Alex James: The Great Escape

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The Independent Online

Moonlight isn't something that properly exists in cities. It's too delicate for domestication, as subtle and precarious as ancient history, but just as absolute. Moonlight is one of the unexpected inestimable blisses of a life unconnected to mains sewage or gas. Others are: never having to throw anything away, being able to build mountains (subject to planning permission), and chickens. Nobody wants to listen to other people's chickens, so they don't work in built-up areas, only on the edges.

I took a big step back from the edge into the middle when I got married – the middle of nowhere. I'm more of a hedge man these days, but then out came the moon and reminded me that we're right out here on our own being as delightfully stupid as ever.

Some people know when there is going to be a full moon, but I'm not one of them. A cloudless night that coincides with a full moon is rare enough to always take me by surprise. It's one of those things that I'll never be prepared for.

The best full moons are in winter – another fact about winter that I am incapable of remembering, along with how cold, muddy and expensive it is. There is something about the skeletal architecture of nature in winter that resonates well with moonshine. There is less haze in winter, too; haze being another phenomenon of uncluttered horizons, and it definitely seems darker at night in the cold months.

Friday was really chilly. Ice was forming in the puddles even before it got dusky. It can't quite have been a full moon because it was sitting fat above the horizon when I went to give the rallying cry to the guys digging the new garden, and a full moon can't rise until after sunset.

The garden is taking shape at last. I suppose building a new garden was pretty ambitious, but only because I didn't know how ambitious it was when we started it. There were a lot of underground springs, which only became apparent when it started raining last month, but we've redirected most of them and filled the beds with cow's muck.

The ground was getting too hard for digging, so the men went home. I lit a fire and forgot about the rest of the world until everyone else was in bed. Fires do that. Given the choice between a telly and a fire, I'd demand both, but fires are better.

I went to check the fire was out before going to bed and I didn't have to put any lights on. The moonlight was casting shadows inside the house. I've never seen a night like it. There was a heavy frost. I was drawn barefoot into the immaculate silence and absolute stillness of a secret garden. It was as perfect as a fresh coat of snow.

I often find myself alone in the garden at night, but it wasn't like the night. It was another place. If ever there was a time to be alone, this was it. It was the most romantic thing I've ever seen. Romance can only be enjoyed by one person at a time anyway.

There it was. It is made out of cheese, you know.

a.james@independent.co.uk

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