Alex James: I woke up, and it was a different world

Rural Notebook
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The Independent Online

Fog, thick fog: an infinity of the stuff; murky endlessness that felt for a moment that it might crack like a huge egg and separate into pools of fluffy white mists and a golden yolk of sunshine. But it didn't. By noon the day had merely staggered towards a state of fine fizzing drizzle and given up on itself. From dawn to dusk it was as grey as an old towel.

Outside in the foreign wet and cold, two diggers, three eager experts and a gormless youth, his hands in his pockets, who simply couldn't have been less interested in nature's gentle miracles, were laying a new beech hedge. It was the finishing touch to a completely rebuilt back garden.

I realise now that when I was planning the garden in my mind's eye, I only ever saw it as an immaculate, finished, sun-drenched, warm and still place. It was now suddenly obvious this would never actually be the case and it couldn't have been further from any of those things this morning. I suppose, for more than half the year gardens are muddy, and always – always – dynamic, ever-changing places. It's actually impossible to stop gardens from looking different from one week to the next.

I'd been ill, rolling in bed for nearly two weeks full of swine flu, unable to focus, taste or enjoy anything. Suddenly this morning I was acutely aware that my senses had returned and I was back in the driving seat and ready for anything under those grey skies. Soon it would just feel normal again, but for a moment I could appreciate what an underrated thing normal is.

It's a different world out there since I took to my bed: the heating has come on, now doors must be closed against draughts. But the soggy old day was a sight for sore eyes, humble greyness the perfect melancholy toast to the gentle, calm world out there.

Esprit de core

There was once quite a large orchard on the farm, and a nuttery, which are now extinct. Along with the help of an expert I've been planning a new one. Expert advice is always best: the tricky bit here is making sure there are enough pollinator species, otherwise you don't get any fruit.

Regardless of expertise, one thing I don't understand at all is that for the cost of a couple of bottles of cider, you can have endless apples forever. The apple trees require hardly any maintenance or care. There must surely be a catch?

Waxing lyrical

Life is being sweetened at the moment by a French polisher who came last week to give a tatty section of floor a bit of love. When he had finished, it looked like a dining table and now it is hard to know where he should stop. He has actually moved in. What a difference a bit of shine makes. Same old floor, completely different.

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