A rare bird in the Forest and a new one on the coast; prowlers in the garden; no more Red Squirrels, chestnut gatherers and Ampfield lovlier than ever.
On October 7th 1947 Gran copies four pages of Ruskin’s positive views on the human character of the love of nature. She follows this with:
Thus writes Ruskin on the love of nature and with most of it I heartily agree, but if he were alive now he would be pleased to know that Natural History is a recognised subject in modern schools, and though the true nature-lover is still regarded as something of a freak, there are, nevertheless, a goodly number of them in this untidy and distracted world, who find comfort and serenity in the steadfastness of God’s works.
At the edge of the opposite wood a Chiff-chaff, extremely late for this species, was uttering its familiar call as the children left for school at 8 o’clock.
There is a report in today’s paper of a Blue Roller being seen in the New Forest, – a bird we have never seen (and a species she never was to see). It is a rare visitor, and the New Forest a long way out of the usual direction of these birds of passage, but the report comes from a reliable source and I have no doubt as to its veracity. The New Forest being in Hampshire and one of my favourite haunts I include this item of interesting news in my records.
Clark & Eyre, (1993), Birds of Hampshire, give five records of Roller in the county between 1904 and 1987. A female was shot at New Milton on September 23rd 1947, so perhaps this was the bird reported in the newspaper.
The hedgehog continues to visit the food put out in the garden for it well into October. Gran sometimes misses seeing it and wonders if another animal takes the food. But on the 18th she writes:
The hedgehog is still about and I found out for certain in a strange way. Whilst writing last night I heard a scuffle outside my window and then running feet speeding down the drive. Thinking we had an undesirable prowler I phoned the police who came along in due course, about 10:30 P.M. and scoured the garden with a flashlamp. Today, two school friends of the children told them that they hoped their mother would not object but late last night they had seen our Hedgehog in the front garden and had followed him down to the back. Well! I do not object but I would like to know next time that it is only Hedgehog-watchers in the garden!
Of course, there is no evidence that this animal was the one hedgehog that Gran thought of as “hers”, and who knows how many hedgehogs she’d been feeding in the garden, though assuming all the time that only one animal was involved?
This is also the first time that it is clear there is a telephone in the house, something I would have thought an unlikely item there at this early date. There was certainly no phone in our house in Mill Hill, North London, where I spent my earliest years in the late ‘50s. We always had to go next door to our lovely, motherly, neighbour “Aunty Dora” (“Finchley 4948”) to make or receive calls – on a line shared with another property in the same road. In my mind then, anyone living in a house with a phone was very “well-to-do”.
On the same day:
In Cranbury Park this afternoon I saw a Grey Squirrel run up a tree with a chestnut in its mouth. I am sorry these interlopers have taken the place in this district of our native Red Squirrels, such attractive little creatures and when I came here nearly twenty years ago, quite often seen about these woods. Now I hardly ever see one.
Since the start of the journal, there has been no record of a red squirrel, and I wonder if there ever will be. On asking Dad for his view, he tells me, “I think never again: in the early 1930’s I used to be taken in my push chair to the local chestnut woods and place nuts on a tree stump for them; they were also frequent in the pinewood by Hiltingbury Lake, but we never saw them in the garden. They disappeared abruptly when the first Grey Squirrels appeared in the early 1940’s”.
Her journey takes her this day to Winchester, and she writes:
I passed Compton Church again, and there is a little, very ancient one [church] on the Brambridge road. There is a great charm about little country churches. Their yew-shaded lych-gates, beautiful old porches, and in some, chained Bibles and other priceless relics of past ages. There is a beauty, a simplicity and a peace about English country churches. You can look at the old, shingled towers, and listen to the bells, symbols of the faith of past generations. Sometimes you may see a happy bride in filmy white passing along the pathway towards the church porch. You see, faith and love are still alive today in spite of the sorrows and shaken faith in the hearts of some of us.
The next day she’s on her bike in Hursley – still considered a village today, I suppose, but with a very busy main road passing through it (and I fear, no longer a place to buy the delectable lardy cakes with which I always associate the name of Hursley, the baker’s shop that produced them being closed):
In Hursley I came upon a herd of cows, leisurely walking in the middle of the road, quite heedless of the impatient motorists who, unable to pass them, crawled along behind them, no doubt wishing them anywhere. But I like cows, and on a bicycle could ride among them, and they only turned their great lustrous eyes upon me and continued their unhurried meandering. Cows have such beautiful eyes, brown and luminous, with eyelashes to make a film star green with envy. And these were Guernseys, with their soft light brown colouring and dark faces. Presently they turned into a farm gate and the motorists rushed on, thankful to be able to speed again, never seeing, I’ll be bound, the beauty of this little old village with its ancient Church and black-beamed houses and cottages.
I think Gran might actually be describing Jerseys. At the end of the day she returns home, finding that:
…our own woods were crowded with chestnut-hunters of all ages and various nationalities. If only they would be content to pick them up and not ruin the trees so much. It is not necessary.
Dad remembers “there was certainly an annual chestnut gathering by the locals, but I was unaware of any damage being done to the trees: there were always plenty of fallen nuts in their spiny husks on the ground”.
On October 20th she writes:
An extraordinary thing has happened. Another Crocus nudiflorus has appeared from nowhere, this time in my Aunt’s garden at Bassett, which was completely shattered by a landmine six years ago. She has never had Autumn crocus in her garden and this one, like mine, is definitely the wild variety. Can it be that the migrant birds drop the seeds as they pass on their journeys? Else why does one appear when there are none in the neighbourhood?
This was the house in Bassett damaged by a land mine during the War, resulting in the exodus of the Aunts to the relative safety of The Ridge. The house, named “Tregada”, on the Winchester Road, was repaired during the War and Greaty’s sisters, the Aunts Em, Fanny and Maud returned there before the War ended.
Gran is still recording Clouded Yellows and also migrant Hummingbird Hawk-moths about at this late date but has not mentioned her hedgehog for a while. Almost every day she describes in great and rather tedious detail the sunset, if there is one visible, but on the 21st it’s a little more interesting to me than usual as she says it’s “very reminiscent of one of Peter Scott’s backgrounds to his wonderful bird paintings”.
Scott’s two early and evocatively illustrated books, Wild Chorus and Morning Flight were both on The Ridge bookshelves by this date and Gran would have been familiar with his highly characteristic wildfowl and wildfowling paintings from these.
As for the hedgehog, she writes on the 23rd:
…and I have just looked out of the window and caught a ginger cat in the act of eating the Hedgehog’s food. That settles it! I will feed nobody’s cat, I dislike them intensely, except in their own homes, and I feel fairly confident that after the heavy frost of the night of October 20th – 21st, the Hedgehog is safe to have begun his long sleep. I hope to welcome him next year.
Gran has a lovely day, cycling with Dad on the 26th. They visit Farley Mount (where they put up two Woodcocks – the first place that I ever saw this species myself), Ampfield (where the “church is a picture, it’s grey walls almost covered by a red creeper”), Romsey, Mottisfont and Stockbridge (where a working windmill reminds her of the early Dutch settlers in Norfolk).
She provides a detailed description of the country scene, particularly of the beautiful beech trees, and she ends thus:
It was a lovely day and I thought when writing this, of the pathetic last entry in the diary of Sir Arthur Sullivan as he lay dying, another brave and beautiful soul dogged by ill-health. “It is a lovely day. I am sorry to leave such a lovely day.”
Gran hoped, that “when her time came” it would be in November, “that horrid, bleak, dark, month”. Well, she missed her hated November by two months; she died in September 1999.
At this time, the journal gives the first indication that Gran never met Adrian. After “a most inspiring and comforting service” at Compton Church, she was left feeling for the first time “not so cut off from the dear friend who had become so close a companion, though, to be sure, through the medium of letters only”.
A long-ish passage written on November 3rd is worth quoting in full as it gives a flavour of the countryside around that time and an insight into Gran’s state of mind:
Ampfield was lovelier than I have ever seen it, I think, though the beauty of this year has struck me so forcibly and hurt so poignantly that it may be only in my eyes that it all seems so specially beautiful. But Jermyn’s Lane lined on both sides by beech woods, presented an indescribable picture, ground strewn with the golden-brown leaves, the trees ranging in all shades from green to deep orange, and between them glimpses of a sky as blue as summer’s best. In the garden of one house four white ducks waddled among the thick carpet of fallen leaves, single file, their small round eyes looking straight ahead and their tails flicking as they went. A child rider on a skewbald pony, cheeks aglow and eyes shining in company with a lady on a dark pony, passed beneath the canopy of spreading beeches and added to the charm of a country lane. In a field beside the lane, a white goat was grazing and it looked up enquiringly as the horses passed. In a typical countryman’s home I saw a fine litter of nine Alsatian puppies, amongst them three pure white, four dark and the rest brindled. The owner, a pure-bred countryman whose Father and Grandfather had served my family, made a remark which I think worth recording. Putting his hat on his head, he spoke of getting bald and added “But there! An empty barn needs no thatch.” Apt, in some cases, but incidentally, not in his.
Dad remembers that this man was the local milkman, with his horse-drawn cart, and perhaps “served my family” simply meant just that, rather than something grander.
Gran has mentioned magpies many times since the start of her journal. Today, these are such a common species almost everywhere that I wondered why they merited much interest. But Dad writes, “They were persecuted severely before the War, and after the War they gradually increased. Never in the garden – I had to go to the back of Farley Mount to see them and find their nests”.
And on November 9th, Gran makes it clear, when describing a trip to Keyhaven, probably with her brother, saying that, “Passing through Rownhams we saw several Pheasants and Magpies, – these latter have increased considerably in Hampshire in recent years”. I guess this is related to a reduction in “keepering” during the war years, a time when other persecuted birds did well.
The Keyhaven visit produced many typical winter birds of the coast but I get the impression that this habitat was relatively unfamiliar to Gran and she was excited by everything she saw, including a male snow bunting on the sea wall– a new bird to both of them. I was interested to read that they used a telescope to give good views – a useful piece of birding kit that we never had until well into the 1970s.
She ends her comments on the day as follows:
It is raining hard again as I write, but who cares after such a day of beauty. And how it makes me love England, our dear land, much of whose charm lies in its sweet variety of scenery, its numbers of wild birds, and the variety of its wild flowers. And so, in spite of present sorrow and the uncertainty of the future, today has been beautiful with poignant loveliness…
Well, I agree with her views of England, in fact, the whole of Great Britain, but clearly she hadn’t considered the much greater variety of wildlife and natural beauty in many other parts of the world. Was it the war and what we were fighting for and against then that made her so emotional about “her England”? She was ferociously patriotic, and Dad tells me hilariously but with truth, that “She was like Nancy Mitford’s “Farve”: abroad is Hell and all foreigners are fiends – sheer prejudice, laced up no doubt by the War”.
November 11th brings us to the end of the second book of her journal and we still have a month and a half to go before the first year is covered! Gran writes and writes, every single day, often many pages per day. And the form of her handwriting never falters – it’s wonderfully readable, even if much of what she does write is repetitive day-to-day, and other sections leave one with many questions – which I fear will go unanswered, because they do not seem important enough for her to enlarge upon.
- 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)