The joy of planning… and the unexpected

When I was little, awaiting some big event, I used to consciously avoid imagining it in my mind’s eye. I believed that visualising it would jinx things, meaning it wouldn’t happen like that. This deprived me of the pleasure of anticipation – literally looking forward to a day out, a trip to the cinema, or even waking up on Christmas Day.

50 years later, I can report I’ve outgrown this personal superstition and I now risk planning whole days, daring to imagine how it might happen without expecting it to then all fall apart. I’ve done this for two particular Saturdays in the past four months and, I’m pleased to say, both turned out well.

The two Saturdays have both involved watching football matches and running parkruns – in York and Stevenage. I’d also built food and drink into the days which tells you about another of my interests, alongside sport. Both days had developed well – no spanners in the works – and it wasn’t even as if I’d got PBs (personal bests) for my parkruns or that the football results had all gone the way I wanted. But, after lunch on the first of the two Saturdays, things were about to get even better.

I was in York for an annual school reunion. I’ve been a regular attender over the past decade or two, along with a dozen or so other male former school mates. Because we’re men, we do exactly the same thing every year to make life easier. OK, it’s sheer laziness, but around a  formula that works. We meet in the same pub at the same time on the same Saturday of the year for lunch at the start of a 12-hour catch-up. The reunion is essentially about food, drink and chat.

As I write this, I realise that the main reason that running parkruns, watching football matches, and the eating and drinking is such fun is probably because it’s done with other people – connecting and belonging to a group. But, that day in York back in May, I’d planned to do something that didn’t involved others.

After lunch in the pub I stayed on alone to watch ‘my team’ on TV to see if they could win promotion to Football League Division Two. They won – against all odds – down to 10 ten men in the first minute the prognosis had not been good. An early lead was equalised just before half time, the winning goal came late in the game, and a nail-biting final 10 minutes followed.

But by then I wasn’t the only one biting his nails. Just as the match started, I heard “is-i-ron?” in a fondly familiar (and, as it happens, female) Birkenhead accent. The question was closely followed by four fellow Birkonians (that means we come from Birkenhead) supporting our local team – Tranmere Rovers.

A great afternoon followed with recollections of Birkenhead and the mixed fortunes of our beloved team. Most incredible for me – more than the match result itself – was discovering that the neighbour of one of my ‘new best friends’ had worked in the same office as my dad over 50 years earlier! ‘Of all the bars in all of York…’ as Rick didn’t say in Casablanca.

For all my planning, and my delight when things turn out as I hope they will, that day in York taught me that the unexpected can turn a great (planned) day into one I’ll talk about for a lot longer. In our ever-faster, changing and uncertain world it’s great when things go as planned – reassuring and comforting – but real joy can come when you’re not expecting it.

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