Alex James: 'I was hoping to see the Beast of Burford, our local sheep-noshing monster'

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The Independent Online

I saw my old friend Paul in the street, right outside Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. It's the third time I've run into him in the West End since we left college.

I saw my old friend Paul in the street, right outside Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. It's the third time I've run into him in the West End since we left college. We always swap numbers, and I always think I'll see him again soon, then we just run into each other a few years later and swap numbers again. Actually, we didn't swap numbers this time: I just gave him mine. He didn't offer. I've got his number anyway, got it backed up. And I've got his mum's, too. But that's not the point. It was a diss. Actually, come to think of it, the last time I saw him - it was outside Grease - he was also less than kind.

What can you do? More often than not, people I knew well in pre-Blur days are quite sniffy when I run into them. On the other hand, people I didn't know very well then tend to be more matey now, so it all works out.

Anyway, I said: "I was just thinking about you" - and it was true. I often am. You can't be intimate with very many people at one time, no matter how popular or amazing you are. So it's not a sad thing that as your life changes, your friends do too. It's always good to leave the door open, though. Which is what the phone-number business is all about. A friendship in the past is a success, not a failure.

Friendships don't always live on for ever in the present. Not like families do. It was my mum and dad's 40th wedding anniversary on Sunday, and Mum's birthday. I'd persuaded my dad, the admiral, to book the Lords of the Manor country house, and it was looking good. Then, at the last minute, Auntie Pat came in with a renewal of vows deal at the church in Yatton. No one could argue with that.

Yatton is far away, though, and Claire and I were arguing as we got in the muddy old Merc. I had a rage on. It had built up gradually, but now I was beyond myself, screaming and shouting. We were late. We were probably going to miss the whole thing and it was a disgrace. Total. Fucking. Disgrace. At the other end of Fleetwood Mac's greatest hits - on the other side of the Cotswolds, when we'd spoken to my sister and she was running late too - it was all fine again. I wondered what was being said in their car, though.

All the cousins and aunts and uncles were there, and Mum had a posy the same as on her wedding day. It was really quite powerful to hear the old vows being said and realising it had all come true, and that when they said: "I do," they did. They had forsaken all others and everything, and the "all that I have, I give to you" thing had really worked well for them. It was brilliant: better than the cheese board at Lords of the Manor. It was a different class of experience.

Auntie Pat had organised lunch. It was good to see everyone. There was a new guy I sat next to, who I liked a lot. My missing cousin was there, talking about mountains (I think I might climb one). Uncle Ron has been missing his geese since he sold his farm. David's called Dave now and works for a TV company in Bristol. Granny was singing "Lula bye bye". It was all good.

Another day, running through the big woods on the other side of the Evenlode, I was kind of hoping to see the Beast of Burford and kind of hoping not to. It's the latest local rumpus, a sheep-noshing monster. It was muddy going underfoot, and I was having to run on tiptoe, waving my arms about, like a fairy. It was nice. On the edge of the wood, I saw a weasel, or it may have been a stoat. But it was a weasel or a stoat or something, for sure. I've been looking for one for years. They fleet and flow, mesmerising. I've only seen one other one, 25 years ago. It was in a hedge. This one was making for the bushes. I followed it and got another glimpse, and ran home smiling. Nice to see you, I thought.

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