Kerry McLean: How I got that empty feeling when my husband's surprise party went wrong!
Surprises can be woeful or wonderful things and examples of both have popped up in our house in the last seven days. With my husband Ralph turning 50 last Wednesday, I decided to hold a little surprise party for him at a local hotel.
I had organised for all our huge extended family to gather together to mark the occasion and, having settled on both a menu, venue and time that suited all concerned (an organisational task that took all the diplomatic skills of a UN peacekeeper) I arranged for everyone to gather there a full 30 minutes before we were due to arrive with the birthday boy.
I know that sounds like a long time for everyone to wait but I was erring on the side of caution and putting in a bit of a time buffer for anyone running late.
Our clan were first in the queue when the gifts of love, humour and helpfulness were being given out but not a single soul was blessed with their fair share of punctuality.
I have been to more than one wedding where red-faced family members have attempted to sneak past the bride as she sets out down the aisle.
As an extra safety check, I had arranged for my mother to message my daughter when everyone was safely in the building and ready for our arrival. So, on the drive there, when her phone pinged and she gave me a subtle nod, I knew it was all systems go.
We walked into the hotel, crossed to the door of the function hall, I swung it open and the kids and I all shouted, 'Surprise!' ... only to be met with a host of empty chairs and not a soul in the room. It turns out that our guests had all gathered in the wrong part of the hotel and I had to dispatch my children to hunt them down.
It was only at this stage that my husband confessed that he had prior knowledge of the get-together. As we were about to leave our house and as I was dashing around, trying to smuggle a birthday cake past my husband without him noticing, our three-year-old took his hand and said, 'Are you looking forward to your surprise party today Daddy?'.
As Robert Burns said, the best laid plans of mice and men can often go askew and that's even before you add a talkative toddler into the mix.
I take comfort from the fact that I'm not the only person who's had a surprise deliver more unforeseen events than expected.
When a friend of mine decided to propose to her boyfriend, she thought it would be a cute idea to tie an engagement ring up in a little bag, attach it on to their dog's collar and let her intended find it there when they were walking along the beach. The only problem with her plan was that she forgot to factor in how excited their dog gets when he sees the sea.
They arrived at Portstewart Strand, she opened the car door and their pooch jumped out and made a dash for the waves, with her in hot pursuit. Her other half watched open mouthed as she jumped into the sea and attempted to catch their dog who decided that this was the best game in the world and evaded her for a good 10 minutes.
Eventually she caught him, retrieved the ring, exited the freezing cold water and, I'm delighted to say, her trauma was well worth it as, when her partner finished laughing and she finally managed to propose through chattering teeth, he said yes.
But lovely surprises don't have to be big or expensive to add a little joy into someone's life.
Just this week, a lovely lady stopped me as I drove into a car park to give me her ticket with an hour of parking still left on it, my eldest daughter bought me a little gift, a lip balm, out of her pocket money, and, just when I thought nothing in life could truly shock me, my son turned off the Xbox of his own accord because he wanted to have a conversation with me.
Now, if that's not a pleasant surprise, I don't know what is!