Alex James: What a shame to miss bat man's visit

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The Independent Online

The trouble with leaving the farm is that it always means missing something. The bat man came while we were in Bournemouth and his report was a beautifully written, fascinating document. I knew it would be. He did a really excellent job. You could tell that he was an expert just from his name. There were so many letters before and after it. I really wanted to see if he looked bat-like, too. But we missed him.

From his report it seemed he knew more about bats and their habits than they do themselves, but he cost less than a plumber. He had made two visits, both at unreasonable hours. The bats have to be measured at dawn and dusk. It's the only way to tell where they live. They go out at dusk and they come in at dawn.

They are nice to have around, bats. As soon as twilight falls, they are all over the garden with a glamour all their own, a fanfare of swooping and dipping. I thought everyone had them, like pigeons, but it's just us, apparently. They are quite scarce, to such an extent that all species are protected. You can't eat them or move them or even disturb them.

The bat is to the moth what the bird is to the butterfly, a darker mysterious cousin. The more you think about them, the more interesting they appear. They have all kinds of advanced weapons technology: radar, gps, the works.

I found out last night that Burford, the picture postcard fudge emporia epicentre of the billionaires' playground that is the Cotswolds, was half-empty after the war. Literally, only every other house was occupied. It's hard to imagine as now you can't park there.

As well as all the empty houses a generation ago there were grain stores, outbuildings, barns, sheds and lofts that have now, along with the empty houses been turned into 5:1 dolby surround cinemas. I recommend a bat box over a satellite dish.

Japanese tourists are harbingers of recovery

The bats are a pleasant sight but I must admit my heart always leaps just as much at the sight of Japanese tourists in the neighbourhood. If there are Japanese tourists it is a sure sign that everything is tickety boo. They are a harbinger of economic recovery.

Like a rare species of migratory bird, they are only to be found in the places where absolutely everything is just so. They are as timid and tight as groups of deer, shunning any kind of danger or ugliness, travelling in small herds to feed on only the very highest quality culture. They seem to like Shakespeare, cathedrals and Daylesford best.

The summer holidays are in full swing and it's glorious. Unlike the beach, the countryside never becomes unpleasantly busy. Life is enhanced by the whole range of tourist types, all here just to enjoy themselves. I discovered a backpacking cousin of our Australian au pair in an outbuilding yesterday.

There are campers singing Beatles three fields over, spa spinsters in the gastro pub, house-guests in every home, boutique hotels full of holidaymakers as far as the eye can see in every direction from Oxford to Cheltenham.

As I was driving to the other side of the Cotswolds yesterday I passed a squadron of brightly dressed mature knapsacked marchers. God bless 'em. Walking uphill along the busy road at speed, maps flapping.

The vigour in their stride, their sense of purpose and organisation put the Japanese to shame and kept me smiling all the way to Lechlade.

The simple majesty of spherical objects

I'm not really on holiday but I am enjoying myself. People ask me what I'm doing at the moment and I start trying to explain and ten minutes later I'm still talking and I haven't even got on to how the place I call home has somehow turned into a walkabout pizza with its own airport and parking facilities.

To my surprise and joy I found myself playing croquet for the first time this weekend. I've wanted to have a game for years. Like all country houses and country games it seemed to be exactly as interesting as the people you were doing it with. The most popular people seemed to be the best at it. Someone had bought his own mallet thing but wouldn't share it. That was funny. The girls took it in turn to ask him, teasing him, and watching that was more fun than actually hitting the balls through the hoops.

Every week when the kids spend their pocket money my one-year-old daughter buys another ball. There aren't many things that speak to you loud and clear when you're one but no doubt a ball is a simple but fascinating thing. To start with I told her she already had a ball and didn't need another, but you can't reason with a one- year-old.

Sometimes she picks small ones, sometimes large. There must be a dozen in the garden now and they look like art or flowers. Perfectly round things are ornaments. My favourite game at the moment is when my wife and I kick them all into the trampoline while the children try to throw them out. Great fun. Surprisingly a trampoline and a dozen footballs costs less than a croquet set.