Debbie turned 60 this month, and her daughter Amanda and I have spent months planning a surprise party for her. Actually it was mostly Amanda’s work, she is an excellent planner and has a lot of great ideas, something which I all too often lack. In addition, with work being manic lately, I haven’t had the time to try and plan very much, but thanks to Amanda the plans gradually came together.
Over the last few months, Debbie has been giving up plenty of hints that her 60th birthday is coming up, and she has been hoping for something special, but none of us have really reacted to that, and she has been left completely in the dark as to what was going to happen (if anything).
The big day was on the Monday, and by the Friday before Debbie had heard nothing, despite her many attempts to try and pry some hints out of us.
Friday after work, I got home, to questions that included whether she needed to pack a bag for the weekend or not. I let on nothing, but I also didn’t want to leave things until the last minute either. She knew that something must have been going on, however, because over the past couple of weeks my phone had kept pinging regularly, as I got updates and questions from Amanda and had to discretely try to answer them, all while Debbie was sitting on the couch next to me.
So, I dropped an envelope on the couch next to her, which got her all excited, and she opened it to reveal our itinerary for the weekend as a set of cards.
The first card was to alert her to the fact that we were having a BBQ at our house on Monday, which was her actual birthday, and that we needed to go to to the farm shop (Owtons) to get meat and burgers in. The second card was to let her know that she needed to pack things as we were going away for the weekend, and the third card gave her an idea as to what we were going to be doing, but only an idea… The final card let her know that Sunday we had no plans, and that was basically because I didn’t know what time she would want to get up or leave the hotel, or what she would feel like doing, and so I thought it was best to leave it open.
Debbie had been constantly reminding me that her 60th birthday was coming up for the last few weeks, and for a few days before this turned to asking me whether she needed to pack a bag or not. So I thought I had better put her out of her misery on Friday evening to give her a chance to pack things without panicking. All she knew though, was that we were going for a walk in the New Forest, and then to a restaurant in the evening.
Saturday morning came, I went to the farm shop to get meat for the BBQ, and then we headed out to the forest, which is on the other side of Southampton.
The New Forest, if you are not familiar with it, is a lovely area of the south coast of England. It was created in the 11th century by William the Conqueror as a royal hunting ground, and it’s not one of Britain’s national parks.
The area is not all woodland, a lot of it is open heathland, but it’s an area of natural beauty that we both love. There are lots of horses and cattle that are allowed to graze in the forest, a few of the many horses that we saw on our walk are shown here.
Debbie and I must have walked about three miles in total, not that far really, but it was a hot day, and we just strolled along enjoying the scenery.
Debbie knew that we were staying overnight in a hotel (although she didn’t have a clue where), and as we couldn’t check in until 2pm, we had plenty of time to sit and enjoy our drinks before we left for our destination.
The hotel that we were staying at was a nice upmarket hotel belonging to a small chain and in Lyndhurst, a small town in the centre of the New Forest.
Traffic in the New Forest is always busy in the summer, especially when the weather is nice, and as we approached Lyndhurst we hit a traffic jam. We sat in the queue for about 5 minutes, and as it was still only 1:30pm we were not in a rush as check-in wasn’t until 2pm, and so we just edged slowly forwards in the traffic.
There was a road about 50 yards ahead of us on the right, and this led to the hotel. I said to Debbie “I’ve had enough of this traffic jam, let’s go a different way”, and so I pulled out, turned right, and then shortly afterwards turned left into the hotel entrance. So now she knew where we were going to be staying, and her face lit up.
The hotel that we were staying at in Lyndhurst was The Forest Lodge Hotel, and the building used to be a Georgian Dower House. It’s a lovely old building, and the hotel also has an indoor pool, which I thought would be nice and refreshing as the weather was hot.
We asked at reception if we could check in early, and fortunately found that we could. That was a relief, because it would mean we could be out of the way before any other members of the birthday party arrived.
The receptionist asked for the booking name, and she looked curious as there was another booking with the same last name. Debbie instantly started putting two and two together, thinking that it was my son and his wife, but I tried not to give the game away, and said that it was a coincidence, and it’s not an uncommon name. She went along with that, but was still a bit suspicious.
We were then told that there was a big screen television in a lounge in the basement of the hotel, and whereas we had planned to watch the World Cup game between England and Sweden on the television in our room, now we were going to watch it from the basement instead. So, into the room, Debbie cleaned up a bit, and I frantically messaged Amanda and also my Son to let them know where we would be. My son was also staying at the hotel, and is football mad, so we knew they would be wanting to watch the game, and we didn’t want to spoil the surprise.
So 2:30pm came, and with the game starting at 3pm, we headed downstairs, went to the bar to get a drink, and then found that there were no free seats in the lounge, so Plan B, back up to the room to watch the game there.
Fortunately the television was a decent size, so we could watch the game clearly, but then I had to message everybody again to let them know about the change in plans.
The room was hot, REALLY hot, as none of the hotel rooms had air conditioning, but they had put a rotating fan in the room, which together with having the window open the whole time we were there helped to keep the room at a bearable temperature. It’s been far hotter than normal for the past few weeks, and dry as well, the sort of weather that we only see about every 20 years or so in the UK, so air conditioning isn’t as essential as it is in other countries.
After the game, we had thought about going for a swim in the hotel pool, but with the heat we were both feeling sleepy, and so we decided to take a nap until it was time to go down to dinner.
I had told Debbie that we needed to leave for dinner about 7:10pm as we had a reservation for 7:30pm. In reality though, the room was booked for 7pm and everyone was supposed to be in place before we got there at ten past.
By this time, after a number of other questions about where we were going to eat, Debbie was convinced that we were going out somewhere. My plan to confuse her was definitely going according to plan, or so I thought!
We left the room and went downstairs, and she was quite expecting us to walk out of the hotel and go to the car. But just before the entrance to the hotel, I told her that we were eating in, and so we took a left turn to where the hotel restaurant was located.
The waitress in the restaurant asked if we had a reservation. I said yes, but she couldn’t find us on the list and began to show us to a table for two, which caused me to panic slightly. She realised that something was not quite right, and said “Oh are you with the birthday party?”. I said that we were, and she said that we had been put in a different room, and so we were led over to the other side of the hotel, and shown to a room with a closed door.
I opened the door to the room for Debbie, and she had a big surprise, as inside waiting for her were her close family, friends and even her team colleague from work and her husband. Amanda had managed to arrange for her parents to be there, as well as her sister and her husband, her son and his wife, my son and his wife, and our best friends as well.
We had a lovely meal, following which Debbie opened her presents, which included some Tiffany jewellery, a lovely glass plate, and a couple of bottles of wine with personalised labels.
With the weather being so hot and dry though, she had lots of problems trying to keep it in shape while she was icing and decorating it, but Lewis stepped in and helped to create the finished products.
Home made cakes are always the best aren’t they, and Amanda does make really good ones as well.
After dinner and the opening of the presents, we all moved outside onto a patio area, which was a lot cooler.
We shared lots of fun conversations and jokes, took loads of photos, especially Amanda who was keen to try out lots of effects on her new camera, and then we played a game of charades, which was hilarious.
The next morning we both woke up early, and went for a swim in the hotel pool, which was nice and refreshing.
That was followed by breakfast, a pot of coffee while sitting out on the veranda, and then we packed and headed home.
It was a lovely weekend, wish we could do this every year!
If you would like to learn more about The New Forest and it’s history, I wrote an article about it, which you can find HERE. The New Forest is a lovely area, full of beautiful scenery and with great places to walk.