In 2013, a proposal re-emerged for an alternative London airport, located west of the A34 from Abingdon and which would have significantly impacted several local villages, all of which I travel through in my taxi on a daily basis: Steventon, Drayton, Garford, Marcham, Hanney.
Clearly, it was not a serious proposal, perhaps produced in order to be dismissed in favour of an alternative airport location elsewhere, or to offset concerns about smaller scale upcoming developments in the area. They are common enough strategies from developers. Had it happened, of course, it would have transformed the economy of the entire region. Instead of writing a column with recurrent themes of the economic stagnation of Abingdon and how hard it is to make a living here as a taxi driver, it would have a different tone altogether. It would have been worth remaining in the taxi business for the rest of my working life, indeed investing in it, instead of searching for a way out.
Much of my time recently has been spent travelling to and from Didcot, both on pre booked contract work and transporting business people to and from Didcot Parkway. It seems to be the rail station of choice for those working in Abingdon. It is interesting to hear of the observations and opinions of passengers going there and to observe the differences in infrastructure between the two towns.
Where once Didcot might have been seen as the poor relation – “a bit of a dump” as one passenger recently described it, no more. It is up and coming, with more homes and more businesses planned. Didcot even heralds itself as the “Gateway to the Future” on the brightly painted Station Road hoarding, opposite the station.
With its love of municipal pomp and circumstance and eccentric traditions rooted in Oxfordshire folklore, it would be easy enough to think that Abingdon is a town which sees itself as a gateway to the past. It is one of the pretenders to the title of Britain’s oldest town and some locally even refer half jokingly to the town and the surrounding area as “occupied north Berkshire”.
Quirky events like those held most recently, Swan Upping, bun throwing and Abingdon Traditional Morris Men's Day of Dance, with its election of the Mayor of Ock Street are glorious celebrations of English eccentricity . Abingdon has probably the best market place in the entire county of Oxfordshire and hosts a number of events each year, but why isn't it used every weekend during the peak tourist season for high quality events, to bring people into the town?
With the right kind of dynamic marketing, Abingdon could capitalise upon all of these traditions, become the sort of eccentric traditions capital of the United Kingdom. Let us celebrate this and welcome the world, not consign it to a chosen few who are already in the know, by virtue of having been born here or lived here for years.