Alex James: Wonderful ways to enjoy the summer


Related Topics

Baker Street. I was nearly dead, almost beaten. I'd been up since the middle of the night. After a breakfast meeting and a lunch that had gone to extra time and penalties I was due at my accountant's to convince him that building a glass cathedral for the tomatoes had been a necessary move.

I was early but having 20 minutes to spare in the middle of town in daytime for a father of five just doesn't happen normally. I walked on past the accountant's and was drawn down a street I've passed a hundred times. It was as if I was alone. London was as hot and still as a dream for the first week of the summer holidays: deserted enough to call it my own.

In the blink of a weary eye, before you could say hot sauce, I'd walked into an empty barbershop, hung up my bag, taken off my jacket and was lying back with my eyes closed under a sheet in the number one chair. Maybe you can tell a decent barber's because there are always one or two guys hanging around not saying all that much.

Anyway, here I was drinking in the sound of the tiny transistor radio when biff, biff came the flannel, and the smell of orange extinguished the world. I was inside that smell. The towel was scorching, full of fizzing steam. He flopped it around and twirled it over my face so only my nose stuck out: the correct technique. I was in the hands of a master.

I floated off. The music coming out of that tiny radio was intoxicating. Then the sounds of the city flowed like birdsong, a solitary taxi, a distant siren, the ear-shattering treble of many bottles smashing. The mousse went on the blade. Ten minutes later I looked 10 years younger and felt ready to demand more places to grow tomatoes. These odd moments to spare in central London – lives turn on them, on the chance encounters and re-awakenings they trigger: one of the very finest things in life, an impromptu hot towel shave. Twenty minutes in Baker Street. That was all the summer holiday I needed.

Nothing beats the taste of home-grown cherries

Back at home as well it was calm and still in the heat: quiet enough to make you wonder where everyone had gone. In the garden I came to my senses, snapped out of a daydream by a row of cherry trees I planted the year before last in a remote corner of the garden.

Before I had a garden I hadn't given a thought to where cherries come from. I'm not sure I've ever seen them growing before and I've certainly never picked any.

A perfectly ripe one caught my eye. I was surprised that the trees had borne fruit so quickly. It was good to eat, too. The next couple I tried were on the sour side, but nice enough for me to keep on trying them. It was the fourth or fifth that was the monster. A perfect mouthful like a bomb going off on my tongue. It was one of the nicest things I've ever eaten and I began to gather them in earnest. I hadn't thought there were very many, but the more I picked, the more I found. I was beyond my worries, beyond time inside a bowl of cherries.

People are prepared to spend hundreds, thousands of pounds on fine wine but nothing I have ever tasted could compare with the obvious brilliance of those English cherries: as nuanced, delicious and intoxicating as the finest champagne. Those trees were only £10.95 plus VAT, too.

Just when I think I've done everything worth doing, the next interesting thing always comes along and I realise how little I know about anything. I ate more of the cherries with fresh goats' cheese later. The combination is sublime. You don't have to grow your own cherries or make your own cheese but you do have to try them.

Tweeds and ferrets at the country fair

What scenes at the CLA Game Fair. There must have been a thousand people for drinks in the big house, a hundred for lunch in the president's marquee. The event is one huge celebration of country living and no corner of the pastoral dream was left unexplored in the endless acres of stalls.

You could have arrived a steadfast metrosexual and left a fully-equipped quiet country gentleman. The woods and the wilds, all packaged up and ready to take home. I didn't know which way to look. There were wild fungi tour operators plying their trade next to home sausage- making outfitters.

Everything I could possibly have ever thought of needing. I'd be walking towards a wood chipper machine to make an enquiry and get completely distracted by bison burgers and rotisserie barbecues: there were guns going off, bows and arrows, ferrets. You could probably even get a wife to share it all with if you needed one. Tweed skirts and pencil legs everywhere. It was pleasing to see the denizens of the countryside en masse, getting together for a big day out.

The posh people seemed implausibly tweedy and the earthy contingent, well, extra rustic. It was all a bit larger than life. How nice it is to be normal, I thought, as I was having my photograph taken.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

Read Next

Errors & Omissions: how to spell BBQ and other linguistic irregularities

Guy Keleny

South Africa's race problem is less between black and white than between poor blacks and immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa

John Carlin
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own