Wednesday 29 July 2009
Alex James: A quad bike, my dog and a very lucky deer
The guy who's clearing out the woods, Pete's his name: he's got a machine that eats new roads out of undergrowth, an enormous, ride-on beard clipper. Fairly cheap, too, now that it's here for the woods, anyway. In fact, he said I could pay him in logs. Well, it was too much to resist.
"I'll have another track through here," I said, "going down to the river over the old railway bridge. And why don't you go round the pond as well. That'll be nice. We'll be able to see it again." No sooner said than done. Some haircut.
That very evening I was zooming around completely new geography on the quad bike. Impenetrable, head-high thickets of jumbling bramble, thistle and nettles had been razed to a neat, flat, earthy rug. Butterflies rose on either side of me as I passed in top gear with the whippet in hot pursuit.
The woods that lead to the river had become so overgrown that it hadn't been possible to get a vehicle down there for years. For that reason I haven't been able to put those eight acres with a river along one side to any practical use. It's beautiful, though, my favourite field, probably my favourite place in the world. It's a secluded wilderness, somewhere else altogether where no one ever goes except me.
The first and last of the day's sunshine smashed into my face as I flew out of the woodland at the bottom of the valley and into the field. A large deer stood on the pristine new track by the river, momentarily frozen like a picture – then the whole scene exploded. The whippet executed a gear change and flew round me like a Bentley passing a bus on the M40. Shouting at him to stop, I chased the whippet, the whippet chasing the bolting deer all along the river, all of us in flight in the immaculate serenity of high summer in the middle of nowhere.
The deer made good its escape over a stile at the far end of the field. "Don't do that again," I said to the dog, as he chewed another butterfly, but I could tell he wasn't listening.
Best of all this summer has been the bonfire. It's always been just a bit too cold to sit out in the garden in the evenings, even in August. I don't know why it's taken so long – six years – for me to work out a fire is all it takes to make the difference. A few well-placed rocks around it, a guitar; it's even quite nice in the rain.
The cool 'buildeuse'
I thought I'd overcome my addiction to building but I seem to have talked myself into just one more kitchen – a very modest one, outside near the bonfire. I called my man Neil and he turned up yesterday with his girlfriend. They work together. She's the first woman builder I've ever met. It's a good look, cooler than a "manny", a buildeuse. Nice.
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