Alex James: When Chef said he loved my cheese...

Rural Notebook
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The Independent Online

I wanted to go to dinner, not because it's a fabulous house but because I like the guy. It is a fabulous house, though: proper, old-fashioned, country splendour, a stately home with every trimming imaginable. It belongs to another, more magnificent age. Even now, the spectacular wines in the

cellars are passing their sell-bys and the portraits peeling on the walls because in the 21st century, no one could possibly entertain on the scale that the house was conceived on.

The other guests were largely slightly irritating people, people who were there to see the house. A lot of wide-eyed, waddling, fluffy bunny rabbits, they were, who couldn't tell the wine was knackered. "Well, phhhh... Haven't seen much of you in the papers recently," said someone. Someone else said, "Did you know that my father bought your farm and he actually kept the fields that he wanted, the best ones for farming, of course, and then he sold what he didn't want to the person that you bought it from." It was all just ever so slightly catty. It was tiring. "What do you do?" said someone else who already seemed cross with me. "What do you do?" like that. "What?" I took great delight in telling him that I make cheese. He practically snorted with derision and flounced off to find the rock star he had heard was attending.

I'd brought some cheese with me. "Ooh, chef would love to meet you," said my dear host. "He's a real foodie!" The fact that a chef should also be a food lover seemed to him a wonderful piece of luck. In the vast kitchen, similar to the one where I worked when I was 15 in a hotel in Bournemouth, there was an elderly chef. He was holding a small, cling-filmed piece of cheese in a shaky hand. He was taking it home with him. He fixed my eye with some effort, deliberately. "It's the nicest cheese I've ever had," he said.

I swear I've never felt so proud.

A happening place to be

A bread-and-butter January day, everyone "head down, arse up, pedalling hard", and as I ran through the woods, even the animals seemed busy. A woodpecker hammering, exotic tits building a nest, gangs of skinny deer skulking warily, like the teenagers in Chipping Norton. Ah, to be a part of all that whirring industry under comforting, grey skies. More happening than Manhattan in Fashion Week.

The river runs high

I've only seen the well in the back garden higher than this once – the day that Tewkesbury sank. The river is so handsome, strong. I had an overwhelming urge to jump in, earlier; never stronger. In fact that's where I'm going right now. Communion.