Alex James: No messing around with the river, please

Rural Notebook
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The Independent Online

Chickens fighting, sheep always falling over, pigs had measles, dog's got fleas. Tractor, quad bike and digger, in pieces half the year. Roofs blowing off, hedges sprouting out of control like magic beanstalks, mulberries ailing. Beams failing. Badgers, rats, rooks, rabbits all gatecrashing the party. There is always some small emergency or other unfolding in this tiny soap opera, something that demands my full attention and since I became a farmer I've noticed that the existential angst, the malaise that afflicts all those with no tussles, has evaporated completely. I pity anyone who knows what they are doing. The utter boredom afforded by the riches of Croesus

and international rock stardom has been replaced with different troubles – overall "Why?" has turned into "How?" and that's a much better class of problem to have.

Throughout the ups and downs of farmerhood, the modest triumphs and insignificant disasters, the river, my river, the Evenlode, has been a constant source of strength. It's a river. It never goes wrong. It can't. It just flows, constant and lovely, pointing with gentle but absolute authority towards London, placing me comfortably upstream of my past. One of the most appealing things about the farm was that it had a river. Who wouldn't want a river of their own? Even during the sinking of nearby Tewkesbury last summer it was all just fine. Our bank didn't even overflow, although the field on the far side belonging to the neighbouring farm was under water for most of July. Well, it is a water meadow, a flood plain. That's what they do. They flood sometimes.

I couldn't help smiling when I opened a letter from the council saying that in view of last summer's heavy rainfall they are going to come and check the river is working all right. They'd sent a map of the farm with a big red line going down my favourite ditch. It seems nothing is ever perfect, after all.

Uninvited guest

Many exotic species of hornet around here. At dinner on Saturday the cheese course was brought to an instant standstill by a menacing monster, a high priest of the insect kingdom, as big as my thumb with a mad yellow face. The whole table was on its feet in no time. It took three men to catch it under a glass. That made it really angry.

Then what do you do? Outside. Lift glass. Run.

Tread carefully

A lot of slugs this year, too: friendly looking things. The more I look at them, the more I like them, leaving their little shiny trails, the curly graffiti of a strange order. The rain draws them on to the paths and treading on them as I tiptoe around barefoot at night has become something of a hazard, particularly for the slugs. Squish. Ughhh.

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