I was delighted the first time I saw a fox in London. It was last November in London Fields around 3am and I was walking with a friend. Suddenly a fox appeared from under a pile of dead leaves and trotted off into the darkness. I was so overwhelmingly surprised and charmed by the unexpected appearance of a fox in the middle of the city that I squealed like a little girl and tried to chase him off into the darkness. My friend, evidently more used to the appearance of foxes in London Fields at 3am than I was, held me back whilst stifling a yawn and said not to be ridiculous, I wasn’t some modern-day Alice in Wonderland, this fox was just a fox and where exactly was I going to follow it to? Which kind of put a dampner on the whole fox incident.
I may be embellishing a little bit, but to be fair this was a while ago and I’d been at a party and my memory of the incident may be a little hazy (there was definitely a fox, I definitely squealed, my friend was definitely unimpressed and/or embarrassed and/or discouraging and/or didn’t let me chase after the fox).
The thing is, I think there is something about a fox that is slightly magical. Maybe its all the children’s stories I read that included a friendly and/or crafty and/or nasty fox. Fantastic Mr. Fox, of course. I think there was a fox or two in Narnia. There was a Paul Jennings story about an old fox fur wrap that (I think) a child fed lemons too and it came back to life (which I think did more to put me off wearing fur, or even touching fur, than any future convictions regarding animal rights and vegetarianism and all the rest of it). I feel like Enid Blyton had foxes in some of her stories (possibly who wore waistcoats) and certainly that woman with the rabbits… what was her name? Potter. Beatrix Potter. That’s the one.
So, to suddenly come across a real live fox in the middle of the city was slightly… magical. It seemed like a little bit of quaint, innocent 1950s rural England had somehow slunk unnoticed into the modern, multicultural metropolis that is London.
A few weeks ago, I was coming home around midnight and as I power-walked down the street, I noticed a big, furry tail disappearing down a side street ahead of me. It was another fox. There was a fox living somewhere around my apartment block. Once again, I was delighted.
A few nights went by when I didn’t see the fox. And then, again, coming home at midnight again, there was the fox, standing at the end of the road, watching me. A few nights went past when I got home at 9pm or 10pm and I didn’t see the fox. Then, another night returning at midnight, there’s the fox, standing on the road, watching me. I began to wonder if instead of a normal fox, scavenging for its dinner in the bins around Sainsbury’s, the fox was actually a familiar (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Familiar_spirit) out doing the bidding of some local witch (another treasured part of my childhood was a highly informative and useful book on witches, which I cannot find a picture of for you, because if you type ‘witches’ into google all you get is bloody Dahl and Lewis and Rowling and as much as I love those people, I feel like a little bit of my childhood has been lost).
After a few nights of seeing the fox at the end of the road, I was walking home one evening at 12:30am and found the fox in the middle of the street, only a metre away from the footpath I had to walk down to get past to get home. Up close, he was less the charming, fluffy (possibly waist-coasted) character from a children’s book and more a slightly mangy, slightly underfed unpredictable undomesticated animal with sharp teeth that contained all sorts of unknown diseases. I stopped dead on the footpath and stared at him. He stared back. I took a step towards him. He didn’t move. We were in some kind of Mexican fox stand-off. Because, of course, in my mind, the minute that I walked within biting distance of that fox, he was going to bite me. That was just the truth of the matter. He was going to bite me. Because that’s what mangy-looking, disease-ridden foxes do to people. They bite them. INEVITABLY.
Not entirely certain how to proceed, I spied an empty Peroni bottle on the ground. Feeling a little guilty that I was now preparing to attempt violence towards my once-magical (possibly waistcoated, maybe even talking) friend, I continued down the footpath slowly, my eyes locked on the fox. He stared back at me, not moving. A few metres in front of him, I pushed myself flat against the wall and proceeded to shuffle down the street, my face constantly turned towards the fox, as if he was like a nesting magpie who would only swoop the moment it no longer saw any eyes. The fox didn’t move, except for its head, so it could continue to watch my odd procession down the street, empty Peroni in hand, back against the brick wall. After putting a few metres between myself and the fox, I felt safe enough to peel myself off the wall and walk the regular way down the road, if occasionally (ok, constantly) looking over my shoulder to ensure that the fox wasn’t running after me, making ready to pounce.
So, it’s all a little sad that the fox and my relationship has soured this way, just because he got a little too close and I realised that even in England foxes don’t talk, wear waistcoats or take you on exciting adventures in magical places.