Alex James: At home in the strangest of places

Wednesday 25 March 2009 01:00

Maybe there are a million chickens hidden away in the sheds occupying just one small fraction of a corner of Enstone airfield. It's hard to guess how many – endless sheds, endless chickens and eggs, stinking to high heaven even in the cleansing whistle of the stiff spring breeze. The breeze has been the star of the show this week and on Saturday it was thrilling, riffling the expanses of tufty grass then falling away to nothing so I could feel the sun on my face.

I always feel twinges of melancholy at the airfield. It is by turns eerie and glamourous, a vast, decaying Second World War relic with a runway big enough to land the space shuttle, thousands of acres of quasi-sinister otherworldliness with a neat fence around it plum in the middle of rural Oxfordshire. Nissen huts, chicken huts, snack vans, big piles of aggregates: there's something slightly makeshift, fleeting about all of it. Even the colossal animal feed plant, visible for many miles around, makes no suggestion of permanence. It looks like a launch scaffold for a recently-departed moon rocket, or an oil tanker ready to weigh anchor. Just when I thought I'd never seen more ugly things put together in a less appealing way, a full-on assault of all the vigour and glamour of youth. Slightly further along the pot-holed perimeter road, rally drivers were careering around one of several racetracks.

I am drawn to this strange place. It seems to fall between somewhere that is open to the public, and somewhere they should never go – behind the veil of retail, stinking chickens and the strange monument of the dark satanic animal feed mill; and non-spectator sports, quite interesting to watch. At the aero club, there were handfuls of people dawdling as always at aero clubs. It suddenly seemed more interesting to be poking around this place with its strange depositories and factories than poking around the high street.

Landing in the garden

Back at home, my pilot friend and I made an inspection of the top field and decided he could just as easily have landed the aeroplane there. It's perfect, in fact. Flat and dry with good approaches. I'm surprised that it's not against the law, but it seems a gentleman may still land his aeroplane in his garden if he so wishes.

Grounded pleasures

It's good to get airborne occasionally, but at the moment, more than anything I'm enjoying running around the countryside: it's strangely addictive. Like a mad rabbit, I bound along the footpaths and bridleways in a world of my own. Bliss.

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