Blue Tits nest early; Gran does some cleaning but is easily distracted; “Hill 60”; the Downs are changing; the lovely village of Pitt; horrid Eastleigh; Jane gets her Guide badge.
Dad appears to be developing a network of entomological friends as Gran sometimes mentions that moths or larvae have been sent to him by post. For instance, on the 22nd March:
An Engrailed moth emerged in one of Barry’s breeding cages early tonight but up to the time of writing the wings had not expanded. The chrysalis was sent, among others, by an entomologist friend in the north.
This, Dad says, was probably Gerry Briggs, from Lancashire, whom he met in New Forest where, in those days, White Admirals and Silver-washed Fritillaries were abundant on bramble blossom in July.
The next day:
I went to the copse in Poles Lane to gather Primroses and Anemones to take a breath of Spring to an invalid friend. …I took the flowers I had gathered to Southampton and at the top of Hut Hill, I saw a shining aeroplane crossing a sky of cloudless blue, an alien thing in a perfect world of beauty.
How strange it seems today, to be mentioning an aeroplane overhead as though it was a wondrous, and “foreign” thing, when we are so familiar with their noise and sky-scratches overhead!
Gran never did fly, saying to me many times that she liked to “keep her feet firmly on the ground”.
That same day Dad saw his first ever Brown Long-eared bat. Two children at the lake showed it to him – and Gran wishes she had seen it too.
Blue Tits, nesting in one of the yews opposite, already had three eggs by March 24th. The earliest record of Blue Tit’s eggs Gran had prior to this date was April 17th.
On Good Friday, March 26th, after she has written about her “need to step softly” on this special day, she lets it slip that she is doing some housework! She says:
I was looking out of the window instead of doing what I ought to have been doing! And while I was cleaning a bedroom I was suddenly arrested by an unusually sweet song.
It was a Goldfinch in one of the Silver Birches in the garden. On Easter Day, the 28th, “Barry and I left for early service”.
This is at Compton Church, as usual. Dad tells me he was quite a keen church-goer then and went to church regularly for Communion, and at Christmas and Easter. Times and views have changed somewhat since then and most of the family is now much more questioning about faith-based religion and, speaking for myself, not particularly comfortable in church.
As usual, when there is a significant service in the Church, the building is decorated inside with flowers, which Gran notices in great detail, but later on she is dismayed:
I was conscious at first only of massed flowers, Forsythia, Blackthorn, wild Cherry and – the only departure from the yellow and white symphony – a little Arabian Currant and Crab-apple buds, a happy blending of garden and wild flowers…I went along my favourite lane afterwards, but to my intense sorrow it is ruined, the hedges cut and the banks stripped of trees and bushes. All that remains of my symbolic pathway are the yew trees at the extreme end leading on to the Downs. The field where the rabbits used to play is ploughed up.
Nevertheless, she enjoyed being on the Downs above Compton later that day, which was, she writes, the warmest March Easter Day since 1929.
A Kestrel is noted “hovering over Hill 60” as she makes her way to Farley Mount the following day and she explains the hill’s name thus:
…known to us by this name for years, having been christened so by the farmer who owned it and who had taken part in the battle of that name in France during the First World War.
Miss Westbrook, Dad tells me, was the “spinster farmer of this ground at that time. Gran played tennis with her”. The field was on the opposite side of the main road at Standon just before the Farley turning. On checking the OS map, it appears that the formal name for this hill is “Nan Trodd’s Hill”.
She suffers another disappointment at Farley:
…most of the scented Violets have disappeared from this area, the field ploughed up and the banks outside covered with rubbish taken from the roadside. I picked only a very few of the pink ones.
Gran notes Viola hirta (Hairy Violet) “making brilliant patches of a most heavenly blue just now – the loveliest colour of all the violets, I think”, which shows there is still some rabbit-grazed chalk downland present and Dad completes the picture:
“There used to be an extensive rabbit warren on the south side of the lane across Farley Mount, in which there was a strong colony of breeding Wheatears. They nest in rabbit burrows. I have two eggs in my schoolboy collection dated 25 May 1943. Soon after that the whole area was ploughed up in the “Dig for Victory” campaign. All that would grow though, were little shoots of barley less the a foot tall, bearing just one or two ears.
The Wheatears and Stone Curlews [which also bred on this nutrient-poor and sparsely vegetated ground] are no more.
The only Stone Curlew nest I ever located was in a field of young oats to the left (as you go up) of the lane to Farley Mount, 13 May 1950. I had sat in the hedge for nearly two hours with one bird in sight, waiting for the change-over [in order to get the position the nest].
I know of no breeding Wheatears in Hampshire now, but with encouragement from RSPB, farmers nearby reserve uncultivated plots amid their crops, best made foxproof, and the Stone Curlews are doing rather well.”
The little village of Pitt is described, and she finds patches of Moschatel flowering along the lane leading to it – a new location for this plant for her.
Pitt itself is an attractive little village, composed of a cluster of thatched cottages and farmhouses, black-beamed with white walls, and a few cottages with tiled roofs green with moss. One particularly beautiful thatched one lies almost below road level so that its upstairs windows are looking on to the highway. The garden is an old-world and lovely one.
Gran reports at the end of the month, I think from a newspaper article, that a Mr Goddard, of Woodlands, Southampton, remarks: “…that this winter has been a good one for rare birds, the Hen Harrier being seen at Beaulieu, the Great Grey Shrike near Wilverley and the Dartford Warbler has been reported in the New Forest.”
The harriers and shrikes still winter in the New Forest in small numbers. The Dartford Warbler records are interesting as this is shortly after the 1946/47 winter, when just about every one of these resident warblers was wiped out in the UK, apart from, I think, at Arne, in Dorset. Today, they are more widespread in England than they have ever been, owing to a reduction in the prolonged severity of winters since 1962/63.
I learned something about the meaning of April from Gran’s entry for the first day of that month:
April – one of the most beautiful words in the English language – was Aprilis to the Romans, who named our months. The name is derived from the Latin word “aperine” which means “to open”.
Gran writes the next day that:
Eastleigh was horrid as usual, and shopping depressing but the little lane [today the fully urbanised Oakmount Road, from Fryern Hill to Leigh Road] always refreshes my spirit no matter how drooping it may be.
Daughter Jane gets a mention because on the 3rd she is:
…taking her test for Naturalist’s Badge in Girl Guides today and this morning her nature Log Book and collection of birds’ feathers to be judged by Brian Vesey-Fitzgerald, the well-known author and broadcaster. She has seventy-eight feathers in her collection so far, and only one was misnamed, a forgivable error, Brian Vesey-Fitzgerald said. We had identified one as that of the Greater Spotted Woodpecker but in reality it was that of a young cuckoo, spotted whereas that of the Woodpecker is barred. Jane discovered that Mr Vesey-Fitzgerald was born at Otterbourne Grange and knows this district well, also that he is a nephew of my old friend and helper in the identification of wild flowers, the Revd H. Purefoy Fitzgerald of Shawford. He told Jane that his uncle knows more about orchids than almost any other man but, of course, he would not admit it himself.
Jane went on a ramble this afternoon with Brian Vesey-Fitzgerald for the second part of her Naturalist’s Badge, that of observation. She thoroughly enjoyed it and among the many items of interest she saw were several already recorded, and a female Lizard by the water tower at Otterbourne. She does not yet know if she has won her Naturalist’s badge but she was told that her knowledge of Natural History is extensive. So we are hoping.
I was familiar with the name of Brian Vesey-Fitzgerald from the second book in the Collins New Naturalist series, entitled “British Game”, which he authored. Most of the first seventy or so of this series formed a highly distinctive couple of rows on my Dad’s bookshelves throughout my early life.
That evening, Gran listens to a broadcast on the “wireless” by Ralph Whitlock concerning the songs of Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler, “illustrated” by recording by Ludwig Koch. He also spoke of the “song” i.e. the “drumming” of Great Spotted Woodpecker and his words confirm Gran’s observation “that the drumming is caused by the rapid movement of the head and beak upon the tree – this I saw for myself on this day” – March 21st. I’m not sure how Gran might have thought this sound was made before she observed it – it was surely common knowledge long before these days.
Gales and rain characterise early April in 1948, with many dead twigs littering The Ridge garden. Jane:
…found a Chaffinch’s nest in Hokham Road, [I know that at some point in the journal, Gran realises that she has always misspelled this – it should be “Hocombe”] with the bird sitting on a full clutch of five eggs. This is a very early record of the start of incubation. In one of the yew trees opposite here, the nest which Barry found and thought to be a Bluetit’s is that of a Coletit. And she too, is sitting on a full clutch, eight eggs as far as he could count, the nest being in a hole.
Coal tits generally nest in holes in banks rather than in trees, so this, I think, is interesting. On April 5th, Gran recounts the legend, with which I am familiar, of the call of the Woodpigeon. It’s one of the earliest things I was ever told:
In the opposite wood a Wood-Pigeon was softly calling, such a gentle, pleading call, I always think it, in spite of the legend about it – I mean the one about the Welshman who went to steal a cow. Hearing a Wood-Pigeon in a nearby wood, his guilty conscience made him imagine the bird was saying, ”Take two cows, Taffy! Take two cows Taffy!” He was so terrified that he fled without stealing even one.
When I was young – certainly pre-school age – I was walking with Dad’s sister, Jane, amongst the scrub at the foot of Shawford Down, and I found a length of rope coiled on the ground. Jane agreed with me, when I suggested it, that this was probably the piece of rope that Taffy had left after failing to catch a cow. Typical of her to play along so nicely with my young imagination!
Jane found a slow-worm trapped in the Anderson shelter in the back garden and it was taken, slightly injured, down to the mulch heap where we usually find some,
She also says of Jane:
She also discovered a Queen Wasp in the birds’ feeding bell hanging in the garden, and killed it. We once had a huge nest under the tiles on the coal-cellar roof and we do not want a repetition.
So much for God’s creatures, as she sees them!
Gran notes a report of a “Stormy Petrel” found dead but in perfect condition at Norton Green, Freshwater in the Isle of Wight. The Bird Recorder for the Island identified it and “the valuable specimen” was sent to York Museum.
The unsurprising news comes on April 9th that Jane has passed her test for the Naturalist’s Badge:
…and Brian Vesey-Fitzgerald wrote on the bottom of her certificate “Excellent”. I think a good achievement for thirteen years of age.
Gran also writes the following:
The delicate, lovely shade of Spring, the bright daffodils and gay tulips in the garden are so simply and naturally beautiful that they make me wonder why women are so foolish as to follow such extremes of fashion, which are neither elegant nor pleasing to the aesthetic eye, but only grotesque and ridiculous. If they would just be as nature intended them, they would, in my humble opinion, look far more dignified and, yes, beautiful, because however plain the features, there are very few without some natural charm, if only they did not hide it away beneath artificial veneer.
And Dad, reading this, though not necessarily agreeing with his mother, quotes the familiar humourous lyric of the time: “You’ll never go to Heaven in powder and paint, ’cos the Lord don’t like you as you ain’t”!
Gran never, ever, wore any make-up or lipstick, nor used luxurious soaps, nor perfumes nor anointed herself with anything fragrant or alluring! Everything she wore was “sensible” and, I suppose, without a deliberate style. Her hairstyle never changed, until, in her declining years, when she needed looking after, her long plaits were cut off. These plaits, according to my memory, were always dark for most of their length as they were comprised mainly of hair grown before it became grey. I don’t think they were ever trimmed (she never went to the hairdressers), but she would rapidly create two plaits each morning and wind them round the top of her head in opposite directions and fix them with hairpins. She told me once that she would never cut them because “Daddy” had always said that he loved her plaits. I never saw anyone else with a similar hairstyle.
- 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 (Part13)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 14)