Graeme Archer

Graeme Archer is a statistician and a former winner of the Orwell Prize for Political Blogging.

“… when God withdraws the world fragments, and various angels, good and evil, are all-powerful.” - A.S. Byatt’s 1999 introduction to Iris Murdoch’s The Bell.

On Tuesday morning we woke to find a fox in our garden. Not just in the garden, but lying, stretched out, on top of our summer house (which is a shed with a big window and a sloping, flat roof).

We looked down on it from our bedroom window. “How does a fox climb onto a roof?” To my unzoological mind, foxes are corrupted dogs, capable of running quickly, and killing, and not much else. I was discomfited at the revelation that they could now scale walls.

At first glance I’d assumed it was sleeping, but look. carefully, I can see its inhuman eyes, peering across space – not looking at us, of course; I don’t think sleepy, bewildered humans are possible to a fox’s consciousness – and its snout, twitching. Sniffing the air for the potential of blood.

Our neighbour has chickens, and we have our cats, so I went to the garden to shoo the creature away. I stood in front of the summer house, arms aloft and waving. I hopped from foot to foot, and shouted aya-aya-aya at the sky.

Of course, from my stance at the base of the summer house, I could no longer see its roof. I looked back up at our bedroom window, where Keith remained sentinel. He shook his head at me. The fox was impervious to my incantations. It remained, a harbinger of death, spread over the roof of our summer house.

I don’t believe in God but I do believe in those angels (and demons) that fill His gap (a proof by contradiction?). There are so many of them extruding their intentions into our world that it puzzles me why we remark often on the extrusions but seldom on the agent responsible.


Foxes make good icons for Internet hate campaigns. “In the pointless battle against a man who is not only harmless, but a force for good, good for science in general, and for the young men and women who have worked with him to further that science in particular: we award you the spiteful order of the sleepless fox.”

No matter that Tim Hunt is palpably decent. I’m supposed to insert a line here about how grotesquely offensive his clearly self-lacerating non-serious comments were, but that “we” should forgive him anyway, because of all the other good stuff he’s done.

Not only can’t I be bothered to pretend that I think this, I believe to do so is a form of cowardice. There is nothing to forgive. He was speaking at a women-only convention, for God’s sake. Irony, much? “How dare you come to this gender-defined event, and make jokes about your own social clumsiness with that very gender? You sexist.”

I wave my arms at the sky and shout aya-aya-aya. Here is the place to which we have come. There is a fact about the early years of my experience as a manager that, after first reading about Tim Hunt, I planned to write down here. It relates to observable behaviour, directed at late-20s me, in an open office.

But I can no longer write that fact down: is it, then, a fact? If the plain words to describe it are impossible? The fox still lies on the roof – of august institutions like universities, as much as of suburban summer houses – snout twitching at the potential for blood.


Here’s a thought about the Euro crisis and Greece, not economic but historical. Like many of those I see commenting underneath the newspaper stories, I tire of the saga. (“Embattled Tsipras summoned to Brussels for crucial all night meeting” is Wednesday’s Telegraph headline. Really? Sigh.)

I don’t mean the idea of Greek default fails to capture my imagination, or that I assume Britain would be immune to hypothetically cataclysmic Grexit fallout. I mean I’m bored with the soap opera hysterics. Either push Tsipras to Grexit or give him more money, and the money, as it were, appears to be on the latter outcome.

That is, a bunch of unreconstructed socialists will be further endowed by the frugal minority, so they can keep running their outfit into the ground. More money won’t end the crisis, of course: it will roll on for years, punctuated by ever-more-serious head-to-head crisis meetings. Daily talking heads appearing outside endless talking shops to boom out their summary of the day’s “work”.

What does this remind me of? Not a Greek tragedy, but the far more parochial, dingy rounds of beer and sandwiches at Number Ten, back in the 1970s. All those pious pleas for serious talks at “ACAS, the conciliation service” (if you’re of a [my] certain age then you’ll recall the hallowed tones in which the BBC used to repeat that phrase), the playing to the gallery…and all the while, in between their impossible demands, the unreconstructed socialists got on with ruining the outfits they claimed to be defending.

Only one approach dealt with that fiasco, and it wasn’t another round at “ACAS, the conciliation service.” I thought Merkel was Germany’s Thatcher? Time for the angel(a) to confront Greece’s demons. For once the agents of malintent, and not just their effect on the planet, are in plain sight to all.

34 comments for: Graeme Archer: Letting sleepless foxes lie

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.