Alex James: The Great Escape

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The Independent Online

I keep getting arrested – by details. Maybe it's because I'm listening to so much Beethoven that everything seems irresistibly interesting. Last Thursday, after repeated cramming of his First Symphony, the entire English countryside transformed into a monster budget video set to his music. Since then, I've been inside this perfect film, hearing imaginary violins and oboes, beguiled, sometimes to a standstill, by the excellence of the colour green or the exactness of sunshine on alliums. I'd rather like to be left alone for long enough to go peacefully insane like everybody else, but then Fred'll wander up and tell me, 'Another one of them tups "'as 'ad it". And the beautiful Beethoven bubble bursts.

Much as I would like to float around like a hippy in a herb garden, there is always something slapping me back to my senses. Sometimes, I'm overwhelmed by the scale of this place, cowed by how far it is from the tip of the mast to the tiny wheel that steers it. Living on a farm is a lot like piloting a vast ship. One always has one's eye on the horizon, but the vast momentum of the thing lends exquisite character to moments of perfect stillness in the foreground, especially with Beethoven.

We made an unscheduled landing in the strawberry patch on Saturday. There were all the usual niggling worries: out of pig feed, and I only had time to go to either the pig food shop or Daylesford, so the pig did rather well. There were rumours of bird flu in Banbury, giving the chickens a sinister bearing (think Fifth Symphony). The quad bike was in a hundred pieces and it wasn't certain if it would ever be the same again (oboes). But despite petty anxieties, there was an awesome feeling of buoyancy that stretched well beyond our borders. Our neighbour has knocked down his house and built a castle. Even dimwits who think there is a footpath through our yard seem to be getting posher. It appeared that the big picture was moving tremendously forward, as if carried by a benign but irresistible wave, to strains of virtual Beethoven.

I'd checked the strawberries the day before, and there were a couple of hints of orange, but the sun had been out and painted them all bright red, the best red I've ever seen: an unmistakeable "eat me" red. I planted quite a lot of strawberries because I remember when there was nothing better than picking strawberries. Surrounded by an avalanche of them, for the first time since I was a child, the first fruits after a winter and spring of messing around with excavators and trowels, it was hard to remember anything better, ever. The children, especially the two smaller ones, were in ecstasies of sunshine and stickiness. Sometimes life's a bowl of strawberries with a host of imaginary violins.