Alex James: The Great Escape

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The Independent Online

I came rolling home through many miles of perfect Oxfordshire. It was calm and warm and sensible after the sunny and stormy rages of the jungle. I'd been gently and perfectly jet-flipped through 90 degrees, forced upright by four Rolls-Royce engines and the Earth's geometry, and plonked on another tangent at teatime when I should have been lying in bed dreaming.

It was the middle of the night where I'd just come from and my gyroscopes had completely toppled. I had a new perspective on all this familiarity and I felt fearless once more. There were people I needed to talk to on the telephone, decisions to be made, but I couldn't speak or think straight, from exhaustion and excitement. I just felt the glow of home and the weightlessness of belonging.

There was no one at the house, unusually, just a man trying to fix the telephone cable, and I didn't have any keys. It didn't matter. I was home and nothing had changed. The telephone still didn't work, evidently. The dog did a mad dance through the window. It was surreal, returning to an empty house on a perfect autumn afternoon. The valley was all in gold and the farthest hills had disappeared in haze. I pulled an apple, a big, bulging Spartan, off the nearest tree and allowed myself to be overwhelmed by the dreamlike stillness of it all.

Then all at once from all directions they came, my family, Claire running over the fields, children and parents in cars. I'd put myself in considerable danger, choppering around a Colombian war zone with a floppy hat on and sticking my nose in killers' business, but now I was safe and in gentle hands again, the almost impossibly fragile, infinitely precious balance of the family.

Claire and I climbed to the top of the mound; the muddy mountain that has been growing in the field, and looked back down on the farmhouse. The mud was all over us. We were up to our knees in England. It was better than I could have remembered it. On top of my hill I felt the right way up again, properly vertical. Here was the scene of my longed-for everyday struggles: half-stripped roofs and piles of debris; the iconography of the parish, the church spire in the village, our friends' houses, the waterlogged chaos of the half-dug new garden that will rumble into next month. It was a moment of bliss. I was back in my world, her world: our dream.

"Is it better to be a rock star or a farmer?" was the last question I remember answering at the press conference on the way to the airport in Bogota. It was hard to tell if it was a facetious one by the time it had been translated. Being a rock star is great when you're 25, but when you're 35, well, believe it or not, it's everything you don't want any more, I'd said. Here was everything I wanted. Having something to come back to is better than having anywhere to go.

"All all right then, Mrs James?"

"The Queen tried the cheese!" she said, and it was more like a strange and wonderful dream than ever.

a.james@independent.co.uk

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