As I alighted (I love that almost archaic word - it conjures up visions of trans-continental railways and exotic destinations) at Marylebone Station, I began to make my familiar route around the parts of central London that I know well and once again was struck by how conditioned we are by routine and familiarity. Why take one particular path when there are alternatives? Because we are always in such a hurry to fit in so many things into the day, watching the clock, timing our business before we move on to the next task or deadline. Today was no exception.
The main purpose of my trip was to visit the London Transport Museum to see Suburbia - an exhibition which shows how transport has shaped the growth and identity of the London suburbs http://www.ltmuseum.co.uk/ This was followed by a talk on Metroland - that area of NW London and beyond where London's boundaries extended into the countryside following the expansion of the Metropolitan Line in the 1920s. Metroland has long been associated with the poet John Betjeman and with a particular vision of leafy Middle England - one where the streets are clean and safe, the air is pure, and every Englishman can own his own home with its strip of lawn and hedge, where privacy and safety are assured.
In Betjeman's poem The Metropolitan Railway the phrase "the morning villas sliding by" reminded me of my journey into London earlier in the day, and the repetition of the station names illustrate just how evocative of place these words are:
"Smoothly from HARROW, passing PRESTON ROAD,
They saw the last green fields and misty sky...
And all that day in murky London Wall,
The thought of RUISLIP kept him warm inside;
And caught the first non-stop to WILLESDEN GREEN,
Then out and on, through rural RAYNER'S LANE
To autumn-scented Middlesex again."
Betjeman himself was well-known for his love of London and the railways, and recounted a tale of his youthful journeys on the London Underground with a friend, travelling on every single Underground line and getting out at every station. Probably beyond the scope of my project, but what better way of exploring London than on the Tube - emerging every so often into some unknown location - virgin territory to explore?