Wednesday 23 June 2010
Alex James: It's a jungle out there in my garden
A farm is a big hungry beast that needs to be fed decisions constantly. Otherwise it bites. It gets easier not to make bad decisions as time goes on, but the truth is that endless possibilities are a blessing and a curse.
The garden alone is a mass of details and every detail means a decision. I love that garden more than anywhere else, but boy oh boy, the whole time there's something out there giving me a headache. Ticking time bombs all over the place: a box ball going brown here, a bay tree ailing there; leaves falling off a magnolia somewhere else.
I'm locked in a cold war with rabbits. We're entrenched against slugs. There's weeding. There's feeding, black spot, leaf curl and a host of other gotchas before you even start thinking about the weather. Just keeping the place tidy is like running a business seven days a week.
There is a gardener to help out a bit but one of the first things he did was to reverse the quad bike into the greenhouse. He knackered them both. Still, pretty amazing he got the quad bike to go at all, really. It hardly ever works. It was actually a blessing in disguise. That greenhouse was supposed to solve problems but as soon as it was finished I found myself in a sorcerer's apprentice kind of situation: it just spouted more and more things that needed looking after.
The fruit-cage is an oasis of calm in this horticultural world of struggle. Apart from breaking just a little bit during the snow because I neglected to take the netting down at the end of last summer, it has never given me any serious headaches. And now it's been patched up. It kind of matches the greenhouse anyway.
It's always just when I'm ready to give up that the garden gives me an unexpected kiss. We seem to have hit some kind of strawberry jackpot this week. I took my children and a jug of cream in there yesterday and we went crazy. You know what, it's not headache – it's tummy ache.
Encore for a magical night at Glastonbury
Mrs James is nearly two weeks overdue with our fifth baby. We're quite relaxed about it. The only foreseeable snag is that I've got to zip down to Glastonbury and back for lunch on Thursday.
I can't believe it's a year since Blur played there. It was the best gig we've ever done but it already seems like all that happened in another lifetime, to someone else.
I came in from the garden last weekend and my dad was watching it on the telly, with the dog. The BBC were screening it. He said, "You should watch this you know. It's really good." I said, "Well, yeah. I told you it went well."
He was actually looking quite misty-eyed. It's funny but I don't think he ever really liked Blur before. I mean he thought it was all perfectly fine but it never really ever got him in the chest until right then watching it on the telly: all those memories the music brought flooding back.
Now they are but memories once more, I suppose. My one public performance this summer has been singing "Vindaloo" to a group of 200 farmers while accompanying myself on the ukelele. You know what? When they all clapped it was exactly the same feeling as standing on the stage at Glastonbury.
I've been struggling with a violin this week, trying to play a lick of Beethoven's, from the final movement of his First Symphony. It's just a run up a major scale, about the simplest thing you can have in music that, all the notes in order. Somehow Beethoven makes this most familiar, mundane thing sound like the most dazzling thing I've ever heard, like I'd never heard it before: listening in wonder to someone else's music. That's the best thing of all, actually.
The daily run that gives me wings
The baby could come at any moment so I have to take my telephone with me even if I'm only going to the other side of the valley, which I do every day with the dog. We run together, always the same route. I never know what I'm going to see. It never looks the same two days running. Buttercups are overwhelming this week, and poppies.
Yesterday I stopped to behold a bird of prey as big as a chicken sitting in an oak tree. First time I've seen him on the scene. He returned my gaze, squarely, flopped off his branch and flapped off. I'm particularly proud of a swathe my beating feet have cut through the long grass in the bottom field. It pleases me to follow this path that I have created. Now I know exactly what snails are talking about.
Running has become the point every day where I disconnect from everything. My heart beats faster and I'm free in the moment as I pound around. There is something so very deeply human about running through countryside. I have my best ideas when I am running. I can really think clearly. I rather object to taking my telephone with me.
I came round a corner at full tilt yesterday evening. It was after nine, and perfectly still: That lilac colour that happens in protracted sunsets. A hot-air balloon was hovering huge, right in front of me. It was so calm that I could hear them talking in the basket. They were held perfectly still, suspended. I was flying.
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