I used to live in a beautiful detached house in Rectory Gardens in Hornsey, which was built by Greek Cypriots. It had a reasonably sized back garden and to remind them of their country of origin they planted cherry, fig, pear and bay leaf trees. On hazy summer nights, I’d grab a beer, and go and sit outside. I’d relax, let feelings rise up from deep down and breathe in the sweet aromas. Gentle fluctuations in the air would caress my neck, and I’d let my gaze soften, as I surveyed a blur of darkened foliage or the night sky. One night, I heard a rustling, and through a hole at the bottom of the fence, a large animal appeared, a fox. Oblivious to my presence, it sniffed its way around the perimeter of the garden, until it came to the house, at which point, it sniffed its way around the perimeter of the back side of the house, trotting along the stone pavement, until it reached the area just outside the patio door, where it stopped stone dead, and looked up at me. It stared in wonder, deep into my eyes, its gaze uncompromised, betraying neither fear nor aggression. I looked deeply into its eyes, feeling a sense of awe, a sense of intimacy, with this beautiful beast, haunted, on this delightful midsummer night.
Hornsey, like north London, plays host to a fair population of foxes. By day you might see one or two curled up on your lawn, asleep, seemingly cognizant of the fact that they are unlikely to be bothered until at least half five in the evening. In the evening, if you are wondering or staggering back home, and whether buzzing from the thrill of the evening, or recoiling from another night returning home alone, it is difficult not to feel piqued, not to feel the night’s apogee has arrived, on beholding a fox. Often the streets will be quiet, and the fox, padded feet, ever so quiet. As soon as they see you they tend to freeze, like rabbits caught in your headlights, they look deeply into your eyes. You, too, instinctively do the same and your body stiffens. If there is any romance in you, then to be held by the fox’s gaze, at this bewitching hour, in the silence of the early hours, will fill you with wonder, the fox somehow an extension of the celestial majesty overhead, a wonderful celestial company.
But then something, inside, something very practical, causes you, after a while to start moving. And if the fox hasn’t already done it, it darts off into the darkness, into the park across the road, into someone’s front garden and down into their backyard.
Not every city has foxes playing such a prominent role in the nightlife of the city. When you first arrive from another city, to see a fox, is a moment to behold, its another reason to love London.
Another truly beautiful moment occurs to anyone with good peripheral vision walking towards Hornsey, from Turnpike Lane tube station, late at night. As you emerge from under the dirty great railway bridge, which manages to capture all the pollution from the traffic that pounds Hornsey High Road, the fun of the night has worn off, and you hunker for your bed. At this time of night, every so often, a car whizzes past, leaving you with nothing more than a taste of its innards, reminding you of how God forsaken this part of Hornsey is. But it is precisely at this point, that you do a double take. For a second, a subliminal image seems to imprint itself on your mind, with such clarity. To your right, located in the turgid ditch, otherwise known as The New River as it passes under Hornsey High Street, just as you come out form the railway bridge, you see the ghostly grey and white hues of a heron. You have to look twice when you see it, and before you confirm your initial perception, you first confirm what it is, precisely, that you consumed that night. But as you look that little bit harder, and you confirm that you had nothing more than a few pints, the true magnificence of the moment begins to sink in. The bird, perhaps perched on one leg, is beautifully poised and slender. Sometimes it preens itself, sometimes it stands matchstick still, seemingly unaffected by the surrounding squalor, as if it thinks itself ensconced in some kind of natural paradise. It seduces you into its affects, and you begin to feel that the part of the New River that passes under Hornsey High Road is not a God forsaken place, instead it is a place that God has blessed, and what you thought was a God forsaken hour is in fact an hour for God. Its possible to sit there on the wall of Hornsey High Road and peer at this sketched presence for an hour, to bask in its reverence. Shivering with wonder, you feel your being helped through the night, reminded of the beauty in the world, that there is hope.