Our brush with fantastic Mr Fox
Some people don't like to see foxes appear in towns and cities but when Heidi McAlpin spotted this visitor fast asleep in the garden of her east Belfast home yesterday, she was secretly thrilled. Here, she explains why.
It sounds like a delightful children's tale, soon to become a major motion picture voiced by Colin Farrell and Reese Witherspoon. But the story of my very own backyard Reynard came to pass with the appearance of this wiry vixen.
Shouts of "Quick! There's a fox in the garden!" were followed by gasps of amazement and grasps for the mobile camera. My husband and I watched as our vulpine visitor strode down the steps, circled three times and unfurled its titian torso and white-tipped tail across a sunlit lawn.
Living in the east Belfast suburbs, the appearance of a fox is a relatively uncommon event. I have, however, seen this particular creature before. But I have also seen several cats, many parliaments of magpies and, most disturbingly and to the insouciance of City Council Pest Control, a giant rat.
Yet there's something of the edgy urban wilderness about a fox. That, coupled with the fact that I grew up in the TV era of Tufty, Basil Brush and that cheeky chappie in the Glacier Mints ad. As a child I also shared living room space with a taxidermy fox dubbed 'Samantha' (it was the Eighties). And, many years later during a few months in Australia, I came nose-to-nose with a dingo. Disturbing though both experiences were, albeit for differing reasons, they have introduced wild beasts into my otherwise traditionally townie existence.
Nowadays, when children want to encounter wildlife they need to pay entrance fees to open farms and animal attractions.
Well-presented though they are, however, nothing beats the unsolicited doorstep advances of the real deal. My two young children were at school when we had our visit yesterday morning, and I know they'll be disappointed they missed the experience.
Maybe we can leave out food to entice this beautiful creature back. But that wouldn't be fair on the cats. Or perhaps we could rig up a foxcam to capture its every move. Fox News, if you will - Boom Boom!
Urban foxes get a lot of stick; Joanna Lumley is lambasted for tempting them into her home with dog treats and piano recitals from her husband.
Meanwhile, my hen-owning friends, on seeing the pic of our foxy friend, are suggesting unimaginable endings to its poor little life.
Luckily the 'click' of my mobile phone camera sent our fantastic fox running for cover. Foxy's free to loll another day - don't leave it too long next time.