Gran About Town by Pat Ellingham
I LOVE this time of year. You can smell autumn just around the corner every morning – a crisp, cool scent, colours changing, the light, rich, fat spiders hanging in webs in the garden. "What's that in your hair?" asked the youngest grandson the other day after we'd been out in the garden dead-heading the wilderness created by two weeks' absence from Bristol. I felt the tickle on my forehead just as a great big leggy garden spider came into view. His friend screamed. I tell you, love wildlife though I do, I'm not a fan of enormous arachnids on my scalp. The poor creature must have got tangled up as I walked past its web, I explained to the boys, trying valiantly to keep calm as it was plucked delicately into a tissue, to be released back into the garden.
"Why don't you squish it?" his friend said.
"Gran loves wildlife," grandson explained. "She doesn't squish spiders because they're good for nature. Sometimes she squishes wasps though. But only when they've stopped eating pests."
I felt a bit of betrayal there, but it's true, dopey wasps in the hunt for a sugar rush come autumn need some dissuasion, especially round a picnic or a kid with an ice cream cone. Autumn is a great time to share the world outside with kids – conkers to collect, blackberries to pick, sloes to discover and fear of spiders and wasps is just not part of it. The boys love watching fat female spiders scuttle across their webs to stock up their larder, and reserve their gasps of horror for the amazing Mediterranean spiders that pounce out of walls around the docks in Bristol, a heritage of some long ago arachnid ancestor who hitched a ride to these shores. I've managed to persuade the boys that up until late summer there's no need to worry about wasps, who are too busy gathering insects for their young to bother us. We became quite expert at building wasp decoys, a neat way to divert the little terrors from our own outdoor feasts once they turned their attention in that direction.
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But I had to tell my grandson that this year I'm even partial to dopey wasps, simply because last autumn the big question was, where have all the wasps gone? They just weren't around. Working as I did at Avon Wildlife Trust we were all too aware that the incredibly wet summer of 2012 was disastrous for pollinating insects, and dreaded the impact of another wet summer on these precious small winged insects. And the absence of wasps in autumn 2012 was an indicator of this effect. So there has been even more reason to welcome the wonderful warmth of this summer, watching bees and butterflies abound and now the dopey wasps come poking around the ripening fruit. Like the big leggy spiders, it's a sign that the seasons are on course again, and autumn's glory has returned.
Pat Ellingham is adjusting to retirement after 30 years working for the Avon Wildlife Trust. She lives in St Andrew's and has two grandchildren who live in Totterdown