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’.

Inline sub2


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?

This article first appeared in the print edition of The Spectator magazine, dated

Tags: Alex James, Book review, Bookends, Cheese, Farming