First of all, you have to make sure that nobody involved in the planning will inadvertently let the cat out of the bag. This means that when your husband volunteers to go get the dog from the kennels on the Monday, you have to phone the kennel to make sure the staff doesn't say "See you on Friday" and arouse suspicion.
The Man of the Place has the kind of job where you can't just shut your computer down and go. Absences must be planned in advance. This meant that if I wanted to spirit him away, I needed to get his immediate manager involved in the birthday conspiracy. His manager was quite happy to create a meeting for that Friday that started at lunchtime and went through to the end of the working day. Henry would have to have all his work for the week finished up before this spurious meeting started. I merely had to put in a call to my own boss to book the time off. Mischief managed!
Before I go any further with this story, let me say that Henry's birthday is on January 6th. This means that his birthday follows Christmas every year and every year we are broke by the time his birthday rolls around. It isn't just bad planning, it is also rotten luck. From the start of December through to Henry's birthday is one big round of expense. My mother's birthday is December 1st. It is followed by my eldest boy Ian's birthday on the 19th. A year and five days after my first child was born my second child, Sean was born, giving him an unfortunate Christmas Eve birthday. (See? Britany Spears and I will have something in common.) Then there is Christmas with all its expense. My sister Katie's birthday is December 30th then last of all is Henry on the Feast of the Epiphany. This means that every year, Henry's birthday gets a sort of last gasp of recognition. We have usually run out of money and desire to celebrate anything. I didn't want that for him and his big Five-O.
Early on in December, I was at the airport for a work reason. As I was walking past the EasyJet desk, a thought came to me. "Take Henry to Paris!" He has mentioned it in the past. I sauntered over to the desk and asked about flights to Paris. No problem. Pretty cheap too. I had the cheque book . . . . I booked three round trip tickets to The City of Light for the weekend immediately following his birthday. In the UK, the bank statements merely give you the check number and amount. As it was close to Christmas, I knew I could write a cheque for this amount without too many questions being asked.
I also ordered the Euros from the bank early on. This meant that the money for the flights and the spending cash were taken care of. The only part of the whole weekend that needed to go on a credit card was the hotel bill, but what a hotel!
Early on in his youth, when he was sitting around with his friends, Henry and his friends discussed how they would like to be spending their 50th birthdays. Henry had said back then that he would want to spend his 50th birthday at the George V Hotel in Paris. I think it had something to do with the Beatles staying there way back when. He had told me about these plans that had been hatched up in his youth and when Henry was telling me about everyone's far fetched plans he had said them in a way that said that he knew it would never come to fruition. I stored this knowledge away in a little corner of my memory. Years later after returning home from buying plane tickets, I got the number for the George V Hotel and rang them up. I mentioned the weekend I wanted, and that there would be three of us sharing a room. It was "No problem at all Madame".
Actually, there was a slight problem. If we wanted to have a child's bed in our room, we were going to have to book a premier room. (gulp) It was just below a suite in price. Oh well, we're just staying two nights. . . .
This is a photo of a premier room. The only thing that kept me going when booking this opulent room was pure nerve. I just knew that if I told Henry any part of this secret, he'd make me cancel it and I so wanted him to have this.
It was while I was booking the hotel that George came home from school. I was so excited by the prospect of going to Paris and giving Henry this surprise that I actually told George everything. George was SO cool about it all. We had a great time with what was now our secret. All through Christmas that year, we would grin wildly at each other behind Henry's back. He did really well for a 10 year old. He never hinted or let anything slip throughout the entire Christmas holiday. Well done George. You can be my secret keeper anytime!
So, on the day of the big surprise, it went like this. Get up and get ready for work. (husband comments on my good mood) George gets uniform on and has breakfast. After breakfast he gets on the bus to school and winks at his mother when Dad isn't looking. Henry then leaves for work. As soon as Henry pulls out of the drive, I jump into my car and run around to the school and scoop George out of the playground because he's not actually going to go to school today.
Back at the house, I expertly pack three small weekend bags, grab the passports, shove cases, child and dog into the car. I then drive our dog to the kennels and drop him off. George and I go over to the bank to retrieve our Euros but not before we tell the bank tellers the entire story of our fabulous plans. Ok. Now everything is ready, but we've screwed up our timing. We've got way too much time on our hands. We can't go over to Henry's office for another hour and a half. I guess our excitement caused us to get too speedy.
No problem, we just walked over to our favourite cafe in Lockerbie, The Rendezvous. Naturally we have to tell Bob and Elaine Sturgeon who own the place our story and explain why George was not in school. We are wished a bon voyage as we left.
It was noon. We hopped into the car and drove down the street to Henry's office. He was very surprised to see us, even more surprised when we told him that he really didn't have a big oxygen depleting meeting to go to in five minutes, he was off to Paris!
This is what Henry's face looked like when he discovered that just about everyone knew about his big birthday surprise. He was very impressed by the completeness of all the plans and the depths that our deception had gone to.
This is George on the flight over. He is giving you an example of the kind of grins we were doing behind Henry's back over Christmas. Please note the stripey Breton fisherman's shirt - attention to detail!
This is a photo that George took of his parents. We're wearing the fluffy complimentary robes that are in this wonderful room. There was a mille fuille birthday cake in the room for Henry PLUS a big bottle of champagne courtesy of my dear sister Sally and her husband Jay.
George reading before he goes to sleep (The Little Prince - naturally) That bed is looking particuarly comfortable.If you walk down to the end of Avenue George V you come to the river. Across the river is a beautiful park and a tower that seems to be a bit of a tourist attraction.George along the Seine in January. We decided that going to the top is a must. Travelling with a ten year old really has benefits! They make you do stuff that normally you wouldn't do. We didn't stay up there long. Cloud rolled in and obscured the view. So on to Pere Lachaise Cemetery, The Louvre and one of my all time favourite parts of Paris, La Marche au Puce (flea market).
They really do great cemeteries in Paris. I think I'd like big bronze mourning statues on my grave . Who wouldn't!
This is Oscar Wilde's grave. The touching thing is all the lipstick kisses all over the gravestone. Bless him.
There's some good stuff in the Louvre if you've got the time to look.
It was a wonderful weekend. The sad part about the end of the birthday weekend was that we didn't have any surprises afterward. It was as fun to look forward to this as it was actually being there.