A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox vulpes libris : small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard. Meet the tournament hosts: self-made man Patrick and his brash and beautiful wife Caroline, out to impress with their new country house. Meet the guests: Stephen and Anne, their impoverished former neighbours; social climber Charles and his aristocratic new wife Cressida; and the ruthlessly competitive father-and-daughter team Don and Valerie.
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I was 24 and working as a financial journalist. And the idea I eventually had was a tennis party — a group of friends who come together at a country house for a weekend to play tennis — at least ostensibly to play tennis. In fact their host has an ulterior motive: he wants to extort money out of them. They all have a lot of baggage, they sleep with each other, they behave very badly, drink a lot of Pimms, thrash tennis balls around, and things come to a head quite intensely.
I can remember walking into bookshops and seeing my book up on the shelves and just staring in amazed delight. I have no idea what the shop assistants thought of me! I will always remember that buzz, so for me this is a very special book.
After all, he had the perfect setting — the White House. She was glad to welcome Stephen and Annie, their impoverished former neighbours, less glad to see newly wealthy Charles and his aristocratic wife Cressida, and barely able to tolerate the deadly competitive Don and Valerie.
As the four couples gathered on the sunny terrace, it seemed obvious who was winning in life and who was losing. But by the end of the party, nothing would be certain.
As the first ball is served over the net it signals the start of two days of tempers, shocks, revelations, the arrival of an uninvited guest, and the realisation that the weekend is about anything but tennis. It was the sort of warm, scented evening that Caroline Chance associated with holidays in Greece; with glasses of ouzo and flirtatious waiters and the feel of cool cotton against burnt shoulder.
Except that the sweet smell wafting through the air was not olive groves, but freshly mown English grass. Trot on. Caroline grimaced and resumed painting her toenails. The moment they had moved to Bindon from Seymour Road, Georgina had started clamouring for a pony. And, of course, Patrick had insisted she should be given one. In fact, Caroline had grown quite fond of the first pony. It was a sweet little thing, with a shaggy mane and a docile manner. Caroline had sometimes gone to look at it when no-one was about and had taken to feeding it Ferroro Rocher chocolate.
But this latest creature was a monster — a huge great black thing that looked quite wild. At eleven, Georgina was tall and strong, but Caroline couldn t understand how she could even get onto the thing, let alone ride it and go over jumps. She finished painting her right foot and took a slug of white wine. Her left foot was dry, and she lifted it up to admire the pearly colour in the evening light. She was sitting on the wide terrace outside the main drawing-room of the house.
The White House had been built — rather stupidly, Caroline felt, given the English climate — as a suntrap. The stark white walls reflected the sun into the central courtyard , and the main rooms faced south.
But it was still bloody freezing in England. Today, though. She had to concede, had been about as perfect as ot cpi;d get.
Translucent blue sky; scorching sun; not a gust of wind. She had spent most of the day getting ready for tomorrow, but luckily the tasks she had allotted herself — arranging flowers, preparing vegetables, waxing her legs — were the sort of thing that could be done outside. The main dishes — vegetable terrine for lunch; seafood tartlets for dinner — had arrived from the caterers that morning, and Mrs Finch had already decanted them onto serving plates.
The riding lesson was over and Georgina came bounding across the lawn, long blond rivers of recently plaited hair streaming down her back.
Then what? She had no idea whether a rising trot was supposed to the controlled or utterly abandoned. Her voice was husky, roughened by cigarettes and, lately, a bottle of white wine nearly every evening. You roll the balls along the line and then you hold them up and throw them to the people playing. I can serve overhead, too. The nail varnish brush smudged. You need clean nails. Yours are all horsy. Caroline, who had once trained as a gymnast herself, looked up. They did it to strengthen the girls for more important pursuits — netball, lacrosse, and always the horses.
Patrick Chance, walking up to the house from the tennis court, saw his beautiful, agile daughter turning cartwheels against the setting sun, and stopped for a moment, taking in her effortless grace, her vitality and energy. Was every father as sentimental as he? He found it difficult, talking to other parents, to emulate their easy nonchalance. When the other parents nodded, smiling, and turned back to their chatter, his heart would beat with suppressed rage and incomprehension.
But look at her! Just look at her! She plays the piano, too, he would say, desperate to win back their attention. Coming on very well, her teacher says. We thought we might try her on the flute. Caroline, he noticed, had turned her attention back to her nail polish. Particularly because, to be fair, there was a lot more in Georgina that Caroline could claim as her own that he could. Mother and daughter shared their blond hair, their athletic frames, their tendency to burst into raucous laughter.
She was used to beauty, physical accomplishment and popularity. Whereas Patrick, short, stumpy and short-sighted, was not. Or Austrian, or something. I just thought it would be nice for them to have that room. Caroline raised suspicious eyes.
How long have we been here? Nearly three years. Caroline gave a cackle of laughter. Patrick stared at Georgina. You hardly know her. And Charles used to play the guitar. Her eyes seemed to reflect his own failures and worries back at him, reminding him in a tacit instant of the disappointments and disillusionments of the last thirteen years. She tasted, as she had done when he first kissed her behind one of the stand at the Daily Telegraph personal finance exhibition, of lipstick, cigarettes and alcohol.
And the other twin could play with the nanny. How about that, Daddy? As Patrick entered his study, he felt rather deflated. Life at Bindon had not turned out quite as he had wanted, and he, too, often felt a secret nostalgia for the days at Seymour Road.
All the smart little girls that he met at her school seemed to live in villages, in old rectories and farmhouses, with dogs and horses and sheep. None of them lived in red-brick villas in the suburbs of Silchester. So they had sold twenty-four Seymour Road, moved to Bindon and bought Georgina a pony. Here, Patrick had felt, they would move into a new level of existence. His mind had been filled, in the few weeks before the move, with images of large houses with sweeping drives, aristocratic girls leading horses out of loose boxes, croquet on the lawn, young boys called Henry and Hugo for Georgina to grow up with.
Many had moved to Bindon out of Silchester, or even London, attracted by the quick rail link to Waterloo. Besides, they tended to keep to themselves, relying for their social life on parties of friends down from London — and, when those dried up, often moving back to London themselves.
For there was a village community of sorts in Bindon. They knew the old lady whose family had once owned the manor house — and who now lived in a nearby cottage.
They knew the fluttery pair of sisters whose brother had been the vicar of Bindon before he died. They knew the rather eccentric Taylors, who had lived in Bindon for generations — and probably married each other for generations, Caroline liked to add. But nowhere had Patrick found the smart, sociable, double-barrelled, Country Life families for which he was looking. Patrick, who himself comuted to London, was not offended by this remark. But Georgina could and would be, if only she could mix with the right people.
He was now looking seriously at moving further into the country — Dorset, Wiltshire, Somerset, perhaps. He had visions of a big Georgian house; perhaps ten or twenty acres.
If this year went well, perhaps they could start looking. He would ask Charles casually into the study after lunch. No hassle, just an agreeable piece of business between friends. Never had been. Always courteous. Sometimes they were intrigued; sometimes he even found the punter phoning him back. But not if they were sophisticated investors — or, most tricky of all, thought they were sophisticated.
But a doubt kept swimming around in his mind. He sat back in his chair, staring blindly at the bookcase.
The Tennis Party
Added by 11 of our members. It was Patrick's idea that they should have the tennis party weekend. After all, he had the perfect setting - the White House. Bought out of his bonuses as an investment salesman, it was complete with stable, cocktail bar, jacuzzi, shell-shaped bedheads and, of course, the tennis court towered over by an authentic Wimbledon-green umpire's chair. He hadn't actually told Caroline, his brash and beautiful wife, what the real reason for the party was. And if she suspected that he had a hidden agenda, she managed to hide it in a cloud of Pimm's-induced laughter.
The Tennis Party / 40 Love
It was Patrick's idea that they should have the tennis party. After all, he has the perfect setting - the White House, bought out of his bonuses as an investment banker. He hasn't actually told Caroline, his brash and beautiful wife, what the real reason for the party is. She is glad to welcome Stephen and Annie, their impoverished former neighbours, less glad to see newly wealthy Charles and his aristocratic wife Cressida, and barely able to tolerate the deadly competitive Don and Valerie. But as the first ball is served over the net it signals the start of two days of tempers, shocks, revelations, the arrival of an uninvited guest, and the realization that the weekend is about anything but tennis. Madeleine Wickham. Madeleine Wickham was born in London and published her first novel, The Tennis Party , while working as a financial journalist.