Alex James: The Great Escape

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The Independent Online

In between writing an opera and building a picturesque cheese factory all week, I've been looking for a frog. Geronimo is two and he's having a "See frog?!" phase. I've checked the wells regularly and the pond, but nothing's turned up. One was hopping across the road on Saturday night and I stopped the car and went back, but couldn't find it.

Most things in the country run away and you just see them retreating. Frogs have a different strategy. They stay very still and wait for you to go away, so you can have a really good look at a frog. They're very much undergrowth kind of coloured, so you're often quite close to one before you see it twitch. Or they lurk underneath things and give you a shock.

A small stream runs through the cellar. When the builders found it, they said, "You haven't got damp down here, after all. You've got running water." I saw them telling their friends. It made their week. It must have been there since the house was built, so I went with the flow. I left it there. It's been hard to know what to use that room for, though. It is kind of moist. The previous owner bred prizewinning fish there. That's an option. At the moment, it's where I keep empty jars.

I'm planning on doing lots of pickling so I'm hanging on to empty jars. The bigger your house is, the less you throw away. If only everybody lived on farms. Farms produce things as well as consume them, so the motive for recycling becomes quite selfish, a more reliable system. The cellar will be perfect for pickles. I took some jars down there the other day. As the lights flickered on they caught a toad in mid-leap. I nearly dropped my jars. There was a pair of them.

I should have done what the builders advised: tanked the cellar and built a cinema, like the neighbours did. But I'd rather watch toads than films, and Geronimo, and the toads, could not be happier. A toad cellar probably doesn't add the value a home cinema would, but I'm much more comfortable with it.

It really feels like we're getting somewhere with the farm at last. I realised my ambition of making a huge mound out of all the combined piles of rubble in the yard. I was following a whim really, but I think it's important to follow whims. What else is there to go on? It seemed to make sense to put all the piles into one big pile in the distance. I was planning to put a shed on top and write songs in it, but it has become popular with the sheep.

It's not fair to say sheep are stupid. It's true they don't understand much, but they do get mounds. They love them. They were a bit scared of mine at first, but now they flock around it. It's totally mobbed. They like the mound more than they like being organic. They don't seem bothered about that at all. In fact they prefer junk food, almost definitely. Maybe we could charge more for the lamb if we sold it as organic, "mound-raised". I've never seen such happy sheep. It can be hard to relate to sheep, but I feel united with them, in our common interest in mounds. I've bequeathed it to them in perpetuity.

a.james@independent.co.uk

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