Alex James: The Great Escape

Why my lettuce is a triumph
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The Independent Online

There are four pretty rows of lettuces in the vegetable garden. One variety, a "cut and come again", is going like fountains. It doesn't get any better than this, leaf-wise.

What you think about lettuce has a lot to do with what you think about yourself: it works a bit on the ink-blot principle. The fact that it's taken two years of planning, building, digging and dust to arrive at these little sprouts of hope made our cheese on toast à la maison rather special.

They are, in a way, the little leaves of triumph. If lettuce can ever taste absolutely incredible, it just did. I didn't even wash it. I started to, but it seemed pointless - I've known them all since they were babies, and I've been nibbling away at them al fresco for the past couple of weeks anyway.

It's part of a shift in my attitude towards hygiene I've noticed since moving here. Geronimo, my one-year-old, has tried everything - from a dead mouse the cats brought in to cigarette ends and the stuff behind the fridge - and his only ailment so far has been a permanently runny nose. He's not so keen on the lettuce, but for me, victory never tasted so sweet.

I've also been cutting the grass. Some people like the noise of grass-cutting machines. It's a primal thing, men and machinery - Geronimo couldn't contain himself when the secondhand mower arrived. It was all too much for him, and we had to show him the ducks to calm him down.

My dad's a lawnmower man, too. He bought a ride-on for the farm at the first opportunity, but it was a lemon - the engine seized and Fred the sheep farmer had to come to the rescue. He brought the next level of machinery, the ultimate grass-cutter - a topper. It's towed by tractor. It has none of the ride-on's fighter-plane chic, but it has an agricultural honesty, and it only took five minutes to do the whole meadow. Men and machines, you see.

Everything is all right when you're mowing the lawn. It's important to do very simple things sometimes. Watering the garden also works wonders for me. It's so peaceful and positive. I've adopted a fine misting technique with the nozzle all the way to the left, which I like to call the "fizzle mist". My wife favours the "typhoon treatment". I can see where she's coming from, but I am a bit anxious that, one day, she's going to bash everything to bits, especially some creeping thymes that are very feeble. I have asked her to consider more of a fine spray, but she just squirts me and tells me to shut up. I have to admit, the thyme is still thriving.

It's impossible to get wrong, watering the garden; it just works every time. That's what's so good about it. Even weeding has its merits, although a good trowel is essential. There's a knack with the trowel, you plunge it right in there and the whole thing just pops out. It is almost as good as picking your nose.