Sunday, 1 December 2013

And Now for Something a Little Bit Different: The Rochdale Surprisers

Something a little different from the usual musings, but rest assured they still relate to Twindom!

Every woman needs ‘besties’, who she can moan to, confide in, get support and advice from on all manner of subjects, and of course can return the favour to when necessary. I am very fortunate, I have quite a few of these friends. We meet regularly around the kitchen table or on the sofa; gossip over cups of tea/coffee (sometimes these are even consumed hot!) set the world to rights, share pictures of our families, general chit chatty girly things I suppose. We have been friends for around 3 years now, and we’ve been through a lot; the most important thing, the one which connected us all together in the first place: we all have twins. 

We have shared the ups, downs and agonies of being pregnant with twins, enjoyed the perks of extra scans, shared the frustrations of non-committal consultants who refuse to answer questions but instead reply with ‘we’ll discuss that when you get to 38 weeks along’ and then in the next breath tell you to get everything ready as it’s unlikely the babies will stay put past 34 weeks. We’ve endured every daft question you could ever think of regarding twins. But still there was something missing in our bestie relationship, and that was we had never met face to face. Yes you read that correctly, all of our kitchen table gossiping had been done via the medium of social networking sites. For most of us it began on a parenting website when we first found out we were expecting twins (we were due in little clusters between February and May 2011) so it was fantastic to have people who were going through the same things at more or less the same time, and for those who were a few weeks behind they knew they could ask questions of what to expect at the next series of appointments and classes and it would be fresh in our minds. Our little group of 13 soon grew as a few experienced ladies joined us, mums who had survived the first few months of twin-mummyhood, and they soon proved themselves invaluable, especially to those of us who had no idea what we were doing with 1 baby let alone 2 together! After a few months of chatting on various parenting forums we decided to find a more private place to chat, and our group on Facebook was born. We shared photos of our growing bumps, had guess the weight games, who would pop first, what ‘flavours’ would Sarah R’s and my twins be as we were the only one who didn’t find out what we were having until they all arrived. Between us there are 3 sets of boy/girl twins, 3 sets of identical girls, 3 sets of identical boys, 3 sets of non identical boys and 4 sets of non identical girls, but most of us reckon 1 of those sets of non id girls are actually identical they look so much alike.

We had often talked of meeting up, but trying to find a suitable date and place where we could all get together was like trying to find the proverbial needle. Sorting time off work and childcare was another hurdle to overcome as many of us also have other children to think about as well as our twins. There was also the small issue of feeling constantly worn out with all the sleepless nights, the constantly shifting daytime nap patterns, growth spurts, wonder weeks, sleep regression.. Then before we knew it we were celebrating 1st birthdays and we hadn’t managed to meet up. Blink again and we were wishing each other well having survived almost 2 years of raising twins, 3 years for some, and we still hadn’t met up. But then one of us, (perhaps unwittingly, perhaps not) provided the perfect answer. I logged into Facebook one morning to find I had dozens of messages, and discovered I, along with several others, had been invited to a wedding. The main do itself was to take place abroad, which meant most of us wouldn’t be able to go, but the reception was a different matter. And so a secret plan was formed; two of the group, Zoe and Sarah C, were going to the reception and would be staying locally, so it was decided that the rest of our little group would tag along and hopefully provide a very happy surprise for the bride (and fingers crossed, the groom too). Unfortunately not all of our group were able to attend, but everyone was involved in the planning and scheming that went on. And there was a lot of that! Trying to get 10 women, coming from all different corners of the UK to book train tickets/plan routes which would get us all to Rochdale at roughly the same time is trickier than you would imagine! Plus there were outfits to discuss, colour schemes (of clothes and hair), in my case there were dilemmas such as ‘did this top cover my mummy tummy better than that top?’, ‘which colour suits me better?’ and ‘which pair of killer heels (and they most certainly were) went with the whole outfit when it had finally been decided upon?’. And people wonder why I don’t go out often! In between all the planning there was one underlying fear shared by all of us, what if the bride found out about our plan? We were, we are, very close and talk about everything and anything so keeping quiet was hard, especially when Kym (our bride) posted about her own worries and we couldn’t say what we wanted to reassure her. We had set up a secret group for all our wedding chat, making sure we were posting/commenting in the right group was a constant worry. Our plans were very nearly blown when a post accidently appeared in the wrong group, but thankfully it was very quickly removed with minimal damage even though it had been seen; Kym just presumed (perhaps rightly so!) Zoe (the accidental poster) was having ‘a moment’ and nothing more was thought about it.

Suddenly, after what seemed like months of planning, discussions, worries about being discovered, worries about all the travelling, wondering if outfit choices were the right ones, hoping I would still fit in the selected outfit 2 months later, we, the ‘Rochdale Surprisers’ (thanks Sarah T) found ourselves waking up on Saturday 8th June and setting off for our rendezvous point of Rochdale, Lancashire, hoping we got on the right trains and didn’t end up in Edinburgh, or Bournemouth (I’m sure both of these places are delightful, but neither are where we wanted to be). We were travelling from all over the country; Laura from near Glasgow, Sarah C from near Newcastle, Becky from Hull, Sarah T from near Rotherham, Zoe and Becci were both already in Lancashire fairly close to Rochdale, Sarah R from North Wales, Sam from Somerset, Katrina from Northampton and myself from Lichfield, just north of Birmingham. Becky, Sarah C, Zoe and Becci were all driving, the rest of us were putting ourselves at the mercy of the great British railway network to get us to Rochdale at more or less the same time. Katrina, Sarah R and I had agreed to meet in Manchester as our trains arrived within 20 minutes of each other, and we decided we would rather face the Metro as a group than individually (a good choice as it turned out, Manchester was full of festival goers and the Metro was packed). Whether it was good luck or judgement I’m not too sure, but we managed to successfully  navigate our way from Piccadilly to Victoria stations and catch our connecting train to Rochdale, where we were going to meet Sarah T and Sam. Thankfully Sam had had the foresight to dye her hair bright pink and was therefore visible from space (well, at least the 100 yards from the metro station to the railway station) so after a few minutes of trying to decide whether or not to leave the safety of the station we spotted our fellow Surprisers and the first half of the group, Sarah R, Sarah T, Katrina, Sam, Laura and myself, had officially met.  
                            Together at Rochdale Metro Station, from l-r Katrina, Emily, Sarah T, Sam, Laura and Sarah R

After lots of hugs and some photos, and some careful studying of the map at the metro station by Sam and myself we set off in the wrong direction in a bid to find our hotel. So far things were going well! A few locals took pity on our group of lost looking women wandering aimlessly down the street dragging our cases behind us and very helpfully pointed us in the right direction. When we got to the main road we were told to look out for Sam and I decided we should take the left road while Laura and her map app reckoned the right, and given our performance so far we dutifully followed for fear of being forever lost in Rochdale. As it turned out both roads would have lead us to our hotel, and we got there just in time to see Zoe and her partner walking into the lobby, and Sarah C and her hubby were waiting in the bar. While we were chatting in the lobby and checking in Becky walked down the stairs having arrived about ten minutes earlier than we did. Nine out of the ten of us were here, altogether, in one place at the same time! With neither a computer nor phone in sight! I think I am right in saying there were a few initial moments of ‘oh goodness, now what do we do?’ but they passed very quickly and we spent the next hour and a bit chatting away in the hotel bar before heading off to find food before the big reveal.

Zoe and Sarah C were eating at the hotel so the rest of us headed out to find a local chippy; the first one we found we walked straight back out of, but thankfully there was another one a few doors up the road. Several portions of cheesy chips later, and some interesting glances from the locals including one chap who walked into the chippy after we did and whose eyebrows went up and his jaw went down, we were wandering back to the hotel filling our faces, and wondering what Kym would make of our arrival that evening. I was starting to get nervous in case it was a surprise too far; I think a few of the others were a little worried too. We were also hoping that the secret hadn’t somehow got out, a post by Kym that morning had made some of us wonder if she had cottoned on to what was going to happen. We had spent months planning this and didn’t want it to be blown at the last moment! We met back in the bar (there’s a theme developing here) to await the arrival of the final member of the group, Becci, along with her partner before heading off to the reception at the local rugby club.
Ready to go! About to leave the hotel, Sam, Becci, Sarah C, Sarah T (sitting), Katrina, Laura, Emily (sitting), Zoe, Sarah R and Becky

As the cars pulled into the carpark we all hoped Kym and her new hubby were well away from the windows, we had come too far to be seen now! Zoe had enlisted the help of Kym’s sister Kirsty to help us sneak in unseen, and she met us at the door. By this point I was really regretting wearing my lovely heeled sandals, and I wasn’t impressed to walk (teeter) inside to see a huge flight of stairs standing (or should that be ascending) between us and Kym. Zoe and Sarah C went in first with their partners as they were expected, the rest of us were gathered on the stairs, our hearts pounding as we waited for what seemed like ages before Kirsty said ‘ok ladies, come on in!’. This was it! Sarah T and I were first in, Kym had her back to us and was chatting to Zoe and Sarah C. Kirsty said more guests had arrived , Kym turned around and looked at us, and looked again as the recognition of who we were flashed across her face, then as we all filed through the door spluttered ‘oh, it’s my girls! It’s my girls!’. It was a really lovely, touching moment, there were lots of hugs, and not a dry eye between the eleven of us. Even as I am recalling this, some time later, I have tears in my eyes as the memories swirl around my mind. It’s safe to say the surprise was exactly that, Kym had no idea we were coming, and was delighted that we had.

Once the initial shock of our arrival had worn off, we were ushered onto the dance floor where I was pleased to learn we were posing for photos, not doing some ridiculous dance (they came later!), I could barely hobble in my killer heels (pathetic I know, but I had spent my career in steel toe capped rigger boots working on construction sites, so can you blame me really?) the other girls had obviously spent more time in such instruments of pedi-torture and were used to them. The drinks flowed, conversation carried on as though we had all met a dozen times before, and Kym’s gorgeous boys, looking very handsome in their little suits, ran around and flirted like troopers with everybody. Unfortunately Sam, who had been suffering with a migraine for much of the day, took a turn for the worse a few hours after we arrived, so when Becci and her partner said they were heading home (Becci was running the Race for Life the following day and wanted a good night’s sleep beforehand) she asked them to drop her off at the hotel. I joined her, I’m afraid I’m not a night-owl and my feet were killing me, and we left the others partying the night away. 

Twinkletastics together at last! L-r: Sam, Sarah R, Sarah T, Laura, Katrina, our blushing bride Kym, Zoe, Sarah C, Becky, Becci and Emily.

After a couple of hours of fitful sleep I was awoken at 3am by very loud bangs and crashes, and shouts and yells, and something which sounded like glass shattering. I presumed a few drunken guests were having issues with the card reader on the entry door just as Sam and myself had when we returned some hours before. It wasn’t until later that morning that the causes of the disturbance were revealed. The other Surprisers had returned shortly before 3am along with Kym and Sy, and were sitting in the hotel bar when another wedding party returned a little worse for wear. One chap got a little possessive over his girlfriend, and wasn’t pleased she wanted to sit with other men in a room other than hers and her fella’s and all hell broke loose; doors slammed, doors kicked in, mirrors being shattered. The police were called, I believe everyone involved was cautioned. When we all went down for breakfast in the morning we were asked if we were part of the same party! I wonder if we would have been thrown out if we had said yes?! Breakfast was a very tasty affair, if a little somber; Sam and Sarah R had already left on their journeys home and the remainder of the Surprisers, as well as feeling a little delicate from drink and lack of sleep, were all a little down at the thought that our time together was coming to an end.

We checked out of the hotel just after 11am, Becky fluttered her eyelashes alluringly at the lad on the reception desk and managed to get her breakfast for free! The rest of us had to fork out £8. Then it was time to say goodbye; Becky, Zoe and Sarah C had all driven to the hotel so Laura, Katrina, Sarah T and myself said our goodbyes and headed off to the station. 

Laura, Katrina and myself were heading back to Manchester and Sarah T to Leeds, it was a sad moment when our train pulled out of Rochdale station and we left Sarah on her own, last one standing. At Manchester Laura dashed off one train and onto the next, leaving Katrina and me to face the Metro on our own. We had plenty of time to get across town, or so we thought. Half way between Victoria and Piccadilly stations the Metro stopped at a station, and didn’t move again. An ‘incident’ had occurred at the next stop, blocking the line, meaning all trams on that line couldn’t go past that station in either direction. We decided to get off and walk to the next stop to hopefully catch a tram back to Piccadilly. An older lady also got off our tram, and as she seemed to know where she was going we decided to follow her. Not only could we not properly keep up with her, but we (ok, I) saw a sign for the railway station and, perhaps foolishly in hindsight, followed it rather than the lady. After some 20 minutes of wandering around some of the less touristy parts of Manchester we finally found ourselves at Piccadilly station, and with about 5 minutes to spare Katrina got on her train and was gone. My train wasn’t due to leave for another 2 hours or so, the joys of a cheap advance ticket, so I found an empty seat and indulged in a spot of people watching until it was time to go. By 6pm I think we were all at home, the weekend officially over. We all had a great time, got on like a house on fire, and now we have heard each other’s accents I doubt we will read comments on Facebook in quite the same way again!

Now, where should we go for the next meet up?

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