A Blue Tit trapped in the Champs Elysées; a stridulating Peacock; “Our Dilemma”; Royal Festival Hall dedication; words from the new Rector; a Black Tern; Kipling’s Cat; lots of tennis; lots of moths and the Chelsea Flower Show.
February 1951 passes with Gran’s daily notes concentrating on mundane activities, and long descriptions of each day’s weather – and it seems that rain and frost, and gales and some thunder typify the month. Work continues most afternoons in the Pinewood Garden, where the usual fight with loganberry and Himalayan Giant blackberry stems ensues, leading to a certain amount of blood loss from Gran’s hands!
A Blue Tit is found alive, Gran writes, ” in the downstairs lavatory” – meaning the little room off the kitchen [known to us all in the family as the Champs Elysées! and usually pronounced simply as “Shampseleezy” or just “Shompsy”, Dad tells me] and not the toilet itself – where apparently it must have remained undiscovered for several days; Dad fails to find a Great Grey Shrike recorded by others in the New Forest, but, while avoiding the University Rag Week, “such a diversion not being much in his line”, Gran tells us, he adds Hen Harrier (a female watched hunting at Keyhaven) to his County List. Cirl Buntings are recorded near Mottisfont, and on Southampton Common, and a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker drums in the garden oak tree.
On February 15th, Gran notes some interesting butterfly activity:
There was a Peacock butterfly in one of the bedroom fireplaces today, stridulating with soft, sibilant sounds. Until recently it has been surmised that that these sounds were caused by the rubbing of the wings together whilst raising and lowering them…but an observer has now announced that the noise was heard whilst the insect was motionless and so has raised some controversy on the matter.
It is now well understood that Peacocks do, indeed, stridulate by rubbing together particular veins on their wings.
Dad is running in cross-country matches for University College Southampton, doing well recently at Roehampton, and on the 20th, Gran writes:
Barry went for an eight-mile practice cross-country run in pouring rain and covered the distance in fifty minutes, returning with a goodly supply of Compton mud on his person, but he had thoroughly enjoyed it.
At this point in her journal, Gran has inserted a newspaper cutting with a piece by J.B.Priestley, explaining the characteristics of England and the English people. It absolutely fits Gran’s view. It is reproduced below:
Items on the reverse of the cutting are in marked contrast. We read that George Bernard Shaw is in hospital and complaining about being bathed too frequently; there is discussion of the creation of a bigger and better equipped Western European defence force, and North Korea, whose heavy and other industries have been destroyed by American bombers, is demanding that steps be taken to “immediately put a stop to such crimes of the American Interventionists in Korea”. Given that GBS died in November 1950, this must have been a cutting from a few months ago.
Book 23 is missing from the sequence, and Book 24 begins on May 3rd 1951, Gran writing:
We enjoyed a wonderful programme on the wireless – that of the dedication by the Archbishop of Canterbury of the Royal Festival Hall on the South Bank of the Thames, and the inaugural concert which followed. The King and Queen, the Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret, the Duke of Edinburgh and other members of the Royal Family were present, and all-British music was played. The conductors were Sir Adrian Boult and Sir Malcolm Sargent, and the latter received a tremendous ovation when he conducted “Rule Britannia”. The applause was overwhelming and brought a lump to my throat…
On May 5th, heavy rain prevents Gran cycling into Southampton so she goes by bus, because:
…I had promised to go to the University Athletic Sports in which Barry was competing in the half-mile race. This he won in convincing style on the very heavy ground in the time of 2 minutes 7.8 seconds.
Training in the mud of Compton paying dividends! She attends Evensong at Compton Church the following day, finding “it was a special Service of Thanksgiving for the Festival of Britain”:
The service was beautiful and our new Rector’s address one which will not easily be forgotten. He spoke movingly of England’s beauty and her wonderful heritage of Christian teaching…specially, Mr Burdett mentioned our own beautiful little Church in which we were privileged tonight to offer our thanks and prayers.
All the time the Rector was speaking of our dear Country, a Blackbird was singing in glorious abandon outside in the sunshine, the sinking beams of which streamed through a window onto a pitcher filled with fresh beech leaves… which are so much a part of England and of Compton itself.
I felt a surge of ecstatic patriotism within me, and a deepening, even of my already fierce love of my country, as the rector leaned on the pulpit and said, in hushed tones, “England is beautiful and I love it, don’t you?”
Illustrating a particular point with an allusion to the lifestyle of a water beetle in a pond:
Mr Burdett also pointed out that whilst there was much beauty in our particular pond, there was also some mud, which prevented us, at times, from seeing the beauty, but it was always there and we must be continually searching for it.
Barry came home from Winchester with the glad news that, seeing a Black Tern at Winnall, [informed by George (Tom) Pierce, master at Peter Symonds, he tells me] he had added another bird to his Hampshire List. This is a passage migrant and an uncommon visitor.
His sighting triggered several subsequent visits by Gran, with Jock, and by Dad’s birding friends in the hope of seeing more migrant Black Terns but this was the only one seen. Breeding Yellow Wagtails and Sedge Warblers in numbers were recorded on these other visits, as well as displaying Redshanks.
On the 11th, Gran notes with surprise that she saw:
…a tortoise in the garden, walking about in the sunshine and eating trefoil leaves with great relish. He took only two small bites of a lettuce leaf with which I provided him, though tortoises which we have previously owned, relished them a great deal.
It was still there a fortnight later. Next day, while Dad is away in Exeter running in the Southern Universities Championships, Gran cycles into the New Forest to join a group of other naturalists on a SNHS field meeting. But she seems to find the company a bit trying, saying:
Birdlife was considerable but elusive, in view of the fact that some fifteen people were present and their voices forewarned the wild folk of our approach. However, by negotiating a bog in the manner thrust upon one who has followed Barry about, I was able to draw ahead of the party and enjoyed a little while on my own. It is certainly much better for observing nature if one “walks by oneself” like Kipling’s Cat…
Other members of the group are kind to shy Gran:
I had meant to return to Hythe for tea but Mrs Venning insisted that she had brought with her far more than she and her husband could eat and made me share with her. I must admit that afterwards I felt more fortified for the ride home…I reached home just after 7.30 to find Diana Fowler already here, to stay the night in preparation for recording the dawn chorus at 3.30 tomorrow morning. I am doing it again for the Glanton Bird Research Station and I thought it would be something special for Diana’s school nature diary.
And when the morning arrives:
A very full day for me, and Jane’s seventeenth birthday. I rose as intended at 3.30, and called Diana, who, rather to my surprise, joined me almost immediately in the front porch, from which vantage point I usually record my dawn and evening choruses…At 3.45 I was delighted to hear the churring of a Nightjar for the first time this year…
They also record, at 4.42 a female cuckoo, which “was immediately answered by so many excited males that it was difficult thereafter to distinguish the voices of the smaller birds”. Almost beyond comprehension in the Cuckoo-impoverished England of today! Diana returns to bed after the dawn chorus but Gran grabs a quick breakfast before cycling to Church, after which she has to play a tennis match. She fears she may be unable to stay awake, but tells herself “one thing at a time and I shall get there”, and writes later that the weather was not “too unpleasant for tennis. Fortified with Disprin tablets and glucose before the second event I managed quite creditably and, rather to my surprise, got through without a headache”.
On May 14th, she finds Southampton busy:
Having spent the Whitsun bank Holiday in the seclusion of the country, I was totally unprepared for the sight that Southampton presented…There was a fair on the Common and there were literally thousands of people milling about in all sorts of fantastic headgear, waving paper tassels and carrying balloons, and even from the bus the noise and tumult was bewildering….I dined at the Polygon Hotel with an old friend, listening to lovely music.
Dad is active at this time finding birds’ nests, including those of Willow Warbler, Nightingale, Wood Warbler, Yellowhammer, Linnet and Nightjar, and also running his mercury vapour lamp moth trap at night and attracting incredible numbers of moths, by today’s standards.
Gran writes the best part of 4000 words describing what must have been a fabulous day for her. On the 23rd, she ends her notes with, “Tomorrow (D.V.) I am going to Chelsea Flower Show for the first time – one of my cherished ambitions. I hope it will be fine”. Early next morning she cycles (because there is a bus strike) to Keble Road “where the Royal Blue was picking me up”, dodging on the way, pouring rain with almost continuous thunder and lightning, necessitating shelter for a while, near Hut Hill.
We reached the Flower Show at about eleven o’clock and from then until we left again I was completely enchanted by the indescribable beauty all around me… I noted down as I went, those [exhibits] that seemed to me to be outstandingly beautiful…
And she begins:
Amongst the interior decorations, those of Constance Spry were outstanding, two pieces particularly attracting attention. One was a large pitcher most artistically arranged in all shades of crimson, cyclamen and their kindred pinks, which was comprised largely of Rhododendrons, Tulips, Orchids, Lilac and such, and the other an arrangement of mixed flowers in all shades ranging from deep flame to creamy white, through the various orange, gold yellow and salmon pinks, in which the flowers of Rhubarb were cunningly (and by most people, unrecognisably) introduced. These were in a wide cream-coloured wall container.
And thus her notes continue, naming at least forty exhibitors and describing their efforts in the greatest detail: Canon Rollo Meyer of Little Gaddesdon; Stewarts of Ferndown; Reginald Kaye of Silverdale; Reads of Hockley; the Exbury Gardens of Edmund de Rothschild, and including “our own almost local Wills of Romsey…” and “Hilliers of Winchester and Chandler’s Ford”. Towards the end the writes:
Now we had reached what, I think, entranced me above all – the Orchids…the most exotic and inconceivably wonderful of all the flowers… Description is quite beyond my powers though perhaps it is safe to say that I found the most lovely the trailing Cymbidium odontoides, and Odontoglossum, dainty wax-like flowers in delicate shades of…
And so she continues. She and a friend visit the BOAC Restaurant for tea before meeting their “coach for home at the Victoria Coach Station at six o’clock”.
It was warm and just growing dark when I reached home. I did no writing this night being truly worn out by this time with fatigue and a soul satisfied with beauty, but before retiring I switched on Barry’s moth lamp ready for him when he returned from Winchester…The moth lamp produced most satisfactory results, about seventy specimens coming in…These included two male Puss Moths, a male Sallow Kitten, two Pebble Hooktips, two Light Brocades, one Bright-line Brown-eye, one Light Spectacle, one Green Carpet and a Chamomile Shark…
“What a day!” she ends, “I slept soundly”. The following afternoon, Gran is back to normality in the Pinewood Gardens:
…but I spent a great deal of my time describing Chelsea Flower Show to my employer, who had given me the ticket for it. She now finds it impossible to get about much, but was able, I think, to enjoy “seeing it” through my eyes.
On the last day of May Gran makes a visit to “Mrs Doncaster’s beautiful garden”, where she learns that the lady feeds many birds including “…a hen Blackbird with a broken leg who has been about the garden for over a year now, and who feeds often inside the kitchen” and:
…two families of Blue Tits have inhabited the nesting boxes. One of these latter, however, was overtaken by tragedy last week when a Greater Spotted Woodpecker enlarged the hole until he could get his head in and then destroyed the young tits and scattered the nesting material about the garden. I did not know previously that the Greater Spotted Woodpecker would do this.
This habit of the Great Spotted Woodpecker has been cited in more recent times as possibly partially responsible for the decline in the hole-nesting Willow Tit and Lesser Spotted Woodpecker.
Gran attends a wedding at Otterbourne Church on June 2nd, walking there through Cranbury Park (in her best shoes?) and noting that it was “almost breathtakingly lovely, bluebells and pink Campions thickly carpeting the ground beneath Beech trees now in full foliation”. I wonder whose wedding it was. All Gran says of it is, “It was a pretty wedding and it could not have been a more beautiful day for the greatest day in any girl’s life”. Meanwhile:
Jane spent the day in Bournemouth playing a tennis match against Talbot Heath Girls’ School, and we were intrigued to know that the small twin daughter of the writer Adrian Bell, Sylvia, acted as ball-boy during the match. I feel that I know her quite well as she appears in several of her Father’s books, and Jane now adds to the picture the fact that she has sandy hair and a fat little tummy! She appeared to be about twelve years old. Barry ran 2nd in the Hampshire County Championships, gaining a county certificate for the half-mile at two minutes, three seconds, and a silver medal.
After Church the next morning, Gran herself has a tennis match, at Bramdean beyond Fareham. She goes with others, by car, hating the speed and the inability to stop to investigate things she sees out of the window, and at the end of the day she wonders if the tennis is too much for her:
…I reached home, more tired than I have been for a long time and I seriously wondered if it was worth struggling on with tennis. But I once enjoyed it so, and the children are so pleased for me to play. If only somebody would beat us there would be no need to fight so hard, but whilst we remain unbeaten we must give of our best! But I get so tired now. I would really rather just remember past glory and be content with my writing.
- 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)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 36)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 37)