I woke up this morning and knew I was not feeling well when I spotted a sausage flying past the window. It was, in fact, a seagull. I then realised that I’d taken a tern for the wurst.
The telling of this – admittedly terrible – joke in the early hours of a Sunday morning in a Brussels pub, while dressed (against my will and better judgment) as a moustachioed French maid, led to immediate retribution from the great friend I’d honoured by making master of ceremonies at my impending wedding.
“Let’s finish him,” said Julian, a wolfish grin curling up his lips, evoking the infamous and chilling Mortal Kombat termination line. “It’s the humane thing to do – ending Ollie’s night now, for the sake of everyone else.”
The faux justification made little impression on the other members of my stag party. They nodded in boozy agreement, and the “barracuda” was ordered for me. “Une grande, s’il vous plait, patron!”
For those not familiar with the undiluted tequila-gin drink, I envy your ignorance and wish I’d never encountered it. But there I was, dressed in tights, sloshed with a clutch of my closest pals, knowing that I’d have no option other than to take the forfeit meted out, regardless of its size.
Gamely I pinched my nose and gulped down the the repulsive contents of the tumbler. It slipped and slithered down my throat, and Julian had his way, soon enough.
The high-jinks could have been much worse, of course. New film The Stag, a Irish comedy caper about a camping trip with the boys to celebrate the last weekend of freedom for Fionnan (played by Hugh O’Conor), follows in the tradition of stag movies from the accidental-prostitute-murdering Very Bad Things to the Mike-Tyson-baiting Hangover series. All of these films highlight the ritualistic laddish aspects of this modern-day rite of passage: the humiliation; the fancy dress; the jocular badinage; and of course the intoxication through drink, drugs – or both.
We’ve all heard stories about lonely stags being chained naked to lampposts or gaffer-taped to toilets, and the scattered horror stories of tattoos, arrests, hospitalisations – even fake kidnappings. (A personal favourite is the story of a groom who, having been informed in his hungover state that he had fallen and broken his leg the previous night – hence his leg being in plaster – had to use crutches on his wedding day and throughout the official photographs, only for his best man to hammer off the dressing and reveal he had no injury, to the shock of his already-fuming bride.)
It’s difficult to separate the true-life terror from the urban myth when it comes to stag stories, but it’s certainly true that these crazy weekends away – whether in Las Vegas, Brussels or Blackpool – seem to tease out the vile, prurient über-lad lurking menacingly inside all men. Add to that the mentality of the herd and it’s a toxic mix – and big business in 2014.
A study, carried out by The Stag Company and Hen Heaven, published last January found that stag-night spending has soared by over 50 per cent in five years, from an average of £91 a head in 2008 to £153 in 2012. (And hens are spending even more: £158.)
When and why did stag dos become so wild? Our fathers – and certainly grandfathers – never indulged in such hedonistic, barbaric behaviour. On the whole they had a couple of pints in the local with their mates, if anything at all.
Depending which historical experts you believe, the modern stag do can trace the origins back to either Henry VIII (he would have had six, don’t forget, and is unlikely to have restrained himself at any of them) or to the Spartans. Ahead of a wedding those notoriously hard soldiers would hold a dinner in their friend’s honour, and make a toast on his behalf. Tame by today’s standards. No paintballing, no cow-tipping, no stripagram. No nothing.
If you believe the movies, it’s the American bachelor party tradition – tied up in a tradition of frat-house dares and forfeits, that has ramped up the danger level of today’s stag events. But perhaps the British ritual is closer in nature to its French version: the enterrement de vie de garçon, or “burial of the boy”.
This is one last chance to act like a child – it’s a celebration of immaturity and base, juvenile humour – before the man is forced to put away childish things and take on his adult responsibilities; a final hurrah before he must embrace marriage and fatherhood, cooking sausages for the family and taking out the binoculars for a spot of twitching with the wife.
Now that would be life taking a tern for the wurst.
OK, OK – I’ll grow up, and draw a line under those embarrassing youthful pursuits and duff gags. Just don’t make me down another barracuda.
This article was first published in The Telegraph in March 2014