“Aw,” you might be saying. “Aw, you poor sprocket, sit down, have a cup of tea, tell me all about your barren and empty life, and why you cling to the existence of an animal considered by many to be pest, an evil, chicken stealing pest, in order to stave of misery and ice cream addiction,” but it’s not like that, not like that at all.
I’m hoping that you, like me, grew up surrounded by adults sensible enough to read you Fantastic Mr Fox and show you the Disney Robin Hood. If you didn’t, you obviously should read and watch them immediately (and while you’re at it, watch Wes Anderson’s adaptation of the former, because, wow). They, and what feels like hundreds of others, are woven into my subconscious like that annoying bit of your own hair that has suddenly become part of your jersey, and just how, how does it do that?
Anyway, I grew up in a country that doesn’t have much in the way of interesting animals, really. We have some nice birds, but they’ll either stay well out of your way (The kiwi, New Zealand’s NATIONAL ANIMAL, is nocturnal, flightless, and mainly just good at hiding; this video of a kiwi is remarkable solely because SOMEONE MANAGED TO VIDEO A KIWI), or rip your car to pieces, both of which only happen out in, like, nature, or wherever. So whenever I’m in any other country, I get irrationally excited about seeing creatures that up until that moment have, for me, only existed in stories.
When I was 21 or so I finally got round to going to Australia; they have BATS in Australia, that just FLY AROUND, if it’s night, and HANG IN THE AIR AS IF THEY ARE FRUIT, if it’s day, and it’s amazing, and there are LIZARDS that’ll wander right across the path in front of you. (Obviously they also have kangaroos and koalas and snakes, but whatever, I was prepared for them, and seeing animals in captivity doesn’t count. I mean, we all have zoos.)
The first time a fox crossed the street in front of me, as I walked home late at night, and it searched for a rubbish bin to forage in, I felt like I had stepped out of my life and into a story. Like Dorothy, suddenly being able to tell what colour her dress is, like Harry realising he actually gets to own a magic wand, I was in a strange an magical place. I was in England.
Because, obviously, for me, England is a land of stories. Lydia and Wickham get traced as far as Clapham when they elope, and are sent to Newcastle once they’re married; the intrepid, if stupidly named, Bundle traces a mystery to Seven Dials; Cecelia Tallis lives in a ghastly flat in Balham. A few exciting actual people have lived here too.
I know, I know, it seems idiotic, it’s one of the things that makes people be all “Aw, you think mangy scavengers are magical, aw, you weird little foreigner, you.” But they ARE, they are magical; they’re orange and pointy and say “BOOM BOOM.” Don’t they?
Anyway, whatever, they’re a reminder, for me, of the realness of stories, even fictional ones, even fairytales. Finding out there are actual fairies or aliens or sea monsters couldn’t make the world seem any more special, and secret, and exciting than seeing foxes does.
If I ever see a mole, I am going to freak right out.