By Georgia de Chamberet.
Charlie Caselton, Meanwhile Gardens: An Urban Adventure, Troubadour, 2010
Misery memoirs; celebrity hot air; formulaic novels by writers who have been on a creative writing course: it’s time to move on. A neighbourhood novel and an adventure story in the mix, Meanwhile Gardens: An Urban Adventure, is a perfect piece of feel-good fiction for these recessionary times. You can tell that Charlie Caselton has written for TV and radio. The reader who picks up this funny, charming, and touching debut novel is in for a good surprise. Its colourful characters and pacey plot coupled with a wealth of detail and dialogue that flows had me hooked.
Lovelorn Ollie and his lovable, mischievous part-German shepherd, part-Briard, Humdinger the III (‘Hum’); fashion photographer Nicky; Jamaican seventy-something Auntie Gem, and fifty-something Emma, all live in Golborne Mews near Meanwhile Gardens, a bit of parkland in the shadow of the Trellik Tower. Ollie stumbles across pot-smoking, free spirit, Jake, whilst trying to control his unruly hound on the towpath of Grand Union Canal. Jake lives in a tree house in Kensal Green Cemetery. He is visited at odd hours by a chic young woman in turquoise blue pumps who turns out to be the editor of Glamourista magazine. Her industrialist husband sidesteps an ecological scandal and is knighted — although his tea lady, Auntie Gem, avenges the injustice of his actions by pulling off a media masterstroke.
Jake rescues Rion, a young runaway fleeing from a drunken abusive father and bullying sisters, and houses her in a hideaway off the canal near Sainsbury’s. Rion’s Pre-Raphaelite looks are pure eye candy and she is spotted by a sinister bunch of people with nasty intentions who live amongst the narrowboat community along the canal. The latter part of the novel enters the territory of cult classic, The Wicker Man, featuring Morris Dancing, ancient Celtic rites and human sacrifice. However, the easy-going charm, readability and Famous Five atmosphere of the narrative is retained to the end. And there are hilarious sideshows: the cowboy builder who seduces Ollie in order to snatch a Dutch Old Master for a scheming client; the group of gay men bitchily vying to win the coveted ‘Tragedy Queen of the Year’ title; Auntie Gem’s shrine to Diana ‘Queen of Hearts’…
Meanwhile Gardens is very Ladbroke Grove and is littered with references and jokes. Its cast of characters — some endearing some intensely irritating — do genuinely portray something of the neighbourhood. This novel is far more ‘real’ than that drearily bourgeois film, Notting Hill. If there is any justice, Meanwhile Gardens should sell like hotcakes and be the next big thing, proving all those commissioning editors totally wrong. Only Scott Pack saw its potential, but then he flogged his company to Harpercollins, so that was that.
I’ll leave you with a typical Golborne Road café scene:
It was 11.25 by the time Ollie got to Café Feliz.
He saw Nicky before she saw him. With the Sunday papers open on her knees the photographer sat in animated conversation with her usual lot outside the small café.
There was Liv who made stripy T-shirts and flip-flops with plastic flowers wound into the toe that ‘le tout’ Notting Hill clamoured for; her friend Isa, a brittle brunette who was something in PR; an American whose name Ollie always forgot who was involved in hair and make-up; the perma-tanned Ger who seemed to spend all his time in Goa or Thailand, and Clive Fairland, a partying heterosexual fashion student with a penchant for drag.
Ollie’s heart raced faster for a few beats upon seeing who sat with Clive. Even though he had cropped his formerly tousled long hair there was no mistake.
It was Will.
Ollie didn’t know his last name but he did remember he was called Will. They had spent the night snogging drunkenly at a dreadful New Year’s party, two — or was it three? — years ago.
There could be no doubt. It was the way the way he held his chin, it was his languid amused smile, and it was his dimples. His dimples!
“Sweetheart!” Nicky got up. She was about to put her arm around him when she saw his grazed knee.
“It’s nothing,” Ollie said before she could ask. “Hum tripped me up and — ”
“Crash?” Nicky finished for him.
Ollie shook his head sorrowfully, “Yup.”
“Want a pastry?”
Ollie looked at the custard tarts flaunting themselves in the window. He salivated, imagining his teeth sinking through the thin layers of pastry into the rich custard.
“No,” Ollie said, “No.” And then again to convince himself, “No thanks.”
Nicky gestured to the people at the table. “You know everyone – ”
Ollie nodded at them. He smiled at Will who lowered his eyes. “It’s Will isn’t it?”
Clive laughed. “Ollie you’re terrible with names. This is Andy. Andy, Ollie.”
Shaking hands seemed such a naff thing to do so Ollie just grinned stupidly. Andy? his name can’t be Andy.
“Whatcha been listening to?” Clive asked.
Ollie realised with a shudder that they were all members of the style police. Something as potentially unhip as Bush would not go down well at all. He held the i-pod tightly to him.
“Er – ”
First published in 3:AM Magazine: Monday, February 21st, 2011.