No, not mine, you big silly you.
However in the run up my recent last night of boyhood bachelordom a long buried memory came bubbling to the surface. Recollections of the very first stag night I went on when I was all of seventeen years old.
There was this guy whom I’d been friends with at school, but in the year or so since we’d left, I to college and he to work, we’d drifted in and out of each other’s orbit. We were still friends. Sometimes, I’d even have described us as close, but maybe not as tight as we’d once been. It was partially living different lives, but also he was one of those unusual people who seem endlessly fascinating when you’re in constant contact, yet once a degree of distance has been established they’re just that little bit strange. Not that I could have told you that at the time.
So seventeen years old, maybe eighteen. Early nineteen ninety-seven, I think. This lad had met a girl, in America, over the internet and he was leaving the country to marry her. Back then I vaguely understood what the internet was, but had never used it. They must have met in some chat-room, not on a slick website like the sort I ended up using years later. Older, it seems obvious that he was desperately unhappy. There were nights of oblivion, more frequent than most teenagers. There were weeks of solitude. There were fresh scabs just peeking out from his cuffs, occasionally where one hadn’t healed properly a patch of dark red turning black would show on his sleeve. He was struggling to find a way to escape. That’s what happens when you go to work at sixteen doing, god knows what, something mind numbingly tedious in an office in the centre of Birmingham.
We were a ragtag bunch of misfits, those of us who tended to find ourselves in his company with little else in common other than the same sort of friend in the same suburb on the edge of the same city. I don’t think any of us quite believed it was real. That it was a joke or another boast that’d be proved a lie. Or maybe we thought he’d go and be back in a couple of weeks having discovered her to be a tattooed biker with a goatee and pet pythons who needed some domestic help with benefits on the sultry nights. Whatever, it was a badly written script. It never felt true.
Still, we did the only decent thing and threw him a stag do.
It was a basic affair. We got a shed load of beer, maybe some pizza, probably a bit of weed and whacked some tunes on the stereo in his Mum’s flat. It was kind of like many other Saturday nights, except someone ordered a kiss-o-gram.
That’s how old school this was: we rang up a woman advertising in the yellow pages to come and take most of her clothes off in his Mum’s lounge.
I’m struggling now to remember what she looked like. I probably couldn’t see her properly through the cigarette smoke hanging around with us. I remember the minder who hovered in the hall making sure we kept our hands to ourselves. I think she arrived in a long black coat which she wriggled out of to reveal underwear, bra, knickers, suspenders and stockings. All black, cheap and shiny they looked slick to touch, like oil. Stretch marks to the edges of her stomach, creases and crinkles the brain tries to airbrush. Blonde hair falling in tired dried up semi-ringlets, combustible a testament to eighties style products. Maybe if I’d looked her in the eye I’d have seen some suggestion of why she did it, but I didn’t. She wasn’t the first naked woman I’d seen, but there hadn’t been so many that it was yet mildly boring. My eyes were elsewhere. I guess she did it for the same reason everyone else does in the end: she didn’t have much choice.
It was all rather playful rather than sleazy and certainly not sexy. There was some messing about with a whip, the lad may have been obliged to drop his trousers and pretend to be spanked. I think she permitted photographs. There wasn’t any jeering or sneering or acting obnoxious, I think we all felt awkward, wanting to look, not wanting to look. Wanting more, wanting less.
She wasn’t young, or rather wasn’t young to me. Maybe early thirties, which eighteen years ago felt ancient. Now, of course, it feels like only yesterday. She was bubbly, but clearly bored by the whole thing. As she posed, her bra removed, her knickers dropped to her high heels, one arm draped across the lad’s should, the whip hanging from her chipped nailed fingers, she asked: ‘So, if this is a stag do why aren’t you all out on the town?’
There was a cherub-faced kid in the corner, a bit flushed from a couple of beers, his sensible hair ruffled. Normally he was quieter than all the rest of us, one of those who just became lost to the background, but at that moment he chose to pipe up: ‘The thing is, some of us can’t always get served.’
You know those looks that people have, the moment when everything just clicks into place and realisation doesn’t dawn but clatters, head first, smack into your mind? She had one of those looks. She didn’t need to ask ‘so how old are you’. She knew. The knickers came up and the bra went on, swiftly and efficiently. Without another word or over-played pout she got into her coat and left with her minder muttering murderous grumbles.
I seem to remember the evening ended with me sitting on a wall trying to control violent hiccups, halfway home, my head in my hands, watching the world swirl away in a pretty beer fog.
A few days later the lad flew away to the other side of the world and none of us ever heard from him again. A new life, a clean start. I wonder what happened to him. I wonder whether he found an American dream, chasing down the dusty old highway to nowhere in a beat up old Buick, country stations on the radio or whether he became another boring soul in a boring prairie town, pushing paper round a desk waiting for something to happen, knowing it won’t. I wonder whether he is happy or sad, whether he found love or at least something that mattered.