Stag-do’s (what we call bachelor parties in England) are all staid and predictable.
Despite the lusty desire for danger, the average stag weekend is a cliche-riven ride into mediocrity – a downbeat orgy of drink, drugs and bad food. What should be a joyous adventure is often bogged down by labyrinthine rules and dull traditions. And this is supposed to be the fun part. Juvenile enthusiasm is mandatory at stag-dos, as is the requirement to bond with strangers. A mania for naff activities is also a must – in this regard, it is just like Christmas (another period controlled by the Fun Nazis).
You hear the rumours before you receive the actual invite. A snippet of bawdy conversation here, a raffish suggestion there. The stag-do then wobbles into view like a loaded packhorse. The Best Man usually kicks it all off by sending a group email invite, intended as humorous, but almost always veering into questionable territory. The email is inevitably crammed with in-jokes, mockery, and the promise of pseudo-adventure. Of course, this is where it starts to go wrong.
People expect too much. When I see stag parties in their fancy dress, I can feel the strain of their forced fun. There is something dreadfully contrived about men in matching costumes. Only last week I saw a group of sober lads dressed as Harry Potter at Waterloo station. As they tried to organise themselves on the concourse, I felt confused. Where was the humour was in this joyless exercise? Why the compulsory enthusiasm for wackiness? How does any of this add to the enjoyment?
As the stag-do represents the ultimate ‘boy’s weekend’, many feel that every masculine cliche deserves an airing. You have to drive, shoot, fight, cajole, mock, dominate and drink. This might be everyday life for mountain men, but for pasty suburban office workers it is alien territory. And yet every man thinks they ‘have it in them’. It is the world of the traditional bloke, shoehorned into a safe pay-as-you-go world of pretend rough and tumble. Pudgy men who live in soft shoes attempt to transform themselves into gutsy adventurers. I have no idea why this happens. Who created this tiresome template?
Stag-do’s should not be hard work. The best I ever attended was last year. An old friend from my time in the navy had decided to shave the bum-fluff attached to these things. He did not want to ravage the strip bars of Riga or repel an attack of phoney zombies. He did not even want to get smashed in London’s novelty Ice Bar. My friend, Luron, decided on a venue by – literally – throwing a dart onto a map of the UK. When it landed near an unremarkable spot off the M30, he seriously considered holding his event in a service station.
Thankfully Luron threw again, this time landing on Great Yarmouth. I have always considered Yarmouth a backwater reminiscent of Tom Waits’s ‘town with no cheer’, lacking in every sophistication. A place of lowbrow thrills and low-rent debauchery. And yet it was a superb, if not ideal, location.
Luron still serves in the military, his comrades made up the rest of the stag party. We stayed in the suitably ramshackle ‘Hotel Nelson’. As in a bad parody, the ‘H’ was missing from the monstrous blue lettering out front. I had not met any of the party before, our introductions were brief but sincere. These were men who meant what they said. However, despite the hoary military cliches these fellows were no roustabouts. They were well-meaning, hard drinking men who could not be bothered to take themselves (or indeed anything) seriously.
We gathered, and after a mid-morning fry up, started drinking. Yarmouth has the charm that comes with a little town trying to exceed expectations. The seafront was tired, full of penny arcades and plastic fronted chip shops. Every establishment had a ludicrously over the top name. We drank in a poky little wine bar called ‘Champagne Charlie’s’. A dilapidated cinema on the corner was named ‘Hollywood Nights’. It was gloriously unkempt and totally inauthentic. But it was fine – we were not looking for high culture. I came from London, as I kept reminding the patient partygoers.
The night was a bawdy affair. We lurched from one bar to the next, ordering luminous cocktails and shots. It was unvarnished chaos. Yarmouth out of season was a quietly unfriendly place. We were regarded with mute suspicion in most of the seafront bars before shoehorning ourselves into the only busy night club in town.
This was the literal truth. Only one club was remotely busy, as if the locals had tacitly agreed to go out together and be as one. A biblical hoard crammed into a tiny sweatbox, it was a nightclub modelled on Sodom – only without the fun. In place of old-school abandon was an old-school ‘disco’. A thousand inebriated kids writhed to inane chart music while a DJ narrated – shouting out to various teams, regulars and notable individuals. It was unintelligible garbage of course. What could well have been a stream of witty puns was, over the music, nothing but a garbled annoyance. It was the ’80s. It was unplanned chaos. And that was it – the next day we went home, satisfied. We didn’t need theatrics and a contrived schedule of pseudo-manly activities. We had Yarmouth.
Read on here.