(creator of the crossfrontier blog )
London loves foxes and foxes love London. They’re everywhere, from sprawling suburbs dotted with parks, to the concrete jungles of inner city estates.
I remember the first time I saw a fox. I couldn’t have been very old, maybe ten. They were quite rare, strictly nocturnal animals who are, or more to the point, were very shy. In the early nineties, you would have been lucky to catch a glimpse of one. They seemed as wild as wolves and yet harmless as cats. Afraid to approach humans, they would dart off at the first sight of us. Yet their reclusiveness only made them more intriguing. The 'wily old fox' saying casts them as the embodiment of cunning. Indeed, what could be more cunning than the fox; a cute little animal that strikes only to eat pet rabbits under the cover of darkness when no one is looking?
But the funny thing is, no one ever blamed foxes for their pillaging. They were untouchable. If a rabbit was eaten, it was the fault of whoever left the latch open on the rabbit hutch. Foxes had somehow managed to muster political clout in (sub)urban households, and even right up to the upper echelons of the Houses of Parliament.
Seriously. By the end of the nineties, the country was up in arms as people came out on to the streets to defend foxes. The citizens of London in particular, protested, en masse, at the inhumane sport of fox hunting. They derided its cruelty to foxes and the pleasure it gave to old-fashioned country gentry. In turn, country folk descended on London to defend their way of life, and decry city people as ignorant. It was a heated polemic, featuring physical violence and police arrests. It finally ended with the outright banning of fox hunting in 2004.
OK, so maybe the ban was not strictly down to the cunning of the fox. But, it must be said, that their popular image definitely played a part. What if, for example, it had been rabbit-killing rats that the hounds and huntsmen chased down and savaged; would we have protested then? No we wouldn’t.
Foxes seem to know about the media game and working it to their own ends. Their media savviness can even be traced back to the 60s. They worked their way into the dictionary, with ‘foxy’ a slang synonym for ‘sexually appealing, exciting, attractive.’ You’ve got to admit that was a masterstroke by the fox’s PR people. The definition has endured the test of time and has been propounded by artists such as Foxy Brown (pictured right), and more recently the Fleet Foxes – not that they’re sexy.
Its penetration doesn’t stop at the English language or the music industry either. Like most people, my first image of the fox came not from a real fox at all but a cartoon fox; Disney’s Robin Hood film. Remember? Robin Hood as a fox, King John a Lion, the King’s soldiers all rhinos. Classic. I loved it.
Then there were the Animals of Farthing Wood! Featuring on children’s television from 1992 to 1995. Another classic. Again the foxes leading the show were moral crusaders against… erm... the baddies of the forest?! Or something…
Roald Dahl's Fantastic Mr Fox. Where we all rooted for the fox to triumph.
Fellow brethren of my generation, I think we have been mightily brainwashed.
The fox is having the last laugh. Immune to hunts in the country, they’ve come to urban centres in search for more excitement. Fox immigration is high. Local communities all over the capital have reported rises in fox numbers.
Inevitably, fox crime has got worse. I don’t know about you, but when I was a boy, I never saw rubbish bins half emptied out in the street. Now I see the remains of last night’s supper strewn across the front lawn, week in week out.
I’m no expert fox criminologist, but I blame it on the young‘uns. The fox cub hoodies. The first generation to have grown up free of the fear of the hunt, and the associated discipline that that enforces. Quite an astonishing behavioural trait adaption.
They’re certainly not shy anymore, that’s for sure. Only last month, a fox was spotted shooting down the escalator at Walthamstow Tube Station. TFL ticket inspectors did not let it continue its journey… it blatantly hadn’t topped up its Oyster card.
It did, however, come coolly came back up the escalator, where Kate Gray managed to capture this magnificent photo on her mobile:
Photo: copyright Barcroft Media