Alex James: Getting a whole new perspective on life

Rural Notebook

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Suddenly it was like we were living in a cartoon, or maybe a Christmas card. We'd woken up somewhere else without going anywhere: the familiar landscape cast in angelica and stretching forever into perfect blue.

The blissful silence and timelessness of a minus seven frost. It was perfectly clear and things in the distance, villages that are miles away, seemed close. I've seen perspective completely broken like that in Greenland before, but never in Oxfordshire. The air we were breathing had been supplied directly from the North and so fresh you could taste every breath. My children licked their lips while stomping icy puddles.

I fiddled with a huge bonfire that was set in the yard, but it didn't want to burn, just made a lot of smoke, and I couldn't give it my full attention to get it going as every time I turned my back on the children one of them would slip on the ice and start howling. Still it made me realise I need to have a huge inferno on Boxing Day to burn all the debris that is cluttering the house. It'll be a sort of rejuvenating dead tissue scrub. I'm actually looking forward to a good burn-up more than Christmas Day itself.

Well the fire wouldn't go, so as soon as every puddle in the yard had been shattered there was nothing to keep us there and we walked down to the lake sucking icicles. It was hard to believe that an engine powerful enough to freeze the whole thing overnight could exist but sure enough it looked sufficiently solid to walk on. I threw a stick and the dog went skittering across as we cheered him on.

And just when it seemed like it couldn't get any prettier, it started to snow, gentle flakes falling in still cool air. There is no better sauce for a mince pie than snowflakes. And hot tea tasted better than vintage champagne.

A salutary reminder

I lost control on the ice and drove a car into a tree on Boxing Day a few years back. Now, every time I pass that tree, most days, I salute it to remind myself not to do anything like that again. Sometimes the roads are icy and there is nothing for it but to drive slowly and carefully. Still, even at 20 miles an hour as happened today, it's an utterly terrifying feeling when the brakes are applied and absolutely nothing happens.

Time to savour

Christmas Pudding and Christmas cake, I've always tended to save until the big day itself and never really relished but we've broken them out early this year. They seem to taste infinitely nicer before Christmas Day than after. I suppose it's the difference between feeling obliged to eat something and choosing to eat something that tastes so good. Why wait?

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