The feeling intensified when I stumbled upon Kit Wright’s wonderful 2014 poem, An Ode to Didcot Power Station:
What vasty thighs outspread to give thee birth,
DIDCOT, thou marvel of the plain?
Colossal funnels of the steamship EARTH,
Thy consummate immensity
Enshrines the rare propensity
Of fumes to form eternal acid rain!
While, in their pious hosts, Romano-Celtic ghosts
Are knelt to worship thy
And shadows of thy sacrificial breathing fill the sky!
DIDCOT, thou bugger!
Thou teaser of the mind
And recollection-tugger! Thee I find
To replicate the days when I was small
What time my mother, sweet and kind,
The fragrant Friar's Balsam did infuse.
A towel placed upon my head
And loving care did use
That pulmonary perils might not wake me with the dead.
DIDCOT! To one more
Soft eidolon thou steam'st ope mem'ry's door ...
For in thy hanging shrouds I view return
Far other blue-grey clouds;
My father's pipe-smoke I in thee discern,
That followed him all days
And ways he ventured through this singing maze,
To take that turn
All entrants in their bafflement and grace may not eschew.
What links of tenderness are forged by thee,
DIDCOT, thou ever-burning core!
Insensate lover of the loves that flee!
Thou glade of past felicity,
Thy sap of electricity
Complicit in our veins for evermore!
Struggling anent the storm, thy children ghost the form
Of all our quickenings may ever be ...
DIDCOT, thy billows pour,
Connatural, contiguous, familial as the sea!
The power station was never pretty, aesthetically or environmentally. To be honest, you'd be hard-pressed to find a better example of a blot on the landscape, what with the landscape in question being so pleasing to the eye. My late grandfather Harry, for one, despised the power station. An avid painter of English landscapes, he resented its grey brooding presence.
As a child visiting from Canada, however, I grew to associate the plump concrete smoke stacks with summers of non-stop fun. I spent much of my childhood bouncing between the homes of grandparents, cousins and summer friends in Drayton, Sutton Courtney, Steventon, and the other villages and towns on and around England's rolling Wiltshire Downs.
I've been back several times as an adult — twice as a father — and still revel in revisiting the diversions of my youth: The Uffington White Horse prehistoric hill figure; Wittenham Clumps, a pair of wooded hills and ancient forts that once afforded superb views of the power station; the footpaths around the Thames weirs at Sutton Courtney; and even the modest Sutton Wick duck pond in Drayton.
This is one of the most underrated parts of England. Millions of visitors take day trips from London to the Cotswold Hills and Stonehenge — both less than an hour's drive from the Drayton Triangle, as I call it — as well as to Oxford, the world-famous university city 20 minutes north. It could be that Didcot Power Station has caused tourists to bypass the area. If so, I owe it a debt of gratitude for the uncrowded pubs, serene villages and countryside, and relative lack of tour buses in the Triangle.
These days, I also derive great pleasure from bringing my daughters along, and watching as they gaze wide-eyed at the White Horse's 110-metre-long chalk body, or hurl crusts of bread into the swirling Thames, drawing ducks by the dozens.
Relatives who still live in the Triangle chuckle when I outline our repetitive itinerary. It probably seems quaint — boring, even — when compared with the sights of London or even those of Oxford. But I will never tire of the Triangle, or of reliving those halcyon days and sharing them with my family.
I would have liked to have been among the thousands of spectators who turned out for the final implosion. My grandfather, however, would have been there no matter what. Harry would have cheered loudly, no doubt, having invariably excluded the power station from his bucolic watercolours.
But next time I snap a photo from the top of Wittenham Clumps, I may just Photoshop it in.