All right, friends: I can at last reveal publicly the purpose of my just completed trip around the UK! It all began with some ambitious plans for a giant surprise birthday party and family reunion for my mother-in-law, who has reached a round age that could be called venerable. In these days of blogs, newsletters and tweets, one can’t be sure who is reading what, so a total media blackout had to be maintained. But now, as we toasted on the last evening of the event before we all dispersed, it’s “Mission Accomplished”!
Planning began last year. Despite my insane schedule, I had make very certain that I’d be available for the appropriate period. It was a close call, indeed: I had only 72 hours at home after my Idaho and Utah trip! (That may sound long, but was only a re-entry day, a working day, and a departure day.)
We then began the game of trying to estimate how many family members could be rounded up for this event. It was all a little tricky, as the total seven adult Grandchildren have a tendency to be as slippery as quicksilver; they tend to not be in the same place for long and somewhat uncertain of their plans. Estimates of bodies available were made. In our favor was the oft-observed fact that if free travel, food and accommodation is on offer, a high attendance rate is assured. Those that could, booked time off from their occupations.
It began to look as if we would need a house that would sleep 12 – 14! An internet search ensued and a couple of possibilities presented themselves, which was good, because there are not too many holiday lets of that size available. A likely looking place in Salcombe, Devon was booked. The price looked horrific, even in Pounds Sterling, but when divided into bed-nights it was more cost effective than the local hostel!
Next we had to find someway to book Grandma’s time without revealing any plans: this is where the creative truth period ensued. In my opinion half of the pleasure of any holiday is the anticipation, so my husband and I let slip that we would be in the UK and be planning on visiting her during the week prior to the birthday dates. That would ensure that she wouldn’t organize something else or, so help us, disappear on vacation elsewhere (which would have been unfortunate). The fabrication was laminated with additional threads by my sisters-in-law: one ostensibly arranged “a girls only” holiday with Grandma for the week of the birthday and the other an extension to said holiday into the following week.
Things cruised along quite nicely until nearer the time. Then, the lying by omission began in earnest. We had to work out flight and pick up arrangements for our three children: one from a yet-to-be-determined location in Europe, the other two from various locations in Canada. Now we had to be very selective about the topics we could discuss with MIL. Many a conversation disintegrated into a flurry of coughing or rapid subject u-turns. We were all a little hazy as to what exactly was known by Grandma and to whom one could safely divulge information.
The final plan ran something like this:
We arrive with Grandma and then reveal that Georgina has decided to take a break from her European backpacking trip in order to come and see us. We all went to Manchester airport to pick her up from her Amsterdam flight. (Unsurprisingly, she promptly borrowed my clothes and made free with Grandma’s laundry facilities and larder.) It was stated that we would drive both Grandma and George down south, Grandma to be handed over to her daughter in a motorway service station to embark on their holiday, and George to be deposited with a friend in Bristol. The rendezvous was successfully made. Here the fabrication began to break down, as we could hardly hand Grandma over, give her a peck on the cheek and wish her a good birthday. So, over a chilly tail-gate picnic, it was revealed that in fact we would see her later and John, George and I would be joining her then for a week’s holiday.
Grandma’s party now headed off to find the cottage. (This was no mean feat.) On arriving there, Grandma encountered John’s little sister already in residence, with food supplies and the kettle on!
We disappeared off to hang around at Totnes railway station to await Holly’s train (she’d flown in overnight from Toronto). The train was delayed, but eventually she arrived. We then had to weave our way cross-country, through ever skinnier, squirming country lanes, until we found the house. Surprise – enter Holly.
Dinner was all in hand, when in walked Elly and Ben, arrived from Portsmouth! A little later another pick-up party headed out secretly to Totnes station and returned with Andy and Jules from London. The number of bedrooms was no longer looking quite so excessive! We were all able to relax our guard a little, however, conversations were still a little stilted and hastily abandoned as we still had to keep the future arrival of Sam and Cherrie concealed for another 2 days. (They flew over from Nova Scotia a few days earlier and were visiting other relatives on the other side of the country first.) It was quite a relief once they were all safely gathered in!
The house was fabulous, with panoramic views across the mouth of Salcombe harbour, and it comfortably accommodated the diverse crowd. Food was carefully orchestrated by Jenny and the aid of the Sainsbury’s delivery service. (On-line groceries are very widespread and popular in the UK.) The delivery van arrived on the first morning. I can only assume that to poor driver was more accustomed to Devon lanes than where we were, he hardly looked stressed by his death-defying trek to find us. He was a little surprised when he scanned his crates in the van and found that 90% of his cargo was destined for us!
What followed was a lovely few days of cousinly and family reunion and the actual birthday was the one glorious dawn to dusk summer day spent on the deck.