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SOME things really do seem like a good idea at the time.

I always find that, weeks and months ahead of an event, you have in your mind exactly how it will be and will make plans around it - but the reality is never how you imagined.

This hit home as I took the rather unusual step of planning a surprise for Mrs J. With her birthday approaching, I decided to think outside the box.

After the best part of a decade, I've exhausted all the usual ideas - flowers, chocs, perfume, booze - so decided that I needed to add a bit of spice. I figured job one was just to listen more and, during the course of several conversations she had with family members, I picked up on the common theme of her bemoaning the fact she won't see her young nieces - who live the best part of three hours away - for ages.

An imaginary light bulb appeared above my head when I heard this, and I set to work on arranging for them to come up and surprise her with a visit. Once I'd got agreement from their side, I thought my work was done - but we all know what assuming does, or so my mother used to tell me. The day before the surprise was sprung, it became evident it wasn't going to be plain sailing. Firstly, how was I going to clean the house, wash bed sheets and do enough shopping for an extra four people without Mrs J thinking I'd gone mad? The next dilemma was Mrs J declaring that she wanted to go into town shopping all day and get as early a start as possible.

There's not much point having surprise visitors if the person they're surprising isn't in the house at the time.

So, I returned to the old adage of "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em" and declared that I too would go into town and it would be a nice day out for us. Now I was in the mix, I could take charge of stalling our departure. I slept a little easier the night before D-day than I expected.

When morning came, I was up with the lark, declaring I was off to the supermarket to miss the rush. I think she was too tired to be perplexed by my new-found enthusiasm for our weekly shop. Clutching two separate lists, I rattled through the aisles and kept to one side the bags holding the items for our soon-to-be-arriving guests, which I left behind wheelie bins at strategic points on our street, to be collected at a later stage.

Next up was operation cleanse - Mrs J spontaneously combusts if we have visitors and the house is a mess.

After an hour of this, I glanced up to see her stood there, with coat and shoes on and her bag over her shoulders, ready to hit the shops. At that very moment, a text arrived on my phone, telling me the travelling party was just 10 minutes away. You know what they say, desperate times call for desperate measures, so I fell to the floor, clutching my stomach, before leaping up and sprinting to the bathroom.

After causing enough of a fuss, I paused at the top of the stairs and yelled something abut dodgy kebab meat and locked myself in the bathroom. After 10 minutes of fake moans and groans, the doorbell went and Mrs J was left to open it and it was mission accomplished.

I won't be doing that again.
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Title Annotation:Letters
Publication:Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)
Date:Oct 8, 2009
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