Alex James: The Great Escape

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The Independent Online

I think what makes farms so compulsive, once you start getting involved, is that they are dynamic systems. There always has to be something going in one end (usually involving large amounts of money and lots of fiddling about) and stuff is constantly flying out the other, which also needs to be dealt with – or before you know it you're looking at wine lakes, cheese mountains, red letters and all the rest of it.

When we bought it, this farm had almost ground to a halt. The more of myself and my resources I've poured into it, the more it has absorbed me, and the little mountains and lakes that flow and dissipate from it now interest me more than anything else.

There is nothing I like more than having my feet here on the ground and my hands at the controls of my big green machine. I live in a blizzard of variables, tending a fire that needs constant attention, a fire that's always in danger of either going out or roaring out of control and leaving us in ruins.

The overwhelming impression when one looks at the countryside is one of stillness. But it is in constant motion, changing with each hour of sunshine and shower of rain. I rarely take my eye off the ball, but Claire and I were tempted away for a long weekend to the glamour of the racetrack.

I think all women find Formula One irresistible. It's a language that men understand spoken by people that women want to listen to. Claire surprised me by knowing much more about it than I did. She knew all the names of the good-looking men who drive the cars. What an almighty knees up!

"Darling, if this is all it takes to make you happy, you should have said," I muttered as we stood by the water's edge in the grounds of one of Bahrain's royal palaces, while A-list celebrities and drivers gently rubbed shoulders in the background. I even spotted one member of Abba.

It's essential to be exposed to phenomenal wealth from time to time. There isn't much difference between being invited to a royal palace and paying to see one. All you can do is look and wonder. But this one had a kebab machine in the garden. It's not clear whether it's going to make you feel better or worse, entering the stratosphere of super luxuriant fabulousness. "Will I come down with a bump?" one wonders, as one's limousine driver carries one gently back to one's suite.

I'll think twice about going away again, though. Not only did it snow twice, but suddenly the grass needs cutting, the chaffinch is out, and 20 tons of gravel have been turned into garden paths. It's going to take three weeks to catch up. There is more glamour in one's own backyard than there is everywhere else put together – and you need to go away from it to realise that. I'm definitely thinking about getting a kebab machine, though.