Alex James: I'd run a mile from doing a marathon


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I am at the age when people I know who used to get too drunk to go to the toilet in the right place have blossomed into captains of industry. As a matter of fact the drunkest, most ridiculous ones seem to be the ones that have the most responsibilities now: up all hours talking to LA, controlling don't-look-down budgets, and juggling resources with karate man composure.

These ex-nincompoops now choose to express themselves not by singing "Can't take my eyes off of you" while walking backwards down the middle of Dean Street, as they once did, or by leap-frogging letterboxes and jumping into big piles of bin bags on Brewer Street round the corner, but by running sub-four hour marathons.

Now you'll know how much I like running. I've told you my toenails are falling off. But the idea of sticking a big number on my chest and an advert for Richard Branson on my tummy, and then becoming part of a crowd, is a terrible corruption of everything I like about it: a strange nightmare in fact. I like the solitude running brings me. I never feel less like a number than when I'm running cross-country, nowhere in particular, wherever my spirit takes me.

It is quite a surprise that I have come to enjoy running so much. It is something I would have seen as a punishment 20 years ago but it now ranks as one of my greatest pleasures. That is what it is. It is pure pleasure.

Completing a marathon is a vast and noble undertaking but I can't help thinking I would be more comfortable paying people to drink a bottle of whisky and jump in some bin bags, or eat a huge bowl of ice cream in bed. I coughed up as usual this year but I would be so much happier to sponsor people doing more transparently self-indulgent things than running marathons, especially stressed out captains of industry who deserve a day off on Sundays.

Table manners are a complicated business

Mrs James is expecting our fifth child in a month or so. This means when we sit down to lunch en famille, apart from some public address system, we are going to need a table of considerable size.

My wife and I have a well-practised furniture ordering procedure in place. We spend months arguing, then I give in and she goes ahead and gets what she wanted in the first place.

I was gearing up for a tussle about the table because I knew exactly what I wanted. She raised the subject and I was ready for her with materials but for once we were in complete agreement.

We were both thinking around four-metres long, about 90-centimetres wide. Oak top. Steel legs. In fact she'd already been looking and a man in Belgium with a website like a Pixar film had something near the mark, but he said it would take him six weeks to make it.

I started to wonder why that was, and subsequently to wonder how hard it could be to make a table? How could it take six weeks?

I mean, it's not like making cheese. There's no alchemy. There's no nothing. Just a top and legs.

I've just sent a drawing of exactly what we want to the joinery firm down the road. The top will be here on Tuesday. I've got a steel man doing the legs and a French polisher on standby.

It will be so much better than anything in the shops because it's exactly what we want. You know you can't beat knowing exactly what you want.

A pizza that might just spark the domino effect

I can't really claim to have "made" a table, but then again it wouldn't exist if I didn't. Still, by the end of summer I will have "made" my first pizza absolutely from scratch. Wheat, tomatoes, cheese, even the yeast.

That's all very exciting. The tomatoes are coming along nicely and it's a question of "wait and see" with the wheat. It looks beautiful. I guess farming is a bit like working in fashion in that you have to be thinking a season or two ahead, making decisions about the future, now.

Next year I'm really going to branch out. I've decided to grow and flake my own porridge, and sow quite a variety of unusual cereal crops to harvest by hand. It's hard to imagine life without Wikipedia.

I discovered in bed night before last that 95 per cent of the world's food needs are provided for by 30 species of plants, but there are actually around 7,500 distinct species that are considered edible, many of which were grown extensively in the past, some of which are no doubt better for us, and taste better than the stuff that is more profitable to grow and easier to process.

I've just finished reading Robinson Crusoe and it took him a good eight years to get his act together on his island. I'm still only starting to make sense of it all on mine, but I'm really enjoying myself now. Just beginning to discover profound joy in the spirit of independence that living on a farm can generate.

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