A dragonfly misnamed; the Hampton Court vine; solace found on the downs; Trafalgar Day; Junior English prize for daughter Jane; a prince is born and a mother’s anxiety.
Joan Goater writes on 15th September 1948:
A large green and black bodied dragonfly flew about under the yew tree opposite here, performing amazing feats of aerobatics. I agree with what Brian Vesey-Fitzgerald said recently on the wireless about this lovely creature’s misnomer. It is far too beautiful to be named “Dragon”, which one always associates with an ugly monster, but the repulsive “grub” is equally mis-named “nymph”, because one always thinks of a nymph as an exquisitely dainty creature. They should certainly bear each other’s names.
A Lark was singing over a field on Hut Hill as I went into Southampton this morning. Incidentally, it was heartening to hear it over this field again, for it has recently been re-ploughed, having been a camp for German prisoners-of-war during hostilities.
Late in September, Gran visits Kingston upon Thames to be “refreshed in spirit and fortified by the gentle understanding and affectionate friendship of Adrian’s mother”, and while there, Hampton Court Palace, where she is much taken with the gardens. She does not go into the building on this occasion, but writes:
…no visit would be complete without seeing the famous Vine. Unfortunately the fruit had been cut – it must be a wonderful sight before this – but the training of it is a work of art and the Vine itself unbelievably fine. It is a Black Hambro [sic], planted in 1768, and on May 1st 1931, the measurements of its stem were 6ft 9ins at ground level and 5ft 11ins one foot above ground level.
Gardening and horticultural labour continue in the Park Road garden throughout the Autumn but on September 25th Gran is doing similar work elsewhere. She writes:
A strenuous afternoon spent on the rather back-aching job of potato-lifting but in such glorious surroundings of Otterbourne, the field enclosed by a tall hedge of Blackthorn, upon which the blue-bloomed sloes are ripening, red-stemmed Dogwood, Hawthorn massed with berries, an occasional Crab-tree with pale golden fruit, rich red Rose-hips and ripe blackberries. Here and there a few small Spindle trees… The busy hum of the tractor throwing up the potatoes was the only mechanical sound , and this, somehow, fitted into the harmony of the countryside, with the chatter of birds – Pheasants calling, Jays screeching, Chaffinches and Robins in the hedgerow – crickets chirping and, in the distance, cows lowing.
October 2nd on the lane to Eastleigh:
I was very distressed on the way home because two cock chaffinches were chasing each other and in darting suddenly low across the road, one flew full tilt into the front wheel of my bicycle. I dismounted and went back to where he was lying in the road. I picked him up gently and laid him on the grass at the side of the road. He was gasping rather but I hope he was only winded by the impact. His eyes were open and still very bright. I could not possibly avoid him.
Harvest festival is celebrated at Compton church on October 3rd and, as usual, Gran describes the wonderful show of flowers and produce:
But there was an added heaviness in my heart this morning because prayers were asked for my old friend, the Reverend Purefoy-Fitzgerald, who is seriously ill, and I fear for him because he is over eighty years old.
Gran can often be found on the downs above Compton and at Farley Mount this Autumn, reveling in the peace and solitude she finds there, but at times the tranquility, for her, is disturbed, as on this harvest festival day:
…I heard voices raised in noisy altercation and found that my sanctuary had been invaded by a car and motor-cycle, a large family, complete with dog, on a nutting expedition. I do not grudge them the nuts, but I could not help the fact that that their loud voices, in indescribable English, grated upon ears attuned to the beauty of birdsong and the sleepy, restful hum of bees and flies.
And after many pages over these October days, describing the loveliness of her local natural world – the birdsong; the berry-rich hedgerows; the rural, agricultural scene, Gran is less impressed with the town of Eastleigh, upon which she comments after spending some time there at the dentist’s! Talking of Jackdaws, she writes:
They seemed quite at home in the heart of this rather grubby, depressing town. For some reason I dislike it intensely and always have done so, long before I came to live in Chandler’s Ford. Its atmosphere is unpleasant and it has no welcome for a naturalist and nothing of beauty to gladden the eye and uplift the heart.
October 21st is important to Gran for she writes:
Trafalgar Day! A digression is inevitable, for a Sailor’s daughter could not pass over the morning ceremony in Trafalgar Square without mention in a journal of beautiful and soul-inspiring sights and experiences, especially as the two great Sailors to be honoured were her childhood heroes.
She notes that the sun breaks through the grey clouds in London at exactly the same moment that it does the same over Chandler’s Ford where she listens to the broadcast on the wireless. She hopes this is an omen “of the hope of England’s continued greatness and the spirit of the men who have made her so”.
“Another digression from Natural History”, Gran writes:
…but a moving and beautiful experience all the same. To the Guildhall in Winchester to see Jane receive the Junior English prize at the Speech Day of the Winchester County High School, and, of course, to applaud the other winners. So many of England’s girls, so fresh and unspoiled at present, it does one’s heart good to see them and to hear their young voices singing. The mayor, who presented the prizes, spoke of equality of opportunity but stressed the point that equality was no good if the quality was allowed to diminish. “The higher the ideal, the greater the effort, and as the effort to reach perfection of integrity, beauty and goodness increases, so the quality of the ideal is advanced.”
“Surely, therefore”, she continues:
…no ideal is too high, and no effort too great, so long as we set before our children the best possible examples of honesty, integrity, generosity, beauty and above all, love – love of God first and then that other love, pure, faithful, unselfish and honourable, seeking to serve and comfort without thought of self – in short, true love…
November, Gran’s “horrid month”, dawns cold and wet. On the 2nd, she notes that Gulls are present over Eastleigh in large numbers, that the Pigeons are flying about the Leigh Hotel, and:
Two of the Lime Trees in Leigh Road are still in full foliation, a beautiful bronze colour, but the remainder are almost entirely bereft of leaves today after the incessant rain.
An interesting item of news appeared in the local paper this morning. An albino buck has been seen near Brockenhurst in the New Forest, the first time in this particular locality though it has been seen from time to time in other parts of the Forest. On this occasion there was another buck with it, and this animal had some wire or rope tangled in its antlers. It was so preoccupied in trying to free itself that the observer was able to approach within a few yards.
Gran is amused by something else she reads at this time – a quote from a letter to his sister Fanny by the poet John Keats, concerning Winchester. “It is more than a fortnight since I left Shanklin chiefly for the purpose of being near a tolerable library, which, after all, is not to be found in this place. However, we like it very much; it is the pleasantest Town I ever was in, and has the most recommendations of any… and what improves it all is, the fashionable inhabitants are all gone to Southampton.”
Some trees are quite naked now but here in the country they seem to retain their leaves longer than in the towns. Here, today, the Council roadman was heard to say that he did not know which way to go because the wind had not blown any leaves down! I would not mind being a roadsweeper in such a district as this for his wage of £4.15.0 per week! Just think of the opportunities of seeing nature at first hand whilst sweeping leaves and twigs from the gutters and trundling a small handcart to be emptied in the woods!
Gran’s nightly ritual of describing the sunset continues but on November 14th she writes that it is obscured and:
Now it is quiet and still without, and there is a hush of expectancy over the countryside as if awaiting a great event, as indeed, is the world at the present time… suddenly the silence is broken by a muffled distant explosion and I think “the signal!” How many? I wait – there is another, that is two – another pause, then a third report, yes – the signal over Southampton! A Prince is born – a Prince of England.
…Will he be able to enjoy the real beauty that is his England – and mine – or will it always have to be overwhelmed by the pomp and splendour of his Royal position? Will he ever be able perhaps to sit alone and see his England as I see her… her fields and hedgerows… and will he be able to hear the music of her birdsong, her tumbling waters… and look for the hidden beauty of her flowers and insects? Many may envy him the luxury of his position but do they realize the many homely little joys that he will have to forego? I do not envy him, but from the depth of my soul I wish him well and say, “God bless him, and may he grow to love this dear country as I love her…”
…and may this new Prince be a worthy descendant of his splendid Grandparents, all the fine best of his Father and the beautiful best of his Mother personified in his small being. Deo Gratius.
Gran was an ardent Royalist! She would have approved of the views, many years later, of the adult Prince Charles, on architecture, management of the countryside and the encouragement of the disadvantaged young – and her hope that he would “enjoy the real beauty that is his England” was surely fulfilled.
For much of the month of November, Gran is in disturbed, pensive and questioning mood. And what she writes gives an insight into her complex and troubled character. As I read her words – surely the only person to have done so since they were penned in the nights of nearly 70 years ago – I am affected by a strong poignancy and sympathy for this woman, seemingly trapped in an age when apart from her joyful experiences of her children and the natural world, there is little chance of escape from her demons.
She writes on the 16th:
… and though I have deep faith in God I cannot understand His purpose at times and this troubles me. There are moments when I hunger for more definite proofs of what I want to believe without question, or for some Revelation that shall make all clear to me and take away for all time the unworthy doubts of which I am ashamed.
And on the 20th:
The house is quiet now; both the children are in bed and asleep. I speak of them as children still, but not much longer will they be so, indeed, Barry is already a young man… But whatever the future holds for both my children, Barry and Jane, God bless them, I shall remember always the unutterable joys (and anxieties!) of being their mother… and I pray that I may never be called upon to try and heal the heartbreak that no kiss or anything else can cure, though friendship and understanding can come nearer to comforting than anyone can imagine. But, please God, no such heartbreak must ever touch Barry or Jane.
Sadly, as adults, both did have their share of heartbreak, and no doubt, Gran then suffered with and for them – as any parent would. And the following day, again on her beloved Compton Downs where she goes for solace, she writes:
As I followed the second lane leading to Silkstead, a beautiful picture presented itself. The sun was sinking fast now, and the dark clouds permitted only a few brilliantly golden pools to appear, and in the field to which this was the background, a very large party of Gulls was feeding, their incessant movement making the ground appear to heave with animated white wings, and, as they became aware of my approach, they rose as if by a pre-arranged signal and flew straight into the sunset. I have never seen a lovelier sight, and I have seen very, very, many lovely ones. The lane was muddy, and covered with sodden leaves, and, with my one hand full of berries and my eyes on the sunset, I skidded and wobbled my way down with several narrow escapes from lying in a heap with my bicycle on top of me!
- 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)