Birthday surprise

Dog wearing a birthday hat


It was my partner’s 50th birthday this weekend and I’d been planning a surprise event for months. My partner, it turns out, is not very good at surprises. For one, he likes to know where he’s going. On Friday afternoon, I told him he had to pack for two days and then bundled everyone into the car. I took the passports. Where on Earth could we be going, he asked? I headed to a Tesco Express and got some instant porridge packs. He looked a bit nonplussed.

We drove up the motorway and I blindfolded him near the exit to an airport just to confuse him. We went past the exit. Daughter three needed the toilet. We stopped in Cambridge. Was this our destination, my partner asked, getting slightly on edge by this point. We went past Peterborough, very slowly. We went past Grantham and Ollerton and kept on going. The traffic was very slow. I had a sheet of paper with the directions written down from AA route planner. According to AA route planner, it was three hours 20 minutes max to get to where we were going. We had been on the road for four hours by Ollerton. My partner was moaning by now. “Where are you taking me? I don’t like surprises,” he said several times. Only son had run out of One Direction songs to sing and was getting a little bit bored too.

My partner started guessing places we might be going to – Birmingham, Sheffield, Manchester. We’re not going all the way to Scotland, are we, via the A roads, he asked. We turned off at Oldham. I had arranged to meet his sister outside Nando’s in Manchester. The only problem was we were running very late and I had no idea where Nando’s was. I’d written down directions to the Travelodge, but I must have missed out one of the roundabouts. We finally found a Travelodge in the right area, but it turned out to be the wrong one. There was another on the same road two miles down. I texted my partner’s sister. Running slightly late, as ever. We dumped our bags and set off for Nando’s. I had to skulk in corners ringing his sister to find out where she was.

Daughter three has a Nando’s homing instinct and spotted the sign from a mile off. We went in and there was my partner’s sister. We had a lovely evening and headed back to the hotel where I had a slight meltdown over trying to secure wi-fi access for daughter three since the number keys on her chromebook [my old one] don’t work unless you punch them several times. This makes entering passwords very testing.

We had to be up early because I’d booked my partner and daughter one on The Smiths tour. The three girls were in a room together. That did not bode well for getting up early. I knocked. No response. I knocked several times. Eventually a very tired looking daughter two opened the door. “We were up late discussing how one day you are going to eventually destroy all our technical equipment in a tech rage incident,” said daughter two.

We went into Manchester. My directions from AA route planner did not include the fact that the numbers on the road where The Smiths tour started did not go in a regular order. With a minute to spare we got daughter one and my partner on The Smiths tour. The rest of us headed off to a really beautiful library where only son ran around taking videos of spell books and generally being incredibly enthusiastic about everything. “This is awesome. I can use this for show and tell,” he shouted very loudly while running down a wood-panelled corridor.

I’d arranged to meet my partner’s friend in a pub for lunch. He loomed up behind my partner, who was, by now, beginning to enjoy surprises. After lunch, only son was a bit tired and decided to lie down on the floor in a charity shop [daughter one’s idea] and rolled around, shouting many times about how much he wanted to go to Travelodge – partly because he was tired and partly because he had become a little bit obsessed with the vending machine in the entrance of the Travelodge. I secretly rang my mum who was somewhere in a hotel in Manchester. I told my partner I was taking only son and daughter three to the park. We met my mum and only son rested for a while. My partner rang. “Where are you?” he said. “We are in a park in the Northern Quarter,” I lied. Daughter three pretended to be going down a slide.

I suggested we meet in the centre outside Zizzi’s. I’d arranged to meet some other friends there. “Surprise!” I said as my partner walked in. He has now come round to the idea of surprises and is planning a return visit to Manchester soon.

*Mum on the run is Mandy Garner, editor of

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