I’m delighted to be able to share the first chapter of The Vintage Springtime Club by Beatrice Meier which is published as an e-book and in trade paperback today by Little Brown. The author was born in Germany and studied literary translation at Düsseldorf University. The Vintage Springtime Club is her first novel. A German television adaptation was broadcast in spring 2015. You can order a copy of the book here: The Vintage Springtime Club
About the book
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?
To his surprise, Ricarda agrees, leaving Philip to scramble together a crew of retires in time for spring, for the most unlikely of social experiments. There’s grumpy cigarette-smoking grandfather Harry; quiet and discreet Eckart, curiously carting around his late wife’s headstone; Uschi, brimming with life, harbouring a passion for leotards and aerobics, along with sausages and outrageous knitting patterns; and then, ever-practical and warm-hearted Ricarda, towards whom Phillip is developing real feelings.
Despite their differences, the flatmates thrive and embark on a series of new adventures. But when Uschi falls unwell, familiar cracks begin to show and this uniquely spirited club of friends must work together in order to survive – and truly blossom.
First chapter extract
‘Six months?!’ asked Ricarda.
‘At the very least,’ said the chubby, blue-overalled workman with a nod. His eyes wandered over the living room’s white-painted beams. Two of them were sagging slightly.
‘It looks as though three floors are affected now. The whole house needs renovating.’
‘The whole house?’
‘Dry rot’s the worst thing that can happen to a building. Do you own your flat?’
Ricarda nodded in despair.
‘It’s going to cost you a pretty penny.’ He checked that the strands of hair combed across his crown concealed his bald patch properly.
Ricarda looked up from his balding head to the mouldy spot next to the wooden beam that ran across her bright living room. The management company had given her a preliminary cost estimate, but this was the first time anyone had told her that she would have to move out of her flat for six months.
‘Okay, but where am I supposed to live during that time?’
‘I’ve no idea. I’m just the mould specialist,’ said the man with the comb-over. He picked up his toolbox and walked to the door. ‘I’d gladly put you up at my place, Fräulein, but I don’t think my wife would be very amused.’ He shook her hand, and with a cheeky grin he was gone.
Ricarda wasn’t sure what upset her most: the dry rot, his total indifference or . . . that Fräulein stuff. Fräulein? Seriously? She checked her watch. It was a quarter past nine, and she was running late. She grabbed her handbag and glanced one last time in the mirror. She didn’t look sixty-one. Her face was still virtually wrinkle-free, she dyed her hair chestnut-brown, and she kept fit by doing Pilates and swimming. The years had taken their toll on her body, of course, but Ricarda was fighting hard – and by and large she was winning. She decided, amidst all this madness, that she would at least take that Fräulein as a compliment.
She stepped out into the busy street. The morning sun was dazzling. To her left the cathedral towered into the sky. Six months? At the very least? Where on earth was she meant to go for all that time? Maybe she could move into Stella’s place for a while; her daughter had taken an interpreting job with a company in Granada for three months. Or had she sub-let her flat?
Ricarda searched for Stella’s number on her mobile and dialled it. Straight to voicemail. Glancing at her watch, she saw that her first appointment would be arriving in twenty minutes. She hurried down the street. Her psychotherapy practice was on the far side of the cathedral. She climbed the steps to the square in front of the great monument, the wind billowing her skirt.
She could ask Berthe, who shared the practice with her. But did she really want to spend her evenings with her chatty colleague as well as her days? Given the choice, she’d prefer to rent a small flat for a time and . . .
‘Ricarda?’ A man’s voice interrupted her thoughts. She spun around. The tall man, dressed in jeans and a white T-shirt, was peering down at her in surprise. It took her a moment to recognise him.
‘Philip?’ It really was Philip. Philip Kreuzer. ‘What are you doing here?’ she asked.
‘I’m back in Cologne.’ His clear grey eyes twinkled. He was every bit as surprised as she was.
‘So you’re not in Mali any more?’
He shook his head. They held each other’s gaze for just a little too long, then he laughed.
‘Now isn’t this something!’ said Ricarda, returning his laughter. They had studied together. Philip had been best friends with her then boyfriend Herbert, whom she had later married. After graduation Philip had gone to work for Médecins Sans Frontières in Mali. He only occasionally returned to Cologne. Herbert had visited him a couple of times in Africa, but they had lost touch over the years.
As Philip explained that he’d left Mali for good, she studied his face in amazement. He looked like a completely different person – and at the same time he seemed unchanged. They had once known each other inside out. His fine features had grown more prominent with age. His hair was a little longer now, and his three-day stubble lent him a cool and casual air. His hair was streaked with grey, but that suited him.
‘How about you?’ he asked. ‘How are you doing?’
‘Oh, I . . . Oh, don’t ask!’ She blurted out her story about the dry rot. Now it was his turn to study her face. The wind whipped her hair around as she tried to hold her skirt down. ‘Six months! Just imagine! Where am I supposed to go for that length of time? And to top it all off the guy calls me Fräulein!’
Philip grinned. Once again his eyes lingered on her for a second too long. She looked at her watch.
‘Philip, I’ve got to go, let’s—’
‘Move in with me.’
‘You can move in with me if you like.’
‘Hang on – move in with you?’ She couldn’t just shack up with a man with whom she’d once been at university but hadn’t seen in ages.
‘It’s a flatshare.’
‘What? A flatshare?’ Flatshare. The word unexpectedly catapulted her back to a time that hadn’t entered her mind for God knew how long. ‘Flatshare’: a word synonymous with long, smoke-clouded, debate-filled nights, blocked plugholes, overflowing ashtrays, rickety chairs, piles of dirty plates in the sink, cleaning rotas that went unheeded, red wine served in mustard jars, tears and fits of laughter, pre-exam stress, broken hearts . . .
‘Yes,’ Philip said with a nod. ‘There’s still one room available.’
‘You’re offering me a room in your flatshare?’
‘Well . . . that’s so great! You’re my saviour!’
‘It looks that way.’ Philip grinned.
Ricarda couldn’t believe it. What a coincidence!