3 MAY 2008, Page 57

Happy hour

Alex James

‘I’m going to look at the dandelions,’ I said. ‘There’s loads of them.’ ‘I’ll come,’ she said.

‘Come on. Hurry up, then. It’s happy hour.’ It was the end of the day and suddenly still and sunny. The star was taking a curtain call. Earlier there had been hail so heavy you had to raise your voice against it, wind hard from all quarters and rolling thunder with skies so grey all might have seemed hopeless to anyone who hadn’t spotted the pink flowers by the pond. It takes a groaning grey sky to really set off a pink flower. But now, gold light was flying in sideways, and green and blue were everywhere and looked good together for spring. Sometimes, in the hour before sunset, the light is so rich and dazzling even a pile of tyres sitting on a concrete slab looks like God might have put them there just to show off.

It was all so pretty it seemed completely abstract, suddenly, but there were practicalities to consider too. I had to break into the shed where the quad was. I was wrenching the door open with very little refinement when she arrived, with her hood pulled tight around her head and her hands jammed into her middle.

I wasn’t sure whether to be angry with the builders for locking the quad up and going home with the key, or for not locking it up properly, as I was inside in 20 seconds. She kicked stones while I fiddled about trying to make it start and she laughed when I graunched the wall reversing out.

We got married five years ago this week. I was a brightly lit pile of tyres back then, in a famous band. You can never be sure why people like you when you’re successful or famous. Well, actually, I suppose you can. I don’t know what she was expecting: more than dandelions? Perhaps.

She hung on, her chin resting on my shoulder, face peeping out of the hood and her curves pushing into my back. The dog came, too. We zoomed up the dirt track in tandem towards the top field where I’d seen the dandelions the day before. Then, a couple of roe deer had bounced off into the woods when I arrived. Today, a pair of Canada geese took flight on sight of the whirring whippet. They began their take-off roll as we arrived at full tilt. He peeled away towards them and then we were following him. I know he will chew my favourite guitar one day, he’s already started on the piano legs, but there is nothing to compare to a whippet on the bound — faster than a leopard and eleganter than an alligator. There was a lot of grace to spare in that chase. The huge birds gliding, the dog, easily faster, racing low, hugging the ground with each step, just playing with them. ‘I’ve seen a fox down by the pond,’ she said, loud in my ear over the engine. ‘That’s why they’re up here.’ The thunderstorms had washed away the haze and given the big sponge a drink. Six kinds of weather in one day, a mad spin cycle. A tree that had buds on clearly definable branches last night looked green and fuzzy on top this evening. Perfectly sculpted anvils of cumulonimbus spotted the horizon. There was a glimpse of a stately home through the trees. We were zooming through an immaculate stationary eternity, a landscape arrested by sunshine. Sheep were statuesque on the mound. Some of the hedgerows were pure white with blossom, others still asleep. It was so colourful it was like being underwater.

‘It’s nice,’ she said. ‘I didn’t know you could come this way.’ We stopped in the middle of the huge field at the centre of a pristine green landscape on the very threshold of spring, the sun warm on our faces and the engine warm on our behinds. ‘What are those clouds called?’ ‘Cumulonimbus,’ I said. ‘CBs. ‘They’re incredibly violent.’ But they looked like decorations on a Christmas tree.

Then the engine died. ‘There’s no fuel,’ she said. ‘I told you.’ ‘There’s loads of fuel. It’s just a lemon, this thing.’ I couldn’t make it start and she started back towards the house with the dog, on foot. I passed her five minutes later in the middle of the dandelions. ‘I can’t slow down or it’ll stop, do you want to hop on?’ I hollered. She was shaking her head and smiling and in her hand was a little bunch of dandelions.