Alex James: The Great Escape

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The Independent Online

My wife's parents bred dogs for years. Memphis Boy, their champion chow chow, relocated to Japan after winning at Crufts. My father-in-law still misses him and becomes uncharacteristically misty eyed at the mention of him.

It's fascinating how husbandry really gets hold of people, and in such different ways. When we first saw the farm, there were a lot of fish in tanks in the cellar. It looked like the people might be moving because they needed a bigger cellar. The place was choc-a-bloc with tanks – pumps and manifolds gurgling away. The fish were the first thing we were shown when we came to view the place.

"Are there woods? Where are the woods?" asked Claire. "Ah, yes, the woods" said the vendor. "I think we'll start in the cellar, though."

The fish weren't included in the sale, he just wanted us to see them. He took the fish with him, but he did leave us with a lot of sheep. Fortunately Fred came with the sheep and knew what to do.

The key to success with animals appears to be working out which one to run with which. That's the difficult part, the alchemy. Maybe it's that idea of putting one and one together and getting "many" that appeals. I find that idea terrifying. I was unprepared for exponential growth. Given a glimmer of a chance, things do grow beyond all bounds in an alarming manner. For my predecessor, it started with a couple of fish. The fish had their own ideas and, 10 years later, the house was swimming with them.

I'm always trying to make things simpler, but on the farm things are always getting more complicated. The chickens are about to start proliferating. The pig will be ready to breed next month. I'm ready for that, though. I've bought her a pigloo and I've been investigating sausage rolls. Sausage rolls can fetch up to £25 in London. That's more than a piglet costs.

I've also put my name down for a couple of Gloucester cattle. There's a waiting list, but that's a good thing. It gives me time to prepare.

At this early stage of my farming career, the sheer momentum of livestock is hard to deal with. Plants, by contrast, want little attention. Due to an experiment with poppy seeds, the results of which were disappointing, the fig tree was almost completely ignored by everybody all summer, even the dog, and it seems to be in better shape than ever.

That's the way it is with plants. It's rare that a plant places demands upon a busy man. I've found I'm drawn to the garden. It's the first thing that I show people when they come round.

And while the plants themselves are under control, I've just realised that the entire garden is getting bigger, much bigger. I thought I had it all under control but it's growing exponentially and I don't think I can stop it. Chow chows are now hugely popular in Japan, by the way.

a.james@independent.co.uk

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