That vast sales pitch-cum-sunlit upland of the early 20th century hasn’t completely disappeared into the margins of a Betjeman anthology or the back room of a transport museum. If you look for it with keen eyes, or listen hard enough, you’ll find the traces.
All along the farthest western reaches of the Metropolitan line the conceit still lingers. Someone threw an idea across Middlesex so profound as to resonate over a 100 years later.
It’s there in the rustle of leaves, the sigh of a sash window, the creak of a set of points, the song of a bird whose location you can’t quite place… All common sensations, but all somehow elevated by virtue of geography to become both part-mundane and part-magical.
The entrance to Ickenham station can make you shudder with despair:
Sit by these trees and imagine yourself surrounded by roads bordered with the softest of soft suburban grass, patronised by neatly turned-out vehicles peopled by neatly turned-out passengers, and lined with the most stylish of provincial amenities: a world that, if it ever really existed, fired just as many useful imaginations as it did useless realities.
Metro-land was once promoted seriously if rather loftily as “a country with elastic borders that each visitor can draw for himself”. That country might have long passed from the lexicon of poets and advertisers alike, but its borders can still be drawn, even though – like anything this old and worn – the elastic’s almost gone.