To read part 1 of this series, please click here.
After weeks of waiting and wondering and harassing Monsieur for information, which was not forthcoming, we had finally reached the surprise destination where we’d celebrate The Wedding that Wasn’t. As we drove off the road, through pairs (plural) of gatehouses and up a drive snaking smoothly through immaculate surrounds, I spotted golfers with carts and clubs to the right, a little church and a bridge and a long, glassy lake to the left. Then, before us rose a big white building in colonial clubhouse style. This was Stoke Park Club. This was the surprise.
We drove across crunchy gravel between the clubhouse and a putting practice green punctuated by lots of holes marked by little red or white flags, and into the car park, which was like a Who’s Who of luxury car manufactury. There were at least five Range Rovers in the first row, various Porsches, in both Carrera and Cayman styles, BMWs with windows tinted for anonymity, Mercedes large and Mercedes small, a Ferrari, a couple of Astons (I had to bite my knuckles, so beautiful were the Astons) and so on. Picking a spot that wouldn’t give our own car an inferiority complex, we walked back to the clubhouse, which strangely enough reminded me of a wedding cake in its whiteness, to check in. I suppose I had weddings on the brain.
Once inside the ‘wedding cake’, the staff were consummate professionals, evidently seasoned in dealing with the demands of the super-rich; we could tell. We had two people dedicated to checking us in and two different porters insisted on helping us with our bags at different times, in spite of the insignificance of our luggage in both size and weight. Following the second porter we passed through a bar hung with impressive artworks, a couple of guests therein looking like advertisements for Pringle as they sipped on post-golf refreshments.
Along a dim corridor with life-size portrait staring at us from its end, we climbed a narrow staircase to our room named after a long-dead soul called Hastings. A little ante room with antique armoire of ancient mahogany gave onto the bedroom in one direction and bathroom in the other. As I checked the bed for bounce Monsieur shouted to me from the bathroom – “It’s bigger than the bedroom! Come and see!” And heavens, so it was. There was room enough between power shower and bathtub to play skittles, should one ever consider that a good way to pass the time.
Back in the bedroom I threw open the window to find the fifteenth hole just yonder. Yes, this was a golfer’s paradise, and novice golfer though I may be, my hands were itching to grab a club and give this lush course a whirl.
Not wanting to waste too much time indoors, in spite of the plumpscious cushions and armchairs-with-a-view, we trudged back to the car to retrieve our golf bags, heading across an expanse of perfect grass to the driving range. This was no purpose-built range with partitioned areas from which to fire our little white balls. No, this was an open-air driving range at ground level on real grass.
There stood a column at the far end of the range, making a suitable target for our shots. Alas, it was too far for me, for Monsieur and even the pro practising next to us did not possess drive enough to do that column damage. We later learned it was dedicated to a certain Sir Edward Coke, a lawyer of some note in his day, yet a column of such grandeur looked quite odd in its setting of trees and undulating landscape, the green below spotted with range balls; such a monument would surely look more usual mid-square in a market town or at the end of a street of Georgian terraces.
Sir Edward WHO? And well to ask for this former tenant of Stoke Park counts among his many achievements the prosecution of the gunpowder plotters, including the infamous Guy Fawkes. Their crime of treason saw them hung, drawn and quartered for conniving to blow up the Houses of Parliament, such were the gruesome punishments in the England of 1605. Nowadays this legal great is remembered by a column in a golf course in a park in a home county in England but really he should stand proud in Westminster where law is made.
Back on the range Monsieur and I were off centre in more ways than one as we fired our little white balls at Sir Edward. Something was off. I couldn’t get my shots past the 150 yard mark and some were embarrassingly shy of achieving any sort of respectable distance. Apart from learning how to position my feet and back when driving down the fairway, I’m also learning that some days, no matter how hard you try, all golfing technique escapes you and it doesn’t need to give a reason why. Today, in the beautiful Stoke Park, Monsieur and I were experiencing one of those days.
The sun was fast-disappearing now, a slight chill developing, so we ditched our clubs to try a different sort of relaxation – in the spa. Housed in a modern building next to the car park, this was one serious pampering operation. No fewer than four uniformed staff met, greeted and guided us on entering. I was led past counters of softening potions and lotions to the ladies’ changing room while Monsieur was taken in the opposite direction. Inside were rows of oaky lockers, more country club than gymnasium, and pile upon fluffy pile of fresh sunshine-yellow towels. There were hairdryers aplenty and Molton Brown body products, tissues and cellophane-wrapped shower caps and spacious limestone shower cubicles in which to wear them. It was official: Monsieur and I were in our very own episode of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. How wonderful everything was.
I was reunited with my Frenchman at the heated indoor pool, looking out towards the golf course through tall, arched windows running the entire length of the pool. The rear wall was pleasantly interrupted by a built-in aquarium filled with yellow fish that matched my towel. As we lapped and tried to avoid the Splashmonster, a man old and hairy enough to know better than belly-flop water all over his fellow pool-mates, I watched the French couples frolicking at one end of the pool. The men were attractive and the girls so slim that I wondered whether they ever ate solid food or simply existed on Slim Fast. Suddenly I felt very fat, even though I’m more curvaceous than fat, the by-product of which is that I grew my own breasts and didn’t have to buy them in. Those girls were practically flat-chested but somehow, on them, even that was sexy. Still, I needn’t have worried myself with body-type comparisons because, as I’d later discover, there are some things you just can’t fix, no matter how fat your wallet or silthe-like your figure. But first, Monsieur and I would eat.