Nowadays I live in an outer London suburb and scarcely a day goes by without a fox, or several, crossing my path. They are usually to be seen in the evening – loping across the road, slinking into gardens, loitering with intent around the rubbish bins. Sometimes one will stand there quite brazenly or turn and cast a malevolent glance in my direction.
But Maud was different.
Strange to tell, I hardly ever saw a fox during the first twenty years of my life, despite growing up in a village in the New Forest. It’s not that there weren’t foxes in the area – I’m sure there were plenty – they just tended to keep out of the way of humans, which was probably sensible of them as farmers and smallholders kept shotguns and didn’t take kindly to vulpine intruders on their land.
My family weren’t farmers, but we did keep chickens for a while, and I well remember the occasion when a fox raided our hen house, and the local paper subsequently ran a story about my father heroically getting up in the middle of the night to save his chickens (they must have been seriously short of copy that week).
My first close encounter with a fox was in the Three Horseshoes, a delightful little pub where an elderly local used to come in for his lunchtime pint with his pet fox Robin, who would lie curled up on a bench, sometimes purring gently. Foxes may be related to dogs, but it seems to me that their behaviour is more cat-like; it shows in the way they walk too.
But I digress. Maud first appeared about two years ago. I had to call her Maud because she came into the garden*. This little vixen, like the “queen rose of the rosebud garden of girls”, was a beautiful creature. Sometimes she could be quite frisky, leaping into the air or gyrating manically like a dog chasing its tail. But for the most part she would just lie sleeping in the middle of the lawn or under the little tree at the bottom of the garden. Over several months, when she visited on an almost daily basis, she didn’t exactly become tame, but more trusting and less inclined to run away, so I was able to get a few photos like the one above.
I haven’t seen Maud for a while, and I have to admit my relationship with foxes has been somewhat ambivalent of late. Our local council provides food waste bins with supposedly lockable lids but fox-proof they are not (nor are they impervious to being thrown around by the dustmen, which doesn’t help matters). Having swept up the vegetable peelings strewn across the drive for the umpteenth time, I decided to invest in a 330 litre compost bin.
Although large, the bin is very light when almost empty and the morning after I first put stuff into it, I found it lying on its side and the contents scattered across the lawn. So, I weighted the inside rim with a few bricks and put a circle of wooden stakes around the base (I knew those slats from the old bread bin would come in handy one day).
The next day it became apparent that little foxy paws had attempted – and half succeeded - in digging underneath the bin. Fortunately, I had a few heavy paving slabs, so I put these around it, only to find that the little varmints were capable of removing the sliding panel from the hatch where one shovels out the finished compost. So, I piled up a couple more paving stones against it.
A few days have passed, and I appear to be winning this battle, although I’m not convinced that there aren’t devious vulpine minds out there plotting their next assault.
I’m sure dear sweet Maud isn’t one of them though.
* In case anyone doesn’t get the reference, “Come into the garden, Maud” is a poem by Tennyson which was set to music by MW Balfe and others and became a popular Victorian ballad.