Alex James: In awe of the eternal music of spring

Rural Notebook

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I woke up early, at 4am precisely, opening my eyes on an unlit world suspended in a perfect silence. It was as if we had drifted into a big black cave during the night.

Even way out in the shires, away from the metropolitan hum, absolute stillness is rare, precarious and easily shattered. From dawn till dusk an unstoppable cacophony reigns: dogs, children bouncing around every nook, filling every frequency like a gas, and beyond the fast-flowing turmoil of the house, a constant background rumble of engines: Range Rovers, diggers, fence-post thumpers and over the past week, a large number of helicopters in and out of Cheltenham races. Even in the dead of night, there is almost always a breeze stirring a bough or rattling a window, or a sheep coughing somewhere in the distance.

I lay there waiting for a sound but nothing came, even as my ears adjusted to the silence, scanning all wavelengths. No distant car or faintest breath of wind, no creaks or scurrying in the loft. Unlike the stress-inducing noise of the city, the background whirr of the countryside is a restful thing and it can be quite eerie to be confronted with a complete void: a rare and powerful accompaniment, silence. Sometimes, in fact, total calm can be as overwhelming as jet engines but, from the friendly warmth of the bed, it seemed nothing but immaculate, comforting.

I think I woke up early because I wanted to catch the sunrise, but when I reawakened and came downstairs at 6am it was already daylight. The wind speed indicator confirmed perfect stillness. A silvery lilac transformed to gold over the course of a cup of coffee. Opening the back door it was all caw, woof, tweet, cock-a-doo and the odd burst of semi-quavers from the pheasants. I stood completely still, in the ecstasy of this gentle spring overture. Still waters run deep. There is an intimacy to the early mornings. I'd shared something almighty: a communion of sorts.

My choice: fags or cheese?

I started smoking again and stopped over the weekend. At dinner on Saturday night, I sat next to a non-smoker and apologised for blowing all over him, my last hurrah. "Why stop if you enjoy it?" he said. "Probably won't kill you, you know. There are plenty of old people who smoke, and plenty of old people who drink, for that matter. There are no old fat people, though." True. Maybe I should give up cheese instead.

Stretching across the line

I took my morning exercises in the fresh air today, for the first time this year. We have crossed that magic line in the diary where it is suddenly warmer outside than in and we don't have to close doors any more. Spring always takes me by surprise. Blissful.

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