An influx of Striped Hawk-moths; some additions to the family’s Hampshire bird list; a rabbit is released in Devon; Jimsonweed in Eastleigh; Roger Deakin, Roger Tobia and John Crook; gypsies and farmers; the awesomeness of migrating salmon.
August 16th 1949:
During the morning a strange little procession arrived at my door. It consisted of my grocer, with a jam-jar in his hand, followed by his own and three other small boys all aged about five years, one behind the other like so many ducklings following the drake! The grocer said he had some strange creature with an awful stinger! When I looked at it, it was an innocent Pine Hawk caterpillar, the “awful stinger” being its harmless horn. I told them that if they liked to come in, Barry would show them a Pine Hawk moth, whereupon they all trooped in to see the Hawk moths, afterwards letting the caterpillar go again. We really do have some unusual callers and they seem to think we can tell them all they want to know about wild creatures – they bring the oddest things to us sometimes.
A few days later:
This afternoon was brilliant for the major part and I went to Winchester to see the finals of the Junior Tennis tournament. It was grand to see the enthusiasm and good sportsmanship of these youngsters and I think the future of British tennis looks rosy if only they are given suitable opportunities and proper encouragement. This is a digression from Natural History but in the past I have found much pleasure and happiness in this game, though at present I have reluctantly had to forget how much I enjoyed it.
On August 24th, Gran describes an experience very similar to one of mine, which ocurred some twenty years later, when I found my first Green Sandpiper in a pool near Aldenham, in Hertfordshire:
Barry and Jock, haunting Cranbury Park as usual, flushed a Green Sandpiper from the little lake and followed it to the larger one, where they obtained an excellent view of it before it flew off again. It was larger than a Common Sandpiper, the white rump conspicuous and its call characteristic – three notes, “tweet, weet-weet!” – the first somewhat prolonged and all clear and mellow. This is a comparatively rare bird and quite a good observation.
Around this time there are reports of Striped Hawk moths in the county and Gran notes, “There seems to be a fair migration of these insects this year”.
On August 29th:
Soon after I returned [from Cranbury Park] Barry came back from Boldre, where he had spent the weekend with Peter Robinson. He was full of excitement, nine Striped Hawk moths having come to light whilst he was there… an unusually large number of this beautiful migrant. Among others, there came several [species] that were new to Barry, including Hedge Rustics, Rosy Rustics, one Archers Dart, Centre-barred Sallows, and one Vestal, which is a rare migrant geometer.
More familiar species taken, and noted by Gran, included Dusky Thorns, Pearly Underwings, Dark Swordgrass and Neglected Rustics. What wonderful names!
Next day Gran finds a scarce alien and interestingly toxic plant:
This morning in Eastleigh I had an exciting and unexpected find in the shape of Datura stramonium (Thorn Apple). According to Bentham and Hooker it is a common roadside weed in Southern Europe and all over the warmer parts of the globe, extending to Southern Sweden. It appears not infrequently in Southern England, but can scarcely be considered as naturalised.
And Gran is apparently preparing herself for the time when her children “leave the nest”, writing:
It has been a strange, quiet house today, not very nice, but I shall have to get used to it one day… both Barry and Jane are away! Jane went to a Guide camp at Brixham, in Devon, and Barry this morning set out to hitchhike to Kent. I shall be more than glad to see them home again, though I know this is good for all of us.
Dad though, returns earlier than expected, on September 1st, having found his goal, Romney Marsh, less attractive than he had expected, and Jane returns on September 6th, with the following story:
One morning the Guides rose at 3.30 to see the sun rise over the sea. They were horrified and indignant to find a Rabbit caught in a gin trap and crying with pain. They worked furiously with their knives and hands and eventually released it, throwing the trap into the sea. Whilst they were cooking breakfast a man came along, looking round, apparently for the trap. He, fortunately, did not ask them if they had touched it but asked if they had seen anyone about. They (untruthfully, I fear) said “Only a queer-looking man over there, – he seemed wet as though he had been in the water”. Anyway, I think they may be forgiven the lie – the frightened little animal was saved.
This event reminds me of several occasions in my own working life where I came upon traps, set usually for crows and other corvids, but also along well-used mammal paths for foxes and rabbits. I always removed those that were likely to catch protected species such as Otters and Pine Martens, or people’s pet dogs or cats, but I was never brave enough to risk being caught releasing live crows and magpies used legally as decoys in Larsen traps.
I had great respect though, for what I judged to be the moral integrity of Roger Deakin, an ex-pupil of Dad’s who, when out with us in a Suffolk woodland near his home, looking for the rare Suffolk Lungwort Pulmonaria obscura, found a Larsen trap with a live decoy magpie in it. His view was that there was no reasonable excuse in using a bird as intelligent, and “knowing” as a Magpie in this way, and he released it forthwith.
Roger Deakin, a remarkable man, who died well before reaching old age, was the author of several books, including “Waterlog: A Swimmer’s Journey Through Britain” – about wild swimming – and “Wildwood: A Journey Through Trees”, in which he writes moving and complimentary things about Dad (the adult Barry), who, during his career as a schoolmaster, was something of a mentor for a number of schoolboys like Roger.
Writing on Sept 25th, about a visit to St Catherine’s Hill, Gran is disappointed at not finding Spiranthes spiralis (Autumn Lady’s Tresses) on the foot of the hill “as I had done for many years until last Autumn. It seems to have disappeared from this locality”.
Work continues in the Park Road garden, where Gran has picked many blackberries, and on the 30th she writes:
I picked the Lemon Pippins this afternoon. I have never seen apples ripen in such clusters. So closely were they packed that four or five came off the branches together and numbers of Earwigs fell out as I parted them.
Barry starts his university studies on October 3rd, to Gran’s immense satisfaction. She notes:
Today has seen the start of that for which I have worked for years… Everything has been worthwhile. Good luck to him!
And the following day, she meets Adrian’s mother off the train at Eastleigh and for the next few days she shows her some of her favourite local places, including, along the Itchen and around the old church in Kiln Lane where, she writes, “I gathered a few mushrooms – I do not like them to eat myself, but I do like finding them, so I sent them to my friend, Mary.”
On the 6th they visit the New Forest, and at Boldre, they went into the Parish Church of St. John the Baptist and were especially attracted to the “children’s corner” and one picture there, in particular:
It was a large picture, the scene a winding roadway over the hills. Christ is depicted holding the hand of one child in each if His and His head slightly turned towards those on his left, showing his fine, but kindly, human face. Children of many castes and creeds are represented, from a modern British schoolgirl in typical gymslip, to a small native in a straw skirt. The universal Christ, indeed, and what a beautiful thought was in the mind of the artist who created this lovely picture! I was enchanted by it.
Summing up at the end of the day, Gran writes:
We reached home just before 7.30, having spent a lovely day, and, for me, a satisfying one having had the added pleasure of introducing mum to her first sight of the New Forest, Beaulieu Heath, Forest ponies, and all the delights that I know so well.
She may have started referring to Adrian’s mother as “mum” but we still do not know her name! That night, there is a total eclipse of the moon but Gran sleeps through it, “dead to the world”.
Having, with considerable sadness, seen Adrian’s mother onto her homeward train, and missing the prolonged pleasure of her company, Gran writes on the 8th October:
Today I feel a misfit in a world in which I seem to have no part. True, I am a separatist by choice, but only because I have so little in common with modern ideas about all the things that I hold sacred…I turn more and more inwards – I am almost an introvert. Of course, I know what will be the result of this day’s musing. There will be another sudden burst of inspiration, I shall pour out all that is pent up inside in a frenzy of writing and – become reasonable and quiescent again, accepting life with unfeeling apathy.
Her turmoiled mind is soothed, as usual, by the natural world a day later, and she describes wonderfully a view of a woodpigeon – a reminder to me that even the commonest and most familiar bird can be worth a closer look:
A beautiful Pigeon sat on a post at Farley until I was within a few feet of it and I had an excellent view of its delicate grey plumage – grey generally, but in reality all the soft tones of England’s countryside – misty blue, dusky pink, light green and pearly grey. Restful and beautiful as is its crooning voice.
On October 9th:
Barry went to Buckler’s Hard and Beaulieu for the day with a new friend, John Crook, who has started on the same course at Southampton University, and, both being keen bird-watchers, they have an added interest in common outside their studies.
Dad sees his first Dartford Warblers and Golden Plover on this trip – the former a rare (especially at that time) resident warbler, the latter, a regular passage migrant, often in sizable flocks, from the north at that time of year.
A week later, Dad’s great childhood friend, Roger Tobia is mentioned for the first time in Gran’s journal. She says:
A young friend, commonly known as Tibby, anxious to introduce his newly acquired car, took us through the opposite woods, where numerous rabbits, caught in the beams of the headlamps, scurried hither and thither.
How typical of Gran not to be interested in the make of car! Dad tells me that in those days, Tibby was actively keen on natural history, especially birds and their nests, and butterflies and moths. He was also extremely good fun, Dad says, remembering that Tibby had a huge ball-bearing which he used to bowl along Hiltingbury Road, sparks flying! He became an Officer in the Royal Air Force, flying Meteors and then helicopters. After he left the RAF, he had a successful ironmongery business in Eastleigh. Dad and he saw a lot of one another after Dad’s return to “The Ridge” in 1992, until Tibby’s death some years later. He is much missed.
I went to Winchester early this morning…Turning into the little riverside lane at the foot of St Catherine’s Hill I came upon a gypsy encampment, where the occupants were squatting round a wood fire enjoying their breakfast. The blue smoke rising between them was beautiful against the background of tinted trees and the swarthy faces of the gypsies lit up as they hailed me with a cheerful “good- morning”.
She’s in Winchester again the next day, and writes:
It was market-day in Winchester, and the pens were full of fat sheep, around which farmers of various shapes and sizes were congregating. I like farmers’ legs, in breeches and gaiters, some bowed with much horse-riding, and ruddy, weathered faces and soft, drawling voices. They are so essentially natural and forthright, and usually as good judges of humans as of sheep!
Gran is in bed with a headache again on 26th, a day of rain and gales:
…but in spite of all, there has been something worth recording…I have received an unexpected and lovely gift in the shape of a book, always a joy to me, and this one promises many hours of pleasure. It is “The Eloquent Silence”, by W. P. Hodgkinson, and was obviously chosen, with a true knowledge of my preference, by the donor, Barry’s Jock. Why she should have done it I do not know, but it means a great deal to me.
The next day Gran cycles to Romsey, an unusual direction for her, but she has a wonderful experience, having made straight for the river and arrived at Sadler’s Mill:
…where I saw one of the most amazing sights of the countryside during this month and next! The return of the Salmon from the sea to the rivers wherein they were born, for the spawning season. Here, at Sadler’s Mill, they leap the weir into the calm waters of the river beyond, and, leaning on the parapet of the bridge this afternoon, I was amazed by the incredible strength and wonderful instinct of these fish. There must have been hundreds coming up the river, for their dark shadowy bodies could be seen moving about beneath the foaming water and every few seconds one or two would make the leap, mainly with their bodies curved almost head to tail, but on two occasions at least, almost straight up and in “slow motion”, giving an excellent view. Sometimes they made the leap too soon and missed the weir, when they were carried back downstream with the rush of water, and three times one fell on to the sloping buttress of the bridge where it slithered into the river again.
Their strength and perseverance left me with a feeling of awe, of being on the edge of a miracle of which I had no true understanding, for although I knew this was their habit, I had never before actually seen them doing it. And today the river was a raging torrent, the volume of water…sufficient to make it impossible for a man to stand up, yet these fish…with magnificent strength and instinct gained the clear peaceful waters of the river beyond the weir on their way to the breeding grounds among the quiet pastures of our England. It made me feel small and humble somehow. Altogether I remained in fascinated rapture for over an hour and it was with the utmost reluctance that I left this wonderful spectacle.
- 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)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 24)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 25)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 26)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 27)