It is difficult to know if he is the only fox around, but assuming he is, I feel as though I know him well. Although he has had his mangy moments, when last seen he was plump and looking well with his orange coat with its white bib all in good trim. It was midday and he was standing no more than 2 metres away in the tall grass of our neighbour’s allotment. We stared at each other and in his typically fox-like way, he did not budge. And this went on for a good five minutes. I assumed that he believed he had as much right to be there as I did and who was I to argue. Then he ambled off up the path to where the fence was lowest. Typical of a town fox he was self-assured, not to say brazen and seemed totally at ease. There are no chickens near by so he was probably there for the rats (for which, many thanks), birds (always rather sad) and in June we suspect, the strawberries (infuriating).
Foxes are certainly attentive and observant and I like to think they are intelligent too. It is this combination, plus their cunning, for which I have a soft spot. I am not sure of its origin, but I remember years ago hearing the adage that every shy person should have a fox on his or her shoulder. The idea was that it could sit there and give shrewd advice when things got difficult. This image is somehow appealing. I don’t think that there is any other animal that we endow with these qualities.
The trouble is that foxes have another side. They are said to have no guilt, certainly that is the view of farmers when they see them meander off just after they have ravaged the inmates of a chicken pen. And with that they almost certainly have no concept of conflict of interest. So if a fox on the shoulder felt that he might personally gain advantage by giving the wrong advice, I have no doubt that his own interests would prevail.
And we had just such a fox when we were planning our retirement. Our pension consultant was quick-thinking, attentive, credible, and persuasive. Interestingly, he also looked thin and mangy. More importantly, had we following his advice it would have been a catastrophe. ‘Take it all out of the pension scheme and invest it in stocks and shares. A sure winner’. Cunning! He would have made thousands as the broker. With the financial crisis round the corner, we would have stood to lose much much more. We actually ditched him when he became over-insistent. It was a close run thing, and we did not have the advantage of tracks in the snow to check him out beforehand. I suppose we must have used other animal instincts.