Saturday, November 12, 2016

UK Adventure part 1: operation Golden Surprise

This spring we went on vacation with Wil's folks, Tony and Sue. Over 2½ weeks we visited Walt Disney World, the "other" Birmingham (v. briefly), Tupelo & Graceland, Kennedy Space Center, and the beach.

Sue got to meet Mickey Mouse on her 70th birthday...

Tony got to sing into the same microphone used by Elvis at Sun Studios..

Wil got to touch the moon...

I got to run the Princess Half Marathon...

And we all got to wear Elvis glasses...

      ... mouse ears ...

            ... and watch a spaceship launch into outer space.

During this trip I remembered that Tony and Sue were married in 1966 ... and, because I am Very Good at Math, realized that THIS was their golden wedding anniversary. I mentioned it to Wil, along with "we should probably think about going..." We even asked, in a very feral way, what they were planning for their celebration. But we said nothing more of the idea.

Then this summer I lost my job, and suddenly spending a few grand to see them -- right after spending a good chunk of time with them -- seemed a little imprudent.

And then, in late September, Wil got a message from a mailing list he's on, saying there were currently what were assumed to be "mistake" fans for flights to London from the US. As we sat in bed one morning, Wil took a look. Sure enough, we could get nonstop flights from SEA to LHR for $722. Including taxes. For the TWO of us. Pre-tax? $182 each. With taxes, $361 each. Yep, $722 FOR THE BOTH OF US. One teensy catch ... we would have to fly on the 28th, arriving the afternoon of the 29th, the anniversary itself. But at that price, that still seemed perfect.

We were worried that the airline might wise up and refuse to honor the fare, that they might cancel in the next week. So we decided not to tell anyone for a little while. In that time we hatched an audacious plan: to surprise Tony and Sue by walking in on their celebration dinner.

So we plotted. We did covert research. One moment of panic came when Tony's knee replacement surgery looked as if it was going to be on October 22, which, in Sue's words, was "not the greatest timing for us". I held my breath and forced a smile during the Skype call and said, innocently, "oh, umm, why?" Tony reminded me that it was their 50th wedding anniversary that year (me: frozen forced smile) on the 29th (me: phew!). However, this gave us the chance to pry more specifically into their plans ... and it looked good for us.

Beck and Steve were going on a brief holiday with Steve's family, dropping the kids off at Tony and Sue's for a few days. Then they would fly back into Manchester on the Wednesday, and all stay with Tony and Sue until Sunday, celebrating the anniversary with a dinner out at Top's in Llandudno.  PERFECT.

Sure, there were a few wobbles, like when the day of the surgery shifted a little, and when nephew Joe arrived to join in, which made us worry that they were all going to go back to the midlands. I remained steadfast that we needed to surprise everyone -- so we would just assume that we would be going to Wales. And, on the day, we could check in casually with Beck as we approached the Midlands. As "insurance", we arranged to Skype with everyone in the late evening when they got home from the restaurant ... apparently we were worried that they would go to bed early!

Long flight, little sleep, an hour at immigration ... and a pause in the arrivals hall so I could say, "Whenever I get gloomy with the state of the world, I think about the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport" ... (wait, doesn't EVERYONE do that???) ... but soon we were headed off in our rental car (love love LOVE Hertz Gold Canopy!) and en route to Wales. A few tense moments as I sang the "we drive on the left here" song getting to the motorway, but otherwise it was pretty smooth sailing.

Still, a 4½ hour drive is rough, so we made a couple of pit stops to keep me alert. With the added stops, the one wrong turn, and random traffic slowdowns, we were still on the road at 9pm -- by which point we thought we would be there.

Wil kept texting Beck, telling her we were running a little late (true!), but that we would be home soon.

At 9:15 we got to the Premier Inn, a mile from the house, checked in and dropped off our stuff. All thoughts of "freshening up" gone, we ran back to the car for the final mile.

We quietly opened the gate and knocked on the door ... seeing someone in silhouette through the rippled glass. Assuming it was William, we put our fingers to our lips in a "shhhh" motion so "he" didn't say anything. But it was Sue, who shrieked. Joe rushed into the hallway to see what was wrong, saw Wil, and burst into tears. And then there was lots of hugging, crying, laughing. I think Wil and I were both giddy with exhaustion and disbelief -- we had actually pulled it off!

We sat up for hours, telling stories, drinking whiskey, and catching up a little. It was amazing to see how grown up Lydia and William have become -- and so great to spend time with Beck and Steve and Joe and the whole family.

(all hail Lydia, queen of the selfie!)

Hours passed, bottles emptied, and eventually Joe, Steve, and Sue walked us back up the hill to our hotel ... I remember this a little bit. But I still woke up with a start in a dark room with no idea just where I was for a moment. This also woke Wil, and we had this conversation:

S: I don't remember getting here.
W: I don't know where we are.
S: Wales.
W: Oh!

The next day was pretty rough, with several of us being a bit the worse for wear. I actually felt pretty good, other than one rogue wave of nausea...

Beck and Sue prepared a perfect, lots-of-nibbles lunch, and we spent a lazy Sunday together. But eventually Beck, Steve, Joe, Lydia, and William all had to head back to the Midlands.

Not long after Wil and I drove back to the hotel to drop the car off, then went for a walk in Llandudno to get a little fresh air and keep ourselves awake until a slightly more reasonable hour before collapsing into bed at the hotel.

We spent a few days with Tony and Sue, often doing our own thing in the daytime and then spending evenings with them, with a late evening wander along the sea to Rhos or Llandudno.

One day we even went to Manchester, visiting the Albert Moore paintings at the art gallery...

     ... going to hear Karl Hyde read from his new book...

          ... going to see DJ Shadow play at the old Granada Studios...

               ... getting nabbed by the dibble...

                    ... oh, wait, no, we were just on an old set from Corrie...

But the highlight of the trip, obviously, was speeding a long night with the whole family -- so great that everyone was there. Oh, and we even took this picture on Sunday before the others left. Genius.



Next up: UK Adventure part 2: a day trip to Anglesey

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