Pesky Blue Tits; storm-blown seabirds; sore fingers; post delivered on Christmas Day; a strange use for a fungus; Gran sets foot in a Department Store, and what will the second half of the century bring?
October 28th 1949:
I have always had a particular fondness for Bluetits [sic] and have smiled indulgently when they have picked the tops off milk bottles and drunk the cream, but the sight that met my eyes when I entered my bedroom…made me wonder if perhaps they were not such lovable little birds after all! I had noticed five of them on the ground beneath my window when I first came into the house but little did I know what mischief had been going on in my absence. The bedroom window was open about two inches. On the table in the middle of the room stands a very precious picture of wild flowers which Adrian painted. It has glass on both sides, with passe-partout over the top and down the sides until the frame is reached. The tit or tits had pecked this and strewn the paper in little bits all over the table and floor. It was almost completely stripped!
The dust jackets of two of Gran’s books, “Jefferies’ England” and “Apple Acre” by Adrian Bell had also been pecked and torn, and she writes that the desk and table and, “…irreverently, my Bible on a stool by my bed, all bore evidence of the intruders’ presence [droppings, I imagine], but he, himself, was nowhere to be seen”. A newspaper cutting between the pages of the journal, shows that Gran had sent details of the event to the local paper.
Barry, birding with his friend, John Crook, in the King’s Somborne, Timsbury and Romsey areas, finds what must be the rarest bird to date on his Hampshire list on the 30th. Gran enjoys his experience by proxy, writing a detailed description of the bird’s plumage, its calls and of the circumstances of its finding:
Swimming in a flooded field where the Romsey Road crosses the Test was a Grey Phalarope, which caused Barry great excitement, it being a new bird for his Hampshire list. The bird was actually swimming on the flooded areas and only once did they see it walk. The bird was tame, allowing Barry and his friend to approach to within a few yards.
I enjoyed a programme devoted entirely to the music of Johann Strauss, the genius of the lilting melodies that will outlive all the jangled horrors of some modern compositions (which might for a time satisfy minds attuned to discord and noise) and will continue to bring a soothing, haunting beauty to the souls of aesthetics for all time.
She certainly was not one for The Beatles, The Rolling Stones or The Who – favourites of my childhood, whose music will probably stand the test of time, but she would probably have enjoyed John Taverner and John Rutter, modern composers though they were, and also favourites of mine.
Gran is almost daily in the Park Road garden at this time, in the greenhouse, weeding borders and bringing order to fruit canes. She writes:
My fingers are so sore with the thorns of loganberries and prickly with Stinging Nettles that I only hold my pen with difficulty. It is the same each year at this time.
A queen Wasp is hibernating in a corner of one of my windows, her wings wrapped around close to her body. She looks far too defenceless to kill, though I know, to my cost, just how well she will be able to defend herself when she awakes.
November 20th sees three new species added to Barry’s bird list, during a trip to the Keyhaven area: Black Redstart, Great Northern Diver and Goosander. Gran describes his day in great detail and I can only assume that Dad, on his arrival back at The Ridge after his days out, gives his mother a blow-by-blow account of his adventures in the world of natural history.
I shut my eyes to the demands of household chores this morning and made up my mind to sweep up the leaves from our oak tree before the roadman swept the pathway outside the gate and carried them away. I was just hurrying with one job, which refused to be overlooked, when the roadman appeared. I rushed at him and told him I was just going to clear the leaves as I wanted them for the mulch heap, but he very obligingly said he might as well sweep the path, but he would leave them in a heap at the gate. This he did so I only had to collect them and wheel them down the garden, and sweep the drive myself. The lovely morning lured both Mother and Barry out for a while…It was a most satisfying and pleasant, though tiring pastime and the damp, earthy smell of the leaves delicious.
More birding at Keyhaven on the 27th brought another new bird to Barry, again with John Crook. It was a Little Auk, which appeared, writes Gran, “as a small black and white bird swimming on the sea off Hurst Point”. The lads ultimately got close views of it as it “paddled furiously towards the shore not more than thirty-five yards away”.
Gran undertakes an unusual activity in the woods around Hiltingbury Lake in mid December, writing:
I gathered a few more Polyporus fungi from rotting birch trees for drying. They are used by entomologists, cut into strips, for mounting micro-Lepidoptera. I must say that I find fungi-hunting an added interest to Winter outings in the woods.
Barry and Jock, Gran tells us, had earlier collected a sackful of these fungi for Hugh Robinson to pass on to acquaintances in a business connected with entomological equipment.
On December 13th Gran makes another visit to Kingston, noting as usual, any birds she sees from the train, on Fleet Pond. This day she excitedly sees Canada Geese – such a ubiquitous bird today, in suitable habitat, that they would not deserve comment, and indeed, are a bit of a conservation problem, being a non-native species in the UK:
The geese were the first I have seen and I looked them up in Adrian’s “Handbook of British Birds” on my arrival in Kingston, after jotting down a hurried description as the train was moving on…altogether very handsome birds and graceful on the water.
Gran is still at Kingston on the 15th, but spending the afternoon out of her more accustomed habitat:
I spent the afternoon somewhat out of my natural element but nonetheless found it an interesting experience, going over part of Bentall’s, the dominating store in Kingston, and at the present time dressed for Christmas. The window displays were cleverly arranged and lighted and, though prices were high on the whole, there certainly seemed to be a partial return to the Christmas displays that we used to know.
And, perhaps related to the earlier record of a Little Auk off Hurst Spit (its presence likely to have been related to recent gales at sea) Gran recounts the following:
At home in Chandler’s Ford there had been great excitement today. Hugh Robinson…brought him [Barry] a fine Puffin which he had found in a ditch near Alton. It appeared quite strong and healthy. Alton is over thirty miles inland so its appearance there is quite exceptional. Barry bought some sprats from the local fishmonger and had no difficulty in persuading the bird to feed…It was very inclined to snap and bite…when an attempt was made to pick the Puffin up, it uttered an angry growl, repeated about three times in quick succession.
The following day the bird was fed five more sprats and was then taken to be released at Lymington, “by the breakwater beyond the sea wall”.
Christmas, a joyous time for most of us, is looming, but on December 20th, Gran writes:
I brought a sapling Austrian Pine from the woodland for a Christmas tree and hope to make it gay for a small godson for the children’s Day of Days. If only there could no sadness to mar the brightness of this lovely season.
Christmas Day itself, as ever, starts at 5.30 for Gran as she gets ready for early service at Compton Church, as well as preparing breakfast for Barry who is “on Postal Duty at 7.a.m.”. (The Post Office stopped delivering mail on Christmas Day in 1960). Frustratingly there is almost no detail of the day’s goings-on, except that the church service took a full hour, because “there were many communicants”; Barry saw two Goldfinches near the Camp for Polish Dependents in Hiltingbury Road while delivering letters there”; and “Standing for “The King” this afternoon, as always with eyes out of the window, I saw a Tree-Creeper [sic] busily searching round one of the branches of our oak tree…”. Later, as she completes her entry for the day, she writes:
Now it is Christmas night, my guests have gone and without the incentive to keep a cheerful countenance, I find my spirits sinking in spite of the pleasure I have found in doing what I could to make the Day one of goodwill and cheerfulness, and the many beautiful and unexpected gifts I have received… and so to bed – it has been a long and difficult day…
As a result, she is angst-ridden the next day and in the afternoon:
To Cranbury Park. At first I walked rapidly through the opposite woods driven by a restless urgency which I could neither explain nor understand but which forced me relentlessly on.
The calming effect of the gentle breeze, and the fields, woods and lakes of Cranbury Park, however, do their magic for her until, as she writes that evening:
I was alone. Gradually the tension relaxed and I walked more slowly, pausing occasionally to listen to the deep silence. The wind whispered softly in the treetops and the damp, russet-brown bracken fronds rustled at their feet.
On the last day of 1949, yet another bird is added to the family’s Hampshire list: the European White-fronted Goose, a small flock of which Barry found near to Ibsley – a traditional wintering site for small numbers of this species, where I too saw my first ones many years later, shown to me by Gran’s brother, Norris. At that time, Dad reminds me, flocks of up to 100 wintered regularly in the Avon Valley, but their numbers gradually dwindled until nowadays it is an event to see a singleton.
In ornithological circles, this decline in wintering Whitefront numbers in the UK is often quoted as an example of “short-stopping”, the winter weather in the Netherlands and Denmark nowadays almost never severe enough to push migrant birds to the milder west.
Gran, summing up the year writes:
The old year is almost over and we stand on the threshold of another, which may hold further discoveries and beauties for me, but 1949 will always remain in my memory for its phenomenal summer and the number of birds added to our Hampshire list.
It saddens me a little to think that in fact, these additions were found and identified by Barry, at sites largely beyond the range of Gran’s cycling powers, and apparently not seen by her at all. However, she clearly gains much pleasure in recording his findings, as well as hers, in her journal – all for the benefit of Adrian, missed by her almost unbearably these last three years.
I had intended to wait up last night and see the New Year in but another abominable headache drove me to bed at 10 p.m. Nevertheless, I heard the New Year in, as after a short, uneasy sleep, I wakened just as all the ships in Southampton Docks were heralding it in with loud blasts on their sirens.
The following day she writes, perhaps with the memory of two World Wars still fresh in her mind:
This year marks the half-century and I cannot help wondering what it will hold for this dear England of mine. I hope that her country lanes and historical old cities and villages will escape further spoliation.
At an evening talk on the 3rd, given to the Southampton Natural History Society, Gran learns something of the chalk deposits underlying much of the county. She describes the various depths at which it is found below the surface, and the thicknesses of the strata, under the Isle of Wight and Southampton, and further north. She ends thus:
It is an interesting fact that the chalk bed at Shawford, so casually observed by the majority of people, took at least 200,000 years to deposit – this when the British Isles lay beneath the sea! Such facts as these bring home to us the realization of what microscopic nonentities we are, and how tremendous the developing of God’s creation.
January 12th is a bad day for Gran – it is the date on which Adrian died three years ago – and she is heavy-hearted. Time on Compton Downs, writing her journal in the open air, alleviates her pain a little:
Here I am on Compton Down again, that quiet sanctuary to which I always flee…so easy for people to say to those in sorrow – “you must snap out of it!” Have they any real knowledge of the depth of suffering to which others are prone?
A girl on a brown horse is slowly climbing the path beyond where I am sitting and a golden cocker spaniel runs ahead. Suddenly she [the dog] is aware of my presence and stopping dead in her tracks, paw uplifted, barks loudly. Her name is Jane! Her mistress calls her and tells her to “Stop it, Jane!” but Jane is suspicious of the strange woman scribbling furiously in her book. I wonder what she would think if she knew that she, herself, now appears in it?
Thrushes seemed to be singing everywhere as Gran makes her way to Eastleigh on the 13th but she was:
…saddened on my return to find a Song Thrush lying in the road in Kingsway. It must have been hit by a bus or car for the poor little thing was terribly hurt, its tail and rump half gone. But it was alive and when I tried to pick it up it pecked at me and flew uncertainly across the road and into the gutter where it lay gasping. I rushed home for chloroform and cotton-wool and returned to put it out of its misery. I hated doing it but it could not possibly have lived long and it must have been suffering horribly…I hated to think that it would sing no more in an English Springtime.
Dad explains the presence of chloroform in the house, “at the time, chloroform was sometimes used by us to stupefy moths for examination”.
- 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)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 28)