I was thrilled to see Boris Johnson pedal his way over the Surrey Hills during the summer. There's nothing like a bit of panting, groaning and chafing to prove that there's more to a place than "handsome semi-detached houses, and stockbroker Tudor, and Joan Hunter Dunn and the pine-y smell of Betjemanesque suburbia", to quote from his Telegraph column.
Surrey has a hard time shedding its reputation as a showy stomping ground for tasteless technocrats, footballers and City boys. And North Londoners — Johnson is an Islingtonite — are the most likely to share such a skewed vision of the place.
When I was 17, my family decided to uproot from London and settle in the Surrey Hills. Even then I remember picturing a hedge-filled — and hedge fund-filled — backwater. Worse, my London friends told me I'd be neighbours with Chelsea Football Club, which had recently decamped to a new training ground near Cobham. And now Cobham High Street's shop fronts are aflutter with casting calls for Surrey Hills, a forthcoming reality-TV show in the mould of Made in Chelsea.
But just as Chelsea isn't representative of London as a whole, so the flashy estates rumoured to be at the centre of the new series — Fairmile in Cobham, St George's Hill in Weybridge, and pockets of Esher and Oxshott with their Legoland mansions — do not constitute Surrey.
You are more likely to stumble across a Norman church or National Trust property than a footballer. The real Surrey is little changed from the place Samuel Pepys called his "old place of delight", and John Evelyn "the Country of my Birth and my delight".