Alex James: The Great Escape

Quiet life? You must be joking
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The Independent Online

West Oxfordshire is the place I'm always trying to get back to these days. Its subtle canvas has completely replaced the pub as my place of sanctuary. I realise that now, because we haven't been here very much in the past month, and I've been missing it and wondering what's going on. Things have happened while we've been away.

There are 19 ducks on the lake - a triumph for an ex-townie. The lake had been misbehaving, leaking and going green. It settled down, to the point where we thought we might buy some ducks, but they've happened all by themselves.

I used to hang out with the band and see my family at Christmas, but it's swapped over. Where there was a pub full of possibilities, now there are fields full of sheep to send me into endless idle musings. There used to be hangers-on to laugh at my jokes, but I have the builders for that now.

The house is nearly finished, but I wonder if I'll ever be able to stop building. It's totally addictive. I'm on about five builders a day at the moment. They seem to materialise, like the ducks. I fiddled about with new bathrooms and kitchens in London, but there isn't the scope to really go nuts in a city. In the country, the sky's the limit.

Recently, I've been lining up a folly. It's going to be a B&Q shed on top of all the rubble. Then it's the stone circle, or the huge wigwam made of telegraph poles. I've got all the materials, which is like having some drink left at the end of the night. It keeps winking at you. I've decided to rent out all the farm buildings. It's the only way to fund my building habit.

We moved here with the thought of being quite alone, but it wasn't to be. It is hard to be alone. Privacy is a suburban notion, really. Neighbours peeking over the garden fence, it's nothing. The bigger your house is, and the higher the fence around it, the more you have to let other people in to all aspects of your life. It starts in London with cleaners getting their hands on your dirty laundry, but we've gone way, way down that line. There are bookkeepers and tax inspectors, builders in the bedrooms, a gardener in the bushes, not to mention all the beetles, birds, badgers and bats that live here. It's a zoo. When it gets really busy I have to hide in the studio.

People who live in stately homes have to allow the public into their bedrooms on Thursdays. Famous people don't stand a chance. Last time I was in Miami, I went for a whiz on a microlight seaplane. The pilot flew straight to Madonna's house and circled it, very low. "It's Madonna's house," he said. I said: "She doesn't live here any more." He said: "Yeah, it's her old house." No wonder she chipped.

I quite like having all these people around, though. I just didn't think I was coming to a party when I moved to the country. I thought I was leaving one.

alexjames@independent.co.uk

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