In another interesting, perhaps subliminal, connection with the underground, I’m a recently joined member of a group called Metroland Poets. As might be inferred, this is a group of poets from Metroland: the area made famous (or perhaps notorious) as being opened up to development by the Metropolitan line in the early 20th century, when it stretched way past Aylesbury up to Brill (the village that Tolkien used as the inspiration for Bree in ‘The Lord of the Rings’). The poets come from a bit wider afield — mainly Bucks and adjoining bits of Berks, Herts and north-west London.
Metroland is associated with John Betjeman and there are many famous advertisements were displayed on the underground to try and encourage people to relocate to the expanding suburbs and commute into London. Vast swathes of north-west London were developed into oceans of semis between the wars although a little further out of London the commuters had higher aspirations. Places like Chorleywood, which were described by Betjeman as the “essential metroland” and the “gateway” to the Chilterns, are typified by detatched, mock-Tudor mansions.
I was thinking of writing a transition chapter between inner city and countryside and the Metroland associations help, especially with confirming the geography that I want to use. The novel is absolutely not about the suburbs or suburbia but they can’t be totally ignored. James will have commuted through the suburbs for several years but Kim will be quite unfamiliar with them.
I want to write a bridging chapter where she sets off from Marylebone, in itself a small outpost of country values in central London (ironically Chiltern Railways have been owned by Deutsche Bahn for a few years). She won’t know what kind of a place she’s going to visit and she’ll look out of the window at the inner-Metroland of dense development around Harrow, which she’ll sort of understand. Then when the train gets out towards the more affluent suburbs like Moor Park and Rickmansworth she’ll start to become horrified and not a little intimidated by the huge gardens with ornamental pools and rockeries the size of small mountain ranges — real Jerry and Margo Leadbetter territory. As she gets towards Amersham she’ll be grabbing the odd bit of relief when suburbia eventually gives way to genuine fields but she’ll still be quite let down that it’s all one commuter dormitory after the other even 35 minutes or so out of London.
But then, once the underground signalling cables eventually stop after Amersham (where the Metroland poets meet), she’ll have a moment of epiphany: she’ll see a view somewhere around Great Missenden that will take her breath away and from then on she’ll realise she’s left suburbia and the metropolitan consciousness behind. After the exit from London was so long and drawn out she’ll be astounded that such beautiful countryside can be found relatively close to the capital. (This is what the government has just announced it wants to plough its HS2 High Speed Rail line though.)
She’ll be met off the train by James (and perhaps Emma) at the nearest station to The Angel: Wendover. Ironically, this was described (according to Wikipedia) as the “pearl of Metroland”. So a nice piece of circularity seeing she starts off in a tube carriage. (I’ve also already written a scene for ‘Burying Bad News’ that’s located at Wendover station where Frances is pursued by journalists when she goes to get a train.)