Alex James: My heart was singing in the rain

Rural Notebook
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The Independent Online

So posh he was – posh in the way only Cotswolds people can be: a truly exotic creature, as rare and doomed as a snow leopard. And he was standing in my kitchen. Suddenly he turned to complaining. "Damp," he said. "Too damp. That's the bloodear trouble."

I could have placed him as a resident of the Wind-rush Valley before he told me that was where he lived. The Evenlode, our valley, has plenty of absurdly wealthy people, but here the wealthy people all work. There by the Windrush, the next confluence upstream, I sometimes wonder if anyone has ever had a job or if anything connected with the ugly drudgeries of the real world has ever happened at all. A little nook apart it is, beautiful: one of the few remaining natural habitats of the old-fashioned English gentleman, typically an almost sprite-like presence whose absolute unselfconsciousness is just as likely to see him start singing and dancing as continuing the conversation sensibly.

"I suppose it has been damp," I said, and then he was singing again. But the thought of dampness was heavy on my mind when I set out for a run the next morning. Actually it was beyond damp. It was wet, and getting wetter. A layer of softened leaves disintegrated under my silent falling feet, an almost imperceptible caress of rain, going into my hair, clothes, eyes, lungs with every breath deepening as I flew headlong into the woods.

Not a soul to be seen. In the summer you'd see dozens of people, but I'm not sure it had ever looked so beautiful. All freshly washed. On the crest of the hill, the wind whipped the rain into streaks and I was jubilant. It was like a vast walk-in shower, the whole valley. My racing heart keeping me warm. As I crossed the prow I passed a soaked horsewoman. She saw me and silently threw back her head, acknowledging the ecstasy of it all. Nothing wrong with a bit of damp.

Branching out

I have made room to plant 30 new fruit trees. With that many trees it absolutely should be possible to have fruit more or less the whole year round for free, forever. But each tree needs another, different species of tree to act as a pollinator or it won't fruit. This makes working out the perfect combination of trees very tantalising indeed. I've been tussling with it all week. Only answer is to plant more trees.

Don't fear the pheasant

Pheasants drift on to the farm from the big estate next door and there are more than usual this year. If you startle one at night it's actually the scariest thing in the entire countryside. They rise up clucking and flapping, make your heart stop. Still, I've put a bit of food down for them in the big woods to tempt them to stay. "Bloodear lovelear" as my posh friend pointed out.

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