Alex James: My irrational fear of the woods at night

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The Independent Online

I inadvertently discovered a new adrenaline sport a couple of weeks back: probably the oldest one of all – running through the woods at night. I've been basking in the long evenings, especially enjoying the calm of twilight but I mistimed it, set out on my rounds too late and got completely caught out, plunging headlong into darkness with, it has to be said, a certain amount of glee. I knew it was going to be a close-run thing when I set out so I had a head torch on but it was nothing at all like I expected.

The darkness came suddenly. It was still dusky on top of the hill but as black as black by the time I was in amongst the trees at the bottom of the valley just a couple of minutes later. My ears were sharpened. There were new noises: caterwauling and cooing, hooting and barking.

A neighbour had said to me just a couple of days before that he found those woods creepy. "What!" I said. "The woods? Creepy?? Pschaw." I do know the woods really well and feel at home there but they are another world at night.

His words echoed and rang between my ears as I fled full tilt down what I hoped were the right tracks. It was as scary as anything I can ever recall from flying in a helicopter gunship in a war zone to being caught out in bad weather at sea. The fear was all completely irrational. Those woods are no more dangerous at night than in the daytime and I'd been there just the day before picnicking among the bluebells but that didn't matter.

Irrational fears are the scariest ones of all. I was hanging on to that thought when a startled pheasant clucking and flapping in a panic stopped my heart.

By the time I was out of the woods the moon was rising huge and orange. The fields were benign and peaceful. I could see the glow of light of the farmhouse on the prow of the hill and it looked so warm and cosy and I was safe and I couldn't wait to do it all again.

How to scare a field of castrated bulls

Of course running round the woods at night is merely a variation on a walk in the park theme but it's sure as hell tough out there in the real jungle, the jungle of the market place. I have been following the Apple workers' human rights stories with interest. In one sense, it's an amazing business model. I'm pretty sure I would struggle to make you a cheese for what it costs to manufacture an iPhone.

Nobody wants to pay more than they have to. Margins on global food commodities are even tighter than on gadgets, so competitive that those at the bottom of the food chain are bound to end up flogged to bits. Often this means animals. We are happy to support fair trade with farmers in developing economies but we don't exactly cherish and love our own farmers and livestock.

I went to breakfast at Sainsbury's HQ in Holborn last week along with journalists from my new favourite magazine The Grocer, The Farmers Guardian and Farmers Weekly. Sainsbury's announced that they plan to invest a lot of cash into their dairy farmers over the next few years. A brave step in the right direction. Someone had to be first.

We have steers here at the moment, castrated bulls. They are the first thing I see when I look out of the window in the morning. They are inquisitive creatures. It's funny how I used to be scared of them. It can be quite alarming when they chase you. If that ever happens, run at them shouting. It really works.

A 2,000-year-old treasure from the deep

Spent the weekend in Bournemouth or 'at' Bournemouth as they used to say. I grew up there and I'm always drawn back. We were staying with my parents and poking around in the garden in a quiet moment I found a large urn. An amphora. It was as tall as me. Inexplicable.

I hadn't seen it, or actually anything like it before, except in the British Museum. I had to ask what it was doing there. My father told me quite a long story about how he had been diving in the Mediterranean 50 years ago and found the neck on the last day of his holiday. He left the piece with his friend who spent the next two weeks poking around looking for the rest of it. He found it all too and stuck it all back together. This friend had died recently and left my dad this wonderful thing that they'd pulled out of the sea between them.

It's reckoned to be 2,000 years old at least, but the language of the thing shouts loud and clear across the millennia. It is so stylish it looks contemporary. Beautifully made, a Nebuchadnezzar of a thing, an icon not just of beauty, but of plenty.

I'm looking at it now and smiling. The vessels were used for storing wine. I can tell you for certain they must have had pretty good parties 2,000 years ago.