Surprises, e.g. a Brother-in-Law

Last weekend was an exciting and unusual experience, full of exciting (expected) things interspersed with a handful of exciting (unexpected) things. Let’s go chronologically:

Thursday/Friday – Mario, Magic, Marriage

I left work, picked up a rental car (having unfortunately forgotten to take my counterpart driving license to the rental place, I had the choice of either cycling for an hour to collect it or else paying a fiver for them to run a DVLA check, and I opted for the latter on the grounds that an hour of my time (especially if I have to spend it cycling back and forth along the same stretch of road) is worth more to me than a picture of Elizabeth Fry. I drove home, packed a bag, said goodbye to Ruth, JTA, and Annabel, and drove up to Preston.

"I just found this card."
“I just found this card; is it yours? Maybe it will be, later.”

There, I spent most of Friday playing the new Mario game with my sister Becky, gave a few small performances of magic (did I mention I’m doing magic nowadays? – guess that’ll have to wait for another blog post) at various places around Preston, and went out for a curry with my mother, my sisters Becky and Sarah, and Sarah’s boyfriend Richard. So far, so ordinary, right? Well that’s where things took a turn. Because as Becky, our mother, and I looked at the drinks menu as we waited for Sarah and her boyfriend to turn up… something different happened instead.

Sarah and Richard announce to the rest of the family that they're now married.
Never before in our family has a marriage been conducted with so little pomp nor pre-planning. Except for our mother’s, of course.

Sarah turned up with her husband.

It turns out that they’d gotten married earlier that afternoon. They’d not told anybody in advance – nobody at all – but had simply gone to the registry office (via a jewellers, to rustle up some rings, and a Starbucks, to rustle up some witnesses) and tied the knot. Okay; that’s not strictly true: clearly they had at least three weeks planning on account of the way that marriage banns work in the UK. Any case case, I’ve suddenly got the temptation to write some software that monitors marriage announcements (assuming there are XML feeds, or something) and compares them to your address book to let you know if anybody you know is planning to elope, just to save me from the moment of surprise that caught me out in a curry house on Friday evening.

Richard pushes Sarah around Sainsburys.
Tie some cans behind that trolley and spray “just married” on it in shaving foam, would you?

So it turns out I’ve acquired a brother-in-law. He’s a lovely chap and everything, but man, that was surprising. There’ll doubtless be more about it in Episode 32 of Becky’s “Family Vlog”, so if there was ever an episode that you ought to watch, then it’s this one – with its marriage surprise and (probably) moments of magic – that you ought to keep an eye out for.

Saturday/Sunday – Distillery, Drinking, Debauchery

Next, I made my way up to Edinburgh to meet up with Matt R and his man-buddies for a stag night to remember. Or, failing that, a stag night to forget in a drunken haze: it’s been a long, long time since I’ve drunk like I did on that particular outing. After warming up with a beer or two in our hotel room, the five of us made our way to the Glenkinchie Distillery, for a wonderful exploration into the world of whiskies.

Still #1 at the Glenkinchie Distillery.
It’s hard to appreciate how large the pair of stills at Glenkinchie are, if you’ve only seen the stills at other Scottish distilleries before. See the people in the background, for scale.

And then, of course, began the real drinking. Four or five whiskies at the distillery bar, followed by another beer back in the hotel room, followed by a couple more beers at bars, followed by another four whiskies at the Whiski Rooms (which I’d first visited while in Edinburgh for the fringe, last year), followed by a beer with dinner… and I was already pretty wiped-out. Another of the ‘stags’ and I – he equally knackered and anticipating a full day of work, in the morning – retired to the hotel room while the remainder took Matt out “in search of a titty bar” (a mission in which, I gather, they were unsuccessful).

The Glenkinchie Distillery bar.
The Glenkinchie Distillery bar carries a full range of Diageo Scotch whiskies, plus a handful of other brands, and expert staff are on hand to help with tasting.

Do you remember being in your early twenties and being able to throw back that kind of level of booze without so much as a shudder? Gosh, it gets harder a decade later. On the other hand, I was sufficiently pickled that I wasn’t for a moment disturbed by the gents I was sharing a room with, who I should re-name “snore-monster”, “fart-monster”, and “gets-up-a-half-dozen-times-during-the-night-to-hug-the-toilet-bowl-monster”. I just passed out and stayed that way until the morning came, when I went in search of a sobering double-helping of fried food to set me right before the long journey back to Oxford.

All in all: hell of a stag night, and a great pre-party in anticipation of next weekend’s pair of weddings… y’know, the ones which I’d stupidly thought would be the only two couples I knew who’d be getting married this fortnight!

Remember Go Ape?

Many of you will remember that we went to Go Ape as part of Ruth & JTA’s stag/hen night, last year… and that we dressed as superheroes.

Superheroes gathered with civilians outside Jordans YHA, at Ruth and JTA's Stag/Hen Weekend party.

Well: it looks like we made a big difference to one little girl. Do you remember the kid who was scared to go on the big “tarzan swing” until she was cheered on my a group of us, hanging from the next platform along? Well, it turns out that we were mentioned in that girl’s family’s review of the day.

A review of the day out, by Emily Sarwa. Click on it to see it embiggened.

That’s kind-of sweet.

In other news, we’ll be doing another Go Ape trip on 27th March, to celebrate Paul‘s birthday. More of you ex-Aberites read my blog than has, so – if you’re coming – Paul’s asked me to remind you to fill in the form on his blog post about the event (we need to do this so we can pre-book for the appropriate number of people), and we’ll see you there! (superhero costumes are not mandatory, but you know I’ll be wearing mine…)

Ruth & JTA’s Stag/Hen Party Weekend, Part III

With their wedding just around the corner, Ruth and JTA had a combined stag/hen party weekend, a couple of weeks back. You’ve probably already seen part one and part two – here’s the finale! Click on pictures if you want to see them larger.

Sunday

A Simpler Breakfast

Compared to the big fry-up of the day before, Sunday’s breakfast was a far simpler continental-style affair with croissants and fruit.

Sunday’s breakfast. Help yourself!

Suit Up

For today’s event, many of us had decided to dress as superheroes/costumed heroes/costumed vigilantes (Paul wouldn’t let me use the generic term superheroes to describe those without superpowers, and JTA objected to the notion that his costume – Rorscach from Watchmen – could be considered  a hero, so I’m using these three terms together in order to satisfy everybody).

Superheroes/vigilantes/whatever gathered with civilians outside Jordans YHA.

I was The Flash, which pipped my first choice – Bananaman – to the post after I became concerned that Bananaman’s cape would prohibit me from wearing a climbing harness (in actual fact, it wouldn’t have caused any problem, as Owen – dressed as Batman – demonstrated).

The Flash picks Batman up by the neck.

Needless to say: all being dressed as comic book characters quickly lead to a series of play fights and staged photos.

The Flash, Batman, Robin, and Catwoman beat the crap out of Kick-Ass.

This silliness persisted all the way to our destination.

Batman and Catwoman face off.

Which, in case you hadn’t guessed already, was…

Go Ape!

Ruth and I had been together to a Go Ape! centre before, while celebrating our third anniversary last summer, and she’d decided that it was so much fun that it should absolutely be on the list of activities for the Stag/Hen weekend event. As Siân once wrote: you get to channel your inner Indiana Jones and traverse ricketty bridges between the tree tops, jump from platform to platform, scramble across cargo nets and… fly down the zip lines.

The safety briefing.

Of course, everything is even more fun when you do it wearing a silly costume. Except perhaps putting on a climbing harness: this was particularly fun for Robin – dressed as Robin – when the instructor discovered the padded bulge in his tights while helping him tighten his straps.

The Flash climbs from tree to tree above the forest floor.

Climbing, leaping, swinging, flying. Even the most cautious in our group got into the swing of things as they hopped from tree to tree across the ropes and bridges that stretched around the forest. The tarzan swings – and especially the second one, with it’s “drop off” before the rope catches you – were particularly awesome at the Black Park Go Ape course. Needless to say, we got plenty of attention from confused-looking ramblers on the ground as they saw costumed heroes leaping around above them.

The Boy Wonder on the Bat-Zipline.

There’s also a lot of fun to be had in playing at being superheroes and fighting atop a high platform, punching your opponent and sending them flying (secured to a wire, of course) off the side and away. Yes, we played like little kids, and it was awesome.

Kick-Ass slams into a cargo net at the end of the smaller of the two Tarzan Swings.

After we’d come down from the trees, we ate lunch – leftovers from breakfast, mostly – and greeted passing children with calls of “Did somebody call for a superhero?” The original plan would have seen us go to a nearby sauna/spa to chill out at the end of such a long weekend, but we’d spent so long playing about at Go Ape! that we decided to drop this from the plan, and instead call an end to a fantastic weekend.

Catwoman dodges Batman’s flying kick in the Go Ape! car park.

All in all, a fantastic weekend. Huge thanks to everybody who came and helped to make it a success. See you at the wedding!

Photos

If anybody’s interested, there’s a gallery of many of the photos we took, including the ability to download the high-resolution versions in a convenient ZIP file for your offline use, here.

Ruth & JTA’s Stag/Hen Party Weekend, Part II

With their wedding just around the corner, Ruth and JTA had a combined stag/hen party weekend, a couple of weeks back. I wrote a little about it already – here’s the second of the three parts. As usual, click on pictures to embiggen.

Saturday

A Mighty Fry Up

Matt, Paul and I kick-started everybody’s morning with an enormous fry-up. We’d be needing every calorie for what was to come next.

Paintball

We spent most of the day at a nearby paintball centre. We got quite horribly lost on the way there, and it took a few attempts for our convoy of cars to finally find the place. I’ve never seen a paintball centre so large, before – everywhere I’d been has catered for up to about 80 people at once, maximum, but this place was enormous. Packed in with hundreds – maybe thousands – of other players, we were herded like cattle through our boot camp and equipment handout.

Party people planning paintball play preparations.

My team – Team Black – kicked arse, and not just because there were more of us than our rivals, Team Gold (which was especially true after a handful of Team Gold members were thrown out after one was messing about with his mask). I particularly enjoyed working alongside Ruth’s brothers as a three-man assault team during some of the more team-oriented scenarios.

Paul doesn’t approve.

It wasn’t for everyone, though. Perhaps because of the atmosphere, or the stretched-to-breaking-point old equipment, or the half-arsed attitudes of the staff, it was only to be as much fun as you made it. And, of course – as with any war – there were injuries.

That’s gonna sting in the morning.

The moral: in future, stick to the small, friendly paintball centres and not the behemoths.

Leaving the paintball centre.

Troma Night On Location

We raced back to Jordans to fight for the limited supplies of hot water for showering, and then got started at setting up for a wedding-themed Troma Night On Location. Ruth & JTA had chosen four films – an old one, a new one, a borrowed one, and a blue one – to use as our theme, but after a day of running around and being shot at, not one of us was particularly optimistic that we’d be able to sit through all of them!

Troma Night On Location kicks off.

Our first film was the topical How To Murder Your Wife, an underrated and fabulously funny adventure in lost bachelorhood. We ordered pizza from the nearest Dominos’ (still a couple of towns away), and had a large stack of pizzas dropped off with us only about 40  minutes; not bad considering the distance and how well-hidden the hostel is.

The film is paused for a surprise interim activity.

And then we stopped showing films for a little while…

Nurse Kitty

You see: as a Best Man, I have certain responsibilities, and there are certain traditions that ought to be upheld. One of these traditions is that it’s not really a stag night unless there’s a stripper. So I hired a stripper.

Given our mixed-gender/sexuality/outlook group, I made sure to warn everybody that this was going to happen… well, everybody except JTA, anyway, who seemed quite genuinely surprised when I announced that there was a special guest here to see him, and opened the door to “nurse Kitty”.

Nurse Kitty checks JTA’s temperature and remarks on how hot he is.

“Did somebody call for a nurse?” she said, “Is… JTA here?” JTA’s hand went up, slightly sheepishly, as Kitty slid around in front of him and checked his temperature (I’m sure that when NHS professionals do this it involves less breast-on-face action) and pulse (I’m not sure that conventional medical practice requires that this is done with a thigh, but who am I to argue with a nurse who’s suddenly wearing a lot less than when she came in.

Peeping at the contents of her nurse’s bag as she put away the thermometer, I caught a glimpse of what was yet to come: baby oil… whipped cream… and – Lucky Stars? That’s a new one on me. But all became clear by the time the CD player had started the second song and the slender young lady in front of us was wearing tine cones of whipped atop her nipples, each topped with a small milk chocolate star. “I didn’t think I liked Lucky Stars,” JTA said, later, “But those were pretty good.”

Ruth had been worried that this diversion from the night would be incredibly socially awkward, but it wasn’t. Thanks to a little injection of humour and a little bit of warning (at least for everybody except JTA), everything was fun and friendly (as well as pretty hot). And Kitty hung around with us afterwards for a while to drink and chat, and turns out to be a really interesting person with a fascinating “day job” (I won’t mention what it was here because the last thing we want is to “out” her as a stripper to her mother, who doesn’t know about her other job).

(there’s a video somewhere which I’ll share with you if the person responsible for it ever gets me a copy)

There’s actually a whole blog post worth of writing about hiring a stripper to come to an inaccessible village in the middle of nowhere, how to handle cancellations, and more – but I’ll save that for another time, if anybody’s interested.

Back to Troma Night

And so we got back to Troma Night and our second film – one of my favourites – The Mating Habits Of The Earthbound Human. I really love this film, and it was great to be with folks who’d never seen it before; to see their happy little faces at the conception analogy used in the film, for example – a wonderful little joke in a brilliant movie.

Hanging out at the end of the evening.

And then, we gradually drifted off to bed, one by one. Nobody had the energy for even a third film, never mind a fourth, and we’d need a surprising amount of energy for tomorrow’s activity… [to be continued]

Ruth & JTA’s Stag/Hen Party Weekend, Part I

With their wedding just around the corner, Ruth and JTA had a combined stag/hen party weekend, a couple of weeks back (yes, I know it’s taken me a while to blog about it. Here’s some of the highlights. As usual, click pictures for bigger versions.

Friday

Jordans

Most of the party was to take place at the youth hostel in a Buckinghamshire village called Jordans. With a little sweet-talking to the lady who runs the hostel – which we’d rented outright for the weekend – we were able to check-in a little early, to at least be able to leave our bags and cars there.

Jordans Youth Hostel

Matt, who was to join us for the next part of the adventure, was running late, so we explored the nearby Quaker meeting house – one of the oldest, right on our doorstep, and the burial place of William Penn – while we waited for him to show up.

Ruth, JTA, and Paul, standing around wondering where Matt could have gotten himself to.

Eventually we had to set off to London without him, on the train. We hid his train ticket inside the least-likely-looking leaflet we could find at the train station, texted him instructions to find it, and got underway.

In which leaflet do you think we’ve hidden Matt’s train ticket?

Paul split from us shortly after Marylebone Station to pursue a quest of his own: to find a stack of foreign candy and purchase it. Meanwhile, we went on to…

Volupté

The festivities started with lunch in Volupté for Ruth and JTA, accompanied by maid-of-honour Matt (when he caught up with us) and I. You might recall that Ruth, JTA and I had been before for their “afternoon tease” a few months ago, and loved it. Volupté is a fantastic little burlesque club buried in the middle of London, and we enjoyed their ostentatious and eccentric cocktails as we ate our dinner, listened to some live music, and watched JTA help a young lady undress by tugging on the end of one of the series of wrap-around dresses she wore.

JTA and Ruth at what we’ve now decided is our ‘usual table’ in the cocktail lounge, waiting for Matt to arrive.

Given our dormitory-style accommodation, he probably thought that this would be the only time he’d be helping a young lady to undress all weekend, but this assumption would turn out to be false later in the weekend…

Ruth & Dan’s Stag/Hen Party Game Which They Couldn’t Agree On A Name For

Back at Jordans, our other guests were beginning to arrive. Ruth’s brothers, Owen and Robin, were among the first, followed by Alec and Suz, Siân, Adrian and Abby. That’s when we got the phone call from Liz.. giggling as she went (perhaps from the painkillers?) she wanted to apologise that she and Simon wouldn’t be able to make it, because she’d suffered a rather unpleasant injury. And so began the first of our evening’s entertainments: coming up with awful and tasteless puns about poor Liz’s accident.

The drinking begins. Here’s to you, Liz, for being so unflappable.

As our chefs in the kitchen prepared everybody’s dinner, Ruth and I began to explain the rules of Ruth & Dan’s Stag/Hen Party Game Which They Couldn’t Agree On A Name For.

Paul, Robin, and Ruth prepare dinner.

Two teams were formed. The aim for each team was to help their team-mates traverse a Twister mat by competing in a series of challenges to win a number of “spins” of the Twister spinner. When a team-mate got across the mat, they were awarded a hat; and the first team to be entirely “hatted” is the winner. Easy, right?

Sian stands with one foot on the mat as her team-mates struggle to complete their first challenge.

The challenges were about as varied as Ruth and I could manage to come up with. The first, for example, had blindfolded players trying to solve a jigsaw under the (verbal-only) guidance of the rest of their team. Another required the team to transport water from a stack of jugs to a distant bucket using only a leaky length of guttering. A third had each team playing charades.

Alec and JTA, blindfolded, attempt to solve jigsaws.

Remarkably, few people were hurt. Sure, the water-pistol-fight-while-carrying-lit-candles game was pretty safe, but the “human jousting”, which saw piggybacking riders attempt to dismount their competitors by beating them with foam swords, stopped barely short of bruising poor Suz as she was repeatedly whipped by Matt.

Human Jousting.

Quite-remarkably, Alec lost to Paul in a doughnut-eating competition. Meanwhile, the most spectacular bobbing-for-apples competition ever seen – between JTA and Owen – ended with a spectacularly close and exciting finish… and water pretty much everywhere.

Alec having lost a doughnut-eating competition; still wearing the blindfold, tiara, and earrings from two previous challenges.

Drunk, tired, and – in some cases – wet and covered in doughnut crumbs, we went to bed. Tomorrow was to be a long day… [to be continued]