Alex James: The Great Escape

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The Independent Online

One of the pigs died from a kind of porcine measles. Claire cried. I was quite upset, too. We can't move her, The Empress, because of the foot and mouth thing, so she's in the shed, going nasty and casting the shadow of death over the gardening. If it were up to me, I'd have lit the bonfire we've been accumulating for firework night and incinerated her. It's a big one, a perfect pig pyre with a hay bale on the top, like a cherry on a cake. She'd have been vaporised into air and ashes before you could say: "Oh no, the barn's on fire!" Short of that, I'd have made a hole with the digger and buried her in the Jurassic stratum of subsoil, under where the asparagus is going. Unfortunately, both are verboten, so she's just mouldering under tarpaulin as death and the law mock each other.

Death is a downer, but elsewhere on the farm and in the parish, there is unmitigated buoyancy. It's the Kingham snowball effect, which began when the village was voted Britain's best in 2003 and caused the world's best pub to open here. When we moved in, the rectory was in ruins and there was nowhere for Blondie to play a concert. Now, it's such a happening neighbourhood, it even has its own cheese. The computer says "yes" when you type in "Kingham", and there has been a continuous monsoon of money and a building boom of such proportions that all the tradesmen are now working on their own schlosses. Our nearest neighbour, who is a plumber, is building a post-modern eco-castle on his patch. The electrician bought a tranche of East Anglia and disappeared. Even the camping site is now a sort of camping suite.

We're booming here, too. Blackie, who played the drums in Hawkwind, and his mate Doa have been stripping out a barn to make a cheese control centre. I wonder if there will soon be a properly famous builder, someone who can fearlessly knock things down and win ladies' hearts while still being one of the lads. It's not all that long since composers held the same status as builders. Musicians don't get paid as much as builders now, though. It's going to start affecting the gene pool soon. Bill, the court composer, is another new member of the parish. I went to Windsor Castle recently to hear a piece of his that had been commissioned for the Queen and Prince Philip's diamond wedding anniversary. It was great, and Bill bought a dog to celebrate.

Prestige is one thing, but the guy who drives the digger on the farm is building a swimming pool at his house. What woman would want to live in rented accommodation with a dog when she could be sitting by the pool with a digger hunk? People who are married to musicians tend to be irritated by them playing their instruments, anyway. I remember a girlfriend of Graham Coxon's telling him to leave the bloody guitar alone because she was trying to watch EastEnders. I'm sure she wouldn't have minded him putting some shelves up.

a.james@independent.co.uk

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