Alex James: Grandeur with the life sucked out of it

Rural Notebook
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The Independent Online

I suppose you'd call it a palace. It sat just like a cherry, on a cake made out of English countryside, and the spectacle of it set the mind racing. Here was a glimpse of another, more perfect world: the countryside as a view, as heaven on earth.

We were filming there, and an awed production assistant kept declaring that it was her absolute dream house. It had obviously once been just that, a whacking great schloss built to impress on a scale that ridiculed the piffling aspirations and poor taste of today's wealthy show-offs. It was an almost implausible bonanza of baroque bling: all frescoes, gilt and marble.

I was looking for the toilet, went through the wrong door and found a topiary garden. Beyond that, there was a squash court. There were colonnades, leading on to temples, gazebos, lakes and arbours.

It should have been brilliant, but the opposite of what I expected happened. The longer I stayed there the more horrible it seemed. There was somebody making sure you didn't take drinks inside. There was no this, no that, and no the other. This once beautiful house had been preserved to a state of living death and was no more than a mouldering museum, frozen in time and now very creaky and full of peculiar smells. Bagpuss where once it had been Octopussy.

The place was open to the public as well as available to hire for filming, but it struck me that it was a bad advert for country living, just a weird full-size doll's house. You could have knocked down that anachronism and put up a huge shed full of bean bags and it would have been a nicer place to spend time.

Everybody dreams of living like a duke in a perfect castle full of treasure, but the greatest thing about living in the country is becoming part of a dynamic system with a million moving, growing, ever-changing parts.

A terrifying odour

I managed to cadge a bucket of lion dung from the Cotswold Wildlfe Park to put on my roses. It's supposed to be absolutely the best thing you can possibly spread on the garden but not because of its properties as a fertiliser. It is very smelly stuff, a smell that terrifies rabbits, deer and other pesky nibblers of garden, causing them to run a mile. I really didn't think it would work but I haven't seen a single rabbit since it arrived.

Game over for Xmas lunch

I was planning to shoot a pheasant on Christmas Eve and eat it for Christmas lunch. The whole place was crawling with them the week before last. Funnily enough I haven't seen a single game bird on the entire farm... come to think of it, since about the time of the application of the lion dung. Hmmm.