Too old for tennis; a visit to Cley; the Clifden Nonpareil; a small town-dweller; a grass snake in the garden; the privilege of Cranbury Park access; Forest ponies in the City; the South London Exhibition; the King visits Bushfield Camp; “wireless” or “radio”?
On September 14th 1950 Gran is in Southampton:
I went to help florist friends to pack and deliver flowers to the [RMS] Pretoria Castle, due to sail to South Africa at four o’clock this afternoon. It is an experience I always enjoy, the flowers are beautiful and it is interesting to see the various types of travellers on the ship.
I know that she dislikes the claustrophobic effect of the confined spaces on board, but I hope that in future she writes more detail of her flower delivery visits to the ships docked at Southampton. I think they were quite frequent.
She appears to be spending quite a lot of evenings listening to music on the wireless at this time, particularly enjoying Handel and Mozart, and on the 16th, she writes:
Sunset was obscured and soon after dusk it began to rain. But I was safely indoors, listening to the last of the series of delightful Promenade Concerts, in which Sir Malcolm Sargent and the BBC Orchestra received a tremendous and well-deserved ovation.
Dad is having a busy time bug-hunting and bird-watching. He travels to Ham Street in Kent in the hope, which turns out to be a vain one, of finding the Clifden Nonpareil, a lovely moth, which I remember him successfully breeding during my teenage years – those newly emerged moths were something to behold! And on September 18th, Gran records that she “rose just after 5 o’clock as Barry wanted to catch the early London train en route for Norfolk, where he is bird-watching for five days”.
Gran, competitive as ever but also typically modest, is playing tennis again; fairly regularly it seems. And those matches she writes about, which is probably all of them, she wins: “A tennis match took me to Southampton today…” she writes on the 23rd:
…a prolonged period of fast drizzle stopped play for about an hour and a half. We resumed later and I played sixty-three hard games in all and though I was lucky enough to win I found it rather too strenuous in my present state and age and rather wondered why I did not stick exclusively to Natural History as I had done until June of this year!
On Dad’s return from Norfolk the following day, Gran lists the nine species of birds found there, which were new to him. The list includes the reedbed specialities, Bittern and Marsh Harrier, and also a Pectoral Sandpiper – Dad’s first transatlantic vagrant. He tells me that they based their trip at Cley-next-the-Sea, arguably Britain’s birding “Mecca”, especially in those early times, and their party, which included John Crook and Alan Moody, camped by the famous, and much-photographed windmill there.
And on the 25th he’s out birding again with John and Alan, this time along the west side of Southampton Water, and they find a strange, unfamiliar, small bird foraging on newly reclaimed land. It remained unidentified at the time, and was watched until it flew far away never to return, but now, after long experience of many rare birds in the field, Dad thinks it was “one of those difficult American sparrows, it’s journey to the UK perhaps aided by a ship docked at nearby Southampton”.
During this late summer period, Gran has suffered somewhat. Frequent headaches, severe enough for her to refer to them as migraines have laid her low, and she has also needed several visits to the dentist, one of which results in the typical comment, “Looking out of the dentist’s window whilst collecting my wits after parting with a tooth under gas, I saw a White Butterfly languidly flying up the road.
Returning home from a day on the downs, Gran finds a child in search of help, “looking for material for a nature diary for school”. This, it becomes clear, is eleven-year-old Diana Fowler, daughter of Gran’s “florist friends” mentioned earlier. Diana knows Gran as “Aunty Bunny” – a term of endearment used by all her family, in reference to Gran’s rather rabbit-like top lip and slightly protuberent incisors, characteristic of her side of the family! They walk the local area:
…coming to the woodland beyond Hiltingbury Road, where crickets were chirping…a Wren flew across, alighting, woodpecker-like, on the trunk of a Larch tree in full view of the small town-dweller who had previously remarked plaintively, “I wish I lived here now, there is so much to see and do in the country”. She was evacuated here for several years during the late war, arriving here as a baby of eighteen months with a vocabulary of only three words, “Mummy”, “Daddy” and “all clear”, a pathetic but mercifully not understood, reminder of air-raids in those dark days.
She writes on the 6th:
Several days ago I mentioned seeing a large Grass Snake in the garden whilst picking blackberries. Although I had only a brief glimpse of it as it slithered away, I saw that it was a large one but I was totally unprepared for the evidence found in the garden today: the complete skin, recently shed, and when carefully measured it was fully thirty-nine inches from the nose to the tip of the tail! It was lying in the heather at the bottom of the garden, the head embedded in the roots and the whole length of it entangled amongst the stems, just as the creature had forced itself out of it, the skin to be discarded, firmly held by the heather. It was with difficulty that I disentangled the frail, cellophane-like covering, complete with every marking though colourless and transparent.
Bramley Seedlings and Newton Wonders are added to the list of apple varieties Gran picks in the Pinewood Gardens, one tree of the latter of which she says must have produced over twenty bushels. And of a third variety, she records:
I brought in sixteen dozen pounds of Lemon Pippin apples and these only off two quite small trees which are by no means stripped yet. The crop of apples has been phenomenal this year, and it is not the only one for I have seldom, if ever, seen so many beechnuts and acorns. The ground is literally carpeted beneath some of these trees.
Sweet chestnuts appear to be in abundance too, and Gran collects many in the nearby woods. After one such expedition, she is touched by a small girl’s actions:
As I reached home again a little child who lives down the road, met me and asked if she might have some chestnuts so I gave her some in a bag. Presently there was a knock on the front door. It was Catherine, age three and a half, “I forgot to say ‘B’ess you”. She is a sweet, winsome little thing. I kissed her and she went happily home again.
October 11th sees Gran in Southampton:
I was surprised to see Barry in town, so surprised, indeed, that I failed to recognise him for a few moments, and I wondered who was addressing me as “mother”! He had a free period at College and had gone to town to look for a telescope for John Crook.
Two days later Dad acquires his first moth cabinet, and Gran has to remain at home in order to receive its delivery, from Essex:
…two very courteous and obliging men bringing it and carrying it up to Barry’s room for me. Over a cup of tea it transpired that one of them had been stationed in the military camp here during the war and knew the area quite well, enquiring after one or two of the residents whom he met!
October 15th brings a new plant for Gran’s Hampshire list, and a new bird for Dad’s. The plant is Henbane, found on the verge of the Twyford Road; the bird is Marsh Harrier (new for Dad’s Life-list on his recent Norfolk visit) seen with John and Alan at the Blackwater, on a trip to the coast. Today the Marsh Harrier is a much-increased breeder, but in those days, and even into the late 1970s, this was a very hard bird to find in the UK.
Four days later, Diana is in touch:
…I received a very pretty postcard of Bee Orchids from Diana to say that she was coming out here straight after school to see the snake’s skin so I had something to look forward to enjoying. After tea I took her to the woods and Cranbury Park for some “copy” for her Nature Diary, and of course, at the same time for my own journal. We went first along the marshy road, recently named Malcolm Road, in the opposite wood.
They record a number of species and collect some chestnuts, and Gran notes that “again Diana expressed the wish that she lived here and declared that she was going to live in the country as soon as she was grown up!” Diana lived all her working life in rural Gloucestershire, where she worked in the Education Department of the Wildfowl Trust, and she remains in that county to this day, in busy retirement.
We came out [of Cranbury Park] through the Kingsway Lodge, speaking to the occupant as we passed and asking for our permission to use this way to be renewed. The privilege of walking about Cranbury Park has been so abused since the war that the owners have had to withdraw some of the concessions but the man was very civil to us and gave us the desired permission. He told me that not everyone was as polite as I was but thought they could do as they liked in the Park. It is such a delightful place that I value the chance to wander therein beyond expression and should hate to lose it.
On October 21st, Gran recounts the following, presumably having read it in the local paper:
Three New Forest ponies this week wandered all the way up to Southampton Common and on Wednesday evening were first seen wandering about the streets of Shirley. They were pursued to the Common where all day Thursday they defied every attempt to catch them. In the evening they apparently decided to return to the Forest and wandered during the night along Hill Lane and Winchester Road to Millbrook, where they turned through Nursling to Rownhams. Here they were successfully impounded in a field by the police and their owner, at Cadnam, was informed.
There is no let up in the long distances that this fit lady cycles these days, in order to note everything of natural history interest for her journal, as she goes. This is a typical example of one such journey from October 26th:
I planned to go out for the day but a visit to the dentist at eleven o’clock made my day a short one. However, I managed to get away from Eastleigh just before mid-day and covered something like forty miles, seeing some of the most unspoiled of Hampshire’s countryside.
Her route takes her through Allbrook, then onto the Winchester by-pass at St Cross, to Kingsworthy, along the Basingstoke road to Sutton Scotney, onwards to Stoke Charity (“what an inspiring name!” she writes), and Wonston (where she takes two photographs of the church, using Adrian’s camera for the first time) then back to the outskirts of Winchester by Peter Symonds School playing field (disliking the busy main Winchester – Newbury Road). She writes that at Bushfield she was getting a little tired, but she arrives home, saying in her notes that evening:
Now it is very late and I am tired – pleasantly tired but not exhausted, and I have found today that weariness of soul can be lost in weariness of body, especially when the soul has been steeped in beauty as has mine today.
On the afternoon of the 28th, Gran and other members of SNHS, “…went to Butt’s Ash, near Hythe, where Brigadier Venning, President of the Southampton Natural History Society, had invited to tea those members who had carried out a survey of Bishop’s Dyke. We had an enjoyable meeting”.
On the same day:
Barry attended the South London Entomological Society Exhibition in Burlington House today, where “Virens” was shown for the first time as a British species. Barry has been proposed for membership of the Society. Much interest was shown in the “Virens” and an account should be in the Press tomorrow as reporters were there and the members of the Party who located the moth in Ireland were photographed. There were some wonderful specimens of British Lepidoptera on view.
This link shows a fascinating reconstruction of the “famous Classey-Robinson Exhibit”, shown at this event, which included the series of Luceria virens. The reconstruction, however, includes a fair number of errors, easily noticed by any expert (Dad in this case!), as is so often the case when The Media deals with natural history subjects. Nevertheless, it remains of interest.
The King visited Bushfield Camp at St. Cross to inspect the troops but I could not get there though I heard part of the ceremony on the radio later. It was fine but cold during his visit, but the cheers of the men for His Majesty must have warmed him considerably. I am always profoundly moved by the sound of an English crowd cheering their King…
This is Gran’s first, rather out of character, reference to “the radio” that I have found, but later on the same day, she reverts to its traditional term:
It was pleasing to hear that an Avocet has been seen on the Exe in Devon and it is to be hoped that this rare visitor is increasing in this country and will breed in many more areas. Its arrival in Devon was announced on the West of England News on the wireless tonight.
- 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)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 29)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 30)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 31)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 32)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 33)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 34)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 35)