Bookends: Down on the farm

10 March 2012

10 March 2012

Can we please have an inquiry into why already talented people are allowed to go off and be brilliant at something else too? As a quarter of Blur, Alex James (above), spent a decade creating critically acclaimed yet commercially successful pop anthems, thereby earning himself access to more drink, drugs and Doris than you could shake a Fender Precision bass at. Fair enough, say the rest of us (through gritted teeth). What isn’t on is the fact that it now seems James, having retired to a farm in the Cotswolds, can also write like a god.

This won’t come as a total surprise to readers of The Spectator, where the ex-pop star used to detail his cheese-making, barn-building, sow-sourcing adventures. Nevertheless All Cheeses Great and Small: A Life Less Blurry (Fourth Estate, £16.99) is a joy to read. Prose flows and weaves and curls itself into pleasing rhythms, as James relates his tale of a city-dweller falling in love with country life. Alpacas are ‘supermodel sheep, all limbs’. The sheep themselves chew ‘like Alex Ferguson in injury time’. Someone has a dog called Bastard, while birds are ‘all over the place like a gas’.

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Buying a farm has the opposite effect on James to the one it had on Paul McCartney: 20 years of vegetarianism come to an end. Occasionally the ‘isn’t nature wonderful?’ routine gets a bit cloying, but James can always see his own story from the outside. A nearby river flows towards London, ‘placing me comfortably upstream of my past’.

Next up for that inquiry: have you heard Bruce Willis play blues harmonica?

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