ALEXANDRA SHULMAN: How a brazen fox wrecked my holiday... and my skin

I should have been basking in the soft September sun of the Adriatic last week but I wasn’t. Instead I was tearing my skin off at home in West London because of a close encounter with a fox.

It was a sunny afternoon so the garden doors were wide open, and when I saw the upturned composting caddy (demanded by our council), I assumed it was a local cat and thought little of it.

Coronavirus has turned the long-established feline territorial balance of power on its head and over the past months new cats have invaded our garden, previously lorded over by our cat Coco and her next-door neighbour Pumpkin. Coco is far too fastidious to rummage round anyone’s leftovers.

An hour later, I opened the door of the sitting room intending, somewhat guiltily in the middle of the afternoon, to sneak in a quick fix of Fauda, the Israeli drama that’s my current TV go-to, and discovered, curled up on the sofa where I usually sit, a bony fox.

I should have been basking in the soft September sun of the Adriatic last week but I wasn¿t. Instead I was tearing my skin off at home in West London because of a close encounter with a fox, writes Alexandra Shulman (pictured)

I should have been basking in the soft September sun of the Adriatic last week but I wasn’t. Instead I was tearing my skin off at home in West London because of a close encounter with a fox, writes Alexandra Shulman (pictured)

As cosy as you like, as if it too were settling down for a box set.

Despite my shriek, it showed no inclination to move and was only shooed out with some difficulty by David, my boyfriend, dragged away from his computer to help deal with the situation.

Even after it finally vacated the sofa, it didn’t want to leave and wandered around the room on spindly legs while David tussled with window locks to open up a space large enough for it to slip out.

And here’s the dumb thing. Instead of getting out the vacuum cleaner and disinfectant and shoving the sofa covers in the washing machine, I sat down exactly where the fox had been, ignoring the few tufts of its hair, to watch my programme. 

When the itching began on my bottom all of four minutes later, I put it down to my catastrophising nature.

I opened the door of the sitting room intending, somewhat guiltily in the middle of the afternoon, to sneak in a quick fix of Fauda, the Israeli drama that¿s my current TV go-to, and discovered, curled up on the sofa where I usually sit, a bony fox. (File image)

I opened the door of the sitting room intending, somewhat guiltily in the middle of the afternoon, to sneak in a quick fix of Fauda, the Israeli drama that’s my current TV go-to, and discovered, curled up on the sofa where I usually sit, a bony fox. (File image)

I sat down exactly where the fox had been, ignoring the few tufts of its hair, to watch my programme. When the itching began on my bottom all of four minutes later, I put it down to my catastrophising nature.  By the time I got to see my GP and said I was planning to go to Croatia (file image) the next day, we agreed it was probably best to postpone it for 48 hours

I sat down exactly where the fox had been, ignoring the few tufts of its hair, to watch my programme. When the itching began on my bottom all of four minutes later, I put it down to my catastrophising nature.  By the time I got to see my GP and said I was planning to go to Croatia (file image) the next day, we agreed it was probably best to postpone it for 48 hours

What nonsense, I thought. Of course you can’t be catching something this quickly from a bug or flea or heavens knows what on the sofa. You’re wearing thick cotton trousers. Do stop imagining problems.

The itching grew more persistent, but not unbearable, and after two episodes of Fauda, watching the Palestinians and Israelis blow each other up, I gave the sofa a quick clean and left the room. I could see nothing on my skin but it certainly didn’t feel right.

By the next morning I was convinced I had an allergic reaction to the fox hair. The usual arsenal of anti-histamines I keep to deal with insect bites were not doing anything. I started to Google to find where I might get a cortisone shot that in my self-diagnosis I felt might help.

But it was Saturday. Everywhere, including GP surgeries, was closed. Desperate for advice, I headed to our local A&E, which I discovered had been shut since April, so rushed to the next nearest at St Mary’s in Paddington, which was gratifyingly empty. 

Since most people are avoiding inessential hospital visits, I was treated almost instantly and sent home with steroid tablets. The nurse didn’t seem particularly interested in the story about the fox.

Over the next two days, the rash darkened into a deep purple and started to spread. Small hives began popping up on my torso, arms, back and legs and the original seat (literally) of the problem, but looked like nothing I had ever seen before. Maybe the bubonic plague.

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