Alex James: The Great Escape

The country is stunning, rain or shine
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The Independent Online

Weather is about the biggest difference between town and country. All significant weather conditions are a misery in the city. You don't really get the whole picture, weather-wise. You just get a slice. It's like not being able to see the telly when you can hear it. It's annoying. No wonder people like to have a moan.

Out here there is big sky in all directions. It all makes more sense in glorious technicolour and surround sound. The deep frosts have been exquisite. Pulling up the blinds in the morning on a bright frozen landscape with mist lingering here and there is a jaw-dropper. There is clarity in winter's atmosphere that fades into a haze with the warmer weather. You need a bit of haziness when it's warm. It takes the edge off things nicely. The summer landscape's shapes are softer and fancier, too, with leaves on the trees and hedges. The midwinter is all about sharp corners and bright light. You can see for miles. It's quite Nineties, quite Starck, a frosty morning.

There isn't much to do in the evenings at the moment, but I've realised that that's exactly what I want in the evenings. It's soup season, and I'm a soup convert. The quest for the perfect stock involves just the right amount of effort for a winter's evening.

February used to made me think grey, drizzly cold. It is cold, mostly, though some mornings you can have your coffee in the sun outside in your pants. A completely grey day, a Yarborough deal, is unheard of, though. There are always black bits and silver streaks, and it pours rather than drizzles. It makes staying in so much more appealing when it's foul. As I get older I find it's nicer to have a reason to stay in than a reason to go out. Reasons are such little things, I muse as I gaze at the fire. When the wind is howling and the rain is beating against the windows, you don't even need to put the telly on - not when there's a fire to watch.

When you've got the right gear on, winter is a picnic. Clothes have a completely different function in town. Fashion is forsaken for practicality in rural scenarios. Really big pockets are an asset, but trainers are a no-no. Strangely, in the absence of fashion values, clothes tend to express people's personalities far more acutely. I doubt anyone within miles has an inkling it's been London Fashion Week. In fact, even to me, a relative newcomer to the world outside the city, it seems a faintly ridiculous notion. Maybe I'm just getting too old for Coca-Cola, but pulling on a big boot gives me more of a feeling of confidence and all-conquering majesty than a pair of trainers ever did.

Growing up in Bournemouth, the sea was always as beautiful in February as it was in August, but there was something forlorn and dead about deserted ice cream kiosks and shivering surf dudes. Here, everything springs to life in February. Days are getting longer, there are hundreds of lambs in the new barn and a thousand snowdrops between here and there. It's a simple life. It still feels like being on holiday, living here.

alexjames@independent.co.uk

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