I haven't got much experience of surprise parties, and it's perhaps just as well. When Staffan turned 50 he escaped from celebrations and went biking in France, but when he came back his friends started plotting. They hired a place, sent out invitations, divided tasks and prepared everything. Two friends were supposed to take him out for lunch and instead bring him to the venue. My role was simply to come over as soon as they had left, but not dress up before that, not to raise his suspicions.
On the morning of the day, Staffan announced that he had a cold and phoned the two friends to cancel the lunch. They called me in despair and after a brief war council we decided that they would come over to us and then pretend they wanted a particular blend of whisky (for lunch! highly plausible) and persuade Staffan to go together to the liquor store. Somehow they did manage to persuade him - he must have been off guard because of his cold. He had not showered that morning and was wearing his shabbiest jeans and shirt. Frankly, he looked awful. As soon as they had left, I put on my party clothes and makeup and hurried to the venue where some thirty guests were waiting with champagne bottles ready. Some minutes later, one of the kidnappers came in, frustrated. As soon as they had driven past the liquor store and toward the centre, Staffan got suspicious, and when they parked, he promptly refused to get out of the car. I had to go and talk to him, and when he saw me in my fancy dress - half an hour after he had seen me at home in my track suit - he finally relised what was going on, and his reluctance grew. I was uncertain what tactics to use, but eventually told him not to be a wet blanket but come in and see his friends who had taken all the trouble.
I don't think he has forgiven me yet, although it wasn't my idea.
Unlike Staffan, I love celebrations, and when I turned 50 I gave a huge dinner party which I had planned almost a year in advance. (That is another story which I may tell sometime). But I also knew that at work we usually celebrated people's birthdays with a cake at our weekly afternoon coffee, so although I had no classes that day I decided to attend the coffee and allow myself to be celebrated. Since I also knew that we usually collected money for a gift and consulted a family member about what might be desirable, I had told Staffan that if anyone consulted him, I wanted a gym card and no cut flowers. They did indeed consult them, and apparently he knew about the surprise.
I was marking essays or something like that in the morning when Staffan inquired whether I was quite sure that the celebration was in the afternoon, and I told him I was. Two-thirty, as usual. Behind my back, Staffan called my department, and soon after there came a call from a friend who wondered whether I was aware that there was a surprise lunch for me at twelve. My first reaction was to jump into my car and drive as far away as possible from Stockholm and my department. I knew I would have enjoyed a surprise party, but they could have made sure I turned up. I finally did turn up and even enjoyed it, but there was a little cloud in the silver lining.
All this to thank my wonderful students for the surprise party for which they really made sure I was there. They had planned it for my actual birthday last Monday. Morag's role was to invite me to have a cup of birthday tea after my class, and I never had the slighest suspicion, just thinking how sweet of Morag. The day before I learned that my dear son would be in London for a couple of hours on Monday - the best birthday present I could have - so I cancelled the class to go and see him. I can imagine the students' disappointment! However, after I had humbly apologised and assured them I would let myself be celebrated next year, I had no clue that the party was still on. (They had created a Facebook event for it - I almost start crying now as I think about it). So last Friday, as I finished the class moved from Monday and was putting away my things, the door opened and in they marched, not just those attending in the class, but the whole bunch of masters, coming in specially, on a Friday afternoon! With cake and all.
It is such moments that make everything worth while, even fighting the windmills of University administration.