diamond geezer

 Saturday, August 26, 2006

  Metro-land revisited
  Moor Park Mansion

  Moor Park

There is no posher part of Metro-land than Moor Park. You can't tell from the train, because many years ago the residents had the sense to plant a row of trees along the edge of the railway line which now screens their secret splendour from passers by. But alight at the seemingly insignificant country halt [photo], venture out through the wooden hut that doubles as a ticket hall [photo] and it's soon apparent that only special people live here. The small parade of shops at the foot of Main Avenue boasts rather finer shops than your average high street, and rather more parking spaces too. Nobody walks around the Moor Park estate unless they really have to.

I spent an hour as the only pedestrian in Moor Park. I wandered along broad leafy avenues, repeatedly astonished by the scale and style of the residences to either side. It's as though local residents are competing to out-wealth one another through exaggerated flamboyance. Who has the most extravagant porch? Who has the widest frontage? Whose water feature is the loudest? The urge to upgrade is unrestrained. Whilst the bankers are at their desks in the City, the shirtless working class arrive in their white vans to embellish the excellence even further - an extension here, a tennis court there... it's the modern master/servant relationship. And yet Moor Park homes are unexpectedly close-packed and neighbourly, with shallow front gardens that open straight out onto the street without the need for high-spiked fences [photo]. All the paranoia has been transferred instead to a series of giant infra-red security cameras which scan every gated entrance to the estate. I wonder how suspiciously the watching guards tracked my aimless wanderings.

As befits a luxury enclave, Moor Park boasts not one but three golf courses. The first, at Sandy Lodge, gave its name to the original station - a wooden halt established for the benefit of visiting golfers. But the most famous is the course in the grounds of Moor Park Mansion [photo], and it was here that Betjeman came to demonstrate his laughably poor golf swing. He was rather more interested in the interior of this Palladian stately home, behind the towering pillared facade, wherein Venetian artworks hang beneath sumptuous ceilings. The mansion now doubles up as both clubhouse and conference centre, so the atmosphere today is rather more corporate than classical [photo].

"What Georgian wit these classic gods have heard
who now must listen to the golfer's tale
of holes in one and how I missed that putt,
hooked at the 7th, sliced across the 10th but ended on the 17th all square.
Ye gods ye gods, how comical we are.
Would Jove have been appointed captain here?
See how exclusive thine estate, Moor Park.

John Betjeman at Moor Park Mansion ("Metro-land", BBC, 1973)

I found the single public footpath which crosses the grounds and strolled nonchalantly across the fairways, avoiding low-flying balls and silent electric buggies. Several middle-aged businessmen were enjoying a round on the high course, greasing the wheels of commerce as they struggled manfully to thwack their way over tumbling green hillocks. Every bunker was duly raked, every blade of grass flawlessly trimmed, and every water feature a pool of beauty [photo]. A hit squad of groundsmen buzzed around on mini-tractors to ensure that scenic perfection was maintained. And they too eyed me suspiciously, especially when I strayed from the path and loitered (in direct contravention of local by-laws) whilst attempting to take a decent photograph of the clubhouse. Moor Park's exclusivity comes at a high price... and if you can't pay, don't expect to be made welcome.

Moor Park Golf Club (conspicuously aloof)
Sandy Lodge Golf Club (almost endearing)
Moor Park [from Quin Parker's Guide to Zone 6] (recommended)

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