A love of England; a hatred of cats; Snowdrops; a bonfire; Compton Church on the wireless; Charlotte Yonge; Gilbert Whitley; and a hedgehog in the bed!
Gran writes on January 7th 1948 that a Fox had been busy in the neighbourhood:
…and last night a local smallholder was robbed of nine laying ducks. Proof of the identity of the thief lay in the discovery of three bodies with their heads bitten off.
And two days later she reports a Slow-worm on the front bank, which was there from morning till near dusk in weather likely to be much too cold for it. Certainly this was very early in the year for a reptile to be out of hibernation. The following day Gran writes:
The Slow-worm was on the path at the foot of our front bank today, still alive and moving, though slowly. I brought it into the garden and put it on a heap of leaves, hoping it will shelter when necessary. I was afraid if I left it outside some well-meaning but ignorant person would kill it, mistaking it for a snake, – a fate I have often seen befall these poor harmless creatures.
But on January 15th Gran finds the Slow-worm dead in the garden.
The day before the first anniversary of Adrian’s death, Gran gathers female Goat Willow catkins, catkins of Hazel and Alder, and sprays of Gorse in flower “to send a breath of the countryside for Adrian’s little garden next week”.
A description of the opposite wood is given at this time, which contrasts depressingly with the area as it is today – houses and gardens (lovely though some of them are) a precinct of shops and a car park. The two photos below illustrate the inevitable change in her local environment that so saddened Gran. She writes:
The opposite wood is lovely this afternoon and I am filled with an intense love of my own little bit of England. Beyond our own oak tree, right opposite the front windows there is a thicket of Silver Birches on rising ground, today gleaming red in the Winter sunshine, rising sap whispering of Spring foliation. Flanking the birches, just across the road, the ancient yew trees, and to the left the winding woodland road, seen through lichen-trimmed oak trees. Above, blue sky flecked with white clouds, and beneath, last year’s bracken, golden-brown still in the penetrating shafts of sunlight. Oh! England, my England – I would rather die in my own little village garden than live in any other land!
Gran mentions on the 18th that there is a her “favourite little cottage garden” at Hursley Park “where for the last eleven years I have been allowed by the courtesy of the owner, to pick all I want”. She is talking about Snowdrops.
She goes there to pick some on the 25th saying:
Renewed in spirit, I returned with a delightful bunch, some of which I shall post tomorrow for my friend – he who loved flowers as I do…
Gran’s fourth book begins on January 31st and she spends an enjoyable couple of hours raking leaves in the garden, and burning them. This is the first mention of a bonfire in the garden but judging by what I have read elsewhere in the journal, burning stuff in the garden is a frequent occurrence. She writes:
I spent a restful and enjoyable couple of hours raking leaves in the garden, generally clearing up and making a bonfire, which is, to me, one of life’s pleasures. The sight of the blue-white smoke fitfully rising, sometimes almost lost and then, as the wind blew in great gusts, renewed and swirling in all directions, gives untold contentment.
Her dislike of cats continues unabated on February 2nd:
Peering into the opposite wood this morning I did notice a bright orange mass on the top of a tree stump and wondered if it were my hated enemy, a ginger cat, sitting in wait for an unwary bird or field-mouse. I fetched the binoculars to make sure and found it to be a harmless bunch of orange fungi.
There is much reporting of birdsong each day, including the following on February 4th:
The bird chorus was wonderful at dawn today and I thought how desolate would the world be without our birds, remembering one of my greatest fears of the late war – that of gas attack and the consequent hideous silence of dawn without their song. Thank God we were spared that!
And Gran appears to have been reading up on the night sky. She says:
The Evening Star, Venus, rose early and was surrounded by more stars than I think I have ever seen. A wonderful sight! Venus is a planet, a sister world to the Earth, revolving round the Sun in an orbit well within ours, in a period of 224 days. It follows that thirteen revolutions of Venus are nearly equal to eight of our years. In 1948 Venus is splendidly placed for observation and will enliven our spring evening and autumn morning skies as it has not done since 1940 and will not do again until 1956.
These were the days before mass light pollution prevented most of us enjoying the grandeur of the Milky Way from our back gardens.
February 5th is a quiet day for Gran in terms of natural history observations but she cites an “interesting story of a young cousin of mine”:
…who has an uncanny way with the small wild creatures. He recently had a pet hedgehog, Susannah by name, who used to relax her spines always at the sound of his voice though she would not do so for anyone else. She loved to creep into his bed with him – hardly a comfortable bed-fellow, I should think, but apparently both were happy.
Passing through Otterbourne on the 8th:
I was struck by a lovely patch of delicate blue in a cottage garden and instantly my mind said “Iris stylosa”. They were – about a dozen at least, lovely dainty and fragile-looking, yet so hardy, and so very beautiful causing me a real pang as they brought back such tragically poignant memories of last year. Yet no flowers were ever more honourably used than those of which I thought.
The evening service from Compton Church was broadcast by the B.B.C. tonight and reception was excellent. It was a most enjoyable service with a most enlightening sermon and it was good to hear the voice of our good friend and Rector Mr Utterton, so clearly and naturally. A comfort and inspiration, giving me a sense of renewed hope and confidence.
The next day it is noted that “there are now five of my favourite cyclamineus open in the garden”.
And Gran writes of Mute Swans on Southampton Common; she’s not very scientific:
There were seven swans on the Cemetery Lake on Southampton Common recently though they were reduced to five soon afterwards. Perhaps we shall again have cygnets there this Summer, as we used to have. Now there is only Major who is said to be very old. He does not take kindly to interloping swans and a previous effort to find him a post-war mate was not successful. Maybe he still remembers the tragic death of his hen during the war. No one knows what happened but the pen’s neck was broken – maybe by a loutishly thrown stone. Major was observed swimming on the lake trying to support the dead bird’s neck – a moving and pathetic sight, typical of wildlife devotion. Since then the cob has lived alone. Perhaps the fact that this is Leap year may induce some forward pen to pop the question in such a way that the cob’s rather tough old heart may be softened. The fact that he once fathered a brood of thirteen is in his favour! The birds which recently alighted were undoubtedly travellers and as the authorities have no food for Swans now there is little inducement for them to stay, but it would be nice to see the cygnets again.
In Book 3 of the journal Gran mentioned some history about the authoress Charlotte Yonge, who lived and was buried at Otterbourne. She adds further history on this subject:
The house that is now Elderfield Hotel was once the home of Charlotte Yonge, the authoress, and people came from a wide area to see it. Application for a licence to supply intoxicating liquor to residents was granted by the magistrates and it has roused much local indignation. I agree with them that the house must have great sentiment attached to it and the granting of a licence is out of keeping showing no respect for the previous illustrious and well-loved owner or regard for the sacred associations of the house. Miss Yonge herself would, no doubt, have been horrified for she was exceedingly pious and the licence is quite unnecessary in view of the fact that the village “local” the White Horse is just opposite. But these days all sentiment and beautiful tradition must be sacrificed to pander to the weaknesses in man’s makeup instead of attempting to uplift him at all. Incidentally, in the garden of Miss Yonge’s old home there is a magnificent Judas tree and I’m looking forward to seeing it in bloom again soon.
On February 12th we find the very first direct mention of “Mother”, whom my generation knew as “Greaty”. The weather on the 12th is sunny and warm and both ladies, independently, looking outside, declare that “there must be a Brimstone butterfly about” . There wasn’t, but Gran found it “telling” that identical thoughts of two people, both interested in natural history, would be triggered by the same conditions.
I had not been aware that Greaty had any interest in natural history but Dad says, “She did. The whole family, Great Grandpa, Greaty, Gran and Norris, regularly cycled out [from Bassett] to places such as the New Forest and Farley Mount, often with Gilbert Whitley who became Curator of Fishes at Sydney Museum, and who evidently loved Gran.”
Gilbert never married, and the frequency with which Gran referred to him during my early years, indicated to me that she missed him after he emigrated and that a rather special relationship existed between them.
He became a World Authority on sea fishes, sharks in particular, being employed in the ichthyology department at the museum, although, being an entomologist in his early days, he had wanted to be more involved with insects, prompting him to write in his humorous Song of the Icthyologist,
“Although it surely wasn’t Gilbert’s ‘dearest wish’,he’s been appointed nursemaid to a lot of stinking fish”!
Dad tells me. “Gilbert sent Gran on her Wedding Day a priceless cartoon drawing of the occasion – Gran with a tennis racket tucked into her wedding dress, and a host of animals great and small at the ceremony. Along with a lot more of his art with which he embroidered his frequent letters, all this is back in Sydney Museum”.
On the strength of this comment, I contacted the Australian Museum and was kindly sent the drawing below:
On reading his biography (see link above), Gilbert Whitley sounds to me like a man of considerable talent and charisma. No wonder Gran missed him. And he was clearly well before his time picturing lady tennis players in short skirts! Gran had played in nothing but the long white skirts typical of the 1920’s and earlier.
Gran is not much good at chatting to people who are not “kindred spirits’ but she overcomes her shyness or dislike of strangers in order to identify a tree:
I have been gazing wistfully at a beautiful flowering tree in a garden for several weeks, watching it slowly unfolding into flower. Today, I screwed up my courage and went boldly up to the front door to ask what it was. As I passed it, it was even lovlier than I thought, dainty clusters of pale pink flowers and oh! The fragrance. I was charmingly received but the lady of the house did not know the name, not being the owner but only recently having rented the house. When I told her that I could find out if I had a specimen, she gave me permission to pick a piece as I left. It is Viburnum brinkwoodii and I have promised to let her know.
I think she meant Viburnum burkwoodii.
On Valentine’s Day, surprisingly noted as such by her, Gran mentions her daughter, Jane. She says:
Cranbury Park provided fresh interest this morning, my daughter Jane seeing for the first time the cave in which the poet Wordsworth sat and wrote an ode, the words of which are on the wall though many are indecipherable now. She did, however, read “Written by Wordsworth last spring”. The cave is entered by an iron door and there is a spring within it. It lies in the private grounds and is not therefore visited by many casual sight-seers. Nearby is another cave, known locally as Hangman’s Cave, because, so it is said, someone once hanged himself there. The inside is decorated with shells.
The same day she writes:
We were interested to read recently that Avocets are breeding in this country again after a lapse of over 100 years. The exact spot is being kept secret so that the birds will not be disturbed by the public.
This was at Havergate Island, in Suffolk where four pairs bred in 1947 – a major milestone in the history of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.
- 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)