THE WALLED GARDEN
Walking through the vegetable garden there used to be an old enamel sign pointing out to sea directing the observer to the “walled garden”. There was much hilarity among visitors who had become rather muted on a tour of the Leeks, Artichokes and Swedish Beet. Mr. Plimpsoll, while leaning on the high brick wall against which the greenhouse was built, assured us that there had never been a walled garden and to prove his assertion by pointlessly banging the repointing with his fist. You can only imagine how many leaden hours we all spent showing the parties of the Dullards, Low Life and Stone Pates around the original Paxton layout , a precondition of our extended sojourn.
Imagine our surprise then, that my fellow Housemates, having committed themselves to tidying and cleaning the long Paxton greenhouse with its rare twin 3 fan roof in gutta-percha and mica (left over from the conservatory), discovered a boarded up doorway behind the cacti shelves and self built Conundrums. I remember being summoned from the kitchen on the stroke of noon from bottling bolasses from the hedge behind the stables. “A strong wrist was required to unscrew the shelf brackets and peel back the fibreboard.” A chance to be manly seldom passes without a keen response.
The Vegetable Garden lay on rising ground at the back of the house and petered out into dense shrubberies of rhododendrons and domestic bamboo. It was nevertheless surprising (and delightful) that a Walled Garden could have concealed itself beyond. The shelves on the wall came away easily. The boards concealing the door were rotten. But the door itself was sturdy with a carved oak frame but sealed only with an ivory peg. We all three walked through, virtually bent double at the threshold. and breathed an atmosphere that had not been disturbed, as far as we knew, for half a century. There was a brief moment of alarm as something broke for cover and disappeared into an Ornamental Pavilion at the far end. ‘And what was that?”
Look hard and you could see evidence of a certain formality in design, but overgrown and encrusted with verdegris. My housemates picked what was left of the raspberries and pulled convolvulus off a crumbling well head. “I do approve of this place. “ It was so quiet, so still, as if loathe to tolerate air currents or sudden noises.
The walls of traditional London bricks rose to about fifteen feet, capped with a stone of a pale yellow . The espaliers, once mathematical , had lapped and overlapped. Fruits entwined, fused, broke for cover all without an apparent sign of energy. In fact scarcely a brick was to be seen through the weight of leaf growth. A sundial was held by only one screw so gave a wild improbable reading. Pulling the hibiscus away, they sat on the Love Seat by the Ornamental Pavilion and closed our eyes in the late rays of the Sun.
The door to the Pavilion was held on one hinge. It had put a fight against the Convolvulus. Every pane of glass was broken. “What is that by the back wall?”. Something stirred ominously.
We retreated back to the main entrance of the Walled Garden and, after a few minutes, sure enough something quite muscular and athletic was seen to move swiftly away through the undergrowth. When the coast was clear, we ventured inside. I remember one of us spent time looking for droppings but the interior was cramped with towers of pots, raffia bundles and a table tennis table without legs. Progress was slow.
Odd to have a bread oven in a Pavilion, we thought. The gas supply, we fretted , looked still connected. Be careful . No smell other than a whiff of compost.
And there at the back of the bread oven was a diminutive Bakelite Television set, about the size of a loaf of bread which the Fabricator dated at around 1954, with a hint of the Saturday Evening Post.
There is no gas, we can relax. But the dial on the TV, once turned, seemed to activate the screen which glowed. “No source of power. Odd.” Before I could turn it off, the screen shimmered and stratified into white noise.
Gradually a picture crystallised, crazed at first, but forming into masses of shelved books, a high white ceiling and imperceptiblly, a figure at a desk. This was no still image, but the figure, male and in a suit, was writing in a desultory way at the desk. “Its a cross word.. “ said the Scrutineer.
The sound on the set had been activated by our reactions, and curiously, the man at the desk looked up, alarmed , taking his pencil from his mouth.
“Who is that? Who’s there?
“Hullo, hullo, “ I leant forward to the speaker. “Can you hear me?”
“Course I can hear you. Tell me who you are before I call security.”
For a moment the picture broke up and a Test Card appeared in what looked like the Polish language. Horizontal Hold was virtually the same we noted.
I cupped my hands furtively “I know that room, It's the White House”.
The picture shuddered and the man’s face was a foot from the screen. It was Bill Clinton. From an unkind angle and in unsympathetic light, it was William Clinton, 42nd President of the United States disturbed at his crossword. “Can’t be Bill Clinton. He doesn’t do crosswords.”
“Hi there, good to see you folk.“ Chaos surrounded him as Tasers and rubber bullets cut the air. The President held out a protective arm. “ Well there, what do you two call yourself…it’s a rare treat to see you on our security screens. To see you ALL…” he added as if to mollify.
I made to turn the set off , not a little disappointed I was so easily dismissed. As it was 1993, we had much to warn the President about from our perspective of time.
“ Leave it on.”
But the picture faded to grey and the anxious President was sucked into a Time Lapse vortex. We looked at each other and determined that we would try again another day when we came back to clear more of the Walled Garden.