A young Woodpecker dies, and another is stalked; a letter to Adrian; Adder’s-tongue on the chalk; spiritual advice from a friend ; precious caterpillars; the Anderson Shelter; horse manure and some alien plants.
There is more tennis played on June 10th 1950 and Gran’s comments about it give a thought-provoking insight to her current character. She notes with interest some nesting Greenfinches near the courts saying:
…but this was insufficient in itself to penetrate the social whirl in which I found myself, feeling utterly lonely and unhappy…I have been alone too long to settle again in the gay crowds…I felt like a fish out of water in spite of the fact that everyone was kind and pleased to have me in the team again.
She adds though, on a happier note:
Jane must have played extremely well with her partner in the finals at Southampton for they ran the second set to 8 – 6 before losing. I am proud of her.
The following day, she writes despondently of the state of some of the harvested woodlands at Farley Mount, where she is searching unsuccessfully for Fly Orchids, saying:
…the wood has been so devastated and the ground so cut up by tractors and lorries that there is little left but caked brown earth and patches of down-trodden Dog’s Mercury. A sad sight indeed!
Early that evening:
As I was drying Jane’s hair in the sunshine, the Hedgehog came out and was running about quite close to us but he could not be persuaded to eat anything whilst we were about.
In those days, with regard to the hair, this would have been a towel and warmth-of-the-sun job, and even in Gran’s later years, her own hair still long, there was never anything as frivolous as a hairdryer at The Ridge!
Gran is quite relieved on the 13th, that a planned visit by the Southampton Natural History Society to Cranbury Park, and to be led by her, proved a non-event, nobody turning up as pouring rain presumably “had damped their ardour”. She was happier to spend her time there alone.
A couple of days later, she observes and writes movingly of the demise of a bird:
A cock Bullfinch came to the birdbath in the garden for a drink this morning just before tragedy befell one of the baby Spotted Woodpeckers who have recently been visiting the garden with their parents. Another bird, unidentified in the ensuing distress, was chasing the young Woodpecker when the latter flew headlong into the closed sitting-room window, and fell to the ground. I picked him up gently, hoping he was only stunned as he was gasping for breath. I carried him to the birdbath and tried to revive him with a little water but his eyes slowly closed and he died in my hands. Poor little bird! Such a brief life, and he so beautiful…the sight of the small limp, feathered body in my hand was almost too much for me. I felt helpless in the face of this drama of nature and an incoherent, stumbling prayer rose in my heart that the little bird should have God’s care…and that there might be a Heaven for God’s wild creatures too.
I do know how she felt. Over the years I have held a fair number of dying birds and watched their eyes slowly close. There is, for me, something unutterably touching about the untimely death of a creature so unavoidably naïve and yet so perfectly adapted for its particular lifestyle. Woodpeckers evolved long before the invention of glass windows.
“Added to the day’s unhappiness”, Gran writes, “our Blackbird was found to have deserted the third brood of eggs, of which we had been so proud”. Later on, however, there is more Great Spotted Woodpecker action in the garden, this time causing great mirth, when another youngster is watched through the kitchen window clinging to a hanging basket, “in which we had put some fat, and its head was inside, its tail hanging below”:
Barry crept out…and stalked the bird whose vision was obscured by the basket. We hardly knew how to contain ourselves in the kitchen when Barry stretched out his hand and stroked the Woodpecker’s drooping tail. Becoming aware of the touch on its tail, the bird withdrew its head and looked downwards over its shoulder. I have never seen such an expression of bewildered amazement on any bird’s face as on that young Woodpecker’s when he saw the human hand caressing its tail! One could almost see the raised eyebrows and hear the startled gasp as he took off…!
On June 17th, Gran writes an eight-page letter. We know that the writing of her journal and almost all her life’s actions are for the benefit of Adrian Turvey, the man she never met but with whom she was deeply in love. He died on January 12th 1947. This letter starts:
It is time I wrote to you again and what better day than this? It is five years ago that I received your first letter, such a sedate, correct epistle in answer to mine, which I sent in reply to your advertisement in the BENA [British Empire Naturalists’ Association] Journal concerning wild flowers. It took just about eight months for me to win your confidence and help you to overcome your reserve and shyness, but I was never able to break through that independent spirit of yours.
Amongst the many sentiments and items of news that she imparts, is the following:
…I have now accomplished one of the things which you said, in your last long letter of December ’46, you would love to do. Just over a week ago I found, or rather, was shown, Gladiolus communis growing at Bank, near Lyndhurst but they were only in bud. Today, however, I received two specimens by post and, after asking you to help me, I have painted them. They are not quite the right colour, dear, but I have done the best with my now rather limited paints. I wish I could know what you think of my effort…Anyway, they are recognisable.
Next day, after attending church at Compton, she and Barry are on the downs at Shawford where, noticing “some broad yellow-green solitary leaves” they add another plant to their Hampshire list: the fern, Adder’s-tongue Ophioglossum vulgatum. The presence of this plant there is, to them, unexpected, since it generally prefers, as she writes, “moist meadows and pastures, which makes its appearance on the dry chalky downs very surprising”.
Gran is clearly going through a period of severe turmoil and guilt over her unrequited mental relationship with Adrian, and it appears that she takes her anguish to Compton’s minister, Mr Utterton, “my friend and advisor in all spiritual matters”. It is apparently he to whom she refers in this passage on June 29th:
…I feel better and realize that nothing can make any real difference to my inner feelings, which can still be hidden from all save God…But it is so hard not to allow passing remarks to raise doubts as to whether I have made a bad mistake in spite of the assurance of the one person who ought to be able to guide me, and the feeling within me that my prayers for help have been answered and that I have acted according to God’s will.
Meanwhile life goes on: It is incredibly wet during June and July, with frequent thunderstorms; Gran visits Adrian’s mother for a few days; Dad finds his first Wood Warbler nest with young; the Nightjar churrs nightly in the opposite woods; the Spotted Flycatchers nesting at The Ridge produce young and are constantly present, catching insects in the garden; there are young hedgehogs in the garden too, one of which drowns in the kitchen sink overflow drain, and I am reminded that for all of my childhood there was an Anderson Shelter in the back garden, turfed over, and the dark, damp interior of which was accessed by a few downward steps. It is this to which Gran refers on June 20th when she writes:
When I went out to get milk up from the air-raid shelter (where it keeps beautifully fresh in the hot weather) I met our hedgehog returning from his nocturnal perambulations.
Still no refrigerator at The Ridge! Dad travels with his fellow University students on an expedition to Studland and also to a Field Course at Malham Tarn, in Yorkshire, finding unfamiliar plants and experiencing new habitats. Of this latter trip, Gran worries when Dad departs:
…leaving me overwhelmed with the responsibility of watching over his Scarce Burnished Brass moths, due to emerge within the next day or two…and caterpillars to be fed include one Sallow Kitten, three Oak Eggars and some Orange-tips. Barry has left written directions for me…
It all starts the very next day:
When I came up to write at 9.30, I went for another look at Barry’s special pupae. There had been no sign of movement when I looked at five o’clock. To my mingled alarm and excitement, the first one must have just emerged, its damp wings hanging limply downwards as it clung to the side of the jar. With trembling hands I was able to transfer it to a pillbox, and, at 10.15 it folded its wings over its body. It is a most beautiful moth, dark, velvety brown wings having one large iridescent green patch on the tips.
On the first day of July Gran notes that, “Some interesting facts about Chandler’s Ford came to my knowledge today”, and as well as quoting the tradition that William Rufus’ body was borne along Kingsway on its final journey; that it was supposed to have rested at King’s Mead; and that, living at Hursley, Richard, the son of Oliver Cromwell received a letter from his father telling him that he ate cherries at “Challoner’s Ford”, she also writes:
Ramally was once noted for its “Merry Fair”, but land in that area is now used as a burial ground. There was formally a very large brick-field at Chandler’s Ford and it was here that thirty-five million bricks were made for the building of the Law Courts in London. The brickworks were in full swing sixty years ago, when in 1893, a schoolmaster complained that the boys were kept at work every minute they were out of school and were constantly up all night burning bricks so that they were ill-fitted for being taught the next day.
At lunch time the following day:
…I had a delightful surprise. One of the young members of the Tennis Club brought me the largest bunch of the most beautiful Sweet Peas that I have ever seen outside a Show. She had grown them herself from seed and each carried four large blooms…I do not think I have ever received a gift of flowers that has given me greater pleasure.
She picks peas in the Park Road garden on the 6th but in the evening still has enough energy to cycle out to Bank, in the New Forest:
…to thank our new acquaintance for sending me the Gladioli a few weeks ago. I did not know her name and address and had therefore been unable to write to her…She was not at home but we left a message for her, and as we were rather late, returned the way we had come.
Gran makes a visit to Adrian’s mother on the 10th, but this time, not to Kingston. She “was up by 5.30 as Barry wanted to catch the early train to London but I did not leave for Reading until just before 10 o’clock”. She notes wild and garden flowers seen as the journey progresses, including, as the train neared Mortimer:
…which is, I think, the prettiest little station I have ever seen, with a layout which could be copied with advantage by other stations. Trees surrounded the platform, behind which, well-cut grass divided colourful flowerbeds filled with such old favourites Antirrhinums, Nasturtiums, Clarkia and Nemesia. Altogether a charming outlook…
She is met at Reading by Adrian’s mother and his brother, Victor, and they take the bus to Earley, alighting at the corner of Wilderness Road and walking “to the house where I am now staying”, in Pepper Lane. After heavy rain in the night:
The clip-clop of horses’ hooves attracted attention before I was dressed and I jumped out of bed to look. It was the milkman, and I thought what a pity it is to have introduced the noisy, bustling motor-car to the rural life of England. Horses and carts are so much more in keeping with the countryside.
In Mill Hill, near Edgware in North London, where I first lived as a child, I remember that milk was still delivered by horse and cart in the second half of the 1950s. Indeed, my elder brother, still at pre-school age, called horses “milkies” for this reason. And our neighbour, “Aunt” Brown would avidly gather up any manure deposited in the road, “for my roses”.
For a few days, Gran and Adrian’s mother take trips along the Rivers Thames and Kennett, visiting Caversham and Tilehurst, and Gran, writing of the latter, says:
This trip realised one of my childhood’s cherished dreams. Often I have been rushed through Tilehurst on the Birkenhead Express, going to or coming from the north, meeting my Father’s ship, and always I watched out for the lovely stretch of river here and wished that the train would slow down so that I could see better, and I longed to be able to sail up the river and see it to my heart’s content. I little imagined the chain of events which would ultimately lead to the fulfilment of this desire…
She records, for the first time, “ the large-flowered deep pink Balsam, Impatiens glandulifera, which is naturalised on many river banks in England. It is a very showy plant”. She’s had a little run of new, naturalised plant species for her list lately, none of which nowadays are considered particularly welcome additions to our flora: Monkeyflower Mimulus guttatus, which she has recorded along the Itchen at Brambridge, and “another species of Balsam, the Impatiens parviflora…which grows in places along Pepper Lane and Wilderness Road”.
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 1)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 2)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 3)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 4)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 5)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 6)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 7)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 8)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 9)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 10)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 11)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 12)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 13)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 14)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 15)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 16)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 17)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 18)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 19)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 20)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 21)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 22)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 23)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 24)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 25)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 26)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 27)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 28)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 29)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 30)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 31)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 32)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 33)