OUR 24-year-old texted me on holiday: “Will you be at home on the third weekend of August? We’re going to come and see you.”

It turned out he and his girlfriend, Emily, who weren’t in Crete with us because they didn’t have any holiday left to take, were coming up from London to stay for just one night.

“Are Newcastle playing then?” I asked, because there’s usually a football match involved with such a flying visit, although Emily doesn’t usually travel all this way to watch grown men kick a ball about. No, no football, he said: “We’re just coming to see you.”

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He texted again to say they’d booked their train, arriving on the Saturday afternoon, leaving again on the Sunday: “Booked two tickets for me and Emily, plus one surprise,” he said. He wouldn’t tell me any more. I imagined all sorts. The patter of tiny feet? An engagement ring?

“He’s given up his job,” suggested my husband. “They’ve been talking about going travelling, haven’t they?” It can’t be that, I said. It’s an actual physical thing, that he’s bringing on the train: “His P45?” said my husband. “Perhaps it’s a cheque for the money he owes us,” I mused. “Or maybe it’s the outline of a proposed repayment plan for another loan.”

We wondered if they might be planning to buy a flat, or move to another city, or even abroad. It was certainly something urgent and important enough for them to travel up together at short notice to see us in person, just for one night.

Then it turned one of their brothers, who had been sworn to secrecy, knew what it was: “It is an actual thing,” he confirmed when we began to interrogate him. “But I can’t tell you any more than that.”

He later let slip that I would be more interested in it than his dad. “It must be a baby,” said one of his younger brothers. “Mum loves babies.” My husband was a bit miffed: “I think I would be pretty interested in a baby too,” he said.

My sisters all chipped in with their ideas, most of which involved a big family celebration of some sort. Perhaps it’s something to do with their work, they might be planning to set up a business or something, suggested a friend.

“I would be interested in that,” grunted my husband. “I would also be interested if they were moving house, or if they were getting engaged. I can’t imagine anything about their lives that I wouldn’t be interested in. Why does everyone think I wouldn’t be interested in any of these things?”

Even the decorators, who were painting our outside windows, got in on the act and announced: “They’ve probably got a puppy.” But that didn’t stack up, I explained: “They’re talking about giving up work to travel for six months and love going away for weekends together. It wouldn’t suit their lifestyle.”

The big day came. My husband picked them up from the station. “I’ve got something to show you, Mum,” said Charlie, leading me into the living room. There, in the corner of the room, was a cat carrier basket and, hiding under a blanket inside, a quivering mass of black and white fur with big green eyes.

The boys know I am going to miss Roscoe, our 18-year-old and second youngest, who is just about to head off to university. It means there will be just one boy living at home and the house is going to feel so quiet and empty. “So we thought we’d get you a kitten,” said Charlie. “And he’s a boy.” “He’s beautiful. I’m going to call him Arthur,” I said.

It took him a while to emerge from under his blanket to venture out into the room. He looked terrified. But slowly and surely, he gained confidence and started to play with us, sit on our laps and enjoy being stroked.

I now understand why the boys said their dad wouldn’t be interested in this particular surprise, since he doesn’t like animals and has always objected to having one in the house. At least that’s what he says.

But he has come out of the living room several times now with traces of cat fur on his shoulder, denying all knowledge of how it got there.

And yesterday, one of the boys caught him playing with little Arthur when he thought no one was watching.

I think he’s interested.