Alex James: Birthdays and the curse of an ill-favoured portrait

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The Independent Online

Haven't been able to get out of bed for two days. Pretty sure I'm ill, but it may well be lethargy brought on by misery.

Haven't been able to get out of bed for two days. Pretty sure I'm ill, but it may well be lethargy brought on by misery. Every which way I turn there's a list or a pile or a box of crap or a builder making mess. Yesterday, a cleaner came, made some swirly patterns in the dust, and resigned. By text. We can't unpack our stuff because the house is still a building site. We bought one of those houses you can still get for free in France. A rambling tumbledown chateau - in the Cotswolds. A "shitto". And it has taken over.

Building work is like smoking. There's the promise of nirvana, through a heavy fug, and once you've started, it's really hard to stop.

My wife Claire did actually start smoking again briefly on Saturday. (I thought she'd been talking about how absolutely rubbish and horrible it is a bit too often.) It was her birthday and she'd been determined to have a party. It was a pretty good do. People came for various reasons. Some, just because they like Claire and wanted to be with her. Some, I suppose, because they wanted to see the shitto. Some were networking and some had nothing better to do. Lots of reasons to party. Sometimes you just go without knowing why and that's the best.

Claire's dad brought his karaoke and even before the punch was warm they were wailing out The Bee Gees. I did minute-steak baguettes and there was fresh apple juice from the orchard. It was good and it felt like home.

Inevitably, though, trying to organise a party on a building site, we had come to blows in the afternoon. We'd got through the Tesco part OK, but there were some bad tempers and slamming around of boxes of Christmas decorations as the hour drew near. I stomped off saying I wouldn't be coming and went for a lie down in my favourite shed. There in my shed, along with a lot of old magazines, maple furniture and granny's sofa, was a monstrosity of an oil painting by one of my wife's sloppy old boyfriends. It wasn't just the boyfriend thing that made me dislike it, it was the badness of the thing itself. Bad colours. Busy. Bollocks. We'd had numerous and protracted disagreements about where it should hang. I made arrangements for people well known in the art world to come and criticise it carefully. That just made her more determined. My mum, too, had developed a particular dislike for it and wouldn't sleep in the same room. It was a spook.

Right there I stuck my size-12 right through the middle of it. It felt good. There was some leftover Dulux and a brush nearby, which in no time at all I was working with, applying my own greater voodoo to the 6ft x 4ft canvas.

I'm really not sure about collecting art. I mean, we all do it, we can't help keeping things that we think are beautiful, but it's just stamp collecting or train spotting for show-offs. Make your own art, I say, or at least I said to an inconsolable Claire. She was really upset. Still is. I've been wanting to destroy that painting since I don't know when, but I think I might have destroyed something else with it.

It's been good not having a television. All of that stuff is in boxes. In the evenings we've been sitting in candlelight, which is underrated, and the piano gets played every day, too. The wives and girlfriends of people in bands are generally annoyed when their partners start playing music. It's never: "Play that again", or, "How about some music?" It's: "Come and watch telly now", or "Give it a rest, you're doing my head in, shut the bloody door", and all the rest of it. I've been picking my way through the bumper book of 1,200 hit songs. Every home should have one. "Greensleeves" is intriguing me at the moment. In the thrall of that melody I'm carried over the hills and far away from the dust and the boxes.

"Darling, shall we try and unpack some of these boxes?" Love her.

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