A classic case of biting the hand that feeds you!
A true story from my childhood.
The story of Vicky the fox cub is probably the saddest and yet happiest of all the true stories I’ve written. Even now, many years after her passing, a tear wells up in my eye and a smile crosses my lips whenever I recall the halcyon days I spent with her.
It started in the late spring of 1968 when I was almost eleven years old. At the time we already had one pet fox: his name was Hym (you might remember I wrote about him in dMag’s Christmas issue). My father thought that it might be exciting to get a vixen (a female fox) for Hym and breed some cubs.
Looking back at it now, it seems a very silly idea. After all, what would we have done with the cubs once they were born? A fox’s litter usually has between four and six cubs - we didn’t have room for them at home and they were not the kind of pet that many people will buy.
In the local newspaper we saw a notice advertising some fox cubs for sale. We didn’t own a car at the time - just a Vespa. So on the back I climbed and off we sped to Bourne (a small town in eastern England) to buy one of them.
I remember it as a grey, overcast day; blustery, with a cold east wind laden with the threat of rain: typical of so many spring days in England. We chugged along on the Vespa; me, clinging with outstretched arms to my father’s jacket. Although I always felt quite safe, Dad loved to lean the scooter over on corners so far, sometimes, the road seemed frighteningly close! I think he fancied himself as an undiscovered Mike Hailwood (the Mick Doohan of the 1960s). It was with some relief that we arrived safely outside an uninspiring house; set on a street with twenty more identical houses. Only the curtains and the colours of the doors were different. The house was as grey and bland as the late spring sky that hung about us.
As we walked up the path it was barking that greeted us. ‘Yap! Yap! Yap!’ from behind a tall wooden gate with rusty hinges.
‘Don’t worry, she won’t bite,’ said a lady’s voice. ‘Get back Jessie! I won’t be a moment. Get back, Jessie. I’ve told you…now, get back!’
The gate was opened and a lady, dressed with an apron, and wearing pink slippers, smiled toothlessly at us. Behind her stood her son. He was about my age, and peered at me: half curious and half shy.
‘Do come through,’ she added. ‘If you’ve come to see the fox cubs they’re through here at the back.’ And she led us through to the lower half of her garden. The dog, Jessie, though still barking occasionally, was now more interested in sniffing us.
‘They’re here, in this chicken hutch,’ she added. ‘Go on, Edward will show them to you.’
So Edward, her son, led me through to the side of the hutch. With my father standing behind me, Edward opened the doors and there on the floor of the hutch, lying in an untidiness of golden straw, lay five beautiful fox cubs!
I had never seen a really small fox cub before. Hym was almost four months old when we bought him (from a pet shop in Chesterfield - the shopkeeper swopped him for two Malaysian Pythons!) and had lost that cuddly furriness that baby animals have. But these cubs were perfect. They were a softish brown colour with black ears; they had small dark, melting eyes; they mewed softly, missing their mother; they were helpless, needy and cute! cute! cute! It wasn’t just butter, even ice-cream wouldn’t have melted in their mouths!
Now before I go on any further, I must explain something I had noticed when handling foxes. A raising of a lip is a threat in the canine world. So is growling, even in a puppy or cub. If I ever went to pat Hym (our fox) on the head, or stroke him, if he was in a grumpy mood he would growl, raise a lip or even open his mouth wide and make a short, staccato sound like, ‘Ack! Ack! Ack!’ But he would never bite. He would often threaten but would never bite! Consequently, I got used to ignoring his warnings as empty gestures - false threats.
So when I reached out to these cute! cute! cute! fox cubs, and all five raised a lip and growled, I ignored them. Even when they opened their tiny little mouths and started to go ‘Ack! Ack! Ack!’ I still ignored them. After all, Hym did this often but never actually bit me. I expected them to close their mouths and to accept being handled as I reached further to stroke them. Did they bite me or not? Yes, they jolly well did! All five, simultaneously! One finger each!
I shot my hand back. But it was too late; they had all managed to bite one finger each with their needle like teeth! My fingers looked like soggy red tea-bags! Blood poured everywhere. The pain was rather unique. It hurt, but looked much worse than it felt. Indeed, when Edward dragged me off into the kitchen to wash and bandage my hand, I was more concerned with the Dettol (disinfectant) we poured on it - that made it sting twice as much!
I wasn’t angry at the cubs - after all, they had warned me off. I was the one silly enough to ignore them. I knew that they needed time to adjust to new people, in the same way as we do. Armed with thick leather gardening gloves, I cautiously, picked up each of the cubs in turn and made my selection. Only one of the five cubs was female, so the choice of which one to have was simplified.
Twenty minutes after getting my hand attacked by the litter of five foxes, I was sitting back on the Vespa, chugging through the grey English landscape. But with my good hand clinging to my father I didn’t notice the greyness any more. For tucked inside a small pillowcase, folded into my jacket, was a delightfully warm bundle of fox-cub joy, who came to be known as Vicky!
..next issue. VICKY THE FOX CUB: Part Two
In the country with your very best friend.