I shouldn’t be writing this. I should be packing. I’ll try to keep it short.
So there we were, my new wife and me, drifting along with the rest of the slow but steadily moving traffic. The sun was shining and all was good in the world. The first day of our honeymoon. Our whole married life ahead of us. What ups and downs would that life bring? What sort of couple would we be? We had no idea.
Although we both had licences, I had almost no actual driving experience, so for this holiday, driving a hire car on the wrong side of the road, we nominated Elaine the designated driver. This suited me fine, as it made me by default the designated car stereo operator, a task which, to this day, I find much more interesting than driving, to Elaine’s distress when I try to do both at once. We’d brought a few cassettes with us, mainly bands we both liked: so lots of New Model Army, Sisters of Mercy and the Mission. But these all seemed a bit too gloomy, a bit too doomy, a bit too ‘alternative Yorkshire’ to soundtrack a sun-kissed cruise along the highways of Orlando. We needed something more American FM radio rock, for which our choice of tapes was limited. Why I didn’t tune into an FM radio rock station, I don’t really know. It doesn’t really matter. It just means that we drove towards the huge, six-lane-straddling Magic Kingdom sign to the sound of America’s Least Wanted by Ugly Kid Joe. Not exactly the Mickey Mouse March.
What sort of couple goes to Disney World for their honeymoon? Don’t answer that. We might not have realised it when we decided on the destination, or booked the holiday, or as we flew over, or checked into our motel. But I think we got an inkling of the sort of couple we were, the sort of couple I hope we still are, as we approached that enormous, pastel-coloured sign. Before we’d even reached the park, we looked at each other, and said, “We’ve got to come here again. When we’ve got children.”
A promise like that’s easy to make, but much harder to keep. First of all you’ve got to get children, which took more effort and heartache than we’d have liked. It took a while, and a few false starts, before we and various specialists worked out what the problem was. But once we did, we entered a period of what might be called ‘Pringles fertility’. Not, I must confess, because of any resemblance between my anatomy and Mr Pringle’s iconic tube, but rather because, as they say, once we’d popped, we couldn’t stop. Four children later, we agreed enough was enough, and I was duly dispatched to another specialist, to counteract the unequivocal success of the previous specialists. So far so good. We’ve got the kids. Let’s go to Disney World!
If only it were that simple. But those kids will insist on eating. And wearing clothes and shoes, which they grow out of instantly, necessitating the purchase of more clothes and shoes which they will also grow out of instantly. And having Birthdays and Christmases, and a few odd treats in the months in between. Not to mention their almost pathological demand for sleeping in their own beds (in bedrooms no less!) provided by the Bank of Mum & Dad (Mortgage Department). I’m not going to lie. We’ve made ends meet. We’ve managed. And along the way we’ve scrimped and saved, and made a few sacrifices, and eventually we’ve got to the point where we can deliver on our promise.
We’d always kept it secret from the children at the heart of our promise. Partly to avoid letting them down if it turned out we couldn’t deliver after all, but mainly so we could surprise them the way we did on Christmas morning. After all the presents had been opened and the wrapping paper cleared away, we pulled the old “oh look, Santa’s left one in the other room” routine. It was a gigantic box, and when the kids tore off the wrapping paper and opened it up, out floated a ‘Merry Christmas’ helium balloon. The other end of the balloon’s string was tied round the wrist of a small Mickey Mouse doll. And under Mickey was this letter:
You can imagine the pandemonium, once they’d read it and worked out where the Magic Kingdom was. There was much screaming, and jumping, and hugging, and smiling. And we’ve been on a countdown ever since.
A countdown which is almost at zero. T minus three days and counting. On Wednesday we’ll drive back towards that huge sign, unless they’ve replaced it with a newer one, in a bigger and fuller car than last time. I might even be driving, in which case Elaine will be on stereo duty. We won’t have any cassettes, although we’ll have a variety of iPods between us all, but we’ll probably just put the radio on this time. And when we get there, we’ll know we’ve finally kept our promise, our dream’s come true, nearly seventeen years later.
We’re that sort of couple.