Alice dreams of unicorns but does something more practical with her Grandad

Nature is all around us, the trick is to know how to make it want to live close by us. Alice and her Grandad come up with a way to make it happen in their own garden…

Ollie had thought he might enjoy a few minutes with a newspaper – something that rarely happened these days, now he had two young children – but his curiosity was beginning to get the better of him.

When daughter Alice had staggered past the kitchen window carrying a tree branch, he’d been a little puzzled.

Then she went past carrying an armful of straw, and his suspicions had grown.

Then there she was again, this time dragging two bamboo canes behind her. What could she be doing?

He tried not to be concerned. She was being supervised by her grandad, after all, who was probably responsible for the sounds of sawing, drilling and hammering he could hear.

Then the back door opened, and he heard her call of ‘Daddy! I need you.’ Casting the paper aside he leapt into the kitchen to find Alice standing on the doormat. Her muddy boots were dressed with a sprinkling of sawdust, and she wore her grandfather’s gardening gloves and an equally oversized pair of safety glasses. She looked like a tiny, myopic goalkeeper.

“Daddy, I need a red, but I’ve got muddy boots,” she said.

“Pardon?”

“A red. A big one. It’s for a sign.”

“Pardon?”

“In the crayons. A red. Please.”

A small light bulb glowed in Ollie’s head. “Oh. Right. A red. OK. Hang on,” he said, and rummaged around in her toy box, picking out first a tub of crayons, and then a red wax one. Holding it out to her, he asked: “Will this do?”

“Yes thanks.” Unable to hold it between finger and thumb because of the gloves, she clasped it between her palms, and stepped outside, walking, as if in prayer, towards the shed.

Ollie could stand it no longer. He sighed, and with a rueful glance at the discarded newspaper, pulled on his shoes and stepped outside.

Poking his head into the shed doorway he saw Alice sitting on the workbench holding a hammer, and being encouraged to hit a nail held by his Grandad Ron between finger and thumb.

“Taking a chance, there, Dad,” ventured Ollie.

“Worth it, for this major piece of construction,” said his dad, nodding at the project he and Alice had been working on. “It’s an insect hotel, and that’s why we needed the red crayon, for the sign. The insects won’t know what it’s for without the sign, apparently,” he said, nodding at his granddaughter.

Alice brought the hammer down quite hard, missing the nail and Grandad’s fingers completely. “Perhaps I should do that,” said the older man, taking the hammer from her and deftly driving home the last nail with two quick blows. “You should write the sign.”

Picking up the crayon, Alice said: “I’ll put ‘hotel and rest’rant’. How do you spell rest’rant?” she asked.

Ron looked at the child’s chubby fingers, the space they’d left for the sign, and then his watch. “I’d just put ‘hotel’, if I were you. After all, there’s no food for them, just somewhere to stay.”

Alice saw the merit in his suggestion. “How do you write ‘hotel’?”, she asked instead.

It took a little time, but in the end, between the three of them, ‘hotel’ was written, in an uncertain hand and red crayon, on the front of the creation, and Ron nailed it to the side of the shed.

“That’s a blow struck for wildlife. We think it’ll always be there, but it won’t, not if we keep developing things at the pace we’re doing. Concrete and brickwork everywhere destroys habitat for creatures we can hardly see, and that means less for birds and small mammals to eat. Building a bug hotel like this means we’re adding to the natural habitat in a way anyone could do. Doesn’t take long, and who knows what wildlife we’ll see in the garden next spring because of a pleasant afternoon spent doing something together in the fresh air.”

“Will we get a unicorn nest Grandad, or a dragon’s?” Alice wondered.

“Can’t promise,” he said. “But all nature is magic in its way; you just have to know where to look to find it…”