Jobs in the Park Road garden; a man – grubbing; Gadwall on Sowley Pond; Waxwings at St Cross; “Jock” MacNoe, and a hare causes entertainment.
It’s late January 1949. Gran spends most afternoons in the Park Road garden on a range of tasks; transplanting Caucasus Primroses; various jobs in the greenhouse (where, on the 27th, she is saddened to see a long-tailed field mouse caught in a trap – “I would lose all my produce rather than catch them if the place belonged to me”, she writes) also outside weeding a bed of Primula wanda; watering Arums; sowing peas to bring them on for sowing out later, and enjoying the quiet and peace as she mixes soil and sieved leaves for seed-sowing. “I like to feel the soil in my hands…”
On the 27th she records that:
Iris stylosa opened her first four beautiful flowers to the sunshine in the garden. How I love them, and how they break my heart! Just over two years ago I sent some to Adrian because he had never seen them. He never did see them though he was sufficiently conscious to know they came and were placed near him and later his mother put them into his hand for me – a gesture I shall never forget and one which in itself secured for her my undying friendship and affection.
Next day Gran takes herself from Otterbourne, down Kiln Lane, towards the River Itchen, where she is amused:
There were moorhens on the river bank grubbing for food and lower down its course I saw something else, also grubbing. A man! Lying flat on his stomach fishing Watercress out of the river and stuffing it into a bag. Not so funny in itself only he was not dressed for the part – wearing lounge suit and trilby hat and having evidently emerged from the car by the roadway. His lady sat gracefully on the wooden bridge watching is efforts.
She’s in her garden on the 30th, thinning out the dense Silver Birches there (with some regret as she hates any destruction of trees) with the help of Barry, who is “very fit again after his mumps”.
On February 2nd they both attend a meeting of the Southampton Natural History Society where they make new contacts in the botanical and entomological worlds:
Although the lecture on Hawk-moths did not disclose any new facts to us, Barry’s own exhibit of twelve species met with much admiration and approval… My own special branch exhibits of the Hellebores were also very much appreciated.
Next morning, again together, they leave early on their bikes for a long day’s birdwatching in and around the New Forest. On the way, they see the liner Queen Mary in dock at Southampton and Gran is:
… struck anew by her tremendous size and beauty of structure. Although I have lived in and around Southampton nearly all my life – forty-two years to be exact – I have never before been across to Hythe by the ferry and I thoroughly enjoyed the short journey. We were much amused to see Cormorants on most of the buoys, some of them “hung out to dry” – that is, their great wings held outwards in a somewhat drooping position, making them look rather feeble!
From Hythe they pedal to Beaulieu Heath, Beaulieu itself and Buckler’s Hard. Of the last, Gran notes:
In the old days of Queen Elizabeth’s time [of course, no-one would have referred to her as Queen Elizabeth the First, as we would today, since at this time there had not been a Second] it was famous for its ship-building, and Nelson’s fleet was chiefly built in its yard. At that time the village consisted of four streets, formed like a cross, but now only one remains, – this one so wide because the tree trunks used in the ship-building were rolled down to the yard from the New Forest.
They go on to the coast at Needs Ore and enjoy the birds of the saltmarshes there – a fairly unfamiliar habitat for Gran – and she revels in the wild and evocative calls of Curlew and Redshank, and, to get a close view of a Greenshank, they:
…crawled along the bank until we reached a good vantage point and could clearly see, through the binoculars, his green legs and lovely plumage. He very obligingly flew directly towards us and again waded into the water. He stood in the water up to his thighs, bobbing up and down, his beautiful white breast clearly to be seen.
Ravenous, they make short work of their packed lunch, during which they watch twenty-five parachutes drop over Beaulieu aerodrome, in the distance. Sowley Pond is then searched for birds, revealing Mallard, Teal, Shoveler, Tufted Duck and Pochard, and:
Just as we were leaving, other duck appeared round a bend and two looked different from the rest. Both Barry and I looked at them intently and a white wing bar was most noticeable, in place of the blue-green in Mallard. To our great excitement they were Gadwalls, a new species for our list of Hampshire birds.
They return to Beaulieu via East Boldre and pause at the partially frozen Hatchet Pond. On to Dibden Purlieu and the Hythe Ferry, cycling through Southampton, checking the birds on the Common’s Cemetery Lake, and home just before sunset.
Gran has had “a fabulous day out” with her son and she writes that she will “long remember this February day”. Gadwall was the highlight of this trip, made prior to the 1950s but wouldn’t be particularly remarkable today. Dad tells me, “It was certainly a rarity in my youth” and, quoting from Birds of Hampshire, Clark & Eyre (1993), “A scarce resident and moderately common winter visitor which has increased considerably in recent years…Between 1951 and 1968, most sightings were of single birds or small groups of up to six which rarely stayed for more than a few days”.
It’s a similar story with Brent Goose on the Hampshire coast. Dad says, “In those days, this species, now so common and tame, was extremely shy and elusive. We would not have expected to see them in 1949”. It is good to hear of increases in bird populations, when so often we are aware only of declines.
Hedge Accentors were singing round here and on the way into Southampton this morning. I attended the funeral of my old school-mistress whom, in my childhood, I regarded with awe and respect, but after I grew up, I realized her amazing ability and fairness and my respect became a very real affection. She was very old, eighty-one, and bodily weaknesses had made life very difficult for her but it is sad to think of her passing though I am glad she is at rest.
On February 11th:
As I went through the woods to collect Arums from Park Road, the Rooks were clamouring noisily in the local rookery. I took the lilies into Southampton – rather a nightmare! It always seems that on these occasions the bus sways a great deal more than at other times and people seem more rickety on their feet and in danger of suddenly sitting in my lap and crushing the Arums.
Meanwhile, Dad is out birding for the day. Gran writes:
Barry spent an interesting and, I have no doubt, enjoyable day at Farley Mount. Interesting because of what he saw, and enjoyable because of his company. “Jock”, a lovely person, and one whom I hope one day to welcome as a daughter. Their young love is very beautiful, and the reflected joy in their eyes as they wander with un-self-conscious pleasure in each other’s company brings to me a feeling that something is squeezing my heart too tightly, and I pray that neither may ever get hurt.
Together they saw over 500 Fieldfares in the Farley area.
Mr Pearce, one of the Masters at Peter Symonds School, and a keen naturalist, told Barry today [14th February] that he saw a pair of Waxwings at St Cross yesterday… I have never seen a Waxwing but Barry did a few years ago.
Dad saw the birds next day but it took Gran four trips to St Cross before she was successful on the 20th, when she saw five of them, much to her delight. She watched them while in the company of a party of Winchester College boys, “one of whom very kindly offered me his binoculars. Such a friendly bunch of lads…”
And that evening:
Barry and Jane have gone to see “The Poltergeist” together this evening. They looked so nice as they went out and are such good friends.
This was a comedy play about the exorcizing of a poltergeist from a country vicarage.
Gran writes more kind words about “Jock” MacNoe, the girl from around the corner at 99 Kingsway:
Barry today reports Toads active in the Lake and Frogs’ spawn already deposited in large quantities. He has been with his Jock today. I do hope it will always be Jock – I am comfortable with her and she already seems to belong to me.
And she hopes for a potential partner for her son who is:
… a natural, sensible companion with real depth of character…beauty of character and of soul… in her I see a natural loveliness of feature and attractiveness of figure, quite unspoilt by artificial so-called aids to beauty, which in my humble opinion, so spoil the fresh charm of girlhood…and her spontaneous sense of fun is an added charm.
And poignantly, 70 years later, Dad adds, “Yes, they were very happy days, and I still look back on them with tenderness”.
On the first day of March Gran writes:
March came in true to the old saying “like a lion” with a bitterly cold north-westerly gale blowing. Fighting the wind all morning on a bicycle was no pleasure, but at least I was rewarded with successful shopping after trying about eight shops in Winchester yesterday, the same number in Shirley and two in Southampton today.
Frustratingly, there is no indication in the journal of what she was shopping for – only a mention of the “glorious Prunus trees” and the “first brave blossoms on the almonds”.
I went to another Natural History meeting in Southampton this evening and enjoyed the lecture on the breeding and rearing of the Indian Moon Moth in this country but did not find it as interesting as talks upon our own flora and fauna, which are naturally of greater importance to me.
On the 3rd March:
This evening we went to Bournemouth to see Gilbert and Sullivan’s opera “Ruddigore” and thoroughly enjoyed the performance but an added joy for me was the ride through the New Forest just after sunset.
They return through the Forest in the small hours “under a star-emblazoned sky”, and Gran is at work in the Park Road garden again by the afternoon. Unfortunately she does not say who “they” were.
Six days later:
Barry saw two Woodcocks in Cranbury Park and a large party of Redwings in Kiln Lane this afternoon. The Redwings were twittering volubly, making a noise as of the rushing sound made by a fire. I have heard Brother make the same comparison.
I too have once or twice heard this noise made by a flock of Redwings in the Spring, in woodland as they migrate north to their breeding grounds. Each bird appears to sing a relatively quiet sub-song, which, when multiplied by many individuals, fills the woodland with the most amazing sound.
A lovely start to the day after recording good dawn chorus and gulls passing overhead in a north-westerly direction. “Breakfast Hour” with the BBC Scottish Orchestra and John McHugh, who sang two more of my favourite ballads, “At Dawning” and “Think on me”. What a magnificent voice he has, and, knowing somebody, Adrian’s brother Victor, who served through the Burma Campaign with him, gives me an extra personal interest in his career.
Gran, “driven to desperation by the sight of a small boy scrambling up my front bank to pick the Wild Daffodils”:
… brought some wire home from the woods (discarded by somebody else) and Barry collected some more for me. This evening, he, Jock, Jane and I hurriedly erected it round the front bank and thus hope to save the flowers this year. For seventeen years they have bloomed in peace and delighted the eyes of all passers-by but the last two years they have been ruthlessly picked just as they were coming out, and spoiled before anyone could enjoy them.
She writes of an amusing account, on the 17th, following a report in the local newspaper that a hare, seen running along the tramlines at Swaythling, had apparently been disturbed by workmen from its burrow on the railway embankment:
The sequel appeared in last night’s “Echo”: “If we could find a burrow big enough we would slink into it and hide our bludgeoned head in shame. It’s all over that topic about the hare… We reported that apparently it was unearthed from its burrow in the nearby railway embankment by workmen… Apparently it wasn’t! By letters, ‘phone calls, and a particularly curt postcard, we have been informed of the habits of hares, which, we are quite convinced, never go to ground. Assailed by so many giants of learning we feel like the literary rabbit. So please don’t shoot at us any more. And this is how “Naturalist” of Lyndhurst corrects us”:
“Swaythling hares have peculiar habits
Since they’re burrowing now like rabbits;
Instead of using a hole for a dorm,
They usually use a place called a form.”
It’s rare for Gran to mention people’s names but towards the end of March 1949 she is writing her journal:
…in a strange house – a friendly, welcoming house, the home of Mary, my friend, whose three small people, the twins Jill and Tim, and Anthony, I am minding until their parents return from late tonight from London.
And later speaking of those few who “understand” her, she includes Mary, of whom Dad says, “Mary Harding was the wife of a bank manager who lived in Merdon Avenue: she was a lovely, kind person with whom Mother became very friendly. I remember she used to cycle up to Fryern Hill for shopping until she was well into her 70’s”.
- 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)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 22)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 23)