WE are driving to my in-laws. They are expecting the two of us, but we have a passenger. We park in the drive and let our daughter out first. My mother-in-law opens the door and suffers a dislocating moment. She starts to speak, thinking that she is talking to her daughter. We’d spun a yarn about needing to borrow their shower as our manky old sprayer has been ripped out to make way for a new one.
She has no idea her granddaughter is back from her year in Australia, as we have been telling fibs all week. “Kenneth!” she cries, as we get out of the car. “Did you know about this?”
“No,” the father-in-law says, laughing.
“Well, I’ve been cleaning the shower all morning,” my mother-in-law grumbles. But she is pleased to see the wandering girl and the doorstep surprise raises plenty of laughter.
They had no idea, so sometimes it is good to lie. The lies continue throughout the week. We have arranged to go by train to Manchester with the oldest boy, to meet the middle boy for lunch. My mother, who is coming along too, keeps asking me when our daughter is back.
I have my answers ready. “We don’t know,” I say. “She’s booking her ticket any day soon.”
‘No we still don’t know when she’s coming back’
While taking one of these calls, I walk out of the study and stand with our daughter in her room. “No, we still don’t know when she’s coming back,” I tell my mother.
We worry that the lie might be uncovered, as our daughter tracked her return on Facebook and my mother, aged 86, does go on there occasionally. But the good lie holds.
At Piccadilly station, we are waiting for our son to show, and he does. My mother is due to drive to a tram-stop and ride the rest of the way. By chance, as we wonder what to do next, my mother pops up behind our daughter – “You’re here!” she says, or something like that.
Lie number two works.
We head for a coffee, then walk through the Northern Quarter, a scruffy corner of central Manchester fast turning trendy.
‘For mysterious reasons people outside form a queue with fat little dogs’
After coffee, we walk to the place my son had found online. For mysterious reasons, there is a long queue of people outside, all with fat little dogs.
A sign on the door reveals that this is a “bring you pug” day. As we don’t have one and don’t fancy sitting in a pub for lunch surrounded by asthmatic wheezers, we look for somewhere else.
After being turned away from a busy brunch bar and a packed café bar, we find a hipster pub doing Sunday lunch. Beef times two and one lamb for the boys; three veggie lunches for the girls.
In the afternoon, we visit the People’s History Museum, at my mother’s urging, and this turns out to be a good urge: it describes itself as the “national museum of democracy”, and if you have Jeremy Corbyn for an uncle, he’ll love it; if your auntie is Theresa May, I’d gently steer her away.
The story of Manchester’s people and their labours runs from the Peterloo Massacre of 1819 to the present day.
My mother begins to tire, so the Manchester boy walks with her to the tram, and then we fit in a quick visit to the John Rylands Library, a late Victorian neo-Gothic delight with a snazzy modern extension.
‘Dinky downstairs drinkery’
Both places are a top tip for Manchester, as too is The Brink, a tiny subterranean bar that describes itself as a “dinky downstairs drinkery”. Great beer too, all of it from within a 25-mile radius. This happy circumference just touches Huddersfield and the Magic Rock Brewery, with its High Hire West Coast Pale – lovely beer in a lovely little place.
As for the girl, it’s great to see her back, although she mysteriously doesn’t share my view that life is too short to watch The Chase on ITV; but honestly, it is… and that’s no lie.
No more lies for now, although my dad doesn’t know about the prodigal return yet…