Battling brambles; hungry children; Lou Meadon; skating on Cranbury Lake; hypnosis in the stoat world and get your hair cut during the waxing moon.
This afternoon [February 15th 1948] saw me away to the daffodil wood at Chilworth but unfortunately several others had reached the spot also. I really only went to see how they were progressing but the place is getting so well-known that I realised if I wanted any I must pick them today in bud. They open very successfully in water but I wanted to see them open in the woods. By that time I’m afraid there will be none left so I picked a few for myself and some to send to Kingston.
These would have been wild daffodils, of course. Two days later, we get something of a story describing Gran’s work that day in “Sparrow’s Hedge”, the Park Road garden. And her children get a mention too:
A bitter wind again, but some sunny intervals during the morning. This afternoon I spent tying up cut-leaf blackberries in the Park Road garden. Have you ever tried to argue with these horrors of horticulture? I was asked to start on them while the boss finished dinner, then she would come and see about Primula wandas. Whilst she eats her lunch I fight and argue, getting hot and torn. I disentangle one long shoot and lay it out straight and turn to attack another. The first lays hold of my clothes with its hooked thorns and by the time I undo myself the wind has blown the string across another and I have to free that. After wrestling for ages to release another shoot the wretched thing breaks just as it comes apart. I see the boss coming down the path and I think “Oh heavens, let me finish these brutes now I’ve started!” She pauses to speak to one of the men and I press on with the job. I tell myself how nice it will be in the Summer when I pick the fruit from these well-ordered plants. But it is hard to visualize the joys of Summer fruit-picking with a biting east wind whipping round my legs and my feet twin blocks of ice. The boss approaches and asks if I’m too cold to continue. With perversity I say “No, I get so annoyed with them it helps me warm”, thinking only to finish with them and hating the idea of stopping in the middle. With torn hands (I bleed like a pig) I struggle on and at length get some semblance of order. The birds sing as usual – what do they care for tangled blackberries which are so like my disordered life?
At length I hear the ring of childish voices – the kindergarten from a nearby school passes along the lane to catch the bus. Heavens, nearly four o’clock! I am cold now having disentangled and now tying up the released shoots. I think longingly of the warm fire and tea – I am hungry too – and I remember that my own two children (no longer kindergarten, alas) will soon be home from school and I shall be pleased to see them. But the blackberries are unfinished after all and I must return to the attack tomorrow. Coming home through the woods I saw and heard a Nuthatch at the top of a copper beech tree. Tea over and I am warm again. The children are home, eating their dinners with relish and healthy young animal appetites. It is a joy to see them, but how much more joyful it would be if it were a little easier to satisfy them. Today their pudding is extra-good, – steamed fruit with candied peel in it, given to me by a good friend. This started to be a Country Diary, now it seems to have become a chronicle of the family’s doing. But it is all part of life, and in the case of our lives – of nature.
Talking of nature, there is a lady in our district whose erstwhile brown hair has taken on a piebald effect in light gold and brown. Does she think it an improvement and does she think that others imagine it is nature at work? I wonder…and I think it is time Lou came into this chronicle! (she is not the one who dyed her hair!). Lou is known to everyone in the village and is quite a character. I must have seen her about for nearly twenty years, yet I have never seen her in any other garments than a once-navy blue costume and a black felt hat, black stockings and shoes. Come snow, come shine, rain, hail or thunder – always the same. She seems to feel neither heat nor cold – she is friendly to everyone. “Ullo, me dear”, she greets one, “nice day”. I met her in the daffodil wood and this conversation ensued:
Lou: – “Ullo me dear, didn’t expect to see you ’ere”. (She has a very loud, penetrating voice with an unheard-of accent.)
Me: – (softly) “Hullo! No, I didn’t expect to see you either.”
Lou: – “Not so many this year. Gets less and less every year.”
Me: – “Unfortunately more people get to know about them.”
Lou: – “Yea! Ow d’you get ‘ere! Walk?”
Me: – “No, I cycled.”
Lou: – “Did yer now? I walked. Long way from Chandler’s Ford [3 – 4 miles]. Got to get ‘ere by one o’clock, too, else all the kids get ‘ere first. You alone?”
Me: – “Yes, I’m always alone.”
Lou: – “Best thing too. I likes to be alone. I’ll leave yer to yerself then.”
And she takes herself deeper into the wood. I heave a sigh of relief! Not that I object to Lou – I don’t – but oh! that voice! I gaze apprehensively over my shoulder wondering if she has proclaimed our presence to the whole world, but, though there were several people in the wood, they did not appear to notice overmuch. Perhaps I notice too much!
The next day she mentions Dad:
Barry saw a Barn Owl flying at Compton on the way to school (this was Peter Symonds, in Winchester) and found a Grey Shoulder-Knot moth at rest on a tree by our lake this afternoon. I did not wrestle with the blackberries again this afternoon – I dug and levelled a piece of ground for sowing peas. It was not as cold as standing at the blackberries – in fact, I was warm and glowing in spite of the wind.
Gran has a bad headache on the 19th and she wishes she was outside in “The Silent Places” alluded to in a poem she has copied by, I think, Kathleen Partridge, a poet she quotes frequently. She writes:
Perhaps I have listened to too much music this afternoon, for music – real music – always fills my soul with tears and, amongst others, I heard much of Ivor Novello, whose compositions touch an answering chord within me somewhere.
For Gran, “real music” would certainly have been nothing but Classical. Rock and Roll, and “Youth Culture” were just around the corner but were anathema to Gran. My youngest brother, Rob, remembers that Gran was visiting the family in 1980 when news of the murder of John Lennon was announced. Her harsh comment concerning dead Beatles should perhaps not be recorded here! Nevertheless, I do remember that she had a soft spot for Val Doonican and his music, he being one of her three “pin-up boys” as she called them – the other two being my elder brother and Prince Charles!
Gran had been “much incensed” to read in the local paper that one of the reporters regarded Hampshire as a poor county for wild flowers. This had caused at least one reader to reply indignantly, saying that on the contrary, the county was particularly good for wild flowers, and Gran writes that to date, “we”, the family, “have recorded five hundred and seventy-two species of our own finding in the county”.
February 21st dawned particularly cold, with a blanket of snow on the ground – much to Gran’s dismay, being concerned for the early flowering plants. However, bones and bread put out in the garden attracted masses of birds, causing “breakfast being continually interrupted by the carnival going on outside”. Fieldfares were in the garden together with large numbers of commoner species, including forty chaffinches.
The next day continued desperately cold with the water in Gran’s “little bowl of remembrance” in her room, frozen. It was only forty degrees Fahrenheit inside the house (wherever she took the reading) but must have been a good bit lower than this in her bedroom!
It is strange the ideas which persist in the mind of the countryman! This afternoon, discussing potato-planting, one told me that he always plants his potatoes when the moon “is growing”. I took this in with the safe remark that I do not know much about potato-planting but his next statement left me speechless. “I always gets me ‘air cut when the moon’s growin’ too.” Seeing me nonplussed he added, “’Air grows then as well, see?” Well, does it? More than when the moon is waning?
Later, the ice on the lake at Cranbury Park is found to be bearing weight for the first time “since the long severe spell last year”:
Jane rushed up and managed to get in some skating without falling through the ice. A joy to come perhaps! She always goes on skating until the ice waves about beneath her. Fortunately Cranbury Lake is shallow.
An entry for the 25th says that the ice at “Cranbury Lake is still just bearing, but several children went in, though surprisingly, not Jane!” They are still skating by the light of the moon on even less safe ice at the end of the next day, and Dad skates there on the morning of the 27th, before school.
Pressed between the journal’s pages here is a newspaper cutting dated February 24th 1948 with a piece entitled “Orchids for Mrs. Goater”. The cutting reads:
“Recently we reported a Winchester comment that Hampshire was a good county for wild flowers. Now Mrs. J. Goater of Hiltingbury Road, Chandler’s Ford, writes to uphold this contention.
Among the rare and interesting species she herself has picked in the county, Mrs Goater lists the Green and Foetid Hellebores, Small Wintergreen, Lungwort, Marsh Gentian, and Vernal Gentian (praecox), and Yellow-wort.
Biggest surprise for the non-naturalist will be the news that she has seen no less than 13 varieties of orchid in Hampshire. They are the Bird’s-nest, Green-winged, Early Purple, Pyramid, Marsh, Spotted, Bee, Fly, Fragrant, Frog, Butterfly, Man and Small Butterfly.”
I remember Gran always named Fragrant Orchid with the first “a” soft, rather than hard.
On March 2nd “three reports of interest” come to Gran:
During the cold weather of last week a Tufted Duck appeared on a small pond in a gravel pit at Allbrook. The white plumage on its side attracted my brother’s attention and he dismounted to investigate.
I’m not sure what is particularly interesting about this; Tufted Ducks were surely widespread and common in those days – as they are now. What is more interesting to me is the unequivocal mention of her brother for the first time, and also that she writes that he “dismounted”. This, I suppose, because in their lives it went without saying that they were on a bike (not a horse!) and almost never in a car. The second report of interest:
…concerns a Pine Hawk moth which seems to have lost its bearing! A small boy in this neighbourhood sent a message to say he had found a Hawk moth alive in his bedroom. As their usual month for appearing is June in most cases, we were, to be truthful, a little sceptical, but Barry went to investigate and sure enough it was a Pine Hawk. I know that the Humming-bird Hawk moth has been known to hibernate but I have never before heard of a Pine Hawk hibernating for the Winter or emerging in February. Brother suggested that the small boy had kept a candle under the chrysalis!
And the third report:
Also today, a friend told me about an instance he had witnessed of the hypnotism of its intended victims by a Stoat. He was cycling along towards Baddesley this evening when he saw three sparrows in the road and they were behaving in a strange manner, which he could not at first understand. First one and then another fluttered upwards for a few inches and then came down again. They continued doing this for some time, though as far as he could see there was nothing to prevent them flying away. When he drew near, he saw the Stoat, slowly turning its head from side to side and the Sparrows too petrified to move away. Fortunately the Stoat fled as he reached them and the sparrows were saved.
Well, I’ve heard of Stoats mesmerising rabbits by cavorting in front of them, and have seen it for myself, but to me, this sounds more like birds mobbing a potential predator – as they often do.
Finishing her write-up for the day, Gran compares the weather experienced during the last two Februaries, saying that in 1947 there were eight days with sunshine, and in 1948, twenty-one sunny days:
So we may forgive the departed month its snow and ice, even that Friday which was the coldest day for over three years, and remember the sunshine, the dryness, and above all, those two gallant days borrowed from Spring with which the Leap year month made a glorious exit.
- 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)