My country memories: Alex James
Becoming attuned to the rhythm of the seasons on his Cotswolds farm has grounded the musician and given him a huge affection for the British countryside
'I always thought Id end up living by the sea but, being based on a farm in the landlocked Cotswolds, I couldnt be further away if I tried. My grandad used to run a guesthouse in Bournemouth and, after he died, mum, dad, my little sister Deborah and I went to live there. The surrounding countryside was spectacular. I think Dorset is a very underrated county it has some breathtaking scenery such as the Ministry of Defence land on the Isle of Purbeck where wed often go walking as a family. My parents are big walkers and Ive grown to love this pastime as well the only problem for me is that with five children of my own Geronimo, whos seven years old, Artemis and Gallileo, five, Sable, three, and Beatrix, one theres not much time for it as everything has to be done at running pace.
'The best part of growing up in Bournemouth was being right on the Jurassic Coast. My favourite beach was Kimmeridge and during the winter, on every first Sunday of the month, my parents would take my sister and me there to meet family friends. Wed pile up all the driftwood and debris that had gathered on the shore over the past month, have a giant bonfire and cook jacket potatoes and sausages on it. The coast is just as beautiful off-season, if not more so. I find bright sunny days rather boring and prefer the seaside when its moody, overcast and cloudy. There is a pleasant melancholy about a grey beach.
'I didnt ever dream of living in the countryside. By the time I was 15 all I wanted to do was leave Bournemouth for London. Then when I was playing in Brit-pop band Blur in my 20s I travelled the world, but as I got older I started to appreciate the country and felt its gentle pull. My wife Claire and I bought our farm near the village of Kingham in Oxfordshire by fax while we were on our honeymoon in Italy. It was not only the start of a new life together, but a whole new way of living for us. I didnt know anybody in the area then although "Cider with Rosie" has always been my favourite book, Laurie Lees Cotswolds was a very different place to what it is today. We were drawn there because Oxfordshire is where Claire and I fell in love. Although we met in London, our relationship really unfolded on weekends away in the country, and so it holds many happy memories for us.
'When I decided to go into farming I thought that I was retiring: I didnt have any idea that I was about to go from the easiest job in the world to the hardest. I used to go for picnics in the countryside and think, "Isnt this pretty?". But now I realise that every blade of grass is there for a reason. We moved here eight years ago and its really exciting to see the trees that weve planted starting to bear fruit. We have 200 acres, a herd of Gloucester cattle, as well as pigs, sheep and hens including some interesting breeds such as Silkies. Being here is very grounding. I suppose thats why its become the natural habitat of so many ageing rockers; after years of living out of a suitcase theres a huge yearning to put down roots, and what better place to do that than on a farm?
'My mum is a country girl and still knows more about cows than I do, while my dad is great on birds. Though Ive learned so much in the past few years about nature and farming, the more I know, the more I realise there is to discover. The best thing about living in the country is just stepping outside your door every day. If you want to see something particularly beautiful, you only need to get up early. In the city so much happens at night, whereas in rural areas the most exciting times are at sunrise and sunset, when the soundtrack and the lighting are amazing.
'Ive travelled all over the world and flown above all kinds of landscapes in Europe, and I can honestly say that the British countryside is the prettiest there is. With its hedgerows and fields, its a jewel. The more time I spend here, the more I find I want to stay. Its draw for me is immense, to the extent that I dont want to go on holiday any more because I miss the farm too much. Once youve felt the rhythm of the seasons and fallen under their spell, the rural way of life becomes completely absorbing, and almost impossible to leave.'
Now a writer and award-winning cheesemaker, Alex James became famous as the bass player in the band, Blur. He is judging the Ambition AXA Awards to find the UK's most gifted and driven young people announced on 30 November 2011. www.ambitionaxaawards.com