Alex James: The beauty of this frozen landscape

Rural Notebook
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The Independent Online

Manhattan was so much colder. The cartoon ugliness of the place, all that whizzing and whirring: Well, it was like a big cheap toy next to the eternal stateliness of Oxfordshire. The valley looked so benevolent as we arrived home. It was the beginning of last week, just before the first of the snow and seeing that landscape again made my heart beat faster: silent, frozen, beautiful, mine.

I went straight out for a run around it, couldn't resist it. All the puddles and flooded areas were frozen and I ran on them wherever I could. Most of them took my weight, although by stamping I could make a satisfying hole, sometimes sending spurts of the ice-cold muddy water beneath up my legs, making me shout with glee. It doesn't feel cold, even in a t-shirt, when running around. It's exhilarating.

I've put a sauna heater in one of the old sheds. I think it's probably the best two hundred quid I've ever spent, that heater. I sat in there, perspiration teeming, watching the snow waft down in flakes on the other side of the window. The snow was deep, deep enough to dive underneath, which I did, in my pants, screaming. The well in the back garden definitely has potential as a plunge pool, too.

Then all the big farm machines came out. It was hard to say whether the sheep had noticed anything different was happening, really. Perhaps they were all chewing a bit faster, like Alex Ferguson. There was about a foot of snow, but the trains kept running more or less on time. I don't think it's ever been such a wrench to leave home, as it was on Wednesday. Claire drove me down to the station on the quad bike.

Ninety minutes later in London it was hard to grasp that entire communities were cut off, that roads were impassable: that the world next door was another bubble altogether, silent and immaculate.

Surviving on thin ice

The pond was frozen. I just wondered if I would be able to run over the ice to the island in the middle. I put one foot on the ice to test it. There was a big crack as I fell flat my back. I lay there trying not to break the ice. I just about managed to wriggle back without going under. Dangerous, that stuff.

Flight of the sparrow

There seemed to be a lot more sparrows in New York than London: Very much in evidence among the brownstones they were. I actually saw more rats than sparrows in London this week. Can't be good.

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