Pizza perfection, here I come

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Forty acres of wheat rising in the middle distance behind the cheese factory: I worked out a little while back that with the wheat and the cheese situation in hand I was in control of two of the three vital ingredients for making my favourite thing in the world, from scratch: All I needed for the perfect pizza now was a source of tomatoes.

Finding out more about things that you know that you like is the exquisite pleasure of adulthood. Going fast, jumping off things, stomping the psyche with drugs and booze, chasing women, footballs – all kids' stuff, really. Knowledge is the drug. I feel a genuine sense of altitude looking at that wheat field. I guess we're all involuntary academics at heart. Given enough space and time we can't help but grow more involved with the things we care about.

There was an ugly old farm shed, full of uninspiring leftovers. A pallet of caked lime mortar like damp icing sugar, half a bundle of odd fence posts, a pile of bricks and stack of stone roof slates. In short nothing that needed to be there. After a couple of days with a digger the whole thing was pristine.

And what a thing a nice big empty shed is. All potential, all promise – if that space had been on sale in Soho, they would have wanted millions for it. Vacant possession, triple aspect with quintuple height ceilings: more of a church than a shed when the evening sun smashed in, a shrine to the immaculate view. What a view, leading from the garden uninterrupted up and down the valley. Nothing manmade in sight, just the odd sheep and that wheat blowing in the breeze ahead of the ancient bluebell woods, the rainforests of the North.

Well, what a good place to grow tomatoes. I bought a load of old greenhouse panels from a man in Buckingham and once the steel joists are in we'll be in business. I'm on my way to making the best pizza in the world.





A meeting with a musical hero



Mojo is Britain's biggest-selling music magazine. It was their awards do on Thursday. Everyone was there. Martha Wainwright cried. Anthony from Anthony and the Johnsons made an elegy to Marc Almond from Soft Cell, and we all remembered how brilliant those record were

I was there to present the inspiration award to The Teardrop Explodes. They were brilliant, too. I know Dave Balfe, the band's keyboard player, very well. He signed Blur. Signed us and nurtured us. He once gave me a stern lecture about not choking on my own vomit: practical advice that I took to heart. I'm sure young bands today don't get that kind of support. I bumped into him in the toilets. "Don't make it about me Al," he said. "Make it about Julian. You know what singers are like." It was quite touching. I'd always had Dave down for an egomaniac. As we dried our hands, he just couldn't help giving me advice on how to run a cheese business, as bright and provocative as ever.

It was to be the first time the band had appeared together for decades but then it transpired that Julian – Julian Cope, the Teardrop Explodes' singer – wasn't coming. The most famous image of the great man features him dressed as a forlorn turtle. At one time he had an alter ego called Squbsy, who was seven feet tall. He wrote a tune that went, "Mick mack mock mock mock diddly diddly zing zang". Little wonder he failed to apparate successfully.

Three middle-aged men no one recognised took the stage, accepted the award, and talked about what a genius their singer was but Dave Balfe still somehow failed to understand that he was the reason I'd schlepped to town – a man whose management skills had been an inspiration to a legion of Indie hopefuls from a golden age of music the likes of which we'll probably never hear again.

Without Dave, no Echo and the Bunnymen, no Zodiac Mindwarp, Woodentops, Strawberry Switchblade, Voice of the Beehive, Jesus Jones, KLF, Blur and dozens more besides. I thought inspiration was a wispy intangible feminine presence until Dave Balfe aimed his size 12 squarely at my backside.









Sand – an essential ingredient of family life



I will soon have five children under seven. Mrs James was due to give birth last Friday but there are no signs of anything happening just yet. Blimey, it's a lot of mouths to feed already. It's like doing Christmas every day. In future it's probably going to pay to get the groceries delivered by catering suppliers and pay for them with an invoicing system rather than go to the shops.

As well as a new car, having a fifth child means the sandpit needs extending, too. Kids have a fascination with sand. They need it. It's better than a swimming pool as far as they are concerned. It's where they chill and entertain their guests.

I'd been piffling around topping the thing up each year with bags from the toy shop, but if you buy it by the bag it's ridiculous: more expensive than potatoes, pound for pound. And it really doesn't fill the thing up. All very unsatisfactory.

Well, the sandpit is certain to be in for a few more years' service so I ordered a ton of the stuff from a builders' merchants. A big blue one-ton builders' merchant bag was craned off a flatbed truck into the back garden. Now, that's what I'm talking about. When I stuck my head in after school it was like bees and honey. I thought they might want to help me wheelbarrow it into the sandpit. There was a pair of legs waving in the air out of the bag where the eldest was tunnelling deep. The twins were sort of swimming in it. A beach delivered to the door for £75. Beauty.

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