Alex James: The Great Escape

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The Independent Online

Yet another fortnight of digging and dumping, and the new garden is starting to take shape. On the back of The Cheese tasting so nice, I ordered a fruit cage and a greenhouse and 250 yew trees. That was when I called my management company to check when my next book advance was going to hit the coffers. I haven't started writing it yet. I know what it's about, though. It's going to be like A Year in Provence, only cheesier. "You had your book money on 7 July," they said. I checked again. I had. I'd blown it all on diggers and casual labour. It was bad. It takes a year to write a book, almost as long as it does to make a cheese.

Still, I was unable to stop the digging. I'd rather go to debtors gaol than leave this garden unfinished. I need to do it. The thing that has really got hold of me is the mound that has started to accumulate at the end of where the pergola is going. It has cast a spell over all the men here: builders, bassist, bergers, and small boys. It was spoiling the view from the garden a bit, but the view from the top makes it worthwhile. You can see all the famous people's houses from up there. I took Claire to have a look at my mountain. She said, "I didn't think it was going there. Can you move it over there?"

I'd done my dough and the mountain was in the wrong place. I called Juliet and asked her if we could really only make 200 cheeses a week, but I knew the answer. Mass-produced food is almost all crap. It's really hard to make more than a couple of hundred of something without compromising quality – yet the majority of all the food we buy is manufactured in huge quantities. The business model is about how many you can make, not how good it is. It's wrong.

I told Juliet that I might have to disappear to Eastern Europe, where Blur are currently riding high on the back of a beer commercial, and DJ for a couple of years to pay for the big holes I've been digging in the back garden. Or, God help us, I might have to go to the jungle and eat maggots. Juliet had some good news, though: the pickled cheese that has been sitting at the back of her fridge since summer has suddenly started to taste nice again. I tried my batch. It was true. It was a new cheese paradigm, back from the dead. "We could call it cheesus," I said.

Then my manager came for lunch. He'd been fishing that morning and he'd brought some trout with him. We sat in the garden and watched the diggers. I pulled a stalk of celery out of the earth and smeared some Little Wallop over the end of it. He tasted it. I haven't seen him look so amazed since Blur blew the roof off the tent at Reading back in 1993. "Alex," he said, "that's delicious, that's really, really delicious! My God. How many can you make? By the way, that wasn't your book advance that was paid into your account in July. It was your delivery advance for your last one, so you've got some more bread coming your way."

Rock'n'roll.

a.james@independent.co.uk

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