There are those moments. As much as you may love the antiquated iron gates of colleges or the way the setting sun hits the Radcam, later and later into the evening as the days get longer. I am sure we have all experienced how the dreaming spires can also dark shadows. How Oxford – with its tutorials, competitive extra-curriculars or impending exams – can be very much like that charming iron gate; beautiful and ornate, until you have to deal with the grunt work of pushing it open.
I personally found that there is no better rescue from this fast-paced mania that makes up an eight-week term, then to enter into the much more banal. Sometimes, wandering towards Summertown, Botley or Headington simply doesn’t cut it when you know the sky-line of the scholarly looms a few miles away. So welcome, to the safe haven that is a 12 minute train ride south of Oxford. Welcome, to Didcot.
Firstly, one can revel in the deliciously ordinary. Didcot is home to the humbly ‘vintage’, in an age where the the chicly outdated is given the space to shout at the top of its lungs. A shoddily stitched landscape of wooden-posted take- aways, butchers and an old-school everything-and-anything shop named ‘Grandma’s Pantry’. Of course, it isn’t just the quiet but quaint of such non-descript towns that revitalizes my capacity to be satisfied with the unextraordinary in life. One of the best parts of Didcot are the still shops that line the narrow, brick high street framing the railway line perpendicular to it – built in the late 1990s. Somewhere over the rainbow, far from Cornmarket which is usually filled with a bustling throng making its way to view some famous cranny of Oxford.
The landscape presents the hackneyed as a possibility to look closer and find the exceptional. And it can be found with little effort. In a quiet town, one can often discover a hundred voices with a story to tell. My brief visit to Didcot proffered me the chance to hear the tale of two brothers with philosophical differences, split by a ceiling. Above stood one brother’s ‘Dental Practice’ and below the other’s ‘Garage’. A tale of feud and rivalry in Didcot. This is one of many such tales I’m sure.
It’s not only the inexplicably prosaic that offers a remarkability that is gentler on the senses. The town itself has an undiscovered richness to offer in terms of culture and history. Didcot’s Railway Centre is definitely worth visiting (I’m being deadly serious). It’s not only informative, but also aesthetically reminiscent of a long-gone era. A well-designed set to the play of the imagination, presenting the history of trains from the establishment of the Great Western Railway. It, in itself, stands testament to the enriching potential of studying the everyday. What truly stuck out to me as a hidden gem, though, was the Cornerstone Art Centre located a 2 minute walk from the train station. I am honestly surprised this hasn’t been snapped up as a new ‘edgy’ space for Oxford f -budding student theatre. It also has much to offer itself ranging from critically acclaimed productions of ‘Shakespeare untold’ to art exhibitions and a weekly film club, as well as various free classes and workshops.
These classes and workshops offer a framework for the otherwise occupied to have an unproductive dabble in the arts. I, on my adventure to Didcot, stumbled upon a free life form class where I felt I could take a piece of graphite a draw pretty much anything at all. This was a class presenting work from artists’ that were also working mums or a geology academics – and once again I sensed the comforting relief that the ‘boring’ can still produce the beautiful.
So, if you’re feeling a bit tired of Oxford, spend that £4.50 return fare on an afternoon visit to Didcot. See what you learn and try and bring a piece of that calmness back on.