Alex James: The Great Escape

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The Independent Online

Something strange and wonderful seems to be happening. A cappuccino stand has appeared at the railway station: an instant monument to prosperity. Another bank collapses and the lure of the simple life continues to grow beyond bounds. Sometimes, lately, it has been hard to find a parking spot at the station. There is an escalating sense of buoyancy, the entire neighbourhood is riding high, rising on the tide of spring. I thought I might be imagining it all, and possibly I am, but it's infectious.

There is a journalist from The New York Times staying in the village this week doing a story on the parish, the dream, the cheese. Cheese is somehow the new heroin and cheese chic is evidently making ripples across the pond. Last week, there was an email saying: "Courtney from The Dandy Warhols is coming to England on his honeymoon and has heard you're making the stuff, and he and his wife would like to come and try some." Well, of course. We'd be delighted. Rock and roll!

I looked at the hamper I'd put together for a friend's birthday on Sunday and wondered why it's called the simple life. It's not. It's complicated. The eggs, lamb and cheese that were in there represented a five-year further-education crammer course in everything I didn't know.

I went down to the cellar to get some of Claire's special reserve pickle, for the finishing touch, only to discover it had flooded. A stream runs through the cellar, which is why there are so many frogs down there. The wine and champagne department was sitting under a foot of spring water, and the boiler electrics were about an inch above sea level. Fortunately, the pickle was safe and presentable. I managed to retrieve a jar and soon located the source of the problem: a collapsed drain about half a mile from the house.

You're unlikely to read much about drains in The New York Times, but this one was drawing a crowd. It was news. Blackum had heard about it before I'd had time to tell him, and was down there in what's known in the drain business as a "gimp suit" when I got there on Monday. Charlie had dropped in to have a look. Paddy called to say he'd heard about it.

The waters subsided as quickly as they came. By last night the cellar looked like it had been cleaned rather than flooded. Excellent. I offered Juliet a glass of wine, and said I'd be interested to know what she thought. She has an advanced palate.

"Reluctant nose," she said, "quite acidic."

"Frogs?"

"No, why?"

"Nothing!"

There's no need to worry about anything, is there, really?

a.james@independent.co.uk

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