Alex James: The Great Escape

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At this time of year, sunset can spin forever. On Monday it lingered large like a massive yawn. You could see right down the throat of infinity from where I was sitting: the day closing in perfect stillness, throwing out all its colours as blaring music, wholesaling Valentines to anyone who was looking.

It was just warm enough, just quiet enough and just beautiful enough not to require anything else. These pauses of calm and balance, with no breeze or cloud and the horizon gazumped by an uninterrupted symphony of shade, are what I think I might be missing when I'm not at home and one of the reasons why I never want to leave. They don't happen often and almost always come unexpectedly.

All my favourite things about the country come unannounced: stoats and weasels, low-flying jets, poppies, puffballs and spring. Pleasant idle musing when I'm supposed to be doing something else is my favourite pastime, but I can go for days at a time without being aware of my surroundings, numb to the stars and deaf to the constant birdsong. It's all in the background, talking to the subconscious. I suppose we live our lives centre stage, making our own noises, and it takes a trigger, like a blazing sunset, a deep frost or a leaning crescent of the moon, to snap me to my senses and float me away.

Monday was special because the clear skies brought that holy trinity of morning frost, red sky at night and moonlight. It was difficult not to get carried away. The afternoon sun put on such a show that I managed to rent a collapsing barn with no roof and a distinctly cheesy smell to one of the poshest people I've ever met. "It's beautiful. I'll have it," he said. It was, too.

Despite my best efforts, I'm still nocturnal. I can now tell the time of night by where Orion is, but if it's cloudy for a few days, it's easy to lose track of what the moon is doing. It seems to pop up all shapes and sizes in just about every window.

Even at night there's always something to bring the everlasting, eternal, endlessness into focus – a bit of chicken chat, the odd burst of lamb clamour or a snatch of unrecognisable hoot – but it's distinct sounds that you hear, rather than the white noise of the city. It's never completely silent.

My new windspeed indicator is a source of fascination. It seems to be windier at night. There have been a few 50mph winds this year. I recorded 56mph the week before last, which was enough to blow a few tiles off. A high wind is strangely soporific, but it's when the needle touches zero that the magic happens. An arresting calm that floats me off, not to sleep, but into a different kind of dream.

a.james@independent.co.uk

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