My parents currently have six fox-cubs (and a somewhat harrassed-looking mother fox) playing in their garden every evening. Even the presence of a visiting Sidney-dog the other weekend apparently hasn’t put them off (maybe they realise just how soft she is). It’s not that surprising, really – though I can’t find a figure on their website, the London Wildlife Trust are quoted elsewhere (2006) as estimating the London fox population at 10,000, or about 16 per square mile. They’ve adapted well to urban life, although their average lifespan is still only a couple of years (around 60% of the fox population dies each year).

Mum and Dad have been able to watch these six cubs growing up, starting from when they were little grey cubs wobbling around the place, as in these photos (some are stills from video so a little blurry):
Small fox cub by plant pot
Close-up of small fox cub hiding under a plant

When I went down to see them, they were playful 6-week olds, charging round the garden, jumping on each other, and pouncing on bits of grass:
Four fox cubs playing chase in the garden

Foxes usually bring up their litters as a pair, so I’m not sure why there’s been no sign of the dog fox (unless he’s just spent more time out on the hunt – six cubs is a lot to provide for!). The vixen is definitely present and correct, keeping watch and hauling the cubs around when necessary:
Vixen with cub by scruff of neck, cub staring at camera
not to mention feeding the lot of them:Vixen feeding four cubs

Now, apparently, they’re bigger, adolescent foxes who have started to take life seriously and are playing fewer fox-cub games.
Fox cub in garden
Adolescent foxes start exploring beyond the close vicinity of the den around this time of year, so Mum & Dad may see less of theirs soon. But that’s also why there seem to be a lot more foxes around in early summer, as adolescent foxes are more likely to show up in places where older foxes are too wary to go. (Apparently teenager-hood is a cross-species experience.) The family group will gradually spread out over a wider area during the summer, but the cubs will broadly speaking stay with their siblings and parents until autumn, when they move off in search of their own territory. A fair few of them, sadly, won’t make it through to next spring to have their own litter — autumn is when the road death-toll is highest.

There’s intermittently some concern (albeit from a minority) about urban fox populations. But, as is almost always the case with wild animals, any blame is misplaced. Foxes, like rats – those other urban scavengers par excellence – eat our rubbish. As long as we leave plenty of it lying around, there’ll be plenty of them. Anyone concerned about fox numbers should address themselves first to the sheer scale of food waste scattered across urban streets; and perhaps check out these recommendations for deterrents.

Or, like my dad, you can sneak them out a bit of organic chicken, and enjoy the sight of urban wildlife thriving.
Two fox cubs stalking each other

All photos courtesy of Graham Kemp.


Keeping track

This year, for the first time, I actually bothered to harden off my tomatoes before migrating them full-time from the windowsill into their final home on the balcony[0]. In theory, this should mean that they don’t get a nasty shock from their first night outside, and therefore that they fruit a little earlier. In practice, the fact that I forgot to take any notes on the timing and performance of last year’s tomatoes means that I won’t know either way. (I suppose I could have left one or two un-hardened to compare, but I was far too proud of myself for remembering to do it at all this year to risk one of them.)

In a similar manner, I found myself having to water the incredibly dry allotment from the last couple of weeks in April. It seemed ridiculously early to be doing that; but whilst I think I remember similarly hot Aprils and Mays in the last couple of years, I haven’t actually got anything written down on how the allotment was doing.

The obvious solution is an allotment/balcony journal. In fact, I have one of these already; I just never remember to write in it. And I have no idea how to fix this problem.

I could just put more effort into telling myself to remember, but the evidence to date is that as a strategy, that’s a failure. Apparently, something about the “allotment journal” structure doesn’t lend itself to my remembering it. So instead of trying to fix my brain, I want to fix the structure, and create something that does support my remembering.

So far, I have no ideas, other than a vague belief that if it were more fun and less of a chore, it might be more likely to happen. Do any of you have any suggestions as to a method of keeping track that might work better?

[0] ‘Hardening off’ is when you move your baby plants from inside to outside gradually, leaving them outside for a couple of hours longer each day before you leave them out overnight for the first time.


Hellebore & Rue: now out in paperback!

This morning I got a parcel in the post: my author copy of the paperback version of Hellebore & Rue, the fabulous queer-women-and-magic anthology in which I have a story. It’s been published by Lethe Press, who seem like a pretty cool bunch, and seeing my name on the front cover was of course the Most Exciting Thing Ever.

The paperback is available now from Amazon UK or Amazon US; the ebook is still available direct from Drollerie Press, or for Kindle from Amazon UK or Amazon US.


how late it was, how late

On Sunday I planted half of this year’s potatoes in the allotment. The gardeners amongst you will be aware that this is at least a week late (the traditional time for planting potatoes being Easter); given that in fact I only bought them this week and thus that they’ve barely been chitted, in practise it’s even later than that.

For the rest of the day, I’ve been pondering, off and on, on lateness. I remember, some time ago, someone (possibly my father) telling me that there are two sorts of people in the world: people who think that five minutes late is late, and people who think that half an hour late is on time. Historically, I was always been one of the former. I once turning up at an airport before check-in had even opened for my flight (this back in the day when 2 hours was considered ‘early’ for check-in, and one could still take such dangerous items as knitting needles and shoes on a plane). In theory, I still do consider five minutes late to be late; it’s just that these days I always am, by that measure, late.

One reason for the shift is that these days I cycle everywhere. When you’re on a bike, you acquire a firm belief in your control over your own travel. You don’t need to arrange your voyaging around timetables, or allow for delays. You don’t need to consider the traffic, because bikes can sail merrily past traffic jams (a deep and lasting joy). The problem is my consistent underestimation of how long it takes me to do get from A to B; and the fact that even traffic jams you sail past have a distinctly slowing effect.

There’s the Dog Effect, as well. When we first acquired Sidney, she absolutely had to be taken out into the square to pee before being left alone, and there was a fighting chance that as you opened the front door, she would dive out to cavort around the grass, necessitating a protracted chase scene and subsequent twenty-minutes-plus of lateness. These days she’ll inform you in plenty of time if she needs to pee, and only rarely zooms out of the door on her own recognizance; but the Dog Check for edible or otherwise chewable substances left within nose-reach takes non-zero time. Apparently it takes me more than a year to get used to something like this.

Then there’s the fact that I’ve spent a fair amount of time over the last couple of years hanging out with anarchist/activist types, for whom half an hour late is actually fairly early. It’s a choice between showing up on time and hanging around on your own for half an hour; or showing up half an hour late and accepting the tacit agreement that That’s Just How It Is. I fear the necessary adjustment to this particular cultural expectation has had a knock-on effect on the rest of my life.

I find myself wondering if it’s (another?) sign that I’m trying to fit too much in to the available space. That if I had more spaciousness in my life, I would be able to allow more travelling time and thus arrive on time; rather than squeezing just-one-more-thing into the space and then belting up the road at top speed to compensate. But then… there are just so many things to do, and so little time to do them in. Which am I to abandon?

Perhaps I should make a new promise, turn over a new leaf, and reinsert myself into the ranks of the five-minutes-early brigade. Or perhaps I should just learn to cycle faster. Better late than never?