Alex James: The Great Escape

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The Independent Online

It doesn't take much to turn heads and get tongues wagging in the country. I knew Camilla had arrived because Blackie, who mows the lawn on Fridays, came to tell me there was an Evo 8 parked outside. "Top of the range!" he said with a big smile. He used to play drums for Hawkwind, so he must have seen some far-out freakiness over the years, but the car, which is the third fastest on the road, had set off an electrical storm in his brain.

Camilla is rather beautiful and was wearing a short skirt, which all added to the impact. Her arrival brought everything to a standstill, like the Red Arrows flying overhead unexpectedly. Everyone had to stop for a moment and briefly consider the immense wonder of the universe before they were overwhelmed by the ordinary again. I went out to find Charlie and Nick, who were supposed to be putting up a fence, admiring the car. Nick was actually underneath it, inspecting the exhaust manifold. It's the right car for Camilla, she goes from one marvellous situation to another at high speed.

My wife, Claire, was driving a Porsche when I met her, and wearing short skirts. I had an aeroplane, for goodness sake. In just three-and-a-half years we've converted to a seven-seater Volvo, for which I paid a gentleman 2,000 guineas last week. Actually, it was 2,100 quid, off a geezer in Stoke. Claire has taken to wearing trousers as a protest. I'm still not sure if it's big enough for all of us.

Camilla politely declined to get in it and she and Claire followed us to the nursery school sports day in the mean machine. I remember my dad marvelling at the turning circle of his Volvo estate. Turning circle wasn't a category that figured in Top Trumps, or held much allure for me, but he was really pleased about it. Sure enough when we went the wrong way for the third time we pulled a nifty 180 while the girls, who were following, struggled with a three-point turn in the narrow country lane.

Somewhere in the middle of that swift U-turn as I marvelled at how the car swung around, I suddenly became my dad and arrived at middle age, in the back of a whirling Volvo. There it was. The turning performance was truly magnificent. "Great turning circle innit?!" I shouted down to my father-in-law in the cockpit. I was with our two-year-old in the bit right at the back, where the dogs and surplus children go. "It's bloody brilliant," he said. Of course, driving a Volvo was making him feel young again.

It was a great day. I wasn't allowed to go on the bouncy castle, but I did get my face painted like a tiger. I'm sure people stared at me less looking like a tiger than looking like that bloke from Blur.

When we got home, Claire reprimanded me for not locking the door. I said, "But the twins are in there with the nurse." She said, "Oh, my God! I forgot all about them." It does take a while to get used to all this. Camilla whizzed off to the next party as our friends Claudia and Matthew arrived in their beautiful Jag. They've just got engaged. I wonder what they'll be driving next time they come.

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