Alex James: The Great Escape

My new toy has me full of beans
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The Independent Online

Haven't had much sleep since the coffee machine arrived. I bought it for four hundred quid from the same guy who sold me the oak panelling from the London School of Economics refectory. I very nearly bought a three-storey cathedral organ from him too - it was only two grand. I've yet to find a use for the oak panelling. I do go and look at it sometimes, though. It's in the long barn between a weather vane and a 12ft-long butcher's block.

The coffee machine had a telephone number on it. It was Victor's number. He knew the machine, and was pleased to hear from it. He said it had been in Fleet Street for many years, and then in an Italian restaurant. He had wondered where it was. I could tell I was talking to the right guy to fix it. The cheapest way to get it to his workshop in Southend was in a chauffeur-driven Mercedes - it was too big to fit in a minicab. The man and van thing doesn't seem to work very well in the Cotswolds, either.

Victor had enthusiastically talked me through which components he'd had to replace and which bits were still in amazing condition on the phone, but he explained everything again in great detail when he arrived. He was a coffee-machine man, through and through, as indeed his father had been. It was a joy to meet Victor. He was an authority. Don't you just love experts? Experts in anything are fine with me. We had to wait for the plumber as usual, but old Victor didn't mind. He had, in fact, designed this machine, an Astra. It's the model they use in Costa coffee shops. He said all the right things, like: "They don't make them like this any more", "It won't need much maintenance, it's got no electronics like the new ones".

It's as simple as a steam engine - in fact it is a steam engine, only simpler. We basked in its beautiful simplicity and pondered the futility of overdesigned modern nonsense. Then we talked about parts until the plumber arrived. The plumber had to use his longest drill, which cheered him up. It was 4ft long and it went round really slowly. A couple of O-rings later, and we were in business. Six hundred cappuccinos an hour maximum output - it's a beast.

Bill Lovelady is another expert, on the guitar. He lives in a barn up the road and he comes round to play. I've heard a lot of people play the guitar, but I think the two best guitarists I've ever heard are Graham Coxon and Andy Bell, who, oddly, plays bass in Oasis these days. They are in a different league from anyone else, apart from Bill. Bill is the master. I only met him by accident because I live here and so does he. In the Sixties he backed Motown singers, in the Seventies he wrote for Art Garfunkel, in the Eighties he went out with Leslie Ash and now he composes for orchestras. He's a dude. I was playing the piano the other day and he was playing the guitar and I started to think, hey, I'm really getting the hang of this piano business. It's the best way to improve your musicianship, to jam along with people who can play better than you. You get better much quicker that way than you ever could on your own. Guitars just sound fantastic in the new kitchen, it's a total accident design-wise. Bill keeps bringing round new guitars, just to see what they sound like in there. It's great.

alexjames@independent.co.uk

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