When you’ve celebrated your anniversary in a tent for twenty-five years, how do you tell him you fancy a change?
Thumps were echoing through the house when Sarah shouldered her way through the front door with bulging bags of shopping.
Dumping the bags in the kitchen, she climbed the stairs.
It was just as she’d feared. There was a ladder leading up into the loft.
“What are you doing up there?” she called to the brilliantly lit rectangle of the trapdoor. As if she couldn’t guess.
There was a metallic tinkle, as if someone had dropped the pans she used for cooking when they were camping.
“Nothing!” came an answering bellow.
“Sounds like it,” she yelled back.
“Be down in a minute.”
Sarah began to unpack the shopping and put it away, but an extra loud crash made her back hastily out of the fridge.
“Pass the juice while you’re there, Mum.” Liam had sauntered into the kitchen and was taking a glass out of the cupboard.
“What’s Dad doing in the loft, for heaven’s sake?” Sarah demanded. “If he’s not careful, he’s going to put a foot through the ceiling.”
“Dunno. He said he was going to get the camping stuff down, but I thought you said you wanted to do something different this year.”
“Well, it’s not that I don’t like camping…” Sarah sighed.
It was just that she’d rather fancied being waited on for a change.
In a hotel – not necessarily a smart one. In fact, she’d prefer cosy and family-run to some big anonymous chain.
But for once, she’d like to wallow in a bath or a hot shower with loads of bubbles instead of tramping down to the toilet block or washing in two inches of water in a foldable plastic bowl, as when they were backpacking.
And she’d like to have her meals put in front of her without having to decide on what could be cooked on a Calor gas burner and what she could get in a small general store in the back of beyond.
She couldn’t say she hadn’t known what she was letting herself in for when she married Hugh.
After all, they’d met each other on a campsite in Norfolk. She’d been with friends, he’d been in a tiny bivvy tent on his own.
His mates had decided they were going to head for another site farther round the coast, but he’d had to get a new inner tyre for his bike and he was going to join them tomorrow, he’d told her.
But Hugh had stayed.
The sudden downpour had taken everyone by surprise, and water cascaded down the sloping field.
The ancient canvas frame tent that Sarah and her friends had borrowed and inexpertly erected, had given up, folded in the middle, and collapsed.
Jane, Mandy and Julia had made a run for it to shelter in the campsite cafe.
Sarah tried to pull the frame up, but the wet canvas had other ideas. It wrapped its soggy arms around her and refused to cooperate.
Hugh came to her rescue. Both of them looked like drowned rats by the time he’d helped her get the tent upright and secure it firmly.
Sarah saw her friends peering through the window of the cafe and burst into laughter. Hugh pushed the sopping hair out of his eyes and grinned.
He waved the mallet he’d been using on the pegs in the general direction of the grinning faces and raised an eyebrow.
“I reckon they owe us a hot coffee and a bacon roll each, don’t you?”
“Too right they do!”
It had seemed the most natural thing in the world that their hands should clasp as they dripped their way into the shop.
Julia decided wet hair and camping weren’t for her and went home.
The next morning, the sun blazed and the tent dried out. Jane, Mandy and Sarah had a most enjoyable week and, by the end of it, Hugh and Sarah had become an item.
Ever since, the smell of warm grass under her sleeping bag reminded her of that first magical time.
Even their honeymoon had been in a tent. And, when Liam and his older sister Kate came along, they too got used to having their holidays exploring the countryside and calling a polyester-inner-with-fully-waterproof-outer-skin home for the duration.
Now Sarah was torn between reliving their honeymoon on their Silver Wedding anniversary, or making a complete break with tradition and staying under a roof instead of material.
She’d confided her thoughts to Liam, told him not to say anything to his dad, feeling like a traitor, but it seemed Hugh didn’t have any such dilemmas.
She could hear him whistling as the thumps and bumps indicated he was bringing things down to pile them up in the hall.
“Any danger of a cup of tea?” he said, rubbing his hands as he came into the kitchen. “It’s freezing up there.”
“Well, it is only March,” Sarah said, hoping he might take the hint that, if it was cold in the loft, it would be cold on a campsite.
He laughed and she could see behind the lines and the first few grey hairs to the wet and mud-streaked twenty-something he’d been that day.
“Yup. Campsites will be open in a couple of weeks. Just in time for our anniversary, love.”
He swept her into a one-armed hug, looking so pleased with himself that she didn’t have the heart to make her suggestion about the hotel.
“Right. She’d just have to take things into her own hands, wouldn’t she? And hope he wouldn’t be too disappointed.
Hugh and Liam between them moved all the camping gear into the garage.
Judging from the laughter – if they hadn’t been guys, she’d have called it giggles – they were in high spirits at the prospect.
“Oh, I reckon a spot of that glue stuff should fix it,” Liam said over his shoulder to his father as they came back into the house. “No probs. Might need to stock up on camping gas, though. I only saw one canister. That won’t last you.”
Sarah pricked up her ears.
“What do you mean, last us? Aren’t you coming?”
Their anniversary camping trips had always been the four of them. And their twenty-fifth was something special, wasn’t it?
On the other hand, she’d been wondering how she could put it to Kate and Liam that, this year, they wouldn’t be staying in Old Faithful, as the tent was fondly known.
“Can’t, Mum. I promised Bri I’d cycle to Wales with him. We’ll probably be halfway to Llandudno on The Day.”
“Oh!” Sarah said.
That solved one problem, but not having the children there on their wedding anniversary seemed all wrong.
Although she’d have to get used to it, wouldn’t she? Kate was marrying her Simon next year.
She’d have to start her own anniversary tradition, but Sarah doubted it would be camping. She knew her daughter had never felt the same about it after the incident of the cow.
Liam was twenty now. They were lucky he’d come on holidays with them for so long. Now he and his friend Brian were more into cycling, they didn’t want to be stuck with the olds.
“Kate not coming either?” she asked.
Hugh shook his head. “Can’t get away. One of her team booked that week off and she needs to cover the weekend. Sorry, love, I meant to tell you.”
A pang of regret swept through Sarah, but it did make things easier.
She spent a lot of time on the internet over the next few days, making her choice. It was exciting, but her stomach was full of a whole hatching of butterflies when she pressed ‘send’.
What will Hugh say?
For the next few days, she tried to find the right opening for her announcement, but it appeared there was a conspiracy against her.
At breakfast, she took a deep breath and said, “Hugh, would you…?”
Hugh had barely glanced up from his porridge before his phone rang. He picked it up and glanced at the screen.
“Sorry, love, got to take this,” he said, swiping up his phone and holding it to his ear. “Marcus, mate, sorry, I haven’t looked out that address for you. Just give us a sec…”
He disappeared and Sarah heard him rustling through papers in the other room. By the time he came back, she was late for work and he was still talking to his colleague.
The moment had evaporated. Never mind, she’d talk to him this evening.
No sooner had they settled down to eat and Sarah was just about to say the words she’d been rehearsing all day, when the doorbell rang.
Hugh went to answer it and Sarah heard his delighted welcome.
“Guess who?” he said, coming back into the kitchen with Kate on his heels.
“Brrr! You wouldn’t think it was spring, would you?” their daughter said, hugging them both and leaning over to sniff appreciatively. “Ooh, that smells gorgeous, Mum. Any left?”
She was so full of wedding plans, work moans, and gossip that it was hard to get a word in edgewise.
The evening flew by without Sarah finding a moment to tell them what she’d done.
By the time her daughter left to go back to her own little flat, it was late and Hugh had an early meeting the next day. It was definitely another evaporating moment.
However, she had to tell them today, she thought when she woke the next morning. Today was Wednesday and Saturday was The Day. They’d be leaving on Friday.
Hugh would start packing the car soon. She was surprised he hadn’t started getting everything organised already.
Determined to make her announcement the minute she walked into the kitchen, she was pleased that both Hugh and Liam were there.
A large mug of coffee was steaming on the table. Hugh pointed at it.
“Your coffee, love.”
There was something about his voice that twanged her antennae.
Liam was looking extraordinarily angelic – well, as much as a twenty-year-old lad could lay claim to a halo when wearing ripped jeans and a t-shirt with a mildly insulting slogan on it.
“Thanks,” she said, trying not to sound too suspicious. As she went to pick it up, she saw the silver envelope beside it.
“Open it,” Hugh said.
“Go on, Mum!”
The brochure was glossy and showed an idyllic house with gorgeous gardens. Mountford Garden Hotel, it announced in curling letters. Enjoy our heated open-air pool and a relaxing sauna, or simply wander through acres of stunning countryside before returning to the creations of our top-class chef and the comfort of king-size beds.
Sarah felt her mouth fall open. It was just what she’d been dreaming of!
She shot an accusing glance at her son. Liam grinned.
“Bit of a change, right, Mum?”
Hugh put his arms around her.
“Don’t blame him. Yes, he told me what you’d said but I should have thought of it for myself.
“Happy Anniversary, Sarah. Something to remember, eh?”
She hugged him back.
“It’ll be wonderful.” Putting her mouth close to his ear, she whispered, “I can’t wait to try out the comfortable bed!”
The weekend she’d booked in the luxurious yurt wouldn’t be wasted. She’d just change the date.
If Kate and Liam wanted to come they’d be welcome, but if you were going to change traditions, spring and a Silver Wedding anniversary were as good a reason as any.
Our My Weekly Favourites series of feel-good fiction from our archives continues on Mondays and Thursdays. Look out for the next one.
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