Out foxed — vale Basil and Sybil

Damian Clarke
Feb 16 · 5 min read

We didn’t have any pets when I was a child — unless you count a few suicidal goldfish — so we never had the joy of a pet in the house until I was about 20, and mum fell in love with a small Shih-Tzu puppy. She had recently re-married, we had all moved house, and I had started university — everything was in a state of flux. There was tension from all the changes and the whole family bickered and snarled.

The dog brought instant calm. He could diffuse an argument just by walking through the room, and he was a constant presence with his random snuffling and scuffling.

When Mrs Albion and I moved to the UK we lived in apartments, and missed the fact that we couldn’t have a pet. Mrs Albion wanted a little dog, but we decided it would be inhumane to have a dog when we were home so infrequently. So we bought two chickens.

Basil and Sybil: A Norfolk Blue hen and a Suffolk White hen, sitting on a tangled hose and an old bin lid in the garden.
Basil and Sybil: A Norfolk Blue hen and a Suffolk White hen, sitting on a tangled hose and an old bin lid in the garden.
Basil (left) and Sybil (right) in the garden (Photo: by Damian Clarke)

Again, instant diffusion of tension. We could watch them from the kitchen window, pecking and scraping around their fox-proof enclosure. And the greatest treat for them and us was to let them out to free range. We only let them out when we were home, because we have seen foxes around here — including one in our back garden, eyeing up the chickens.
So we undertook precautions to keep the fox out of the yard.

Chickens are surprisingly social creatures. Ours would quietly cluck to each other, as they wandered around the yard, and in an out of their pen. They would chase the birds that came to eat their grain, and seemed to be friendly with the squirrels.

When we opened the back door they would run over to us — hoping for food, I suppose.

Unfortunately, it has been raining a lot lately — so marking the territory was pointless as any scent washed away. And yesterday I noticed that the battery in the ultrasonic fox repeller had run flat. I made a mental note to buy some new ones, then promptly forgot.

I am at home at the moment, on a mini-sabbatical before I start my new job. This means lots of cleaning, and re-arranging of furniture, selling things on ebay, and taking carloads of stuff to the tip.

Because I am home, I had the girls free-ranging in the back garden. They seem to like the windy weather, and are particularly fond of the carpet of autumn-leaves all over the garden. They like nothing better than rutting and scraping through the leaves, before diving headlong into the compost heap for desert. And that’s what they were doing an hour ago when I put the makings of Hoy Sin and Honey glazed gammon onto the stove.

Then I popped into my home-office to look up some accommodation for a weekend in Brighton.

I was just thinking that a good hotel makes you think you are the only person ever to have stayed in the room — and thus deciding against Hotel Pelirocco — when the phone rang. It was an advertising client from my old job, calling from New York “Hi — where are you? I’ve left you two emails? Are you OK? Happy New Year! What’s happening? I want to place an ad. Oh, wow — I hope they’re paying you more. Who should I call now? Call me when you get to your new magazine…”, the usual stuff.

Finally I put the phone down and wandered back to the kitchen to check dinner, and to look outside to check the chickens.

No chickens. Not unusual, but the emptiness felt wrong, so I opened the back door.

Basil was lying dead about halfway up the garden. Her translucent white eyelids clouded across her eyes. Her feathers gently ruffling in the wind. I wanted to go over and stroke her, but Sybil was still missing.

She might be alive.

I couldn’t see her in the garden, so maybe she ran up the passage beside the house and escaped.

I walked up the side passage. The trail of white feathers started about halfway along, then stopped.

I approached the gate — unsure of what I would find on the other side. A movement caught my eye, high up, ahead of me. Around the edge of the gate I saw the fox, looking back at me for an instant, before he leaped down, and out of sight.

A murderous rage filled me as I unlocked the gate, but he was nowhere to be seen. Just emptiness.

The street was empty too. I crossed, and walked around the van parked opposite. Nothing — then the fox stepped onto the path from between two parked cars. He was carrying a small, white chicken in his mouth, her neck hanging down.

I took a step, ready to run, and start kicking when I got there. But then the rage left me. If I got there, the first thing the fox would do is drop the chicken. Then I’d have to deal with her too. The end of the rage left me feeling empty — gutted.

I quietly locked the side gate and walked back to give Basil a final stroke.

I’ll have to tell Mrs Albion, but she’s in a meeting.

Copyright © Damian Clarke, 2020. Original post first published on the Our Albion blog, 11 January 2007.

I’ve included some comments here, for context:

Comment from The Soprano
Time: January 11, 2007, 11:08 pm

I am so sorry to read this entry. My sincere condolences to you both. Bloody fox! I am privileged to have met those special chooks and to have possibly the last filmed footage of them, which I shall burn onto a cd and post to you. Big hug, The Soprano.

Comment from Damian
Time: January 12, 2007, 4:21 pm

Soprano, thanks babe. Funnily enough I was out there on Wednesday taking pictures around the garden and took some of the girls too. Very hard to photograph, given how quickly they move their heads.

And, perhaps inappropriately, thanks for the lovely Welsh cheese — I’ve just eaten some on a Brick Lane Beigel with lettuce and cheese.

Comment from The Soprano
I got video footage too though. RIP B&S! Have you eaten the last eggs yet? Will treasure that breakfast even more.
Glad you are enjoying the cheese. I am loving my Stilton but not confident of finishing it prior to my trip to Oz on Monday (and The Tenor is not a big Stilton fan… so would be wasted on him!) The Lamb is being featured for our wedding anniversary on Sunday, together with goose fat roasted spuds. Mmmm!

I didn’t notice you taking video too — do please send it over. And happy wedding anniversary for Sunday.

As for the stilton — take it with you. Nobody said you can’t take it out of the country — just not into Australia. You could eat it on the plane. Oh — I just remembered the no liquids thing — you have to leave your water bottle outside the secure area and buy more inside — but maybe you can smuggle your Stilton through.


Comment from Julia

That is very sad news. My parents have four hens (they refer to them as ‘The Ladies’), so I know how social and suprisingly intelligent they are. At least yours had a good life though, so many live in such awful conditions. Hope Mrs Albion is OK.

Our Albion

he story of a guy with a hammer, some nails and an old house to use them on.

Damian Clarke

Written by

I’m a writer and publisher working in Sydney, Australia and London, UK. I specialise in finance, technology, insurance, property, medicine and sustainability.

Our Albion

he story of a guy with a hammer, some nails and an old house to use them on.

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