West London Gardens

‘Little Dorrit’ is one of Charles Dickens’s great novels. My Folio Society Edition of 1986 is, at 834 pages with 72 of Charles Keeping’s exquisite illustrations, so great that I intend to deviate from my normal approach to books in this blog.

The tale has been reproduced so often in books and films and there are so many Internet pages on it that I think I do not need to refrain from any story spoilers, and my observations may or may not be superfluous.

Just as the author published the work in serial form I will do the same with my presentation of Mr Keeping’s drawings. I will write something about each picture as I make my leisurely journey through the weighty tome.

The frontispiece represents Marshalsea Prison.

Wikipedia tells us ‘The Marshalsea (1373–1842) was a notorious prison in Southwark, just south of the River Thames. Although it housed a variety of prisoners, including men accused of crimes at sea and political figures charged with sedition, it became known, in particular, for its incarceration of the poorest of London’s debtors.[1] Over half the population of England’s prisoners in the 18th century were in jail because of debt.[2]

Run privately for profit, as were all English prisons until the 19th century, the Marshalsea looked like an Oxbridge college and functioned as an extortion racket.[3] Debtors in the 18th century who could afford the prison fees had access to a bar, shop and restaurant, and retained the crucial privilege of being allowed out during the day, which gave them a chance to earn money for their creditors. Everyone else was crammed into one of nine small rooms with dozens of others, possibly for years for the most modest of debts, which increased as unpaid prison fees accumulated.[4] The poorest faced starvation and, if they crossed the jailers, torture with skullcaps and thumbscrews. A parliamentary committee reported in 1729 that 300 inmates had starved to death within a three-month period, and that eight to ten were dying every 24 hours in the warmer weather.[a]

The prison became known around the world in the 19th century through the writing of the English novelist Charles Dickens, whose father was sent there in 1824, when Dickens was 12, for a debt to a baker. Forced as a result to leave school to work in a factory, Dickens based several of his characters on his experience, most notably Amy Dorrit, whose father is in the Marshalsea for debts so complex no one can fathom how to get him out.[6][b]

Much of the prison was demolished in the 1870s, although parts of it were used as shops and rooms into the 20th century. A local library now stands on the site. All that is left of the Marshalsea is the long brick wall that marked its southern boundary, the existence of what Dickens called “the crowding ghosts of many miserable years” recalled only by a plaque from the local council. “[I]t is gone now,” he wrote, “and the world is none the worse without it.”[8]

In his introduction to my copy, Christopher Hibbert, speaking of Dickens’s childhood experience, states that ‘throughout his life thereafter Dickens had been obsessed with prisons, prisoners and imprisonment. In England, in America, Italy and France he found his way to the prison in each new town he visited in the way that another man might seek out a museum or a church.’

The jailer of Marseilles Prison takes his little daughter on a tour of the cells.

During my brief spell of residence in Sutherland Place, W2 I served as a Committee member of the local Neighbourhood Association which enjoyed an annual gardens competition. In the summer of 2008 I toured the few streets around my flat making a series of photographic prints of likely contenders on which a small sub-group voted. A set of colour slides from the recently rediscovered cache dated July/August was my basic material. I scanned them this afternoon.

Although these West London properties are highly sought after and very expensive they mostly have negligible gardens. I was genuinely impressed by the ingenuity shown by the nurturing of colourful plants in all kinds of containers laid on paving and walls, on window sills, fixed to railings, and straggling down steps.

I wonder whether anyone will share my favourite. As a clue I will say it was not the stunning header picture.

This evening we dined on Jackie’s deliciously spicy pork paprika; roast potatoes, including the sweet variety, in their skins; firm broccoli; and tender runner beans, with which she drank Hoegaarden and I drank Languedoc Montpeyroux Recital 2018.

High Street Gallery


This afternoon Jackie drove Elizabeth and me to Lyndhurst so that my sister could replenish her cabinet at the Antiques Centre. This gave me the opportunity to perch on a bench alongside the high street where I was able to watch the world going by, and, of course photographing visitors galore. This selection of photographs is virtually random. Although each bears a title in the gallery


You will see in each shot what catches your own eye or imagination. I will just highlight the sequence where a couple of dog walkers approach Paws in the Forest from one direction, and pass a little girl, coming down the hill with her mother, and enjoying an ice cream , some of which drips onto her forearm.

This evening the three of us dined on Jackie’s splendid sausage casserole; swede mash; crunchy carrots, and firm cauliflower. Jackie drank Hoegaarden and Elizabeth and I drank Mendoza Parra Alta Malbec 2017



Island In The Sun


This morning’s sunshine lasted long enough

to draw me into pruning the rose garden. By the time I had finished the skies had clouded over and rain begun.

Window boxes

Between showers Jackie was able to plant primulas into the large window boxes on the front wall.

Camellia 1

More camellias are in full bloom, and

Daffodils and ferns

all the beds are clamouring for our attention,


but we abandoned them in favour of a drive to Tanner’s Lane beach,

Boat on mudflats

where the usual boat was moored on the mudflats.


A solitary yacht sailed alongside the Isle of Wight,

Ferry boat and The Needles

as a ferry boat threaded its way past The Needles.

At low tide seaweed clung to rocks and breakwaters.

Trees and breakwaters

Further along the coastline gnarled trees were coming into bud,


as rain-laden skies loomed over the sunlit landscape.

Egrets were among the birds feeding on the shore.

Egret in flight

One rewarded my numerous efforts to catch it in flight.

Having left Tanner’s Lane and begun to drive along Sowley Lane it seemed as if we were on the floor of a school dance from my teens. In the undergrowth on one side of the lane were assembled a bouquet of hen pheasants.

Pheasants 1

The less fragrant cocks patrolled the opposite side.

Plucking up courage, they paraded a bit,

Pheasants 2

then slipped through the barrier to join the ladies.

Crane at sunset

Just before sunset at Milford on Sea a crane silhouetted against the skies was a reminder that the beach huts destroyed in gales a couple of years ago are being rebuilt.

We hastened to Barton on Sea and waited for a pair of figures to make their way along the clifftop so that I could include them in my shot. Following their progress I was to discover that the gentleman was pointing a camera away from the west, and photographing the Isle of Wight.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d2DjyPoyCcE&w=560&h=315]

Truly an Island in the Sun.

Tree and holiday homes

The tree in the grounds of the holiday homes park has grown as directed by the sea breezes.

This evening we dined on Jackie’s spicy chilli con carne, savoury rice, and salad. She drank Hoegaarden, and I finished the Carmenère.

The Vouchers

Today’s weather was dull, and I can no longer ignore the acute pain I have been experiencing in my right knee and shin for a few days now (I know, I know, I should have rested it before now), so I stayed in and scanned a batch of colour slides from July and August 2008.

I only lived in Sutherland Place, W2, for three years, but during that time I served on the Westbourne Neighbourhood Association Committee, and for two years running was prevailed upon, in company with another member, to judge the annual Garden Competition. This residents association is keen, along with other environmental issues, to preserve the character of the gardens in this tiny area of West London. One threat comes from owners extending their basements under the gardens which then have to be paved over. We focussed on the very small front gardens and even smaller window boxes, given that most people were out during the day and we relied on photographic evidence to make our selections.

Here are a few of those photographs: Garden Competition 7.08 001Garden Competition 7.08 003Garden Competition 7.08 005Garden Competition 7.08008Garden Competition 7.08010Garden Competition 7.08013Garden Competition 8.08014Garden Competition 8.08015 2

Garden Competition 8.08016

The third and fifth pictures give some idea of the size of most of the front plots. The second shows what could be done with pots on paving.

The gardeners, by the way, did not enter themselves, and did not even know there was a competition, so were both surprised and delighted to receive their prizes. There were two categories to be considered, the window boxes, and the overall gardens. I printed up all the pictures, discussed them with my colleague, and presented the front runners to the committee where the final selection was made. Pictures six and seven are of the same, winning, garden. In the bottom left of the vertical image can be seen a set on steps leading down to the basement. Plants lined the steps and the concrete at the bottom, giving the whole display a great sense of depth. For this reason it was an unanimous first choice. The garden featured in the first photograph defied categorisation. All there was to this was the railings and steps down to the basement door. Pots stood on every downward level, and were fastened in tiers to each metal upright. There was hardly any room for feet on the way down to the flat.  Because this superb effort could not be pigeon-holed, three prizes were offered that year. This was the third, unique, winner.  I can’t actually remember which was considered the best window box, but, for its delicate palette merging with the lace curtain behind it, my choice was the last option above.

The penultimate photograph portrays a garden that was not considered eligible, because it was that of an hotel.

Now we come to the prizes, and the reason I chose to feature this batch today. Jackie and I keep a stock of cards for all occasions, some created by ourselves, and others from various sources. Searching through these recently, I came across three identical cards with envelopes. It had been my task to buy the tokens of our appreciation, to be reimbursed by the Association, and to deliver the surprises to the unwitting entrants.


Clifton vouchersI bought the prizes, but when it came to their delivery, I couldn’t find them, so had to purchase replacements with my own money. I wonder whether, seven years on, Clifton Nurseries of Little Venice would honour three £20 gift vouchers?

To return to 2015, this evening the herbal flavouring of Jackie’s excellent Bolognese sauce had greatly benefited from a further twenty four hours infusion. It was served with tricolour tagliatelle and tender green beans which, with the rich red tomato base reminded me of the Italian flag. Syrup sponge pudding and custard was to follow. Jackie drank Peroni, whilst I chose Llidl’s Bordeaux Superieur 2013.



A Little D.I.Y. And A Lot Of Creativity

Clematis texansis Duchess of AlbanyThe clematis texansis Duchess of Albany that Jackie planted in the kitchen garden is now blooming. Hardy fuchsia
One side of the back drive is lined with hardy fuchsias.Window boxes on front wall
The window boxes on the front wall have survived hurricane Bertha.Golden holly
The golden holly I hacked down in the spring because of the number of sports it sported has revived splendidly.
It may not have escaped the notice of my regular readers that I am not exactly a dab hand at D.I.Y. But I do rate a little higher than whoever did most of the work on our house. Near the kitchen sink there is a pair of hooks on a roughly hewn piece of wood on which we have hung our tea towels. Wall behind teatowel hooksYesterday, never in our time having borne more than three light pieces of cloth, it fell off the wall. We then discovered that it had simply been stuck to the plaster. More than once, by the look of it. I therefore had the task of screwing the makeshift object into place. This involved inspecting my drill-bits and working out which ones were for wood, which for softer masonry, and which for strong brick and breeze block. Teatowel hooksI only made one minor error in selection. Suitable holes had to be drilled, rawlplugs inserted and screws fixed in place. Should anyone feel inclined to point out the extra hole bottom right, please note that was already there. Maybe someone had first attempted to screw the fixture into position, and found it a little difficult. As will be seen, it is not a pretty structure, and there is a certain amount of making good required. It will, however, be a long time before we begin to tackle the major task of decorating the house, so we will live with that. Even though she was in fear of a crooked fixture, the practical member of our team was able to tear herself away and leave me to it, probably because the attraction of helping Flo identify some of her jewellery-making materials was too strong.Jackie and Flo sorting jewellery Second-hand stones from Jackie’s necklaces and bracelets were being recycled for Flo’s enterprise. The highlight of Jackie removing beads from necklaceFlo sorting beadsthat activity was when our granddaughter, having applied all the necessary tests, proclaimed that the Russian amber (not from the glass necklace being dismantled in the photograph above) given to Jackie by a house-guest some years ago was plastic.
Blackberry and apple crumbleLater, Flo and I picked the main ingredients for tonight’s dessert which was blackberry and apple crumble, served with custard, evap, or Elmlea faux cream; or any combination therefrom. Our main course was Jackie’s classic sausage casserole (recipe) with crisp roast potatoes and crunchy carrots, cauliflower and broccoli. Jackie drank water, Flo drank apple juice, and I drank Isla Negra cabernet sauvignon 2013.

Problems With Networks

This morning we took a trip by car to the municipal dump which is a short distance away, between home and Lymington. Carpet and toilet seats for dumpFollowing our tidy up of the skip pile we took down the back seats of the Modus and loaded it with the dog-sodden carpet (one of the items the previous owners had left for us thinking they might be useful); the rancid toilet seats; a few stale paint pots; bits of lino and other carpet; and a some other small objects, and joyfully tossed them into the various bays in the waste disposal and recycling centre. True to family tradition, we did not go away empty-handed, because Jackie bought four plastic window boxes from the Sales Area.
Flushed with the success of recovering the garden’s irrigation system, Jackie applied herself to the apparent ornament in the form of a sunburst which she thought must be a sprinkler. SprinklerShe rigged it up, attached a hose, turned on the tap, and the sun spiralled spinning arcs of water around an area large enough to keep us leaping for dry land. There must have been a rainbow somewhere, but I couldn’t see one.
Clematis montanaClematis montana pushing fence overYesterday afternoon I had begun tackling a tangled mass of ancient clematis Montana and brambles, each with stems as thick as small trees, which were pushing the kitchen garden fence onto the lshrubs next door. It wasn’t long before I realised that our neighbours were suffering an invasion such as the lonicera one that beset us on the other side of our property. I needed to discuss with Bev what I planned to do. She was out. I left her a message. She responded a little later than I would have wished to start, so we agreed to meet this morning. Our very friendly neighbour was happy for me to deal with our side and said she would take care of theirs. A young horse chestnut that had no business being there was providing boughs to add to the jumble. That would have to go as well.
On our return from the dump, I got stuck in to the task. And the brambles got stuck into me. Unbelievably, three very old members of the most prolific of clematis specimens had been trained against the fence and never pruned.
During our lunchtime break our phone emitted a squeak and we lost our telephone and broadband connection. We waited a while for it to right itself. It didn’t, so I girded my loins and made the call. On my mobile, of course. BT, like all conglomerates that have outgrown their user friendliness provides a machine to respond to customers. I am sure my readers are all familiar with the rigmarole that I was presented with, so I won’t go into great detail in a rant. I will say, however, that it is no help whatsoever to be given choices of reporting either a problem with the phone or with the broadband when you have problems with both. Eventually I conveyed to the robot’s voice that we had a fault. I was put on hold whilst this was checked. Whilst on hold I was told, repeatedly, that I could go on line and use the self-help facility. The chance would have been a fine thing.
Eventually I received confirmation that we had a fault and an engineer would be arranged. Should the fault lie with our own equipment this would cost £130. If the fault was their fault I presume it would then be repaired free of charge. The problem would be resolved by the end of the day on 7th of this month.
I raged back into the garden to take out my frustration on the clematises. Whilst I was doing this Jackie came out to tell me we were back on line. The BT machine had taken my mobile phone number and promised to keep me updated by text. Or I could follow progress on the website. I wasn’t told how I could do that. I received one text confirming this. No more. Had Jackie not periodically checked, we would have been none the wiser. At no time was I ever given the option to talk to an adviser, which is what they usually call a real person.
Fence partially clearedNet supporting clematisI managed to clear two of the clematises, and to remove the offending conker tree. Whoever had trained the plants, had fixed a thick wire network reaching a foot above the six foot fence. When I came to the third tree that should have been a shrub, I found that the weight of the tangled mass had brought the top section of the network forward, so I had that vying with the brambles to take my eye out.
PoppiesAlready ragged from the BT experience, and letting forth a somewhat less than mild imprecation, I determined to tackle that one tomorrow; admired the new poppies, and lit a bonfire.
Chicken jalfrezi & rice and peasHaving burned some more of the cuttings pile I joined Jackie for a delicious meal of her juicy chicken jalfrezi (recipe) which was just the job. Ice cream was to follow. I drank Las Primas Gran Familia tempranillo 2013.


Just before this dull, humid, noon, whilst Jackie was out shopping for our trip to The Firs, I took a brief stroll through Morden Park.  Apart from two friendly couples, one gay and one heterosexual, walking their terriers, I had only magpies and rooks for company.  The birds, scratting about among the stubble, didn’t much fancy mine. 

An absent couple seemed to have discarded their wardrobe in a hurry.  Hopefully they had something to change into.

So enamoured of the window boxes adorning the railings at the front of No. 7 Garth Road was Jackie, that she had to drive the long way round to the A3 to show me the display.  The nasturtiums were grown from seed.

On the A31, Jackie skillfully avoided squashing a vole scampering across the road in front of us.

Arriving at The Firs in the early evening, we were able to enjoy the effects of the lowering sun on the garden before it sank slowly behind the elderly corrugated iron Free Church building next door.  The images above are of abutilon, lobelia cardinals, and prunus pisardii. Whilst Jackie and I were sitting with Elizabeth in the garden, contemplating our next  projects, we were joined by her friend Lynne.  We spotted our little friend, the robin, whose absence had been alarmingly noted last week.  All is well.  The work done on the new bed has exposed the compost heaps of the Tardis, the home of Geoff and Jackie at the bottom of the garden.  We saw a rat emerging from the heap and scuttling away.  Apparently the heap does harbour rats.  This led to a discussion about these rodents.  We were generally agreed that wild ones were not the same as the tame variety.  Tame rats make incredibly good pets, the only problem being that they don’t live very long, so ownership of one is bound to end in tears.  Matthew and Sam, each in their turn, have owned pet rats.  Mat built a whole network of cages which housed up to 70 at one time.  His own particular favourite was kept in an unlocked cage.  At six o’clock every morning his little friend would trot up and sit outside Mat’s bedroom waiting for him to get up.  It was he who introduced his brother Sam to these pets.  Some time in the late 1980s, Jessica was featured in an ITV programme, part of a series about people working at night.  This was in fact the first one, the subject being Social Work.  In one scene Sam is seen seated on the sitting room floor with his white rat crawling up his clothes and nestling in the crook of his shoulder.  Jessica is on the phone to a client.  Rats, therefore, can be friendly and loyal pets.  This is not necessarily the case.  When we lived in Soho’s Chinatown the story was rather different.  In London you are said to be never more that a few metres from a rat.  In this area, where the sun never sets on restaurants, it was more likely centimetres.  We had very thick window frames and one very stout window box.  We wondered what could be gnawing its way through this seasoned timber.  Our friend Carole Littlechild, one night provided the answer.  Asleep on the floor in the sitting room she had been disturbed by the patter of tiny footsteps.  Across her face.  It was indeed a rat.

Remy, a wild rat who became a great friend of the main human character is the star of the Pixar computer-animated comedy film of 2007, ‘Ratatouille’.  This is a wonderful story, beautifully filmed.  If I say any more it will spoil the experience of those of you who accept my recommendation and see the production, even if it means buying the DVD.

After a month struggling with a virus, Elizabeth was able to join us at Eastern Nights in Thornhill.  Thornhill is not the most salubrious Southampton suburb, but it is home to the best Bangladeshi restaurant we have found in the area.  And our research has been extensive.