Alex James: The Great Escape

Tractors speak to the boy in me
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The Independent Online

There were a few muddy people around staring at things. One of them, a big fat one, did an enormous burp as I walked past and just carried on staring out from his benign, muddy, burp world. People in the country are much madder than in the city. Close contact with massed humanity keeps your feet on the ground. Being at the centre of a vast 360-degree horizon all day, I guess you get used to doing whatever you like. This muddy guy would make a Dean Street crackamuffin look clean and reasonable. It wasn't a threatening burp, just a mad one. It put me at ease in fact. The strain of the vast silence between strangers, from quite different universes, meeting in a field was relieved by that belch. It was like he'd burped for both of us. I do like living in the country.

I realised I wanted to buy everything. Mud is something I have avoided for quite a while, but it seems to be the main ingredient of agriculture. It's pretty miraculous stuff, mud. You can make all kinds of things out of it if you get the right machines and the right mixture. At the moment I lease our land to a sheep farmer called Fred. Sheep are a no-hassle crop, but it would be good to conduct some agricultural experiments. Paddy, who is a land agent, and my consultant and friend in these matters, came along with his gang on the morning of the sale.

Everyone was there. It was like being at a festival, but the food was really good - bacon rolls. Paddy said I couldn't have any tractors, but I saw him eyeing up the blue one. I've started to really like tractors. They're a much better choice than a Ferrari. Some people had actually come to the auction in their tractors. I think any man who saw one standing in a field with a "for sale" sign on it, would be tempted to dream. They speak to the little boy in all of us, simple things in a complicated world. There's nothing about tractors that can't be fixed with a rag and an adjustable wrench. The crappy blue one went for four grand, which was more than we all expected. I had to leave before the corn crusher went under the hammer, and I've been thinking about it ever since.

It was such an inspiring morning that I've decided to invite the surrounding farmers round for some lamb, and to show them my drainage system, which I'm quite proud of. They strike me as a contented group of people, farmers, despite all their well-documented problems. Fred always has a bonfire going and a big grin on his face. Nature's bounty seems to rub off. There's a wonderful resourcefulness in farmyards. Things get repaired with other things that are lying around.

When we moved in, I wanted to make everything beautiful, but I've realised that there's a lot to be said for bodging. A good bodge represents the triumph of individualism. It's punk architecture. One of our hay barns is made from hacked-up telegraph poles and bent corrugated iron. My first thought was to knock it down and make a proper one, but I've realised that it is, in fact, a proper one. It's quite a useful shed. I'm sure I could fix it with an adjustable wrench.