Alex James: The Great Escape

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The Independent Online

The second cup of coffee and the second cigarette are the best of the day, I've realised. There's something about the second time around that beats the first. I'm 40 this year and I've already seen most things I'm going to see, but I'm starting to appreciate that seeing things for the second time is when you see them best.

Suddenly it's a world of colour out there: a bonanza of bud and blossom; massed dandelions and clumps of bluebells punctuating the reinvigorated greens like exclamation marks. There are daisies everywhere, the small ordinary ones. The big ox-eyes come later when the grass is long. Properly, daisies shouldn't be there. Like all the best things, they aren't part of any plan. It's just that we have four lawn mowers, and none of them works yet.

Once you have more than a couple of lawn mowers, they start to multiply, much like wildflowers. Someone offered me yet another one yesterday. "It's practically perfect," he said, "It just needs a couple of blades replacing."

It's because lawn mowers die at the end of summer and it's hard for a man to throw out anything with an engine that still works. What no one realises is that lawn mower engines never break. It's always the whirly bits that go wrong.

This one needs a whirly bit, so one of the gang brings along another lawn mower that has it intact. That bit doesn't quite fit on this one but someone always has another lawn mower that might be good for parts for the one that's just arrived. Pretty soon you're surrounded by a daisy chain of lawn mowers that do everything except mow lawns. And daisies.

Everything looks pretty good in the sunshine, but flowers don't really start performing until the sky darkens. They take centre stage when the house lights go down. Sometimes, just after it's rained, it's like all the petals have been switched on.

Small children aren't so at home under grey skies. They like the bright simplicity of the sunshine. All children find daisies fascinating. The scale of a daisy is perfect for a tiny thumb and finger. These little flowers speak a bright, simple language of perfectly distilled symmetry and colour to anyone who will listen. What a benchmark of understated perfection!

As I study the daisies, it occurs to me how many different kinds of bees there seem to be, and then I'm falling into a bottomless well of intrigue and fascination, the feast of exquisite detail that is the nirvana of the quiet country gentleman; at least one who's not too bothered about mowing the lawn. Beauty passes unnoticed so easily. God bless the daisy. More English than the rose, and probably more beautiful than anything we deserve.