Standing in the kitchen, his face the colour of squashed raspberries, my better half’s voice rose to a crescendo. ‘It’s way past lunchtime and the blinds are still shut! What on earth’s going on?’
With one swift movement, he tugged at the roller blind which shot up to the ceiling to reveal….
Now if that sounds like the beginning of a short story, dear Oapschat readers, let me correct you. It’s the start of quite a long story that to this day still leaves me in fits of giggles. The occasion was my hero’s 60th birthday and the idea was to surprise him with something he had wanted for a very long time. You see, from the day we were married in 1971, he vowed we would live together happily into old age.
Marilyn and Les in 1971
‘Even though I talk too much?’ I asked, innocently, as the plane taxied down the runway for our honeymoon in the sun. ‘You think we’ll still be in love?’ ‘I don’t know about that,’ he grinned, ‘but when I retire I’ll have a shed at the bottom of the garden where I’ll go to read and smoke my pipe. You’ll spend your days writing novels and we’ll communicate by way of two tin cans connected by a long piece of string.’ ‘Sounds too technical for me,’ I replied. ‘Do you think it will it work?’ ‘Only if I remember to take the tin with me!’
So here I was, thirty-five years on trying to get a shed built for his retirement, without him suspecting a thing. Several phone calls later I had found a local company willing to lay the concrete base and put up the shed in just one morning. That was the easy bit. The problem was how to get my better half out of the house and keep him away until the deed was done.
Then I hit on a plan. With our second daughter’s wedding just a few months away, I arranged an appointment at Moss Bros in the nearest city to where we live - at 9am prompt - for him to be measured for his suit for the big day. The shop assistants, I’m happy to say, were in on the secret and promised to delay him for as long as possible, leaving him in the changing room while they served other customers.
Leaving the shop exasperated, the Angry man got a call from our elder daughter, whose train had broken down, asking if she could beg a lift. As he’d do anything for his daughters, he happily drove to rescue her. He even agreed to stop off at Tesco to pick up some groceries.
After twenty minutes with still no sign of his errant offspring he was getting more irate. ‘Sorry, Dad,’ she chirped, as she finally reappeared. ‘I bought the wrong shampoo and there was a huge queue at customer services.’ Unbeknown to her long-suffering father she had been frantically ringing home to see if the coast was clear.
‘Try to hold on for another half an hour,’ I implored after checking with the workman that the deed was almost done.
Daughter number one, meanwhile, was running out of excuses. ‘Would you like a coffee in the café, Dad?’ she asked, ‘before we go home?’ Now my husband doesn’t do drinks in cafes – even when we’re on holiday. As for supermarket cafes, he would rather watch a party political broadcast from the Monster Raving Loony party than sit in one of those. No surprise then that he finally arrived home (just as the shed-men vanished around the corner) hungry, tired and completely exasperated. ‘You won’t believe the morning I’ve had,’ he growled. ‘The shop staff measured me several times and kept getting it wrong. Then when I picked up Amy from the station she wanted to stop at the supermarket for a CUP OF COFFEE!’
It was at this point that he strode into the kitchen and yanked up the blind revealing the brand new shed, nestled in the corner of the garden in all its glory. There was just one problem: he was so cross he didn’t even see it! Our family, who had arrived by now, burst out laughing.
Muttering something about us all being stark raving mad, Angryman disappeared through the back door. Silence descended, followed shortly by a cry of disbelief. ‘There’s a shed in the garden,’ he yelled, as if he’d just seen a ghost. ‘How did that happen?’ If only he knew.
Les with newborn Evie
Ten years on we have just celebrated Angryman’s 70th birthday, dining out on the story all over again. This year, however, there was a difference. We now have two gorgeous granddaughters, aged seven and three, who decided to arrange their own special surprise. Arriving home together after a holiday in the Lake District, Angryman answered a phone call from the girls, who live a hundred miles away, unaware that they were hiding upstairs with their parents.
‘Hello, you two,’ he said, when they’d sung Happy Birthday. ‘What good timing. We’ve just got back and it’s very wet outside. Is it raining where you are?’ By now he was in the kitchen, about to open the blinds (yet again) when he felt a tap on the back. ‘Yes, it is raining, Grandad,’ came the answer in stereo as the children appeared behind him.
The look on his face said it all. These days he still spends his spare time in the garden shed, but now has new love in his life. Those little girls are the apple of his eye.
EDITOR: In June 1940 the Nazis occupied British soil. This is the story of one woman, two men and the impossible choice between love and duty.
If you would like to order Marilyn's book, here is the link to Amazon.