As I sit here looking down over the fields to the river, thunder bellowing out overhead, I think of an evening similar, easily thirty five years ago. The day had been super. Sports day was one of the most eagerly awaited dates on any kid’s calendar. It had been very productive from my point of view as I had very much excelled myself as I’d triumphed in the sprint, high jump and the throwing of the cricket ball. Once home, mum made us tea which was devoured with the same haste as I’d put into the afternoon’s field event with the idea to get down on the river bank, fishing as quickly as I could.
Tin of flies and fishing rod in hand, I was there in position within ten minutes of walking through the field of ewes and lambs. A glorious summer’s evening. The peace and tranquillity of a translucent river. As I fished, the storm clouds got ever darker and the much needed rain you could tell was only a short time away. Just as I thought it was about time to be getting home to escape the oncoming deluge that even to a twelve year old looked imminent, just then I saw him. A fox I had studied from my bedroom window on and off since the previous winter. There had been a few chickens missing from the village along with one goose and a turkey and I knew this fox to be the culprit because he always seemed to bring back his quarry to a camp that my brothers and I had made in the woods but I used to say nothing as the old timers moaned and groaned about their losses. I always thought this fox to be quite special and, on this balmy, stormy summer night, what I was about to witness left me in no doubt. As I was saying the weather had been hot and sultry over what seemed to be weeks, melting weather which made this oncoming storm all the more welcome. As I turned to leave the bank from the night’s fishing I saw at the top of the field just down from a cover this old fox very slowly meandering down passed the lying sheep who took not the slightest bit of notice of him and as he walked he was gathering something in his mouth. The odd lamb would bounce up to him in a “King of a Castle” like bounce, head down, almost wanting to take him on in a kind of head nuggy contest, but this old fox’s mind was not to be averted from what he was aiming to do. I was quite mesmerised as I watched him slowly, gracefully walk down through the field of sheep picking up mouthfuls of whatever as he got nearer the waters’ edge. By this time he was approximately 300 meters upstream. I don’t think he had seen me. I was lying flat on the bank, just peering over the scorched, course meadow grass. As I laid there I had to push it away from my face as it could scratch and give you a nasty rash as it was so coarse. The Cotswold word for that was spreed. I lay there and watched the fox enter the water, he was coming towards me downstream. He got right in so he was partially under the water so all I could see was his head and as he floated down ever closer I could make out a white ball type object just above his snout. All that was visible at this stage now was the white ball of something and his snout as he was now completely submerged. Approximately 50 meters away there was a gravelled island within the river. The fox casually walked up on to this island discarding the white ball thing and there he stood shaking violently. The white ball was now floating down the river towards me. As I got up from the bank the fox continued to shake then jumped upon the bank and then he was gone over the other side of the river. I quickly kicked off my socks and shoes and raced down into the water to catch the thing that the fox seemed to be nursing so preciously. I pushed my rod out to catch it then drew it back in towards me. Once it was safe in my hands I threw the rod up the bank and started to inspect this fox’s fascination. It was wool, many pieces of wool. That’s what he was obviously doing coming down through the field of sheep, gathering it to make the most cleverest flea extractor that I had ever seen, for this ball like mouthful of wool was covered in fleas. I quickly threw it back into the river. “Good heavens, that was clever.” I thought. By submerging himself into the water holding the wool clear, the fleas were leaving his body to get onto the dry ball of wool in his mouth. Once the fox thought he had relieved himself of enough of these parasitic fleas, he then released the flea laden wool back into the river. Just as I got back onto the bank the heavens opened. Thunder, lightning, torrential rain. As I walked back up the field through this kaleidoscope of colour and noise, I thought to myself that this fox scenario I had just witnessed was going to stay with me for a lifetime and for that memory alone a thousand soakings of that severity would still make that evening’s fishing so worthwhile.