It starts early, one’s understanding of the fox. If you learned the basics of French at school, you will no doubt remember the cautionary tale of the conversation between the fox, le renard, and the crow, le corbeau (Note 1)
“Maître Corbeau, sur un arbre perché, tenait en son bec un fromage. Maître Renard, par l’odeur alléché, lui tint à peu prés ce langage: ‘Et bonjour Monsieur du Corbeau. ……….’
…. you know the story? The fox encourages the crow to sing by remarking how beautiful the crow’s feathers are and how wonderful it would be to hear him sing. Eventually the crow is persuaded, opens its beak to sing, whereupon the piece of cheese falls …… into the mouth of the fox. ‘Thank you’ says the fox, ‘Although it is slightly cracked you have a voice sure enough, but where are your wits?’ The moral of this fable – don’t listen to flattery, or if you do, don’t act!
They’ve been around for millennia, these stories about foxes. Aesop, a Greek aged 56 when he died in 564BC, is credited with collecting numerous moral stories which today are known as Aesop’s Fables; they include one about a fox and some grapes. (Note 2)
For those who don’t know much about the fox, it’s a mammal native to every continent except Antarctica. More like a cat than a dog, foxes are nocturnal, solitary, smelly and extremely playful animals with impeccable hearing.
The pupils of vulpes vulpes are similar to a cat, vertical, which apparently helps them see very well at night. They can live for up to 5 years, are quite territorial and live underground. Living in London I was often woken at night by foxes screaming as they fought other foxes for territory or maybe over the contents of a Wheelie Bin! Scientists have recorded some 40 individual sounds emitted by the fox. In Hove, our neighbours’ cat Mummu often confronts the local fox; no love lost but they have a healthy respect for each other!
Our garden fox wanders off after a confrontation with Mummu!
The fox appears in many cultures, symbols of cunning and trickery and with a reputation derived especially from their ability to evade hunters. In Asian folklore, foxes are depicted as familiar spirits possessing magic powers, with the ability to disguise as an attractive female human. Certainly in western culture the adjective ‘foxy’ is used to describe a sexually-attractive woman. Up in the night sky the fox is represented by the constellation Vulpecula.
Nineteenth Century European settlers exported the hunting of foxes to all corners of the world and that continues today. In Australia the fox is responsible for a decline in native mammalian species and they prey on livestock and young lambs. Fox hunting with hounds was banned in the UK in 2004 although you can still hunt foxes without dogs and you can drink in the ‘The Fox & Hounds’!
You may be wondering by now why I have written this postcard at all …. and entitled it Le Renard & Les Poulets? Well, because of something that happened in mid-July. My step-mother had had chickens (See PC 73 July 2016) and I wasn’t a fan, not of the chickens per se but the way she never seemed to wash her hands after dealing with them! Debbie in Worthing has chickens, which delightfully means a little box of eggs whenever we meet.
My daughter Jade could, I suspect, live The Good Life as portrayed by Barbara (Felicity Kendal) and Tom Good (Richard Briars), in the 1975 TV sitcom of the same name. She teaches in a secondary school instead but I am sure has those wistful moments; don’t we all? Living in a village on the Surrey/Hampshire border surrounded by farmland and with good friends who farm, it seemed inevitable that at some point after the two cats, the American Red Labrador Margo and the tank of goldfish, she would lean towards getting chickens. Sure enough, 18 months or so ago some arrived, to be housed in the hutch and run that Sam her husband had cleverly constructed at the bottom of their garden.
Margo the Labrador was bemused by them – they couldn’t care less!
The names chosen by my grandsons, perhaps unconsciously predicting some future event, were Roast, Dinner, Noodle, Nugget, Cookie and Pip. Can’t find an association between ‘pip’ and ‘chicken’ but I am sure there was one. Jade’s favourite was an enormous one, reminding me of those chickens at the Devonshire family seat Chatsworth.
Their local fox had obviously sussed out the arrangements where the chickens were kept and timed his attack at dawn one morning; humans attack at dawn when the sentries are sleepy and foxes are similarly cunning. The next-door dog barked a warning but it was too late. Mr Fox had ripped off the heads of some, took two and left one alive, although I sense Nugget was now so traumatised she’ll never lay another egg in her life! (Note 3)
Thoughts of the tragedy were short lived as at the end of July another 5 hens, Dot, Pearl, Opal, Emerald and Daisy, arrived to live in what must now be the most secure henhouse in Crondall! C’est la vie!
And for another coincidence, one of the word puzzles in The Times this week had ‘Foxy’ as an answer!
Richard 13th August 2021
Note 1 My family name is Corbett and the family crest is a depiction of a crow – those wanting not to appear too common would argue it’s a Raven!
Note 2 These fables were collated by American professor Ben Perry into The Perry Index, although it’s acknowledged that some listed were around before Aesop and some were not written for hundreds of years after he died! From number 15, the tale of the fox and the grapes, comes the term ‘sour grapes’.
Note 3 In the UK the majority of poultry is killed using gas. Sadly when slaughtered for Halal meat, they are only stunned using an electric shock, before being decapitated. The US has no Federal regulations concerning slaughtering chickens.