Tuesday 31st May 2011
You have to employ a proper gardener if you’re going to build an insect hotel in that corner by the fence. Granddappy’s lean-to of sticks draws too heavily upon the design of an architect from an earlier age: Eeyore.
“It’s quite sturdy. Waterproof.”
He ties knots in the string, securing the roof of leaves. My granddaughter’s 5-star accommodation for creepy-crawlies is ready to receive its first guests: a snail and a ladybird, who’ve been waiting to check in straight after the official opening.
“See that? It’s a leaf-hopper. They hide in cuckoo spit. You’ve got three now.”
The granddaughter in question will be seven in July. Children of her age are immediately at ease with experts. They know one when they see one.
Her primary sources of perception are still the senses. She has watched him cut back branches with bow-saw and long-handled shears. He handles tiny creatures with certainty and respect, conveying to her a confidence she unconsciously embraces. The nods reflect her acceptance of his authenticity. Her mother and I grin, secretively, when she also copies his Scottish accent.
After the gardener leaves, she places an open umbrella over the new structure, affirming ownership and responsibility in her rôle as hotel manager.
Later, she cuts my hair. This is the first time she’s done so alone, her older sister having gone on holiday with a friend’s family.
“Just snip these bits… lots to come off this side… keep still… Mummy, I need a brush and some water… hold your ear down, Granddappy… that beard needs a trim as well.”
Meanwhile, the youngest of the three girls, now eighteen months, giggles, claps, climbs on to laps, plays with toes, chews chunks out of a huge carrot, hugs her father’s leg, and eyes my shorn head with an expression that could mean either, ‘Er, you’re not quite the same as you were earlier,’ or ‘Yep, I’d say that’s pretty good, seeing the difficulties she had to work with’.
I board a train, heading home, already missing them all.