Because my husband has a promotional gifts company he is particularly difficult to buy presents for. Present him with just about anything and you know immediately that he is thinking: “how much did she pay for it? I could have found it 25-30% cheaper.” Over the years, particularly when the children were little, it has been a great advantage to have free access to a warehouse full of gifts, giftware, cards, chocolates, tins of biscuits, table gifts, myriad cuddly toys, candles etc etc. Some of the stuff – the 3D clock of the Last Supper with each digit a different disciple; the £0.99 Capodimonte teapot -has provoked hilarity rather than relief at having found a last minute gift, but the problem remains – what do you buy a man who is surrounded by gifts on a daily basis?
Back in August, his birthday, the kids presented him with a motorbike track day – which he still hasn’t done anything about – and I told him his present was an all-expenses paid trip to … Liverpool. As his mother had given him a night away with dinner for two in a (very limited) choice of hotel, I suggested we combine the two, discovered the nearest participating hotel to be in Preston and perused our diaries to pencil in a suitable date.
It took three months to actually get him there- or not, as it turned out – and turned out a rather different weekend away from the one I envisaged.
My plan involved a relaxing train journey across the Pennines, lunch in an upmarket restaurant, cultural visits to The Cavern, The Tate and The Albert Dock culminating in a rendition of Ferry Across the Mersey as we set sail across the river. We would then make our way to our hotel for a romantic evening meal, journeying home the following day via the Antony Gormley “Another Place” Exhibition on Crosby beach. The birthday boy immediately pointed out to me that if we were staying the night in Preston and hoping to see the Gormley exhibition we would have to go by car rather than as a guest of British Rail. As we drove west along the M62 – windy and wet at the best of times – the heavens opened and the tail end of some storm -Abigail? Barnaby? – hit the motorway causing flooding and queues.
We googled “Liverpool” and saw the city had been hit particularly badly by the rain and wind, the ferries were possibly suspended and we didn’t have an umbrella between us. We decided we’d have to leave the cultural bit of the weekend until later that day and, instead, headed for the Cheshire Oakes designer outlet to do some Christmas shopping. As, it was quite obvious, once we saw the full car parks and queues, had every other person in Lancashire, Yorkshire and Cheshire. I actually enjoy shopping – no, let’s be honest, I love shopping – but my husband hates it and even I felt daunted by the sheer numbers of people obviously fleeing the rain as well as trying to find that elusive Christmas gift.
It took us two hours to exit the car park, the rain was assuming biblical proportions and we decided to forget ‘culture’ and head for ‘romance.’
Four-star hotel it wasn’t. The rain was lashing, the wind howling – and that was just the inside!! The room was freezing and, apart from us and a rather disgruntled pair of bridesmaids who appeared to have lost their party as well as the plot, the place was deserted. We were shown four different rooms until we found one that was actually heated- it was, we were told their executive suite – and deciding we needed gin, headed for the bar.
We ate our romantic meal in a gloomy dining room in solitary splendour. Just as I was expecting Norman Bates to appear, the Turkish waiter, obviously bored with his own company, basically joined us. This was the entertainment for the evening.
At one in the morning I went down with food poisoning.
On the Sunday morning, with a new storm – Cyril? Derek?- revving to compete with Abigail, we decided to leave early and head for Crosby beach and Antony Gormley’s figures. We’d obviously got our tides wrong as the majority of the hundred figures were under water. The beach was deserted except for us and a couple of lone six-footers that had escaped the advancing water.
And then I turned against the wind to a totally surreal scene. One minute there wasn’t a soul to be seen, the next the beach was full. There must have been over a hundred people accompanied by what appeared to be hundreds of identical dogs, each one – dressed in reindeer antlers, mistletoe, holly and other seasonal appendages – a clone of the next.
Next time I plan a romantic weekend away, I shall check that the North West Schnauzer Christmas outing will not be joining us.
We cut our losses and drove home.