Sept 26th - The Worst Surprise Party Ever Planned
I wanted to surprise L on his birthday weekend, and I knew that the one thing he loves more than anything is having all the family around him. In fact, one of the reasons we chose a big, rambling old house for our marital home was that we wanted always to have plenty of room for all our children and grandchildren to visit or stay over, all at once if need be. It would be a simple matter, then, to organise a party at home. But no. I wanted more.
Not content with having an existing place big enough to take everyone, I scoured the internet for a different place big enough to take everyone. That way, not only did I get to spend a silly amount of money, but I also involved everyone in extra travel, packing and general holiday logistics. Clandestine emails and text messages were circulated, and soon everyone knew that we were in for a weekend of hard work and unnecessary expenditure. Everyone, that is, except L.
Aware that his birthday was approaching, he started to make plans of his own, and announced that he wished to make a trip to London to see a play. I was forced to countermand this, and reminded him sternly that it was my prerogative to decide on any birthday treats that might or might not be in the offing. From that point on, the element of surprise was, to some extent, lost. However I maintained an aloof silence when questioned about what I was planning. I had a vague idea that I would simply tell L at the last minute that we were going for a weekend away, that we would throw a few things in the car on the Friday evening, and that when we arrived the party would swing into action with the statutory cries of "Surprise!"
Slowly it dawned on me that I had to feed eleven people for a weekend, including three vegetarians and two children with insatiable appetites for pancakes and ice cream. I also had somehow to get everyone inside the holiday house before we got there, ready to do the necessary jumping out of hiding places. Also, though it wasn't obligatory, I wanted to take enough musical instruments that we could have a big impromptu music session, thereby enabling L to enjoy the new ride-on drum I planned to give him as a present. Then it turned out that not everyone was able to arrive on the Friday. Some wanted to come on Saturday. Then some wanted to leave early. One lot wanted to borrow the car and drive to Cambridge on the Saturday night for a gig. My brain was working like the Pentagon's Nuclear War Planning Computer (I assume they have such a thing) trying to take into account all the variables and come up with a coherent plan.
Luckily, as I thought, something came up that made L want to go to Scotland on the Friday. He asked tentatively if it would spoil any plans I may have. "Not at all," I said airily, "It suits me to have you out of the way. Off you go." This added little to the air of mystery surrounding the weekend, but it would give me a day free to pack, shop, take a carload of musical instruments to the venue, and generally set the stage for the big reveal. I even thought I could arrange to leave a spare car at the nearest station so that those coming by train could avoid a taxi fare.
On the big day, L went off to Scotland at about 5am. I promptly got bogged down in work - probably the main mistake of the day - and didn't start packing till 3pm. Nonetheless I expected to be at the property by about 5pm. There followed a nightmare of traffic jams. rain of the stair-rod variety, and bewildering pitch-dark country lanes seen through flogging windscreen-wipers. At intervals I had to pull over to take phone calls from our would-be guests, before attempting yet another circuit of the five-mile radius within which I was pretty sure the holiday cottage lay. At some point two family members let me know they couldn't come after all. Meanwhile L let me know first that he hoped to be back on an earlier plane, occasioning panic, then that he couldn't, occasioning a certain relief, and finally that he would be severely delayed, occasioning guilt. I realised that the poor guy wanted nothing else than to go home to his bed, and I was about to make him drive into darkest Norfolk in the middle of the night.
I eventually found the house about 8pm. I had a couple of hours before the first lot of people were due to arrive to go out and find a supermarket to buy in the weekend's food. My plans to leave a car at the station were scuppered by the fact that no-one could remember where the spare car key was, but since L was due to be so late I thought I could do the taxiing myself.
As I emerged from the supermarket at 10pm with a trolley stacked high with good things, L phoned to say that he had landed. I gave him a postcode and told him to set off in the general direction. I calculated that I just had time to get the shopping back and into the fridge before collecting B and R from the station, and then getting back to welcome L. I was wrong.
Just as I arrived at the station ten miles from our holiday cottage at 11.30pm, L phoned to say that he was almost there. I couldn't explain how to find the place and had to ask him to wait in a pub car park - though it was far too late to take any liquid refreshment - so that I could meet him and lead him there. The whole surprise plan was now in disarray. I had told L that he reason I was not there was that 'I had to pick something up' at the station. The 'something' hunkered down in the back of the car and debated the value of trying to maintain any surprise element. L was clearly exhausted, but was trying desperately to maintain his customary good humour in the face of the additional late-night drive into the sticks.
B and R , still debating, cowered in the back of the car as I led L down the lanes to the holiday cottage. Could I take L inside and show him upstairs while they sneakd in downstairs? Could I keep him downstairs while they sneaked upstairs? Eventually we gave up. And so it was that L's big surprise birthday party began when we all got out of our cars in the deep, rainy darkness at the car park outside the property, and B and R whispered 'Surprise!' very quietly, so as not to wake the neighbours.
To his eternal credit, L reacted as delightedly as though we had just broken the loveliest secret in the world to him. He hugged B and R and then ran into the house and searched it from top to bottom, saying repeatedly "Who else have you got hidden here?" The reader can imagine how lame I felt when I had to say "There's no-one else here. There are some more people coming tomorrow though." His reply was to hug me and laugh and act pleased.
I thank God every day for my lovely, easy-going husband. He turned something that was developing into a total nightmare into a huge success, in a way that is quite typical of him. He did it all with his wonderfully optimistic and generous nature. Goodness knows how he would have reacted if I really had surprised him. Perhaps one day I'll manage it.