If you just tell me where we’re staying I will still be surprised

Aida Austin illustrates how unpredictable and yet comical travelling can be once the plans are out of your hands.

If you just tell me where we’re staying I will still be surprised

My husband has arranged a surprise trip to celebrate my birthday tomorrow. Right now, we’re en route to the airport. Certain major details have leaked out along the way, so at this point in time, I know we’re flying to Edinburgh and that my eldest daughter, sons and girlfriends are joining us there but beyond that, it all goes a bit... hazy.

So it would be more truthful to say that right now, I’m in a state of half-surprise, or to put it more truthfully stilI - that I’m in a state of foreboding: I’m nervous of “hazy,” in the context of my loved ones and planning.

“If you just tell me where we’re staying,” I cajole, “I will still be surprised.”

“No you won’t,” he says.

“I will be a quarter-surprised,” I say, “but importantly, much more relaxed.”

“Oh ye of little faith,” he says, enigmatically.

“Just tell her, Dad,” my daughter says, “it’s her birthday.”

“Wouldn’t you prefer me more relaxed?” I say.

“We’re staying in the Links Hotel,” he says.

The Links Hotel is just around the corner from our eldest daughter, he tells me, right by the Meadows and our sons and girlfriends are staying there too. But, for the sake of surprise, I am not to Google it.

We enter the Departure Hall and proceed through customs.

“This feels a bit like groundhog day,” I say; I’m only just back from a work trip, which started in Budapest and ended in Vienna.

“Lucky for some,” he says.

“Work trips are weird though,” I say, “it’s bizarre travelling when everything has been organised for you, right down to the tiniest detail.”

“You mean like now,” my husband says.

“Sort of,” I say, “except sometimes it’s easy to confuse travelling with you with a panic attack.”

“Well, so far,” my husband says, “things have gone very smoothly.”

“We were given travel wallets when we got to the airport,” I say, with boarding cards and detailed itineraries in them. And throughout the whole trip, taxis and coaches kept suddenly appearing like magic. Our boarding gate has opened. My husband is on his phone.

“Thinking about it,” I say, “I’m not sure that kind of thing would be good for you on a regular basis.”

“What kind of thing?” my husband says distractedly.

“Business trips,” I say, “where everything is so... facilitated. I mean by the end, it was kind of infantilising. I just followed the group around everywhere like a helpless toddler. I’d have followed them straight into the jaws of...”

“Sorry,” he says, looking down at his phone, then up again, “I’m just checking something.”

“It was a very soothing experience,” I continue, “but on balance, I don’t think it would be good to get used to it - leaving all the planning and organising to someone else, I mean. It might lull you into a false sense of security and then one day, like I said, you might follow them straight into the jaws of…”

“Checking what, Dad?” my daughter says.

“Nothing,” he says, “it’s just a bit confusing, that’s all.”

“What’s a bit confusing?” my daughter says.

“Besides,” I say, “it’s so lovely to be travelling with family and not a group of strangers. There’s nothing like being with your own people. And maybe a little bit of edge is good for you. Very occasionally. ”

It’s easy, I note, to hold forth on edge when you know you are staying in The Links Hotel which Google informs me, “boasts four stars and a very modern new look, creating an immaculate, warm and welcoming ambience”.

“Dad,” my daughter says, “what’s a bit confusing?”

“The hotel booking,” he says, leaving the boarding queue and galloping round the corner with the phone at his ear, “I’ve just checked online and there are two hotels called The Links - one in Edinburgh, and one in Northumberland.”

“Where’s Northumberland?” my daughter asks me.

“Google it,” I say.

“It says on my phone it’s 67 miles away from Edinburgh,” she says.

The flight is boarding.

“Where the hell is Dad?” my daughter says.

“I wish I could find the answer to that on Google,” I say.

My husband returns, panting. We are the last to board. He looks pale and his forehead is beaded with sweat.

“Problem solved?” I say.

He joins my daughter who is standing behind me in the queue. I turn round just in time to catch him mouthing, “Northumberland,” at my daughter.

“I’ve had to cancel the booking,” he says, “and they won’t transfer us to The Links in Edinburgh.”

“So what hotel are we staying in tonight?” my daughter asks.

“The one called, “Jaws of Disaster,” I say.

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