Tag Archives: Gardening

Diary of a Nobody (Part 3)

Innsbruck 1957On 4thJuly 1957 our gardening civil servant and his wife Madge left London for their fortnight in Austria and Italy. Rather unusually ( but perhaps not so unusual for 1957 ) the couple cycledto town, deposited their rucksacks at the Air Terminal ( was this near Victoria coach station back then?) and then left their bikes at his place of work. They then caught a bus to London Airport, from where they flew by Swissair Metropolitan to Zurich, arriving at dawn. From here they took a train on a very hot day to Innsbruck and by early afternoon were settled in their hotel, the Weisses Kreug.

Being British our gardener devotes time to recording the weather ( from ‘Hot—jolly hot’ to ‘rains all morning’ and ‘rains slightly  in afternoon’) , praising good meals and complaining about not so good meals,  briefly mentioning sights visited and photos taken. Most of the holiday was spent among the mountains of northern Italy—in places like Cortina, Vigo di Fasso, and Bolzano, where they exalt in finding a restaurant that offers ‘ 2 courses incl. meat for 360L’. One of the main reasons for choosing this part of Austria and Italy is the prospect of locating Alpine flowers to photograph. They do find ‘ a fine meadow of alpine flowers ‘ and later our gardener leads Madge up Mount Marmolata in search of Entrichium, but fails to locate any. However ‘we do find other nice plants to photo…’ They also bump into the Olympic stands that were used in the previous February for the ‘Cresta Run’ and skating. Continue reading

Diary of a Nobody (part two)

Lie book cutting 001As we read through the diary for 1957 (see previous Jot) we gradually learn a little more about the anonymous chrysanthemum fancier and DIY fanatic who wrote it. We now know, for instance, that he probably lived in Welling, that he was a civil servant in the Treasury, regarded himself as no great shakes as a gardener and indeed scolded himself after his gardening failures .We know a little more about his work colleagues, friends, and relations, although he doesn’t do us a favour by providing surnames to go along with their Christian names. We have already established that he was a man of culture, especially with regard to middle of the road classical music, but our superficial assumption that his interest in the visual arts was negligible may have been mistaken. For instance, he found a book on the famous art collector Duveen ‘ very interesting ‘. He may have been a linguist too. While many of his fellow civil servants may have taken the ferry to Dieppe or Boulogne for their summer break in France our gardener and his wife jetted off to Zurich for three weeks.

In addition, he seems to have been rather taken by the idea promulgated by an anonymous  correspondent in the Times for 28thMarch  that a diary that mainly recorded gardening exploits was essentially a ‘ lie-book ‘.‘ My own lie-book is a very superior production.’, the writer declared:

‘True, it started modestly enough with the simple entry for January 5th, 1950, “Planted out Anemone pulsatilla from P. Contained hedging. “ But as I have warmed to the job the entries have increased in length and scope until most of them, I feel, are quite equal to any of the essays in “Our Village”. Everything connected to our life in the country goes in: the weather, the comings and goings of the birds and the butterflies, wild flowers and garden flowers, fruit picking and bottling…’ Continue reading

Diary of a Nobody (part one)

chrysanthemum displayWe at Jot 101 are fascinated by MS diaries. It’s a wonderful day when we find one kept by someone famous, but sometimes it’s the journals of anonymous marrow growers and dahlia fanciers living in the leafy suburbs that can be windows into past lives. Such a diarist was the man who acquired a thick T.J.& J. Smith Dataday diary, possibly as a gift from his ‘ lady wife’ at Christmas in 1956, and began filling in the entries, starting with the 1stJanuary 1957.

As far as we can see, the name of the diarist doesn’t appear anywhere in the volume—why should it? Back in those days it wasn’t deemed necessary for the owner to fill in personal details. And anyway, if the volume was lost and someone known to the diarist found it, compromising or embarrassing entries in it might take some explaining! We do, however, know something about the man himself which would probably identify him to anyone in his community who might discover the diary. That he was married to Madge (sometimes shortened to ‘M’) , worked  in the City or in Whitehall (possibly at the Treasury) , lived in south-east London, where he was both a diligent DIY-er, and  an very enthusiastic member of the Bexleyheath Chrysanthemum Society, is easily determined. Almost every other entry concerns either his garden activities or his home improvements. His daily grind in the City is rarely, if ever, mentioned, and most entries on central London relate to shopping trips or entertainment. Here was a man who, like so many others, endured a sometimes ‘unpleasant‘ job  for the sake of his weekends at home. Continue reading