Lesson two: Don’t piss off the locals. I’m talking about the four-legged, bushy-tailed, red-furred, nocturnal, cunning kind.
Upon moving in we discovered that a family of urban foxes was using our garden and its neighbouring ones as a ‘suite of rooms’. The south-facing garden with the wide, sunny lawn? The playroom. The overgrown garden full of dilapidated sheds? The dormitory. The shady garden with a pretty pond? The snug. And our excuse of a garden? The lavatory.
In the early days of our residence there would be fresh turds each morning on the doorstep, inside newly potted containers, down the neckhole of a recently smashed Liverpool F.C. garden gnome received by Mr Rixon as a Secret Santa gift (I wasn’t too upset about that one).
Other foxy damages occurred: Plants dug up and ripped to pieces, terracotta pots smashed to smithereens, a weed-suppressant membrane slashed. And to add insult to injury: gardening gloves left outside with the fingers chewed off.
We tried various anti-vulpine measures, including covering the borders in uncomfortable bark chippings, planting rosebushes and spraying the garden with non-toxic fox repellent but nothing seemed to work.
Foxes have different personalities and it seemed to us as though one particular cranky old fox was causing all the trouble. We resisted the urge to shoot it, reasoning that he had been here first and that Grandpa Rixon’s Gat air pistol probably wasn’t up to the task. And besides, it would be illegal.
Urban foxes have short lifespans – only about two years – so it wasn’t long before the resident foxes at the time died or moved away. New, less destructive ones moved in. We made sure we left gaps under the fences so that the cubs could move easily between gardens without the need for digging up the rosebushes.
We put leftover food out for the foxes occasionally but stopped as this unsettled our cat Stanley. (The dynamics between our cats and successive generations of local foxes is so fascinating that it deserves a whole blog post on its own so I’m going to save it for another time…) It also proved somewhat messy, except in the case of rotten eggs, which were neatly transported over the fence one at a time without a single breakage.
In an attempt to make the garden look less lavatorial, we pickaxed up the lumpy concrete and replaced it with a lawn, a patio and decking. We dismantled our rotten shed and put up a shiny new one. And we persevered with the planting. There followed a golden age in which foxes could often be spotted sleeping atop the shed or curled up on the bark and sometimes they would get up, stretch, yawn and leave without defecating…
Then we had a heatwave in 2017 followed by a cold winter, culminating in the Beast from the East in February 2018. I don’t know whether these extreme weather events were to blame, but I didn’t see any foxes in our garden for a long time afterwards.
In January this year I was briefly awoken by the unearthly screeching of fox mating time, and one evening during the first week of April, while tidying away the garden toys and tools, I noticed a fox cub peering at me over the garden wall. I said ‘hello’ but then managed to kick Gwendolyn’s metal yellow watering can over with a violent clang, and the cub vanished. ‘Drat, that’ll be the last I see of him,’ I thought, but moments later his head popped up again, even closer.
‘Please tell your mum and siblings that this garden is the… …sitting room?’