My project is what might be called a ‘visual poem’, a small selection of images and accompanying verse to convey the feelings of the poems of John Betjeman’s Metroland. As broadcaster and writer, Betjeman both wrote poetry and filmed a 1973 BBC documentary to describe the area stretching from Baker Street up to Chorleywood in the heart of rural Hertfordshire. The term Metroland was coined by the marketing department of the Metropolitan railway in the 1920s and complete with glossy brochure was designed to entice city businessmen into the then suburban and rural idylls of Middlesex, Buckinghamshire and Hertfordshire. With the land their own, the Metropolitan railway built up the areas their lines served, promising the best of both city and country life.
The project is split into two ‘parts’, with the first consisting of a set of 29 images and the second a short poem in the style of John Betjeman. The aim of the project is not to take the reader on an information based geographical tour of the area, nor is it to make any socio-political comment on the contrasting fortunes of north west London neighbours of the likes of St John’s Wood and Neasden. Rather I try to evoke the aspiring spirit of the suburbs and shires, the duality inherent in such pursuit of betterment, to convey to the reader a conceptual sense of this space. I come at this project with first hand experience of such concepts, with both parents being brought up in west London before marrying and moving out to Berkshire, from where during the 1980s, I commuted back to school in Ealing. The first ‘part’ of the book is named A Metroland, hinting that the images are focussing on broader concepts rather than a narrow geographical area. The second is named My Metroland and contains a poem which although arranged by me, contains the phrases and words of the three John Betjeman poems mostly concerned with this area, namely Harrow-on-the-Hill, Middlesex and Baker Street Buffet. With my reworking of the syntax, I make some concealed references here to my family history; concealed in that I avoid explicitly naming any of the subjects and make no mention anywhere in the book as to my personal background. Despite this concealment of identity, there exists still a narrative and tone to the poem that I hope will reference any unnerving ambiguity with which the uncaptioned images may be laced. The images themselves are of a more conceptual, rather than classic photojournalistic style, with no indication as to where they have been taken. I also do not include a foreword or introduction in the way of textual explanation, lest I influence the subjective reader response and dilute whatever sense of mystery the work may then contain.
We are a society where many commute, many move away from the urban, to the suburban and beyond as they ‘progress’ in life. A society where many are born into a middle class that struggles and strives to climb the English social ladder in the belief this physical and social ‘progress’ will help attain a level of psychological stability. Yet when their destination is reached, many wonder why there persists still a dissociated emptiness that no level of material gain can fill. It is this swathe of our society for whom this work is dedicated.