NATURALLY, we’re very keen to encourage our grand-daughter, Chloe, to develop a love of nature, and the Big Garden Birdwatch presented the perfect opportunity.

Organised annually by the Royal Society for Protection of Birds, it’s billed as “the world’s largest wildlife survey” with nature-lovers asked to devote an hour counting the different species of birds that land in their garden.

My wife, who is devoted to feeding the birds in our garden, and has running battles with “the naughty squirrel” who tries to steal their nuts, asked three-year-old Chloe if she’d like to help with the counting.

“Yes, Gandma,” she replied, enthusiastically, before giving it further thought and adding: “We go to the pub first?”

An explanation is required here, in case you get the wrong impression. Before the Big Garden Birdwatch had even been mentioned, we’d arranged with Chloe’s parents to take her out for Sunday lunch.

And so, it was agreed that Chloe would indeed help Gandma to count the birds in the garden, but only after she’d had mini fish and chips at the pub in a nearby village.

Then, in the car on the way home, she chirped up with another question: “We have hot chocolate and marshmallows while we count the birds, Gandma?”

I couldn’t help wondering if David Attenborough was ever this demanding as Chloe settled down with Gandma in front of the patio windows.

The RSPB had helpfully supplied check-sheets with illustrations of the birds they might spot, and the twitchers began to mark down their ornithological sightings in between sips of hot chocolate.

I would have liked to have joined in, of course, but I wasn’t allowed: “You can’t do it, Gandad,” said Chloe. “You scare them away – you too big.”

I know my place in the pecking order, so I went next door to watch the football, with strict instructions not to move or have the volume too loud.

Over the next hour, Chloe and Gandma recorded lots of birds: great tits, long-tailed tits, blue tits, coal tits, goldfinches, greenfinches, chaffinches, blackbirds, starlings, sparrows, magpies, a cute little wren, a robin, and a “fat pigeon”.

Sadly, the great spotted woodpecker, who occasionally honours us with his presence, failed to show. That said, it was probably just as well that the sparrow hawk that likes to leave fat pigeon corpses all over the garden also stayed away.

With the hour nearly up, Gandma was making a cup of tea, having told Chloe to keep a careful eye out for more feathered friends.

Suddenly, our little grand-daughter got all excited about something she’d seen through the trees: “Gandma, Gandma, I’ve spotted something,” she whispered.

“What is it, Chloe?” asked Gandma.

“A yellow digger!” came the reply.

Gandma, thinking she must mean a yellow hammer, was equally as excited because we’ve never had one of those in the garden before, and it would have been a real coup.

“Where is it?” whispered Gandma, moving very, very slowly and peering out from behind the armchair.

“Look – over there!” said Chloe, pointing at the JCB, digging up the meadow behind our garden, where a housing estate is being built.

Nature’s wonderful, isn’t it?


“COME in the lounge and play,” declared Chloe, urging Gandma, Mummy, Daddy, and Auntie Hannah to come through from the dining room.

“Shall I come too?” I asked.

“No, Gandad – your place is upstairs,” came the reply.

ONE from the archives…Lisa, a hairdresser from Newton Aycliffe, was doing an exercise in class when she was at primary school.

The exercise was about the different jobs people do, and the teacher asked: “Who’s the man who sells the meat?”

“The butcher,” came the reply.

“Who’s the man who sells the bread?” was the next question.

“The baker.”

And what do we call the man who sells the newspapers?”

“Norman Echo!”