Occasionally, I wake up early enough to listen to On Your Farm (Sundays, 6.35am, Radio 4), usually as a result of excess the previous night - drunkard's dawn. This past week, however, I was deep in the land of nod on Sunday morning, so I listened to the first programme in the new series on a preview CD.
For anyone who doesn't know it, On Your Farm is best described as Farming Today Lite: it seems to be aimed at dreamy townies and second-home owners rather than people who actually have reason to worry about milk quotas. In other words, it's enjoyably annoying, just like the countryside itself. I saw in the new year in Norfolk, and when I wasn't secretly cheering the incomers - thanks to them, the place is full of delis that sell German sausages - I was cursing them for their mustard corduroys and their horrible four-wheel drives.
Anyway, Alex James, the bass player with Blur, has joined the programme's roster of presenters (the others are Elinor Goodman, the former Channel 4 News political editor, Clarissa Dickson Wright and Adam Henson, who also presents Countryfile on BBC1). Which makes perfect sense, in a warped kind of a way.
James is rich, and he is spending his cash on farming. He and his wife, Claire, and their children (Geronimo, Artemis and Galileo; I kid you not) live in a house, a very big house, in the Cotswolds where they - or, to be accurate, the staff - rear sheep and produce cheese. The 7 January show introduced James to listeners with a tour of this operation, one so daffily rock star-ish, it was almost beyond parody. I wonder if he had any idea what a twit he sounded. At one point, we heard him semi-pleading with his land agent, Paddy, that they buy a tractor (Paddy had insisted that diggers were more useful). Not since my baby brother was into Tonka toys have I heard a human male sound so babyishly keen to own a vehicle with outsize tyres, in a primary colour.
James informed us that, in the days when he still used to live in Covent Garden, he even had to get someone in to look after his balcony. But then he got hitched and, cities being "too erotic" to be of help to the non-single, he decided that the country would be the best place to "play out" a marriage. Now, he says, the "smell of sheep shit" is the smell of home.
Not that he's one to get his wellies too dirty. Although he'd "love" to help with the lambing, somehow he just never gets round to it, on account of the tricky hours and the cold weather. So a man called Fred deals with that. What did Fred make of his boss? "Oh, he's not a bad sort of chap," he said. James's best quality, apart from his deep pockets, seems to be that he doesn't interfere. And what effect has this "little model farm" had on the new owner? According to James, the countryside makes a man very "self-absorbed". What? And being a rock star doesn't?
As you know, I am resolutely opposed to the idea of celebrity presenters invading Radio 4. However, I think the addition of Alex James is rather clever. In his affable way, he is the living embodiment of the countryside as theme park - which is what, in the 21st century, it mostly is. I look forward to hearing more about his "soft-biting" cheese in the near future. It's going to be called Geronimo. Honestly. Who needs The Archers when real country life is this barmy?
Pick of the week
Classic Serial: Germinal
From 14 January, 3pm, Radio 4
Class conflict among Zola’s miners, starring the brilliant David Bradley.
It's My Story: from Molly to Misbah
17 January, 1.30pm, Radio 4
The runaway Molly Campbell – aka Misbah Rana – talks exclusively to the BBC.
London Art Fair
As the Frieze Art Fair has gone from strength to strength, the less glamorous London Art Fair has lagged behind. But the director, Jonathan Burton, insists that his event is "more approachable than Frieze, and open to new collectors". The fair's emphasis is on contemporary British work. Prices range from as little as £5 up to £500,000 for museum-quality pieces. Established artists such as Grayson Perry, Damien Hirst (whose Faithless is pictured, right), Howard Hodgkin and Bridget Riley are represented alongside up-and-coming talent. So go along to Islington and judge for yourself . . .
17-21 January, Business Design Centre, 52 Upper Street, London N1. www.londonartfair.co.uk