Did she see the princess? A late “fall”; Christmas 1947; “Minnies” and “Tommies” and a letter from Arthur Rackham.
Inside the front cover: “Semper Fidelis. Remembering always, Adrian, my friend”. On November 19th Gran writes:
I went to Ampfield just after dusk for a glimpse of Princess Elizabeth as she passed through on her way to Broadlands Park, and was surprised to hear a blackbird in full song.
This was the day before the Princess’s wedding. Gran does not say whether she succeeded in getting her “glimpse”. I know that Gran was an avid royalist – and she would have loved a programme that was on TV recently (December 31st 2016) entitled “The Queen at 90”. Gran would have been amazed and gratified that this Princess Elizabeth is still on the throne and providing continuity with her own early life, so far into the 21st Century.
She makes another visit to the “garden of sleep” at Kingston-on-Thames to “place a seasonable token of remembrance for my friend”. There, she finds “evidence of his mother’s loving care where much was faded and somewhat weary-looking at this time of year”. Gran includes what she calls Adrian’s favourite quotation by Corrie ten Boom:
Not till the loom is silent and the shuttle cease to fly,
Shall God unroll the canvas and explain the reason why
The dark threads are as needful in the weaver’s skilled hand
As the threads of gold and silver in the pattern he has planned.
On December 14th Gran spends the day raking up leaves from the oak tree, which still thrives in the front garden of The Ridge. This is a task that has been undertaken annually all these years – as far as I can tell – certainly Dad has done it every year since returning to The Ridge in 1992.
It seems to be of note that “fall” occurred incredibly late in 1947; there was talk of it in the local paper and New Forest residents described it as “uncanny”, given that they would have expected an early fall of leaves after such a dry summer. Gran loves the dank smell of wet earth and moss beneath the leaves, which she gathers up and puts into sacks.
Christmas Day is notable for its lack of a description of anything Christmassy except for early service at Compton:
A very dark and cloudy awakening for Christmas Day, with slight drizzle as I set out for early service. It was quite dark and I was alone on the road until Compton was reached. I missed the dawn as I was in church – the old Norman Church, decorated for Christmas with masses of silvery Honesty seeds, orange “Chinese Lanterns”, evergreens and variegated Holly. The alter flowers were yellow and white Chrysanthemums with evergreens. There is something rather overwhelming about Christmas-time in Church, especially this year for me, when I remember that last year, the one who inspired and encouraged me was here to share it with me. I remembered him this morning with humility and gratitude, hoping that I might worthily follow his good example. As I emerged from Church, daylight had come, and the world was singing…
I wonder if there was turkey, a Christmas tree, presents, warmth… No, there was little warmth; the indoor temperature was fifty-six degrees – that’s 13° C! I don’t think, however, that that temperature was unusually low for the insides of houses in those days before central heating and double-glazing. The days are long gone when one wakes up with frost patterns on the insides of the window panes but that was the winter norm then.
The next day is cool but sunny and she records a Buzzard over the house, being mobbed by two Peregrines, which moved off in the Cranbury Park direction. I hadn’t expected either of these species to be noted from the house in 1947 even though it is still pre- Dieldrin and Aldrin days, when the Peregrine population especially, was almost wiped out in the UK. Furthermore, Dad reminds me that Peregrines were heavily persecuted throughout the War because they predated carrier pigeons, which were valuable in the War-effort, and so were almost non-existent in Hampshire at this time. This record of Gran’s must surely be erroneous, and given the species’ rarity it surprises me that Gran did not write up her sighting with more excitement.
Raking leaves in a sodden back garden on the 27th, Gran notices “many Cyclamineus – miniature daffodils – already pushing their green spears through the mossy earth…”. These, Narcissus cylamineus, she first obtained from Hillier’s nursery but I don’t know when she planted them. I seem to remember her telling me that she worked at the nursery, or knew the family that owned it and they gave her some examples of this continental species. The back garden now gives a show of many hundreds of these bright and delicate flowers each Spring, together with equal numbers of the mauve Crocus tommasinianus and it is perhaps the most characteristic feature of the garden and provides for me the most abiding memory of it. In the family they are known as “minnies” and “tommies”.
December 29th gives Gran a “minimum temperature right down to minus thirty degrees, the lowest since I had my thermometer”. Somewhere several years hence, she writes of getting her thermometer – a highly valued object to her – repaired. I think Adrian gave it to her.
Aha! – a Turkey was involved with Christmas Day. She writes on the 29th:
I hung the boiled turkey-bones on a tree in the colander and the Tits had a royal feast, including among them a Coletit. During the afternoon, which was brilliantly sunny, though with a chill wind, a Robin sat on the fence and sang to me as I worked in the Park Road garden. I took the eggs to the packing station, too, always an interesting interlude. I like watching the machine which grades the eggs and gently stamps each one as it passes through. And I admire the dexterity with which the girls fill the partitioned crates – so quickly and easily – I should be terrified of cracking one.
This ”stamping”, I think, was not with the famous lion mark, as this was introduced by the Egg Marketing Board which was set up in 1956. The following day Gran is up pre-dawn to gather moss in the opposite wood. She says:
I wanted the moss to post some yellow jasmine to Kingston for my friend. I had gathered it by torchlight last night because I was afraid the night frost would spoil it.
That day too, she writes:
I read in the local paper that the new comet had been seen just before six o’clock on Saturday by an observer in this village but I, unfortunately, missed it.
Several times during the year Gran has mentioned minor astronomical events, such as the presence of the “morning star” but says that she knows very little about the movements of the stars and planets and is unconfident in interpreting what she sees. I expect that like I once did, she thought a comet whizzed by in an instant, not to be seen again in a single lifetime, but I expect this “new comet” would have been visible for some days if the conditions were suitable. Whatever, on the last day of the year, the paper suggests that it was Venus seen in the western sky and not the comet. Gran ends her notes for the year thus:
And now, as the old year slips away, I think regretfully of the lonely road I have travelled in these pages, a road upon which I started with such high hopes of sharing its interests with one who loved them as I do. The time has come for me to lay aside my pen for this year. And so ends Country Diary for 1947, the most beautiful and interesting… I have faithfully tried to keep my promise that I would record all that I saw of interest to naturalists and in proud and grateful remembrance of Adrian, my friend, “Country Diary” 1947 passes on to “The Observations of a Country-Lover” for 1948.
I have tried to condense Gran’s many words for the year into paragraphs of relatively interesting comment – which give an indication of the kind of life she is leading in Chandler’s Ford. Nevertheless, it has taken me twenty-odd thousand words to do it!
The Observations of a Country-Lover. 1948. To Adrian.
Joan Adelaide Goater notes that it is a dismal start to the new year but mild – so mild that:
Water is once again running down all the walls and glass is streaming with moisture.
I think she means indoors! She waits in the rain for a bus and describes the damp scene on the way into Southampton. She is also on her bike at some point later in the day, in the dark:
Large numbers of Winter Moths were on the wing – I could see them flying in the beam of my bicycle lamp and there were many round the street lights. A Mottled Umber came to light later in the evening…
On January 2nd she makes her way “along the lane” to Eastleigh and she reports small calves rubbing their heads on the branches of a fallen tree, and deriving great pleasure from it, and very large numbers of sparrows, rooks and jackdaws at “the burnt-out rick” (which attracts large numbers of birds for the rest of the month and into early February). She returns by the lower lane, noticing how quickly the stream there had risen, and that “the corner by the farm was already thick with mud”:
…mostly caused by the tramping of cows between the field and the cowsheds at milking-time. Several large cans of milk stood on the stand at the farm entrance awaiting collection. In the sloping fields on one side of the lane cows were placidly lying in the rain patiently chewing the cud. From the brilliant green of the grass there looked to be plenty for them to eat and this was helped out with cow-kale scattered by the farmer.
She goes on:
In the village I saw an old apple tree, bare of leaves but with some small golden apples still left on the top. It was very reminiscent of one of Arthur Rackham’s pictures and I felt that if I went and looked closely at the gnarled trunk I should see one of his familiar tree faces in the bark. I think no other artist has achieved such subtle and impish humour in his pictures and yet left them so true to nature. I value greatly a letter and sketch I once received from him.
Gran had a complete, perfect and valuable set of Arthur Rackham first edition illustrated books that I think, came out each Christmas for a number of years, and were bought for her by her father.
They were large volumes, white, with clear (I think) covers and somewhere, a blue ribbon was involved. I do remember seeing the famous letter and sketch to which Gran refers. They were kept between the covers of one of the books.
She writes on January 4th, something that also resonates with me and is a poignant reminder to me of some of the natural history “names of the past” that I was brought up with:
I heard a most interesting broadcast called “The Naturalist” today. It was about the wild Geese at the Severn Wildfowl Trust, New Grounds, Gloucestershire, and was given by Peter Scott and Michael Bratby, with illustrations on records by Ludwig Koch, introduced by Brian Vesey-Fitzgerald. I should like to go among them all and see them in such numbers, for I have yet to see my first wild Goose, though some members of my family have already done so, at Keyhaven, this winter.
These would have been Brent Geese, and little did Gran know then, that she would make a number of visits to the re-named “Wildfowl Trust” (and currently named the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust), at Slimbridge where I worked for five years during the 1980s and that she would even find herself standing in Peter Scott’s studio and observing the famous Rushy Pen from his “House Tower”.
For the time being though, she writes “ I am lonely in spirit tonight and restless and the moaning of the wind brings no peace to my troubled mind”.
- 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)