There’s something terribly exciting about planning a surprise for a very dear friend. There’s also something incredibly terrifying as well. Armed with both emotions, (that were running wild in my tummy and head) last Sunday I headed to London to surprise my good friend Lesley of 26 years, the day before her 50th birthday.
I’d spent the last four weeks or so in cahoots with her husband to ensure the master plan came into fruition. Now bare in mind we live over 100 miles apart, they have a daughter, I have a dog and therefore coordinating diaries was never going to be the easiest of tasks. However, and call it a sign from the birthday Gods, it so happened that Team Brandon had nothing planned for the 22nd April and neither did I. Excellent. ‘Keep Free’ was dutifully scrawled across kitchen calendars and the planning began in earnest.
As mentioned, we’ve known each other for exactly 26 years – we actually met the day after Lesley’s birthday on a dusty street in Kavos in 1992 – so to say we go back some way is a slight understatement. Adding in the somewhat rather colorful life we led in our 20’s (and beyond), building our careers in our 30’s and being grown-ups in our 40’s, we have shared many a late night, a few early mornings, the odd vodka and one or two tears along the way. We know each other’s likes, dislikes, music tastes and food choices. We have shared coffee around the kitchen table; moaned about men (normally me!) and listened to one of us being sick after too many knock-backs (always Lesley!). We’ve been through births, marriages and deaths (big love to Fred and Linda) and we’ve listened on the phone 100 miles apart as the other has cried, laughed and shouted obscenities at passing drivers. In fact I think I was on the phone to Lesley when she got pulled over by the police for…. well, being on her phone of course!
It goes without saying that in 26 years, we have created a lot of memories.
So, Part 1 of my birthday surprise master plan was executed with the help of Ruby, a hand written card and a mysterious riddle. She’ll never guess it’s me if I get Ruby to write it, I thought. And I was right, she didn’t. But I didn’t plan on her not wanting to open the card before her birthday. Arghh – schoolboy error! Of course, she wouldn’t want to open it – her birthday was still a week away. Agent Brandon (hubby) texted me in a mild panic and whilst I perspired a little more than I normally do, I desperately tried to think of a way to get her to open the card early. All the clues for the big day were tucked inside the card – she just had to open it! A few anonymous text messages later (thanks Emily!), the card was opened, and we were back on track. Phew.
Sunday 22nd dawned and as we were blessed with the most gloriously hot spring day, I couldn’t help feeling giddy with excitement–and ever so slightly sick. What if Les didn’t want to come into London? What if she’d woken up dreading turning 50 and wanted to hibernate? Ok, get a grip – this was all going to work out just fine. Just get on the train, get to the secret meeting place and relax woman. I texted Agent Brandon to confirm plans for the millionth time and let a long sigh of relief when he sent me a photo of Les getting ready at home. And breathe!
Our meeting point was to be the rather fabulous Champagne Bar at St Pancras Station. Oh. My. Goodness! What a fabulous, understated ‘bar’. (Although ‘bar’ really doesn’t do it Justice!) I arrived at midday with strict instructions for Agent Brandon to arrive ten minutes after – I had birthday banners to set up after all! The staff fussed around me and as I ordered two vodka cocktails, I spotted the birthday girl arriving. And whilst I was beaming with excitement, those pesky butterflies were going wild and all the ‘what ifs’ started running through my head. What if she doesn’t want a vodka cocktail at midday?
Now, in the 26 years I’ve known Lesley I don’t think I’ve ever, ever, ever known her speechless. Ever. And for those of who know and love her, know full well that she’s more likely to be effing and jeffing than be lost for words. But that day, Sunday 22nd April 2018, will go down in history as the day Lesley was rendered speechless for at least five minutes. She hugged me very tightly, we both cried (her definitely more than me) and still she didn’t speak. The staff brought the cocktails, a special ‘Happy Birthday’ plate with chocolate on and still she just looked gob smacked. I think the surprise worked.
We spent a wonderful hour or so drinking vodka, catching up, laughing at the absurdity of being nearly 50 and generally started to feel a little socially relaxed. All too soon we needed to leave the very lovely Champagne bar and move onto Part 2 of the surprise. Despite feeling a little wobbly, and suddenly very hungry, we negotiated the tube to Green Park and eventually found our next destination – Browns Hotel for Afternoon Tea.
We sank into low comfortable chairs and listened tentatively as the waitress explained how the afternoon would work – you bring us food and we eat it, surely? We chose our tea and waited patiently for the first tier of sandwiches to arrive. The irony of us trying to be ladylike and enjoying something so decadent was not lost on us at all – we’ve shared many things together and being ladylike hasn’t always been at the top of the list.
And so, the afternoon meandered on – the sandwiches were delicious and kept being replenished; the tea was of so very English and the cakes were simply divine. And all of a sudden, two hours later, we were stuffed; not another crumb could pass our lips and very full tummies.
We finished ‘Super Surprise Sunday’ with a large gin in a local pub surrounded by jubilant marathon runners and as we admired their medals, we also toasted our own 26-mile journey. We went from party hard, 24-year old’s, to fabulous fit and funny 50-year old’s in the blink of an eye.
Friendship. No medal required; just a lot of love, big shoulders and a head full of memories.
To read more of 50 Ways to Leave Your 40s, click here.