Alex James: The Great Escape

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The Independent Online

It's taken a couple of years for us to get to know each other, but now I'm most at ease in the pastoral situation. It's a big palace of art, the countryside - exhilarating. We drove back from Birmingham airport on Saturday morning through hobbity hills and dragony dales in streaming golden sunshine that made telegraph poles look glamorous and concrete look like magic stuff.

I felt a rare sense of bliss as we reached our valley. The grass is a Bond Street green and the plants have gone into peaceful retirement, rose hips and the perfect spheres of dandelion clocks punctuating a pleasing subdued sprawl.

I was trying to do nothing with even more relish than usual. It's the best time of year for sitting in the sunshine. The subtle warmth on the skin from that colossal nuclear furnace fills me with a cosmic sense of balance.

Claire went out to get the last of the apples. They are at their peak now. First she wanted the step ladders, then she wanted some bags, then she wanted me to hold the ladder and the bag, then she wanted a trowel to get the leeks with, and a basket, and then Geronimo wanted a trowel too. I was about to fly off the handle. I felt I was miscast in my role of garden gofer. I saw myself more as a lounge loafer and contemplator of greatnesses.

I stomped back to the vegetable garden with trowel-type leek-retrievers just as a hot-air balloon floated past, very low and large. My perspective flipped. I'd been on top of the world all day, but I had a sudden sense that I was standing at the bottom of the sky. When a hot-air balloon goes past that close, there is something inside all men that wants to run after it. Geronimo, who is two, was shouting "Bawoon! big big bawoon!" and involuntarily moving towards it, mesmerised. We both ran over the fields as it gently climbed over the trees and slipped away in slow motion.

It was a good day for floating. Claire somehow found the world's most expensive cheese, a millefeuille of white truffles, marscapone and Brie de Meaux. It was obscene. Sunday lunch had been going on for most of the afternoon and there were only the chocolate brownies still to come when the familiar roar of an aircraft engine shook the house to bits. "Tony!" said everyone and ran outside.

Sure enough it was, and he was lining himself up for another low pass. I could see him clearly in the cockpit, grinning. The engine roared and he whizzed past at bullet speed, pulling into a climb as he cleared the house. Aeroplanes don't make you want to run after them, they root you to the spot.

I've never heard a sunset discussed so much - the one on Sunday was the first thing the cleaners mentioned on Monday morning and was still a hot topic by the time I got to London in the evening. To start with I thought it looked otherworldly. Then I started to wonder why we always have to evoke fantasy landscapes when describing the world as an impossibly beautiful place. It's pretty good here.

a.james@independent.co.uk

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