Alex James: The Great Escape

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The Independent Online

It's the British cheese awards next month, which would be exciting enough, but I've managed to persuade Juliet, who organises them, to hold the judging here. I'm more excited about that than I would have been if Blur were headlining Glastonbury. In a few weeks' time, every British cheese of any significance, from Cornish yarg to Orkney Cheddar, will be winging its way here to be appraised by those who know about these things. It's stupefying.

I've spent a small fortune (actually probably quite a large fortune) assembling the world's largest cheeseboard. But then, what's money for? It's for taxis and cheese.

Preparations for the great day have been under way since January. A dilapidated corner of the farm has been gradually transformed – terra-formed – into a billiard table. There are three excavators here at the moment, which is a bit like being on three different drugs, especially when linked to the idea of an almighty cheese-up. There's a world of possibilities at my fingertips and it's hard to know when to stop digging. Once you've started, where do you draw the line? It's a bit like cosmetic surgery.

There's a mini-digger trenching out the watering system for the garden where the judges will eat their lunch. Yesterday, while laying the pipes for the sprinklers, the machine unearthed a beautifully constructed Victorian sewer system. Out of the weather and unused for decades, it was pristine, an immaculately preserved museum piece. It was hard to know what to do with it. It appeared to still be functioning. There was clear spring water running through it. We just covered it up again and hoped it would keep working.

My digger, a 3CX, is being used to clean up after the monster excavator we managed to get at a good rate from the building firm that's demolishing the neighbour's house. The excavator ate their house for breakfast and then came over here for elevenses. I've built some new bogs for the cheese HQ and we realised we needed a big machine when the septic tank arrived. I've dealt with septic tanks before, and there is usually nothing nice to say about them. They're not the kind of thing you think about, unless they go wrong. Then it's hard to think about anything else. We dug a fairly big hole with my digger, in preparation.

When the septic tank arrived, it was clear we'd underestimated its size. It looked like a nuclear submarine. It was as big as a house. The excavator dug a meteorite crater that soon filled up with water from more underground springs. A dozen lorry-loads of concrete and a bit of backfilling later, you'd never have known there was anything there. I wonder who will discover it in the distant future and marvel at its beauty.

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