Ooo-er, let’s hear it for the saucy English hen’s night
Staring out at the ocean with a surfboard under my arm, I wondered if I had truly lost the plot. This was no Surfers’ Paradise.
I could feel neither my hands nor my feet, my nose was a block of ice and even my eyelashes were freezing. Breathing was becoming a challenge, too. No, this was not some kind of extreme sports challenge - I was on a hen’s weekend on a glorious spring morning in Cornwall, England.
On this day, however, the seaside town of Newquay more closely resembled a freezing winter’s day alongside the Great Australian Bight. Confused? Let me explain.
I dare to contend that there are very few things the Brits do with more enthusiasm and flair than we Aussies – think sporting achievements (cough – most of the time) – but when it comes to the time honoured tradition of hen’s and “stag” night’s out, the Poms are in a league of their own.
This was something I had no concept of as, on this particularly chilly May morning, I wondered just what I had let myself in for as the icy North Atlantic beckoned.
I had got off the plane from Sydney just 48 hours earlier with patchy understanding about the weekend ahead.
My dear friend the bride, a fellow antipodean and devoted beach babe, was marrying a lovely Pommy chap and 12 of us gals were heading away for a water-themed weekend in celebration of her, um, roots.
The CBM (chief bridesmaid) was a Londoner and had taken the reins for the organization, partly as I lived on the other side of the world and partly because I just had no frigging idea of the scale of this kind of event.
Hell, I’d been to plenty of hen’s night, even organised a couple for friends at home – from the Triple D’s of dinner, drinks and dancing, to the more recently in-vogue activity of nude life drawing.
But nothing compared to this.
To give you some idea of what lay ahead, it is worth noting that Britons spend about 300 million pounds a year on stag or hen’s parties, with most stretching into a weekend of eating, drinking and wild partying.
It is even not unheard of for some soon-to-be-wedded stags and hens to spend a whole week partying before their big day.
The most popular European destinations for such events read like a Contiki tour – Barcelona, Prague, Krakow, and even Tallinn, Estonia.
And if the party would rather spend the cash on booze instead of flights, British towns like Blackpool, Liverpool and Newcastle are quick to cash in on joyous tourism in the name of a pre-wedding blowout.
But it’s not all drink, drink, drink.
There are planned activities and events to ensure the bride- or groom-to-be is completely inebriated, exhausted, or humiliated. Usually, all three.
Our particular hen’s weekend included an afternoon of fishing (called off due to stormy weather), a fancy meal out, some spa treatments, a round of mini-golf, a cardboard cut out of the groom and plenty of dares.
And not even overcast skies, gale force winds and sub-zero water temps could cancel our bookings for our surfing lesson – the specialty of the region.
I loudly voiced grave fears for the bride suffering hypothermia and/or a surfboard injury to the face a week out from her big day in a bid to get out of the sheer lunacy of the idea – but I was overruled. Nothing was off limits this weekend.
To my amazement, it was in this spirit that we were joined on the near-frozen sand for our surfing lesson by a raucous stag party, with two or three more pods of similarly-grouped nutters dotted along the shoreline as well.
Thankfully, the bride sustained no injuries – and the hot toddy in the pub afterwards made the whole experience worthwhile. Sort of.
The most eye-opening part of our trip was the Big Night Out in Newquay town that evening.
Nobody – and I mean, nobody – was without a costume.
We had kept with our beach-theme and dressed the bride up as a Hawaiian bikini babe (with Safety Sue insisting on warm underclothing to avoid aforementioned hypothermia) and we had all donned lei’s in sympathy.
But that was nothing.
We met stags dressed as Scooby Doo, Pamela Anderson (yes, that really was a groom), Ghostbusters, the Karate Kid, the cast of Top Gun was there as was a whole hens party of women dressed in 80s bridal gowns.
There characters from cartoons and Jane Austen novels, Madonna and of course Princess Leia.
I have never seen anything like it – and all the while wondered, why? Has this tradition of a wild pre-marital send off gone too far?
I am not one to shy away from any excuse for a party, and found the whole experience brilliant fun and absolutely hilarious.
In these dire economic times it is amazing to me that people were willing to blow around A$1,000 a head on a weekend of frivolity, even before they buy the gift for the happy couple, and fork out for a new outfit.
But what perhaps even more incredible is just how heavily towns like Newquay rely on this kind of tourism – without it, they would struggle to survive.
So I vote here in Australia we take a leaf out of the Pommie Party books - dress up, drink up and doll out the cash.
All in the name of the economy, of course.
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