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Typing at home with the back door open, I glimpsed a fox wandering about at the back of the garden. Seconds later he had passed the apple tree and the raspberry canes and walked right into the kitchen. He paused next to the fridge, pleased as you may, peering up at me. I peered right back. He wasn’t a very dashing specimen, his coat had seen better days, but you could not fault his daring. “And what are you going to do about me?” his glare seemed to demand.
Without thinking things through, I climbed up on a chair like a cartoon maid from Tom and Jerry. I spoke to him, firmly, man to man. “Look, fox,” I said, “you know I really don’t need this right now.” To his credit, he lowered his head, turned round with just a hint of a shrug, and walked straight out of the house. It was the most attention anyone has paid me in years.
I navigated the rest of the day with a wry little halo of success hovering over me. What if I had provoked him and he’d made a dash for my ankle? What if he had not heeded my words and tried to murder the upholstery? But, no, I had emerged from this contretemps a winner – and foxes famous for their cunning, too. I thought perhaps I should tackle other tricky things, and straightaway, for success breeds success, everybody knows. I tried to condense the episode into an equation: this firm and direct appeal delivered from a safe distance had seen the other party doing exactly as I had wished. I could not wait to try it out again.
That afternoon I telephoned to see what time I was expected at a friend’s BBQ and was informed that it was half past seven and that, by the way (and there followed a pause and rueful giggle), one of the female guests coming, a new friend, was “extremely attractive”.
“Aha,” I commented. It was an odd piece of information to receive. I have been at dinners with internationally acclaimed beauties and no one has issued this warning before. Besides, the hostess herself fits this description, so what could it mean? It was clear that these powers of attraction weren’t just the usual superficial collection of pleasing appearance, unique personal style and vertiginous IQ but something much deeper, mysterious and eternal.
Or was it secret code? Was “extremely attractive” simply Shepherd’s Bush for “You’d better pull out all the stops yourself and none of your ropey old puns, madam”? (I had disgraced myself recently by reading out the phrase “halloumi steak” from a restaurant menu and declaring, “I just don’t hold with all this idiotic ‘Let’s embrace our failure’ culture.”
Getting ready for the evening, I bypassed the tasteful row of navy dresses that generally support me, and found instead a coral and white silk number that looked lively. I dug out some ancient sandals that had large pearl starfish on them that screamed “mermaid de luxe”, if mermaids had feet, which they don’t. I put on every piece of jewellery I own. I arranged my hair so that Ivana Trump and Liesl von Trapp were fighting for supremacy on my head. I examined my appearance and awarded myself 81 per cent for effort.
At the door I was greeted with a lot of broad smiles. “Come in! Come in!” These are excellent hosts who know, though many don’t, that there’s a 60-second window to give your pals a warm welcome, a compliment and a drink. The other guests had not yet arrived, so there was time to take a breath. I handed my hosts a bunch of pink roses in a bunch of blue ribbons and took a seat in the garden. I had already decided not to over-scrutinise the wonder woman. Don’t be like that ancient couple on the train from Cornwall, I told myself, who saw a pair of lovely teenage girls board, and the old woman said, a little too loudly, “Oh Harold, don’t look now but those people look straight out of a Plymouth bordello.” That way blazers with gold buttons lie, and an addiction to fruit cake and sherry.
The doorbell sounded. I held my breath, half-indignantly, as we waited. Were we not all splendid in our ways? In an argument recently I objected to a fellow using the term “good legs” in relation to another person, for all legs that do their people-carrying job are good.
I thought of climbing on a chair and facing the idea of this foxy lady with a “Look, I really don’t need this right now” but, on balance, when she walked into the garden, carrying the largest pink cake box I have ever seen, I had to admit that she did, indeed, appear extremely attractive.
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