Alex James: The Great Escape

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The outdoor shower exploded today. It suddenly became a fountain. We watched it for a while, then I switched it all off at the isolator, to the dismay of the children. "Why's there a fountain? What's a gasket? Where's the fountain gone?" And it occurred to me again, as a tank full of hot water cascaded down the playroom windows, that at least when nothing worked, things were simple. When nothing worked, there was nothing to go wrong.

When we bought our house, it was a comfortable wreck. I was looking at some old aerial photos the other day, and it really was a mess. I mean asbestos, concrete clamps and slurry pits, no garden, toppling poplars, piles of tyres and half-demolished sheds. I still meet people from time to time who say, "Oh yes, you live on the Heath, don't you? Well, we looked at it, you know..." And shake their heads.

I thought this was going to be the blissful bit, but now it seems it was easier living in a ruin. I cast my mind back to those days with fondness, days before thermostats and underfloor heating, dodgy dishwashers and state-of-the-art stupid steam ovens.

A lot of things went wrong today, they always do, but that strange species of weather, the rain of error, was worse than usual. That shower has only been operational for a week, and no one's used it yet. The car died; the broadband kept conking out; I was worried about the pig, but she was just asleep in the sun – she was up like a shot when I returned with an apple. The gardener was here, stroking her chin in the rose garden; plus three builders; a bonghead tweaking the quad bike; and four different cleaners. I had to give wine to most of them as they were losing the will to carry on.

Claire is about to give birth and has gone into uncharacteristic nesting mode. She has bought three beds this week, including one for the dog, and keeps switching the heating on for the tortoises. Surely they should be outside eating roses, like everything else, by now. Anyway, despite the army of assistance, the whole thing seemed to be slipping through my fingers, and for most of the afternoon, I had to go back to bed with Treasure Island.

I woke up reinvigorated. The swimming pool is a good 10 years off, the rose garden is a disaster, but we're still happily slogging away. Just before the shower exploded, we'd crossed a significant line, or drawn one. The back garden finally had a fence around it. It was about three nannies ago that someone first said it would be good if the children could be prevented from escaping. Until now, it wasn't clear where the garden started or finished. Now it has a boundary. Children need boundaries.

There's a derelict farmhouse for sale around the corner, and several times this week I've caught myself dreaming of buying it.

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