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My friend William’s birthday is coming up. We’ve known each other for almost 20 years, which could have been two decades littered with the ghosts of presents unwanted, except we share the philosophy that gifts are optional unless you feel inspired. And I was inspired this year.

I made an offhand mention of Stephen Fry’s novel The Stars’ Tennis Balls in a recent review. (I just discovered the book is titled Revenge in the U.S. – not only is that too bland for Fry, but it ruins the review’s already lame joke.) It’s a retelling of The Count of Monte Cristo set in the dot com age, and it occurred to me that William loves the original Dumas story and is a computer geek, so he might get a kick out of the Fry version. There’s also the danger he’ll hate it because of that familiar-but-not quality, but life’s all about risk, isn’t it? Fry has written a few witty, literary bestsellers. This is not one of my favourites. I liked it fine until the gory revenge scenes towards the end – I don’t do well with gore. But William and I are not alike.

So after picking up The Stars’ Tennis Balls, I got the idea of a theme present, and also bought him a copy of The Gun Seller by Hugh Laurie. Yes, that Hugh Laurie. It has been aptly described as James Bond meets P.G. Wodehouse. It’s not my typical reading material, but I’m glad I stumbled across it. It’s hilarious and gripping and even sweet and thought-provoking – plus, the humour is very Lauriesque and I’m a fan.

A bigger fan now that I’ve seen his brilliant performance in the TV show House, as a snarky doctor with a heart of snark. What’s even more impressive is that it’s a completely different kind of brilliance from his likeable idiots of Blackadder or Jeeves and Wooster, which is different again from the brilliance of A Bit of Fry & Laurie, their hysterically odd sketch comedy show. It’s extremely unfair. Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry possess far too high a percentage of the available creative talent in the world. Accomplished actors and writers both, who between them dabble in directing and music. I can tie my shoelaces in pretty bows. I would hate them, only I love them.

Anyway, to make the present complete and the theme obvious, I added a bit of A Bit of Fry & Laurie (which the BBC really needs to release on DVD. Please?). I could have picked Blackadder or Jeeves and Wooster or Peter’s Friends, but with this, it’s right there in the title, so William doesn’t even have to read the credits to understand my thought process. Not that he’ll be impressed, but at least he’ll understand.

Oh, and shhhh, his birthday isn’t until April, so he doesn’t know about this yet. Wait … this isn’t public, is it?

“We are merely the stars’ tennis balls, struck and banded which way please them.”
John Webster, The Duchess of Malfi