Alex James: 'It would be cheaper to live at Claridge's'

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The Independent Online

We live on a farm. It would be much cheaper to live at Claridge's, like we used to, but there we are. Or rather, here we are. I think agriculture is ready for it's first real star. Me.

We live on a farm. It would be much cheaper to live at Claridge's, like we used to, but there we are. Or rather, here we are. I think agriculture is ready for it's first real star. Me.

As part of our research we went to a hydroponicum in the remote Scottish highlands. A hydroponicum is a bubblewrap greenhouse of the future, where the plants don't grow in soil, they grow in liquid nutrient solution. When we live on Mars, this is what the countryside will look like. Initially that was quite a depressing thought. It's a laboratory style environment, and maybe it is the future. It was like being on a farm, in fact, it was exactly like being in Tesco. It had all the same stuff, the same lighting and atmosphere. It's about as far as you can get from being wholesome, yet this made the miracle of living things even more apparent. Stuff grows. It just does.

There are a lot of good smells wafting around at this time of year. I went outside on Sunday night, and was arrested by a lemon sherbet aroma. It was a perfectly still night, on the point of spring. Standing in that smell was a whole new way of passing the time. It made me think of only good things, things that have been beyond my grasp, it was like when a really good joke makes you laugh and laugh, this smell just kept carrying me somewhere special. I called everyone out of the house. No one was quite as excited as I was,but we did all wander round under the stars trying to track down the source. There was a lot of flapping, scurrying, and hooting in the garden. And sniffing.

Then, as I came flying down the hill on the newly repaired racer this morning, there it was again. I had to go back for a second draught. I still wasn't clear where it was coming from. Happy days though. Coasting down a long hill on a bicycle in the spring is one of the great things about the universe.

There are a lot of big machines digging drains for the new part of the house. We broke up the concrete floor in the cellar and discovered there was a stream flowing round the edges of the room. It's become my favourite room in the house, since then. In the back garden this week, we found a huge well. It must be 30 feet deep, six feet across. It had been covered with huge great flagstones at some point and grassed over. It was like finding treasure. It's made from handmade bricks, really ancient. In town you don't really get a sense of drainage, which is a shame. It's quite satisfying to consider.

The heavy machinery has made loads more piles. There is a really ugly heap of concrete left over from a couple of nasty barns we demolished. There is also quite a lot of clay subsoil which the builders tried to hide in a little used field by the railway, not realising that I collect piles, or that I get the train. The top of the big pile of concrete crush, next to the pile of concrete slabs is about my favourite spot on the farm. I'll really miss it when it is used up. I was taking it all in from the top of my pile the other day, when I suddenly realised I'd be able to make a pretty magnificent new pile. Concrete slabs covered in clay and topped off with manure, that is to say put all the ugly piles together so as to make one new mega pile and grass it over. I could even put a shed on the top. The thought of sitting in that shed is what's keeping me going at the moment.

alexjames@independent.co.uk

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