Alex James: The Great Escape

Please let the sun go down on me
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The Independent Online

In the past couple of weeks the sunshine has changed colour. Out here, "In the middle of bloody nowhere", as I heard someone describe the place on their mobile the other day. Out here, the hour before sunset is spectacular. It more or less demands you stop what you're doing. It's exhilarating, just to bask in it. I've started to look forward to that time of day, in the way I used to look forward to Match of the Day, or lunch somewhere fancy.

On Saturday, my metropolitan cousin came with a friend for lemon tarts and low sun. They were staying in the next valley and seemed to have been to more parts of the Cotswolds since lunchtime than I've managed since Christmas. They asked if I could suggest anywhere for breakfast. I know they keep excellent chickens on the estate they were staying on. I can't imagine anything finer than a fresh-laid three-egg omelette in bed on a Sunday, but I suppose it takes a while to adjust to country life.

I went round to Bill's at the magic hour of the day. He's a composer who lives in an airy barn up the road in a place that's too small to have a name. He has three large art books, which he always tries to give me when I take him home drunk, and two guitars, one of which he takes everywhere. He was sitting at his kitchen table in the streaming sunlight with a huge piece of manuscript paper in front of him, writing a duet for guitars. It's all in his head and he sits there with a neat propelling pencil and a little rubber and writes it down in the silent sunshine, like he's doing a crossword. I was overwhelmed by a sense of tastefulness.

He said, "Well, you don't get much money for writing classical music, but there's only a couple of guys in the world who can play this stuff, and they both want to." He was very excited about his marmalade, and we crunched toast and I sang him some football chants.

I've been writing an opera with Ben Hillier, another musical genius. He has about 600 ancient valve microphones that all work perfectly, and a car that won't start. He doesn't use a propelling pencil. He uses a computer. He programs beats on the train on his way up here.

I'm a fan of a guitar for songwriting. I'm at the opera-writing, trout-breeding phase of my career and I'm embracing it wholeheartedly. The libretto for the opera is by Steven Berkoff and I go to London every few weeks to play him what we've done. West End theatre needs a kick up the arse. Berkoff's the man to supply it.

I'm trying to get everything done before the twins arrive in seven weeks. They could come any time, though. The grannies are in a holding pattern and I've been banned from switching off my mobile, which has given doing live TV an edge. Claire is still wearing heels and working in between mouthfuls of taramasalata.

We have a special nanny, a kind of a Jeeves figure. She sleeps over on Thursdays and last Friday she crawled into the room going "uuh". I called the doctor and said she looked like she had appendicitis. My dad had it and had that look on his face. It was too. Civilisation has collapsed since she's been gone. I'd become quite complacent about the prevalence of order. It's fragile, though, like a spring sunset.

alexjames@independent.co.uk

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