Alex James: A hearty meal beats death warmed up

Rural Notebook

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It was my birthday on Friday. Forty. I sat at a long, long table for lunch, hosted by Carlo Petrini, founder of Slow Food: a magic-eyed genius, in from Italy to launch a new branch of the movement in Gloucestershire.

He tasted some of my cheese, stood up and declared a great new cheesemaker had been born: a nice birthday present. I needed a boost, too. In fact I was still reeling a little bit. All morning I'd been in negotiations to buy a huge walk-in fridge from a reclamation man, an associate of my usual reclamation chap and it all seemed too good to be true. He'd emailed me some pictures of a lot of stuff that looked like it would make the basis for a perfect cheese factory: a giant, modular, health-and-safety-approved, state-of-the-art, bolt-together refrigeration unit.

I said I'd like it and asked him if he had any other stuff, and to send me photos. Pictures kept pouring in and it was hard to tell what was what, but it suddenly all started getting a bit Damien Hirst. Hang on, that was definitely a picture of a mortuary slab, Victorian, a beautiful thing, but spooky nonetheless. Then there were altarpieces, pews and endless oak panelling.

I suddenly realised it was the entire contents of a rest home for the departed that the guy was selling. The "walk-in fridge" was the cold room for storing the dead bodies. I'd been totally creeped out. It was the most gothic of days – grey, howling winds, rain splashing down the chimney – and I'd spent the morning of my birthday unwittingly window-shopping at a derelict morgue.

Then, suddenly as it does so often at this time of year, the sun had sprung from nowhere and turned everything golden, warm and immaculate. My word, it was good to feel the invigorating, life-affirming warmth of food and good company flowing again.

Slow food, slower progress

The tenets of the slow food movement are incontrovertible. I think it makes a lot more sense than many religions. It is prospering around the world, but there is a danger the movement will suffocate in this country – strangled by the people supposed to be promoting it. All most of them seem to do is waste lots of energy arguing with each other. Shame.

Thank God for Brussels

Not much left growing in the garden. A few proud sprouts. Celery, but it's getting a bit wormy. It's time for planting big stuff, though. I'm bingeing on woodland this winter, setting a whole new swathe along the borders. Should look great in a hundred years.

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