Alex James: The Great Escape

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The Independent Online

There's another roof off, and a whistling workman around every corner. All week I'd been watching them from the window and by Friday I couldn't resist it any longer and joined in with the decorators. Putting paint on things is very calming. It smells nice. Soon I was whistling too.

We're building a cheese factory in one of the old barns and I'm starting to wonder about cheese smells. There are a lot of smells in the countryside. There's one smell making the front pages of all the parish publications. A new organic pickle plant has invoked red-faced rage. The letters page of the very local newspaper amounted to incitement to riot.

Nose pollution is a serious issue out here. We were trying to record a glockenspiel but there was a lot of banging going on, mainly roof-related, so I went out and asked them to hold off for a while. Then I became aware of a bad niff, it was somewhere between a dog's fart and a bad dishcloth on the scale by the time it was in full flow. It was impossible to think about glockenspiels with that going on and we went in search of the source.

There was a man in a mini digger making a huge pile of horse-related ordures. We've had a couple of pregnant mares in one of the barns for most of the year. You either muck them out daily, or put loads of straw on the stable floor and keep topping it up. Horse manure is one of the least offensive of the manures, but this was six months' worth and when it hit the sunlight it was properly steaming. It was a pile I could think of no use for. We've still got a good 100 tons of cow droppings. They came with the place. They were pretty noxious to start with, but now they've had a couple of years to calm down they smell almost pleasant.

Some stenches can be hard to locate. There was a bad one in the office. The office took longer to design and cost more than the whole cheese factory. It's been a saga, a stream of disappointments, frustrations and foul-ups. One of the cats added insult to injury by using it as a toilet.

I couldn't find any turds, even with the torch. I checked behind the computer and the radiator, all the shelves. The cleaners went in with their Marigolds but it eluded them. Kath, the nanny, had a theory that maybe they were just weeing in there. Grandparents carried out their own investigations but the stench lingered on. We concentrated our search efforts on the days when the aroma was most pungent, thinking our noses would lead us to the source. This was bad science - a "smell field" appears to be constant in all directions in still air. There was an only mildly nauseating hum the day that Claire found it in a pile of film scripts. It was most satisfying. Only two small nuggets, now quite dry, up close they didn't smell that disgusting. They had long range though.

There are nice scents around, too, but they tend to be more fleeting and faint than the stinks. I wonder just how cheesy it's going to get around here.

a.james@independent.co.uk

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