Alex James: The Great Escape

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The Independent Online

I've learnt about farming the same way that I learnt about music: by jumping in and doing it. It's the best way to learn anything. The nausea of the classroom is replaced by a different kind of anxiety, a combination of panic and unparalleled self-awareness. Buying the farm was the best thing I ever did, which is the main thing, but I reckon I make a mistake almost every day. Sometimes they take months or years to mature. Fortunately, I have Paddy to help me. I run everything by him and he spots most of them and puts things right.

Paddy won his wisdom at the Royal Agricultural College in Cirencester, the capital of the Cotswolds. I've often thought about taking a night-school course there and I finally went there for lunch last week, at the invitation of the principal, who knows my wife's horse.

In a similar way that there is usually some sort of minor mistake in progress here, there is always some kind of major emergency going on in the world of agriculture. This week, it is pigs in crisis, but the elevating calm and splendour of the college transported me far, far away from my messes and dilemmas, and from the inner quadrangles it was hard to conceive of a pig farmer suffering or an evil chicken baron.

Until last week, I had considered buying horses the biggest mistake of my farming career. They are more expensive than aeroplanes, but as I walked through the gates I suddenly saw my investment realised. Good old Cornflake, I thought, possibly for the first time ever, for making the introduction. It was like I was a 10-year old child arriving at Hogwarts.

The famous school is modelled on an Oxford college, sits in beautiful grounds and seemed to hold everything that interests me. The magazine section in the library alone would have kept me happy for the rest of the year. A consortium of maize specialists were in conference in the big hall, all the country's greatest maize brains gathering to share their passion for corn on the cob. I was surprised at the number of girls in the canteen – many of them, too, led here by their horses.

Lunch, discussing the price of sausage rolls was excellent. Who knows if farming has a bright future? I'm inclined to think that farmers hold all the aces. There is nothing people need more than food. The day you can download pigs free off the internet, I will start to worry.

Over the past few months I've been in and out of the doors of countless media empires – television companies, film companies, record companies, broadcasters – but not one of them could touch this place for glamour. It all seemed too wonderful to be true. It's great when your horse romps home. Where would we be without our mistakes?

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