“Well, then?” enquired Alice of the assembled guests “What’s everyone planning for holidays this year?”
There was a general clinking and clattering as guests put down glasses and cutlery and dabbed at mouths with napkins. The dinner parties held by the Smythes were the stuff of legends and you put a foot wrong at your peril.
“Same old, same old for us” led Philippa Bonham-Courtney “back to our villa in Saint Tropez for the summer, I’m happy to say. Old habits die hard, you know.”
Husband Jeremy raised his glass and nodded sagely. There were general murmurs of approval from around the table.
“Hard to beat the Côte d’Azur,” confirmed Diana Featherstone, “It’s got everything.”
“Yes, still a la mode after all these years.” Chipped in Henry, “Diana and I are off to Mustique in June.”
“Lovely little island, “purred Nigel Smythe, “We had dinner with Mick Jagger and his new girlfriend, Melanie, last trip we took. Super evening, lovely couple.”
“What are you and Alice up to this summer?”
Alice exchanged a grin with Nigel. “Well, you remember we spent Easter in Hawaii, we loved it, absolutely gorgeous; Nigel’s managed to get us a yacht with a skipper and chef for a month! We’re going to do all the islands!”
“Fantastic!” cooed Philippa, “Don’t forget, we expect a constant stream of photos on Facebook!” She loved Alice, they’d been up at Cambridge together; looking across at her elegant figure and perfect, swept back hair, the memories came flooding back. God, in reality it had been so long ago! Jeremy and Nigel had worked together in the City for years. They were a tight little group.
“And how about you and Oliver, Caroline?” enquired Alice.
Everyone turned to look at the Jones’. Alice waited. The pair had moved into the valley a couple of years ago. They’d bought the Old Hall on the edge of the village and must have spent millions doing it up. Not a bad job; it was Grade II listed, so no major changes but some touches to the décor inside were a touch outré. New money; Oliver had made it building up a technology company and selling it out to the Chinese. They had been drawn into the circle because, well, they couldn’t have been left out.
“I wanna to go this fantastic property I read about, it’s in the Hebrides” responded Caroline, in the South London accent she had never bothered to lose. “It’s right on a mile long, golden beach; you’d fink it was in the Pacific but the sun’s kinder to yer skin in Scotland. We ‘ave to be careful, don’t we ladies? Oliver wants to go back to South Africa, though.”
Alice smiled indulgently. Caroline had been a model, was about fifteen years younger than Oliver, and still looked disgusting attractive. The girls and her were always a little nervous when she was around the menfolk.
Oliver let out I loud sigh, “Never mind the sun being kinder, I keep telling you, the bloody midges will eat you alive. You’ve no idea what they’re like in the summer.”
The ‘girls’ looked across at Oliver; he really was good enough to eat. They might have derided his lack of class; a bit rough around the edges but, by God, was the man handsome! And oh, so sexy!
“West coast of Scotland’s wonderful. But why not save yourself all those bites and go later in the autumn or even the winter?” offered Jeremy, who always wanted to ‘look after’ Caroline “Even winter can be great up there, you know, calm, bright days, lovely snug evenings.”
“Look, late summer is spring down in South Africa. Bit chilly mornings and evenings but pleasantly warm in the days” continued Oliver. “Nice safari, lovely lodges, great food, fantastic wine and plenty to do. No problems with the skin, what’s not to like?”
“I’ll tell you what’s not to like!” Caroline hit back, “Being charged by a bloody elephant, that’s what! Frightened the life out of me! And hadn’t been in Johannesburg more than a couple of hours and we see the local cops zipping up a corpse in a bleedin body bag. Just don’t feel safe there at all!”
“Didn’t you just love the scenery, Caroline? “ventured Nigel.
“Sod, the scenery! All those bloody, smelly baboons and hyenas! Yuck!”
“Come, on, all that native culture” oozed Henry who not only fancied Caroline something wicked but wanted to keep on Oliver’s good side because of his contacts with the Chinese.
“Ah, culture,” brightened up Oliver with a grin on his face, “culture galore, there’s some wonderful native culture down there,” he went on “would you believe we even came across a Labia Museum?”
“A whaaaaat?” exploded Alice!
A mixture of appalled and expectant looks was exchanged around the table.
Oliver, reached into his pocket for his phone, pressed a few keys and held up a photo for all to see.
“There you are.” He said with a grin “I never lie. Fact is stranger than fiction.
The sign outside the museum said it all.
Note: Every picture tells a story – and this one was taken by Tony