Alex James: The Great Escape

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The Independent Online

I turned 38 last week. I had no urge to go crazy or see everybody. I wanted only peace and calm. First thing, with a certain sense of triumph, I very nearly managed to tie up everything with the building contractor, once and for all. There is just one weird-looking floor outstanding. It's been a three-year campaign, a cause of more stress than the twins spending weeks in intensive care or all the wheels falling off the music industry.

Juliet, the cheese genius from the village, came round mid-morning with a lump of special parmesan made from the milk of red cows. It was a birthday cheese all right. She also brought Arbroath smokies, a fishy delicacy, a sort of advanced kipper. Both the cheese and the strange kippers have been added to the Slow Food Movement's Ark of Taste, a global catalogue of gastronomic fireworks. Juliet is quite involved with Slow Food. It's the rallying cry of independence and variety. It promotes small-scale agriculture, sustainable fishing and artisan food production. We got quite excited about the idea of setting up a local farm shop.

We had all overslept so I opened my birthday presents over morning coffee by the fire with Juliet and Claire. They were all from Claire. My parents have offered me whatever I like from my favourite junk shop next time I'm in Bournemouth. Claire is excellent with presents, too. There was a suave pair of slippers, which is all I wanted; a pocket cheese companion; a fetching man bag; and, incredibly, an edition of my favourite work of art. It's a piece called When I woke up in the morning, the feeling was still there, by Angus Fairhurst.

I did throw a television out of a window one year on my birthday, just to see what would happen. I checked there was no one coming up Shaftesbury Avenue first, though. It was disappointing overall, it didn't really explode like I hoped it would. The police were very good about it.

Traditionally in years gone by, in hotel rooms from Tokyo to Tromso, I've liked to play the blues on my birthday with Graham Coxon. He came for lunch. I haven't seen him properly since he left Blur. It was a good birthday presence. I've really missed him. We talked about music. The older I get, the more I am enraptured by melody, more than words, beats or sheer volume.

I took Graham round to Bill's. Bill is a composer who lives in a barn up the hill, he writes for John Williams, I believe, and for orchestras. Graham had his guitar with him. Bill and Graham are without doubt the two best guitarists I've ever heard. They started to play some bluegrass and I sat there in the streaming sunshine with a cup of Bill's best coffee and a roll-up as they chased each other through constantly evolving harmonic forms.

Graham was going to be late getting back, so he dropped me off at the end of the track leading to the farm. I walked back over the fields and as I reached the garden path, I could hear Claire singing "Mairi's Wedding", an old folk melody, to the children.

It was one of the best days of my life. So far.

a.james@independent.co.uk

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