LAST Friday evening, on a train from King’s Cross to Waverley, I witnessed a sight so foul it made me want to scoop out my eyeballs, hurl them down the carriage and plug the stinging sockets with vinegary silverskin onions. A group of young men were travelling from London to Edinburgh on a stag weekend. They had posh accents and – apart from the burly chap in the French maid outfit – expensive clothes. It soon became clear they worked in the City. Although it wasn’t possible to say exactly what they did, my first impression was that they were a bunch of merchant bankers, and I saw nothing in their subsequent behaviour to alter my opinion.
We were somewhere around Durham when the lager took hold. Air authorities are currently going to great lengths to prevent terrorists combining two volatile liquids; if only the same pains were taken by the rail network. These guys were mixing Stella and Stoli with little regard for the potentially explosive results of the resulting compound, and sure enough, as the train hurtled past Durham Cathedral, critical mass was reached.
Two of the stag party had been arguing about something or other and, having reached the limits of their articulacy, decided to settle the matter with a physical contest. They stripped off and hauled themselves up on to opposite luggage racks, then raced each other to the end of the carriage, dragging their bodies slowly and painfully along. We passengers below thanked our stars the luggage racks weren’t the see-through kind you get on some modern trains, but it was still unpleasant. Imagine a brace of plucked and hobbled turkeys crawling away from Bernard Matthews’s factory.
It is bizarre that men feel ......
..... the need to mark the end of our single lives with a public display of excessive drunkenness, nudity, ritual humiliation, promiscuity and vomiting. There’s plenty of room for that sort of thing in a modern marriage. Yet stag parties have a long history. They originated in ancient Sparta, when soldiers would gather for dinner in honour of their about-to-be-spliced comrade, the idea being that such bonhomie would ward off evil spirits who might otherwise ruin the wedding.
Sparta was a violent military state in which male fitness was prized and physical challenges were common, but there is no recorded instance of a Spartan being stripped, tied to a lamppost and left overnight. Neither has an inflatable sheep been discovered in any archaeological site. Such high-jinks must have been introduced by another civilisation, possibly the Trojans, who – as we know – invented the condom.
Of course, the stag night has come a long way since those days. Indeed, it has stretched to become the stag weekend or even the week. It is estimated the average man spends £365 on a stag weekend, and there are now loads of travel companies offering organised trips.
Cheap air tickets mean nations which were once Cold War no-go areas are now hot destinations for bachelors on the ran-dan. The Czech Republic was once a small country about which we knew nothing, but now we know one thing about it – its capital Prague is the place to go for cheap beer, food and naked women. One website offers tailored packages to Prague and elsewhere in Central and Eastern Europe, and they seem to know their customers’ appetites well. In Tallinn, for example, they lay on a “medieval lesbian stripper show and meal”. The meal is vital ; I know I can never enjoy watching Queen Guinevere removing her bodice and wimple until I’ve had a proper dinner.
All in all, it seems stag nights are aptly named in that some of the misogynistic morons who go on them deserve to be chased by dogs, decapitated and have their heads mounted on the walls of a hunting lodge. I’ve attended some myself and they weren’t pleasant. One friend was treated to a strip show, which concluded with the woman inserting a lit cigarette, filter first, in his bum. Like Bill Clinton, he didn’t inhale. Like Jack McConnell, he welcomed the smoking ban.
My own stag weekend was a more sedate and enjoyable affair on Arran, characterised largely by heavy drinking and endless games of Whist. But were I to do it again – and I think men should be allowed to do so, just as renewing your wedding vows and going on a second honeymoon are becoming more popular – I would do it differently. A friend recently marked his 30th birthday with a trip to the Holocaust memorial in Berlin, and I think something that austere and solemn would be the perfect antidote to the usual stag debauchery.
To that end, perhaps some old Scottish customs are due for revival. In days of yore, the groom-to-be would sit in a bath tub while his friends smeared his legs with ashes, soot and grease. That sounds agreeably ascetic and is probably good for your skin too. My favourite, though, is the ancient Highland practice known as “creeling”, in which a large basket filled with stones is tied to the groom’s back. He then has to walk right round the town, weighed down by his heavy burden. Good practice for having a mortgage and in-laws, and cheaper than all those Bacardi Breezers.