My Greatest Prank Ever – West Palm Beach 2001

My Greatest Prank Ever

This story begins at Christmas 2001 when I was seriously trying to become a science writer. I had completed three books which had some degree of success:  one on Stephen Hawking, one on quantum theory and a third on solar eclipses. But this time I was engaged in something much more ambitious. I was tackling a review of the discovery of the physical universe. I was trying to describe the important historical breakthroughs in physics and cosmology and the personalities who made them, mostly in the 19th and 20th century. However, at the time I was in a funky unproductive period – much to the dismay of my publisher, my editor and of course, my wife. But it was Christmas time when everybody takes a break and I thought I would disappear into the woodwork, really buckle down and finish  this important volume which was to be called:

 A Brief History of the Universe.

Just about then, with my reasons for procrastinating staring me in the face, a remarkable situation arose. Our good friends Harland and Ann Riker sent  us an exciting email. They owned a large, lovely flat on the beach front in West Palm Beach Florida which they graciously offered to our family for the Christmas holidays. It turns out they were planning to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary by taking their entire family on an ocean cruise – leaving the property in Florida empty. The idea was that they would go off on their cruise and our family would be free to stay in the seaside property during the entire Christmas period. Needless to say, the McEvoys were excited about the prospect.

Somehow, I was convinced by my wife that I should stay behind to finish off the book – an ideal time, she said. My son Joe, who was not interested in going to Florida, offered to stay with me in London to provide some company. So, there I was – out of excuses, with half of the book finished . . . on the subject I most loved writing about, the discovery of the Universe.

On Christmas Eve – Immediately after everybody had left with sunglasses, wide-brim hats, paperbacks and lotions – a strange mood came over me – and I mean a strange mood. I suddenly wanted to be in West Palm Beach with my wife, my son Michael, my daughter-in-law Tracey and my grand daughter Emily. The next day, Christmas, this mood got even worse. The Brief History of the Universe was rapidly losing its allure. After all, it was the first Christmas in forty years that I would not be with my wife !

I spoke to them all by phone on Christmas Day but by this time I had already hatched my secret plan. I would travel to the Sunshine State incognito and join them. Furthermore, I would try to surprise them by turning up unannounced. By this point, the wild side of my imagination had taken hold and I began to think of other ways to make the idea more bizarre . . . like ‘how could I disguise myself’ ?

The beard, I’ll shave it off. What a great idea. Since we first arrived in London in 1964, I had worn a bushy beard and no one in the family had even seen me cleanly shaven for over 30 years . . .

Virgin Atlantic

So, I phoned my son Michael who would be my co-conspirator in the ruse. As a practicing musician, he often has meetings with producers in large cities, so he had no trouble convincing his wife, his mother and his daughter that he had to go to Miami. We arranged to meet in the Miami Airport, only a short distance from West Palm Beach. Things really fell into place when I discovered that Virgin Atlantic had vacancies on their flight from London to Miami at a very reasonable price. After all, it was Boxing Day when everyone relaxes at home. So, I took my electric shaver and a razor and made myself clean shaven ! I knew I was on to something from the reaction of my son Joe who was astounded by my new appearance.

When I arrived at the Miami Airport, I spotted Michael straight away but he didn’t even recognise me as I walked right  by him in the arrivals lounge. I smiled to myself and thought . . . this is going to be fun.

Hamburger Haven, West Palm Beach

He had arranged to meet the other family members back in West Palm Beach for lunch at a popular restaurant called Hamburger Haven which I also knew. Michael and I arrived there somewhat early and had to wait over a half hour for them. During that time, I got to chatting with the owners of the restaurant and told them of our plans to surprise the unsuspecting family members. The owners were of a somewhat flamboyant nature and immediately got into the spirit of the joke. In fact, they offered me an apron and an order book, encouraging me to pose as a waiter when our relatives arrived.

By this time, all the patrons of the restaurant were in on the gag and the tension was growing as we waited for them to arrive. Finally, in they came and were escorted to the booth which was reserved in their name. After they got settled, I approached to take their order.

No one recognised me ! Not my daughter-in-law Tracey, not my grand-daughter Emily and not even my wife of 40 years. Feeling devilish, whilst taking their order, I leaned forward to kiss my wife and an amazing thing happened. Nervous and laughing hysterically, she put her finger to my forehead to keep me away. Just at that exact instant, Tracey snapped a photo of this absurd scene and the six-year-old Emily screamed . . .

The Unwelcome Waiter


So, I had pulled it off . . .

With the help of the proprietors of the restaurant, my eldest son Michael, Virgin Atlantic and our good friends Ann and Harland Riker, I had successfully carried out my greatest prank ever. My own wife of 40 years did not know me and it was left to my six-year-old grand-daughter to identify this old guy who was waiting on their table. My wife later admitted that she thought the owners had invited the authorities of the local care home to send some of their residents to help in the restaurant. This I did not find humorous at all. In the end. we all had a good laugh and a delicious hamburger.

It’s Pappy !

(dedicated to my dear friend Harland Riker, recently deceased)