One day in the early Seventies my wife and I found ourselves driving through East Sheen, en route to Richmond Park. East Sheen is a featureless London suburb, halfway between Putney and Richmond, and as we drove past the serried ranks of semis, with their clip-on Tudor beams, bosomy bow windows and stained glass panels in every front door, I turned to my wife and said, ‘Can you imagine anything more frightful than having to live in a place like this?’ I had been brought up to despise the suburbs, and ‘suburban’ was the most damning of epithets, synonymous with (or so one imagined) dull conformity, malicious tittle-tattle, and boring-looking bank managers mowing the lawn. Later that year we exchanged our flat in central London for one of the despised semis in East Sheen. We have been there ever since, and I wouldn’t dream of living anywhere else.
My Pauline conversion was far from unique. In the 1930s John Betjeman was an enthusiastic devotee of the Modern movement, but he ended his days as the great celebrant of Metroland; and Paul Barker is another former suburb-hater who has seen the light. ‘Suburbia is derided by everyone