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There’s a shoe in the garden….

February 6, 2010

There’s a shoe in the garden. It’s a child’s shoe, in quite good condition, and we’ve no idea where it came from. It’s been there since mid December, so, with every coming and going of the Christmas and New Year snows, it has been covered up and reappeared like some kind of avant garde piece of installation art.

Probably we should have gone out and investigated it, or at least moved it, but, despite our best intentions, between November and March, we view the garden through our back door rather than actually visiting it. It’s a great garden, though few would suggest that Alan Titchmarsh might live here. One of our major pleasures is to be able to wake up on a Sunday morning, a couple of miles from the centre of a European Capital city and to hear only birdsong breaking the silence.

The shoe looks like it may belong to a two year old, at least from our viewing   distance. We think a fox may have brought it, though why it would carry children’s footwear from garden to garden is a mystery. But foxes are very common here, they leave evidence in footprints and less savoury ways and it’s not unusual to see them padding down the centre of our road, or moving from garden to garden, even as early as 10pm.

An interesting piece in one of  last weekend’s colour magazines commented on the growth of urban foxes and the difference between them and their rural relations. Apparently, when Reynard lives in the country, he is still suspicious, watchful and liable to steer well clear of humankind ( especially, I would think, those dressed in red coats riding horses) His town based cousins have become much bolder and think nothing of casually passing humans as they go about their business.

I’ve frequently seen them on footpaths and pavements, not particularly concerned by the proximity of people. We regularly see one sleeping, curled up, in a sunny spot at the end of our garden, so much so that we no longer rush for the camera. When we pause by door or window to watch it, it raises its  head, as if to check us out, and then goes back to its sunbathing. I’m never sure whether it cannot spot us behind the glass or whether its instinct or sense of smell suggests we are no  threat.

Blake Morrison’s excellent novel: South of the River had the urban fox as a kind of motif running through it and it’s easy to become fascinated with these creatures who exist close beside us and  feature on the periphery of our daily vision, but about whom most of us know little. Unlike the badger, with his guest appearances in Wind in the Willows and other literary tales, the fox has received a pretty bad press. We think of them as sly and untrustworthy; apocryphal tales  abound of them making off with babies, killing pet rabbits and generally behaving like the vermin the hunting fraternity would have us believe they are.

This winter, tell tale footsteps in the snow have demonstrated that the fox visits our garden, front and back on a nightly basis, yet, busy with our lives, unless it’s holiday time ,or we are returning home late, he is a presence of whom we are aware, but see little and understand less.

The media excitement over the misdeeds of footballer John Terry this week provides an odd parallel when we consider the place of celebrity in our world. I know nothing of the former England  captain, except for odd glimpses of him during televised games or in newspaper pictures or gossip. The vast majority of people are in the same boat when it comes to celebrities in all areas of endeavour. These people, sometimes famous for a particular talent,  more and more frequently just for being famous, exist, like those foxes, on the periphery of our lives, familiar, yet not known, visible, if at all, through the slightly murky window panes of publicity and stardom. I wonder why people are surprised that throwing millions of pounds of basically educated, inexperienced young men results in them spending vast amounts of their excessive leisure time in less than wholesome activities. What else would you really expect, given the encouragement of a media that hypes up the excesses so that it can get a double return by then castigating the perpetrators for getting caught.

In the same way that I know there are foxes in my garden, I know celebrity is there and I know its guarded secrecy controlled by spin and publicity  gives rise to fascination. Though I am aware of it, I do not connect with it, but the evidence of its existence means I can’t ignore it.

Maybe we were all more comfortable when foxes skulked at the edge of country fields, wary of invading the town, and footballers played football and musicians played music without feeling the need to encroach on the world of stars and agents, or to lay claim to being more than the sum of their particular talents.

I don’t know why the shoe is still there, and I don’t know how it got there, but, until I do something about it, it will continue to grab my attention.

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