Gratefully received from the Publisher for review
I am so happy to host an extract for ‘The Vintage Springtime Club’ book tour, it sounds so delightful and will definitely keep an eye out for it when I go shopping next! Also make out to check out the other bloggers on the tour, on the poster below.
Ricarda had been toying for a while with the idea of letting out her flat and looking for somewhere smaller, but she had never really got around to it for one reason or another. Philip’s flatshare had arrived as if on cue. A twist of fate. More than once, all those years ago, Philip, Herbert and she had built castles in the air: one day, when their children had flown the nest, they’d move in together, smoke cigarettes, drink whisky and pick up where they’d left off as students. She had to smile. They’d been a funny old bunch. Philip’s flat itself was a dream. It was centrally located in a quiet street lined with knobbly, hoary old plane trees in the Agnes quarter of town. It had five large bedrooms, a spacious living room, high ceilings with mouldings, wooden floors, and a beautiful stone balcony leading off the kitchen-cum-dining room.
She liked her flatmates too. There was tomboyish Uschi Müller, who had cared for Philip’s mother a little; Eckart Fröhlich, a retired bank clerk and the Kreuzers’ account manager, whom Philip had run into again at the funeral; and, of course, Philip’s old schoolfriend Harry, who had dutifully enrolled at university along with Philip, but had then preferred to practise his social skills at the pub instead of pursuing a sociology degree! He hadn’t changed one jot – he was still the same old troublemaker. Tough, but with a heart of gold.
Yet it was Philip who had been the crucial factor in her decision.
Shortly after they’d first bumped into one another, they had agreed to meet up for dinner at a local brewery restaurant. They were rather shy at first, both of them, as though they barely knew each other. Then the beer had begun to loosen their tongues. Old stories came up, anecdotes from their university days including the immortal story of Professor Drissen, who had genuinely dozed off during one of his own lectures, like Professor Hastings in Sesame Street. They talked and talked and laughed a lot, mainly about the fact that the dry rot had enabled them to put into action the plan they had hatched all those years ago. If it hadn’t been for all the bother with the dry rot, Ricarda wouldn’t have been rushing to her practice like a lunatic, and she wouldn’t have bumped into Philip. They chinked glasses and congratulated themselves once more on their extraordinary stroke of luck. By candlelight Philip’s features looked almost as boyish as ever; he had that old twinkle in his eye. It was strange to see Philip with wrinkles. That might have been what initially created a peculiar, minute distance between them – nothing personal, just a gap that had widened over the years. Those lines were like little markers of how much time had passed, a reminder that despite their familiarity (and that came flooding back!) it had been decades since they’d last met; they had almost no idea what the other had been through in all those years and months and days.
Their paths had crossed briefly once ten years earlier at Christmas in a bar in the south of the city. Harry had arranged a get-together in his former seminar room – in other words, his old pub. There must have been twenty university friends there. Herbert and she had chatted with Philip for a while. He’d told them about his health post out in the bush. It’d been absolutely fascinating, but he had had to head home soon after, as he’d promised to have dinner with his mother. When he’d left, Ricarda had realised that she would have liked to talk to him for longer. Oddly, she missed him; she had forgotten how nice he was and how fond she was of him. She had stepped outside and cadged a cigarette from a former fellow student.
Herbert had suddenly developed liver cancer a few years later. He’d suffered terribly, and the doctors could do nothing for him apart from relieve his pain. Ricarda had spent every day at his bedside, and the end, at least, had come mercifully quickly. In a matter of months her whole life was turned upside down. She’d tried to keep her chin up, and as always she had managed – to a degree. She’d invited Philip to the funeral too. He had had a wonderful wreath delivered, with the message ‘To my old friend’ printed on a lime-green ribbon, and Ricarda had secretly hoped that he would come, for these words had stirred up old memories in her, a kind of nostalgia. But he hadn’t. Two weeks later she’d found a letter, pasted with colourful African stamps, in her letterbox. He hadn’t been able to get away from Mali; he couldn’t abandon his bush health post at the drop of a hat. He wished her strength. Ricarda bent down and swept the broken china into the dustpan.
‘I’m looking forward to this.’ She whispered his words to herself again and smiled. She’d had a slight nagging doubt at first. Now and then she wondered whether the offer of a flatshare had merely slipped out in his enthusiasm at their chance encounter – and, once uttered, had been hard for him to take back. He’d been evasive during that first dinner when she had asked him about his other flatmates, and he’d put off introducing them to her. Maybe it was because he’d first needed to ask the others whether she was welcome.
They had all finally met up ten days later at the Ludwig museum café. It was certainly odd: a man freshly returned from Africa offers four virtual castaways a room each in the apartment he has inherited from his mother, which he says is ‘in any case too big’ for him on his own. Typical Philip. It soon became clear that they were quite a random bunch, but they got on extremely well. This ragtag dimension brought a little levity to the project, a youthful abandon. This was an unexpected fresh start for them all; none of them had any preconceptions or fixed expectations. That trendy café had felt almost like an African village, with their chief assigning their huts.
Shortly after that first meeting they had spent two weekends by the North Sea to get to know each other better and gauge whether they would really be able to live together. After the second weekend Ricarda had decided that she was fully committed to the flatshare.
She tipped the first dustpanful into the bin and glanced over at the heap of broken pieces that remained. What on earth was she going to do for crockery now? She studied her lists on the kitchen table, running her finger over the various headings and names, then she picked up her mobile and dialled Eckart Fröhlich.
Newly retired Philip returns home to Cologne and is thrown into emotional turmoil upon bumping into his long-lost sweetheart. In the midst of a domestic crisis, Ricarda confides in Philip that she is looking for somewhere to live. And there and then, Philip suggests that she move in with him – he is setting up a flatshare. Will she join him with his mischievous dachshund named Ralf?