A thought on marriage: this cleave-to-your-wife business is all very well, but trying to organise birthday surprises when you do everything together is a minefield. The present-buying, for starters. We have a joint bank account, which means any money I spend on presents will be recorded right next to our Tesco bills and council tax. Thus helpfully letting the birthdayee know in advance exactly where you bought their presents from and how much they cost. They can even watch in real time as you shop and gauge how much you love them from how much you spend. This does make it easier to prepare a surprised yet gratified facial expression when opening rubbish presents, but also rather takes the mystery out of it. I asked around at work how people manage to buy presents without emblazoning them on their statement; the answer seems to be that most people don’t have joint bank accounts. I find this odd. Goodness knows what I’d do with my money if I knew there was no one else looking. I can only say without doubt that Paperchase would be paying their employees a bumper bonus this year.
I decided to make things interesting by taking a secret afternoon off, going home, decorating the house with streamers and making a nice meal for Timothy’s return from work the day before his birthday. Self-evidently a plan of such cunning as to leave the vulpine Professor of Cunning at Oxford University entirely in the shade. I booked the afternoon off, teeing and heeing abominably (to quote Virginia Woolf). Ascertaining his favourite meal was easy enough: I asked, but then followed it by announcing my favourite meal in a meaningful tone of voice, as though this had been the purpose of my question. He suspected nothing. I must hint for food this way a lot. Emboldened by my success, I started scoping out birthday banners and bottles of Nando’s marinade at the supermarket. I had to do this from a distance, which meant squinting rather obviously, but again, he noticed nothing. I must squint this way a lot. I had not anticipated learning so many home truths along my pathway of deception, but there you go. I have tried to squint less since.
I nearly gave the game away entirely on Tuesday when I wrote him an email about my editor’s meeting next week. Just before I sent it I read it through, and jumped – there in the third paragraph was a casual sentence celebrating the fact that I had only three full working days this week. Such information could have blown the lid off the whole operation. Luckily I was able to delete it before I sent it. Last night, in a mire of proofreading despair, I started to console myself aloud by saying ‘Oh, at least I’ve only got a half-day tomorrow’. I got as far as the ‘Oh’ before remembering, and covered the indiscretion with a louder than usual groan. Timothy looked sympathetic (and amused), but not suspicious.
Today was the day, at last. I went off to work as normal, and slipped off at 12pm, teeing and heeing abominably. To Tesco’s for the supplies, then home for cooking, cleaning, and streamer-flinging. It all went swimmingly. By 5pm, torrential rain was falling outside, which introduced a complication: when it rains, I pick Timothy up from the station on the way home from work. Quickly I put my coat back on, grabbed my work bag, roughed my hair up a bit and – tragically – kept on the shoes I’d worn in the morning, despite their total unsuitability for wet weather. I thought the lack of car heating and Radio 4 would be a dead giveaway, but he was far too wet to notice. Just as we reached the house I noticed our neighbour’s car and said – O, fool that I am – ‘Hmm, that wasn’t there when I left.’ Idiot! I froze and added, haltingly, ‘…this morning’. He was already bringing the umbrella round to my side of the car, and wasn’t listening. In we went, in he went, wondering whether we’d left a light on, and – ta-da! Balloons! Banners! Sticky chicken of deliciousness! It was all lovely, and he was jolly pleased.
I tell you, I’m overwhelmed with relief having reached the surprise without letting the cat out of the bag. Such stress! That’s my plan for MI5 recruitment right out of the window.