A foxy tale: in the garden and in government

Travel Talk

Though I do my utmost to give it the benefit of the doubt, I can’t help feeling that, for reasons best known to itself, the Government is determined to make a total dog’s breakfast of our emergence from the Covid pandemic – sacrificing the travel industry in the process.

So, for the sake of my sanity, I am turning my back on the situation. I wrote about it last month, hoping the situation would improve. It hasn’t.

Though I am usually in the “cock up rather than conspiracy” camp, I speculated that Ministers and their Permanent Secretaries might be deliberately screwing up our ability to take holidays abroad, and, though that makes no sense, I notice at least one national newspaper has taken the same line.

As for the scandal of being charged astronomic prices for Covid tests which are free or considerably cheaper in other parts of Europe, national newspapers are finally getting a grip on that story. About time, too.

I’m hoping to travel abroad before the end of the year. I may not, because I have decided not to travel until the threat of quarantine has vanished, along with the need to take Covid tests either before departure, in situ, or on return. I have a feeling most folk of my (our) generation are of the same mind.

So I’m ignoring travel this month, in favour of a subject that is, literally, closer to home.  

Who’s afraid of Virginia Fox?

The short answer is – nobody. Well, maybe the magpies, but they try to steal her food nonetheless.  

Certainly, Jim and John weren’t afraid of her. Come to think of it, I don’t think they even met her, because she scarpered as soon as they arrived to sort out the garden. They’ve done that, though I hope they’ll return before too long and prepare the ground where the lawn is going to be laid.

But I mustn’t get sidetracked. Let me tell you about Virginia.

She is a vixen. One of many who have, for over fifty years, given birth to their cubs in the space below our garden shed. 

Generation after generation, the routine repeats itself. The Winter howling of a female in search of a mate, the Spring appearance of the cubs – tiny, timid creatures, all black save for a white tail tip.

They stick close to the shed, ready to dart beneath it, should anything spook them. Everything does, when you are that fresh to a huge and terrifying world. 

As time passed, we learned to leave them alone. But this year was different, when I went to the shed one afternoon and startled both the cubs and their mother. They vanished in an instant.   She did not, as she had an injured leg.

Next morning Frank, next door, told me he’d found a dead male in his garden. I wondered if it was her mate. If so, she’d have her work cut out protecting and feeding her quads, a difficult enough task, even without a gammy leg.

So I got into the habit of taking scraps of food to the bottom of the garden, leaving them for her to find.   But one thing sort of led to another and now Virginia appears each morning outside the kitchen door.

She takes a scrap of chicken – sometimes a whole drumstick – from my hand and trots away down the garden to the shed and the sheltering undergrowth around it. Time healed the dodgy leg, thank goodness, though that didn’t stop her damaging another. But, though she could do with a little more weight, and a shine on her coat, she’s managing now, and I suspect the cubs are pretty much fending for themselves.

Last Sunday morning, she changed her usual routine and remained on the patio outside the kitchen window with her chicken leg. Within seconds, she was encircled by seven magpies, darting towards her, in turn, hoping she’d respond to one and leave her food for another to snatch.   

The tactic didn’t work, mainly because I came out of the house with a cup of tea and stood close enough to scare away the magpies. She ignored me. 

Jim and John, who I mentioned earlier, came to rip out all the brambles and nettles and unwanted foliage which have turned my back garden into something resembling a jungle. I literally had to use a machete to clear a path down to the shed, the nettles were head high, the bramble stems thicker than your thumb.    

The plot didn’t need gardeners so much as forestry workers.

Jim and John transformed all that. They got stuck in, slashing and uprooting and gradually filling a huge skip I’d had dropped off in the front garden. It took two full days of hard graft to achieve a satisfactory result, and now I’m waiting for them to return, having decided where I want grass to grow, and where wild flowers will bloom.

Why let the garden get into such a mess?   

Well, as so often happens with married couples, Sheila was the gardener and my role was simply to mow the grass and dig where she instructed me to dig. The shade of a huge oak tree – about which I have written here previously – eventually prevented anything growing save ivy and hostas. She didn’t mind, so that meant I didn’t mind either.

After May 2007, when I had the house and the garden to myself, I had no inclination to do anything about either of them. The vacuum cleaner, the mop and the duster were seldom used.  Neither were the fork and spade, the rake and the hoe.

But time has smoothed the rougher emotional contours of the life I now lead, so proper housework and gardening are back on the agenda. I’ve decided to get both, as she would have wanted them.

Jim and John were part of that process, and will be again, I hope.  

Sheila often commented that she preferred the company of animals to that of people, so, to my way of thinking, Virginia Fox is a bonus. Maybe a heaven-sent bonus.  

Who knows?


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John Carter

Long-time presenter of TV’s ‘Wish You Were Here’ and BBC holiday programmes

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