Alex James: 'At 30, an invisible fat bloke starts chasing you'

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The Independent Online

I was aching, twitching and itching as we parked the piece-of-crap new Buick outside Powell's City of Books in Portland, Oregon.

I was aching, twitching and itching as we parked the piece-of-crap new Buick outside Powell's City of Books in Portland, Oregon. There are few places in the world where I feel I could live and be happy, but Portland is one of them; and not just because of the thrill of the world's biggest, best bookshop. It's a good place to be. Nature looms, large and vigorous, but alongside it sit clever little high-tech companies and billion-dollar enterprises - Nike is based here, and more than one coffee empire.

In America, you have to be very careful when you go to the shops. You pop into the chemist for a toothbrush and come out with more than you can carry. In the huge warehouses in the out-of-town shopping complexes, the merchandise seems to cost next to nothing. In fact, shopping here isn't really retail, it's like trade-only.

The sheer scale of Powell's City of Books promotes you from the position of being simply a consumer: instead, you become the acquisitions manager of a privately owned library. It's brilliant. They used to buy second-hand books by the pound (50 cents), but now they have a different system. Dusty, and crammed to the rafters with old and new books all piled in together, it's more than a bookshop - it's a way of ordering the world, and, for me, a sign that God is in heaven and all is right with the world.

Americans are the most unpopular people on the planet at the moment. Yankee bashing has become a socially acceptable form of racism. I think it's a shame. My friend Robert has adopted a Danish alter-ego to travel with. Says it makes it a bit easier.

I visited a country show in the big country showground, in between the factories and the airport. The animals looked fit and healthy. The people waddled around. Obesity is the new smoking; and there were a lot of seriously overweight people there. Looking at a really heavy person stirs in me the same sort of feelings as I get when seeing a starving person. I get the same sense of the grotesque.

America has got to change its diet. But it's hard to eat sensibly - I mean, I went back four times to the roasted corn-cob man, it was just gorgeous, dripping with butter... mmmmm. And then there was an "elephant's ear"- a local donut - and I couldn't resist the toffee apples, although here they were a catering-size obscenity. Once you hit 30, an invisible fat bloke starts chasing you. If you don't run fast enough, he catches you and jumps down your throat.

Once we'd finished eating, we had a look around at the animals. The usual and the unusual. Claire is keen on having some alpacas. They look like supermodel sheep - all legs and neck - and are very popular at these shows. I thought it would be better to stick to local breeds - like sheep. Apparently, though, sheep are about as indigenous to Oxfordshire as orang-utans. They were introduced to us by the Romans. I once asked a barber, who was from the Sahara desert, where the wild camels lived, and he looked at me strangely. "There are no wild camels," he replied. "Anywhere." There are probably more emus and llamas in Oxfordshire than there are in the wild. But they do seem quite happy there, and that's the main thing.

Even if cows don't come from America, you can't get more American than a cowboy and a rodeo. Proper macho-man stuff. Watching dudes getting mushed by their bucking bronco. A whole circus of cruelty and stupidity. Pretty good, actually. Not great.

Maybe I'm getting old, or maybe it's that bit more intense here, but the rides are pretty hairy. I had to buy tokens to get a ride. Now, if you had to go on a fairground ride to get a food token...

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