Swear sister to secrecy and check whether she would mind the children the weekend of March 19-21. She has only recovered from her previous weekend in their company but she is game. Hurrah.
Book flight to Paris, leaving at lunchtime on Friday, March 19 and returning late on Sunday, March 21.
Find out from Mr. Waffle name of pretty hotel in the centre of Paris which we have often passed but where we have never stayed. I do this on the pretext that my sister is going on one of her many exciting weekends away. He is fooled and gives me the details. Am charmed with myself – cunning! Start saving money to pay for pretty but expensive hotel. Am charmed with myself – saving!
Swear brother to secrecy. Ask him whether he can help sister with babysitting. He cannot. He already has a previous engagement. He suggests I swap for the weekend after which would suit him better. I point out that Mr. Waffle is 40 on the 19th and I have already booked and paid for the flight. “How much did it cost?” said my affluent brother. “You could abandon it and book for the following weekend.” I think not.
Book swish hotel in Paris. Almost expire from strain of not telling husband.
Discover that Aer Lingus may have expired before we can get to Paris at all. Am anguished.
Purchase nice present for sister who will need it after exertions with children. Put it in large bag on chest of drawers in our room. Wonder idly whether husband will notice that it does not depart with usual flock of Christmas presents. As of March 18, he has not. I think we can take it, I’m safe. Daughter on the other hand has several times enquired as to contents and had to be fobbed off.
Ring insurers to put sister on car insurance for the relevant weekend, thereby aiming to prove that I am competent in ways my husband doubts. Insurance company is, alas, less competent and tells me that I can only put her on the week before. Make mental and diary note. Conceal all this from him – am becoming mistress of skulduggery (and Bridget Jones’s poor relation). Begin drafting extensive instructions for sister.
January 11 – Email reliable friend in Brussels looking for advice on Parisian restaurants. She reminds me that it has been 12 years since she lived in Paris (digression here on how old we are) but she will ask reliable colleague for tips. Artlessly try to discuss with husband which restaurants he liked when he lived in Paris. He points out that he was a student and didn’t eat at all for the year he was there due to lack of funds.
January 17 – Tell mother-in-law that I have a secret I want to tell her. She is so relieved to hear that I am not pregnant (may be projecting here), that she rashly promises to support sister in babysitting endeavour by having her and children around for the day on Sunday, March 21.
January 19 – Father-in-law calls me to tell me he has been appraised of plan and has sent me link to a number of Parisian restaurants. Panic as email has not appeared in work and a quick trip to an internet cafe reveals not in gmail either. Could it have been inadvertently sent to husband? Remember sister’s reference to mafia dictum, if you have a secret, only tell one person as then you will know who to kill, if it gets out.
January 19 – Receive this email from brother-in-law:
“We’ve decided to prolong and deepen our bank debt and go skiing en famille in March to Austria, and the folks have said they’d be interested in joining. Dates: 13th march, all other details: TBC. While it’d be great if you could make it, I know you guys have much on your plates, so thought I’d put it out there.”
Feel enormous enthusiasm for skiing trip which also features other children our children’s ages and think about how much deeper in debt I would like to be (recent budgeting exercise has revealed that after all essential expenditure and very mild saving, monthly sum available to me for entertainment, clothes etc is €6) and how I will persuade loving husband to embrace the debt, the enforced absence from school and the various leave problems we might have. Realise, to my horror, that the skiing week is the week of his birthday surprise. Agree with Mr. Waffle that we cannot afford to go skiing (certainly true in any event). He is surprised how easily I fold on this point. Realise that parents-in-law may not be available to help out on Sunday 21, March, if they are flying back from Austria. Express unusual bitterness to Mr. Waffle about ski trip. He is surprised and says – if you really want to go… Am hamstrung by secrecy and turn away muttering “no, no, it’s alright.”
Swear babysitter to secrecy. Pay her to mind the children on Saturday afternoon, March 20, to give my sister a sanity break.
February 12 – Tell husband, who is gloomy, that I have something special planned for his birthday and he is to be sure not to schedule anything for March 19. He seems cheered.
February 18 – Sister calls to tell me that work want her to go to Bahrain (they work on Saturdays there, the misery) but she has resolutely put them off pointing out that she had said that she had something on this weekend in September. “Could you not change?” they persist. “No,” she said, “it is my brother-in-law’s 40th birthday, my sister is taking him to Pairs, they have three small children and they never get away and I have said I will mind the children.” Colleagues wilt in front of this pathetic scenario but she still has to leave at 5 on Sunday afternoon March 21 to fly to Bahrain. Ring babysitter anxiously, will she be able to cover Sunday evening from 5 to 11. She will. Wonder mildly whether my savings will cover all of this.
March 2 – Pick up random present for husband. Dust down set of ornamental bookmarks showing maps of the world which have been sitting in the bottom of my handbag and wrap them with same.
March 3 – Inspect savings to see whether they will cover dinner and hotel. Hurrah, it appears that saving works. As someone new to the world of saving, I am surprised how effective it is. Resist urge to splurge savings on new clothes.
March 4 – Realise to my horror that have still not booked nice dinner in Paris despite extensive research. Spend maddening length of time being tortured by the flash websites all restaurants in Paris seem to favour. Pick restaurant I was originally going to go to making extensive research and inspection of maddening flash websites entirely redundant. Call them. They are closed that weekend. Oh wait a minute, no they’re not. Make my booking for Saturday 20 with some trepidation. Decide that on the Friday night we will wander around until we find a nice brasserie. Wonder will I come to regret this decision when we are wandering around Paris ravenous.
March 5 – Book into online airport parking. Ring husband and employ subterfuge to get car registration number which I have entirely forgotten. Realise husband is very trusting as he swallows my most unlikely fictitious reason for needing same without a blink. Am appalled at cost of airport parking. Clearly, vast savings are going to be insufficient to cover all of my needs.
March 7 – Attend nephew’s 4th birthday party. Attend is perhaps not entirely the correct word as early in the proceedings I slip off to the pub with the papers and the esteemed parents-in-law. Discover that they will not be skiing on Sunday, March 19 and are, au contraire, ready, willing and able to provide baby sitting services – “it’s in the diary” says my father-in-law the captain of industry (retired) reprovingly. My heart soars but not half as much as my sister’s when I tell her the glad tidings.
March 8 – Check hotel still has my booking. Supercilious French woman confirms that, yes, she has. Remember to put sister on car insurance. Glow with organisational pride.
March 10 – Write to savings account people (same very old fashioned requires stamp, envelope and signature) and ask that my savings be transferred to current account. Make regretful mental note not to spend BEFORE travelling. Receive extensive supply of travel sized skincare from my sister for my birthday. This sparks the following reflection: how will I persuade my husband only to pack stuff in his washbag which contains less than 100mls and not give away that we are flying somewhere. Ponder this.
March 11 – Run into my husband while going out for a sandwich at lunch. Brilliantly and cunningly bring conversation around to hand luggage for men. He tells me that most bottles of shaving foam don’t hold more than 100mls. He says that the real problem is razor blades. Decide that we will have to buy disposable razors in Paris. Go out to birthday dinner with siblings, receive gifts gratefully including sinfully large voucher from parents which will meet my clothing needs for the foreseeable future. Hurrah, savings are safe. Realise that cat will still be wearing lampshade (following spaying earlier) and require quiet and will not be allowed outdoors when sister is babysitting. Break news of this unfortunate complication to her as tactfully as I can.
March 12 – Father-in-law calls. They are off skiing the following day. He wants to check when he and m-in-law can hand over birthday gift to their first born. Agree that I will dispatch him out to their house on Thursday evening when he will receive 1) present and 2) sealed envelope NOT TO OPEN but to hand to me which will contain various press cuttings on Paris my parents-in-law have been hoarding. Agree that we will speak again on Wednesday 17 when they return from their conquest of the slopes.
Scour house for maps of and guidebooks to Paris of which my husband will approve and secretly squirrel them away in an overnight bag. Wonder whether I should tell him our destination as he will certainly have random metro tickets which he will be disappointed not to have the opportunity to deploy. Decide that surprise is better – may be projecting at this point.
March 13 – Tell misfortunate sister that she will have to bring own food with her for children as, if I start buying excess fish fingers/pizza etc. in weekly shop, husband may suspect we are abandoning children (part of our parenting contract is that they are filled to the brim with junk food whenever we go away). Unlikely, as he has proved remarkably unsuspicious to date but, better safe than sorry.
March 15 – Text super-reliable babysitter to confirm that she is still on for w/end. She takes a worryingly long time to respond. But she is.
March 16 – Take day off work for walk in the hills with husband to celebrate my birthday (extended celebration, is there a problem with that?) Tell him that we are actually going away for the weekend to a secret location for his birthday. Encourage him to pack for two nights and three days. Tell him that he can only use nice bag as destination very smart (nice bag is small enough to be hand luggage – admire my cunning) Do not reveal destination. Put him off the scent by saying we will be driving north when we leave the house. Am beside myself with excitement. He is delighted at the prospect of time alone together. In fact, he says he would be happy, if our destination were the B&B at the top of the road. Then he wonders who will bring back the library books, curse myself that I have not thought of this. Inform the children that we are going away for the weekend and they will have – drum beat – their Aunty Helen to mind them. They are delighted.
March 18 – Phone call from esteemed parents-in-law freshly returned from their skiing holiday. Husband is to go to them for dinner tonight and they will hand over a present and, possibly, a sealed envelope for me containing further Paris information. Warn mother-in-law that if she or f-in-law breath a word to husband about w/end I will murder them both. She promises not but says that as soon as he is out the door, she and f-in-law will hug each other and say “Paris, Paris”. Acquire random books which sister can use to placate daughter on the weekend, if she tires of Club Penguin. Acquire small gifts for children to hand over to their loving father. Print out boarding passes at work. Print out hotel details. Remember to bring these home with me. Filch husband’s passport from drawer where it is kept. Hope he will not notice and assume it has been stolen. Paranoid fear of his. Remember to leave car keys in envelope for sister along with extensive instructions and books for herself. Exhausted from remembering effort. Realise that we do not have travel insurance. No longer care. Panic briefly that the clocks are going to change on Sunday and confuse me. They are not. Pull out something from the freezer for sister to tempt childish appetites tomorrow. Finish off this post and put it on the internet to come up tomorrow afternoon. Shortly, I will print it off and put it in my overstuffed handbag.
March 19 (this part is guesswork) – His birthday. Children hand over cards and mild presents. Deliver children to school. Return home, change sheets for sister (very important, will not forget under ANY circumstances) pack everything into the car. If we have time, head to local cafe for breakfast and hand husband random small present. Back into car, as it becomes obvious that we are driving to the airport, ask husband to speculate where we are going. Try not to crash the car in advanced state of excitement. When he cannot guess, hand him the print out of this post and hope he likes it. Fingers crossed.