abingdon pops round at the weekend to say “Would you mind popping down to Berkshire for the night, only we’ve some very important guests coming round and they’d rather not hear your racket.”
But one of the most lovable sides of Didcot is that so many people love it. Local historians wrote a book called “A History of the Railway in Didcot”, and while it’s marvellous that anyone should write a book with that title, even better is that the opening line reads “This book is in no way a history of the railway in Didcot.”
Even that was trumped, when I mentioned in the show that I’d come across a book called “The Long Years of Obscurity. A History of Didcot, Volume One – to 1841.”
I asked if it was possible that anyone had ever read that, presumably thinking ‘I prefer the obscure years of Didcot. 1841-1867 Didcot is a bit too pacy for me’. And someone called out that they were reading it at the moment, and even said “Is that the one by BF Lingham”, which it is, unless there are two book called “The Long Years of Obscurity. A History of Didcot, Volume One – to 1841.” And the two authors are no doubt bitter rivals, like the two groups that still go under the name of Bucks Fizz.
Didcot is fascinating because it was created by the railway, as a site for a junction between the line to the west of England and one heading to the Midlands. Hundreds of labourers arrived in the 1840s to build the junction, and this didn’t endear the place to travellers.
A chap called JE Vincent, in ‘The Highways and Byways of Berkshire’, wrote “Except for some mining villages in South Wales, there is nowhere as bare and depressing as Didcot. Its scenery is as dreary and monotonous as anywhere, and it is unlikely to become a popular resort, as it is so ugly.”
All these years later it’s reputation hasn’t improved. One of the messages I was sent on twitter read “You can always tell on a train to Oxford who’s from Didcot, from their morose demeanour.”
It also turns out there was once a character in Eastenders who ‘confessed’ to being from Didcot. That isn’t flattering, to be considered a subject of trauma in Eastenders, presumably with dialogue that went “We’ve gotta talk.”
“What is it doll?”
“Look, this ain’t gonna be easy, but I’ll come aht wiv it, I’m from Didcot.”
“Oh no, that explains your morose demeanour you slag.”
But Didcot isn’t morose. Despite it appearing to be a cluster of houses nestled beneath the cooling towers of a power station, as it’s been built as the set for a remake of The Hills Have Eyes, it seems to be one of the cheeriest towns in the country. Comics love playing there, and the local pride embodied in the books about the place was matched once by someone calling out to me “I can’t believe you haven’t mentioned this was where someone first marketed watercress.”
So I’d vote for Didcot to be made capital of Oxfordshire, maybe by royal decree, though from the other messages I was sent on twitter, maybe not everyone would agree.
Dylan Mitchell wrote “It wasn’t originally meant to have a train station, but the snobby twats in Abingdon didn’t want one.”
Alphonso Mango added “When I lived in Abingdon 30 years ago, Didcot was rumoured to have the highest per capita STD infection in UK.”
Noposhsports said “The locals think the power station is actually a dragon.”
Then the comic Paul Sinha informed me “I have frequently taken my boyfriend up the Didcot Parkway,” before a local person, Alan Flanagan, completed the comment with a perfect Didcot outlook, asking “Did you Park and Ride?”
Bless Didcot, I say.