Alex James: The Great Escape

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The Independent Online

Iwas lured from my bed on Friday by a particularly good piece of Cheddar. Cheese seems to taste best in the middle of the night and I often make the journey to the fridge in darkness. On Friday, though, the whole house was bathed in moonlight. Moonlight is a rural phenomenon. It's too subtle to compete with the background glow of the city. Even sunlight is at a premium in built-up areas, it's not really part of the package. Out here sunshine dazzles through low windows as it rises and sets and spends the rest of the day chasing you around.

We probably only get about 30 cloudless nights each year, and obviously only one full moon a month, so a huge moon in a completely clear sky is relatively unusual.

The moon the other night was in a part of the sky where the sun never goes, casting odd shadows and suggesting that great things may indeed be true. Everything looked new and beautiful in the pale silver radiance, like it might after a fresh fall of snow. It was definitely worth investigating so I stepped into the garden with my cheese, the grass soft and moist under my feet. It was utterly still. The air was cool on my bare skin and the ambient moonlight as subtle as the stillness of the air. It was a moment of perfect balance of the almighties of the Earth, Sun and Moon. I would go as far as saying it was enchanting. I went to get some more cheese.

The physical action of tilting my head back to look up at the night sky always gives me a pleasant tinge of vertigo. It's mildly exhilarating, to look up, any time of day, but at night I never know what it's going to start me thinking about, especially when I'm on my own. It's hard to appreciate the wonder of space when you're not alone. It's better when it's intimate, just you and the rest of the universe. To be under the stars with someone you love is never a bad thing, but it's a different thing. The whole of rest of the universe is easily eclipsed by the presence of a loved one, like moonlight in Leicester Square. Large groups of people are a non-starter for any kind of cosmic communion. They always scatter my thoughts. There is always someone who wants to know where the Pole Star is and someone else who just wants to see a shooting star and someone else who thinks they know everything (usually me). Prolonged neck-craning starts things aching and pretty soon I always have to lie down. That's when I get really disorientated, or re-orientated.

Earth's just a big funny magnet and we're all stuck on it. This is more apparent when you're lying on it looking down into space. Space is so tantalisingly near.

Although they never actually did, the first man to fly and the first man to walk on the Moon could have met. I reckon the first man to walk on Mars has been born already. Mars has got two moons and no clouds at all. I'm up for it.

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