Alex James: The Great Escape

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The Independent Online

It's hard to describe the sheer fabulousness and mythic proportions of our neighbours Annabel and James. We don't see them all the time, they're often elsewhere, but living near to them does add enchanting possibilities and encounters to what is, after all, just a quiet corner of Oxfordshire.

Annabel is beautiful, with an aristocratic bearing and all kinds of surprising inside information. She often has glamorous emergencies, the latest one involving, I think, Liam Neeson saying he'd do something and changing his mind at the last minute. James writes movies and has the endearing quality of requiring absolutely no more friends whatsoever.

Annabel said: "Listen darling, we're going to LA but you must use the pool, you must. And Ian and Doris will be here and you have to meet them, you must, they're amazing. Will you?" In between a passport disaster and some kind of aviation crisis, Annabel made sure we came for dinner the night before she left, so we could meet Doris and Ian.

The first thing I said to Ian was that I was reading Doctor No, the first James Bond story. "Have you read it?" I asked. "No," he said, and after a perfect pause: "I did write a couple of Bond films, though, like." He instantly became my new best friend.

Ian and Doris were coming over twice a day, sometimes with fresh and unlikely celebrities from London, sometimes with more local dignitaries who orbit the Cotswolds, usually via houses far larger than ours and sometimes with beige sacks of goodies from Daylesford, the world's poshest shopping mall. Doris liked to go there most days.

Doris was very taken with our newborn twins and performed the most fashionable new age techniques on them daily, while Ian and I went to the pub. He's fascinating. They obviously love the area, and wanted to do as much as possible while they were here. Claire and I took the role of cultural advisers. It's made me realise how little there is to do.

"Oh, why don't you go to the Rollright Stones today!" said Claire. "What are they, then?" said Ian. "They're stones," said Claire: "There's a whole circle of them." "Are they far away?" "Well, not that far." I could see he wasn't too thrilled by the idea. "Well, Tracey Ullman's coming later, like, I don't know if we'll have time."

There's only really one thing to actually "do" around here, which is go to Daylesford, and they were doing that a lot anyway. Doris was being wrapped in rose petals and smeared with royal jelly.

The pleasures of the country are subtle and slow. By the end of their two weeks, though, they were getting the hang of the place, enjoying the sunsets and doing almost nothing at all. Then they were gone in a puff of jet fuel, off to stay with U2 and Sean "Diddy" Combs in the South of France. "We don't want to leave now," said Ian. "No," said Doris. "I never do," I said. It's true.

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