Foxes are the champions

2 May

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On a night when the ‘Foxes’ of Leicester City won the Premier League at the expense of the cockerel crested Spurs, debating the fox and his many guises seemed appropriate, especially as the event took place at Lower Shaw Farm.

Chickens were conspicuous by their absence, perhaps taking the hint from the signage chalked across their usual pecking ground.

So, Fantastic Mr. Fox or ginger vermin?

Lucy Jones explores every side of this complex creature in her book Foxes Unearthed – A story of love and loathing in modern Britain.

Speaking in a former cowshed on an award-winning urban farm, Jones was in the perfect place to expand on the countryside vs. city paradox which sees foxes fed at back-doors by ‘townies’ but shot or hunted in the countryside.

Jones made it clear that Mr. Fox is both hero and the villain, and has been so since he slunk into mankind’s chicken cave centuries ago.

A keen audience of first-night festival-goers heard the wildly differing points of view of the hunting fraternity, angry saboteurs, curly haired pomp-rock guitarists and chicken-less farmers.

It seems that even within the author’s own family the fox was a somewhat inconsistent figure, with heroes in fox form (presumably Basil Brush) banned from the TV at home due to the foxhunting past of her grandfather.

Jones’ balance and skilled research shine through in both her book and the way she talks about an animal she has obviously come to love.

The fox is ‘the flint of emotion’ according to the first-time author, enraging as much as it enraptures and finding a place in culture as a ‘trickster’ or ‘devil preacher’ as far back as the 12th century.

A varied set of questions from the audience were fielded with expertise by Jones as she settled the score on;

‘What good do foxes do?’ (They control the rat population amongst other things)

‘Does the fox kill for fun?’ (No, their instinct is to kill and then figure out what to do with the bodies)

‘What is their screeching and screaming all about?’ (it’s a romantic call from the female to local males).

The evening finished with tales of commuter foxes who are born in the country then move to the city and a new word, the clicking sound foxes sometimes make is known as ‘geckering’.

On my way home from a similar event at Lower Shaw Farm a few years ago I saw some tiny fox cubs playing on the grass island of a roundabout – proper Swindon foxes.

I marvelled at them through my open car window for several minutes, before a blue light and a fluorescent jacketed policeman suggested that my fascination was in contravention of some road law or other.

I tried to interest him in the cute foxes, but he was on the firmly on the ‘loathing’ side, telling me to move along as he geckered grumpily under his breath.

Chronicle of Lucy Jones at Lower Shaw Farm, Swindon, part of Swindon Festival of Literature 2 May 2016, by Michael Scott.

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