Tim Dowling: a local fox has started stalking me

He is recognisably the same animal every time. I could even pick him out in a fox lineup

Several times a day I receive email updates from a website that purports to be dedicated to my immediate neighbourhood. Together these updates comprise a litany of lost pets, suspicious characters, unscrupulous tradespeople and stolen deliveries. Occasionally, I’ll click through for more information, and when I do I always think: this is not a local issue. Stop coming on here with your Chiswick problems.

My local issue is a fox. Where last year’s fox formed an unholy friendship with our dog – they played together in the dead of night, by standing appointment – this year’s fox wants to be friends with me.

“He just looks at me through the glass of my office door,” I say. “It’s not normal.”

“I know the fox you’re talking about,” my wife says.

“Yeah,” I say. “He’s local.”

During the months I was being taunted by a bold squirrel, I privately accepted that he was actually a composite character combining the most annoying traits of several area squirrels. But the fox is recognisably the same animal every time. I could pick him out in a fox lineup.

Last week I turned the corner on my way to the shops and found him there, in broad daylight, just waiting. He turned and walked ahead of me, no further than a dog on a lead would be. A child across the street pointed the fox out to his mother. Then they both looked at me, and I made a face as if to say: we’re not together.

On Sunday, I’m digging over one of the raised beds in the front garden when I turn and see the fox sitting on the other raised bed, watching.

“Jesus!” I shout. “What are you doing?” The fox remains still.

“I’m going to take a picture of you, and post that you’re stalking me,” I say. The fox waits while I pat my pockets for my phone – which is in the house – before wandering off.

The next afternoon I run up to my wife’s office – formerly a child’s bedroom, which overlooks the street.

“Look,” I say, pointing out of the window.

“I’m actually in the middle of something,” she says.

“Just look!” I say. She stands up and looks down into the front garden, where the fox is lying on the newly dug bed, in a narrow rectangle of sunlight.

“What does it want?” I say. “Is it waiting to steal my Amazon stuff?”

“I think he’s asleep,” my wife says.

I take some pictures, but when I examine them later they look like photos of an animal minding its own business.

The next day the fox brings me a dead magpie. I find it lying on the freshly dug bed when I go out for milk in the morning.

“It’s a campaign of harassment, is what it is,” I say.

“Are you going to do anything about that bird, by the way?” my wife says.

“That would be like accepting the gift,” I say. “He’ll start bringing dead cats next. Local cats.”

I don’t see the fox for a few days, but I hear him calling in the night – a strangulated, half-human cry that sounds like it has my name in it. The dog, asleep at my feet, does not stir.

On Tuesday evening my wife and I are in the street having an argument about which bins to put out.

“I’m sure recycling was last week,” I say.

“You should know by now,” she says.

“I usually go by everyone else’s bins,” I say. “But it’s too early.”

The fox walks by and sits down in the middle of the road to watch.

“He really isn’t frightened of anything,” my wife says.

“Ignore him,” I say. The fox continues to stare, brazenly curious.

“What?” I say. “This is a private conversation.”

“He looks healthy,” my wife says.

“That’s because he only eats Ocado deliveries,” I say.

Suddenly the dog appears at the open front door. The fox takes off, and the dog gives chase – disappearing into the darkness, then reappearing briefly under the light of a distant street lamp, before turning left down another road and into a different neighbourhood.

“Problem solved, in a way,” I say.

Eventually, the dog returns. Three days later I see the fox standing at a bus stop. When he sees me, he looks the other way.

“I know it’s you,” I say, quietly. But I don’t pursue the matter, because we’re both off our patch.


Tim Dowling

The GuardianTramp

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