In Search Of The Vampire Rabbit – Some Things That I Lost And Some Things That I Found On A Stag Night In Newcastle Upon Tyne
As a man, when you achieve middle age, you spend a lot of time looking for things. Mostly, these are mundane things. Your car keys. Your glasses. That thing that you got up for five seconds ago to retrieve from the kitchen and now you can’t remember what it was. (If you look down and see you’re making cutting motions with your middle and index fingers, it was probably scissors.) But eventually, you start looking for that bright eyed and bushy tailed idiot that used to stare back at you when you looked in the mirror. That reflection that used to bathe you in the shine and glitter of youth, no matter how late you’d stayed out on the tiles. Even in that condition, fitness and vigour were there under a very thin veneer of crapulence that could be easily stripped off with a wash, a cup of coffee and a bacon sandwich.
Some men try to find this inner Adonis by buying a sports car. I’ve never really understood this. It’s highly unlikely that any of these men actually owned a sports car when they were in their early twenties. I’m going with the assumption that it’s their early twenties these chaps are trying to re-create. After all, who the hell would want to re-live their teens? Anyone who feels the urge to try that is beyond help.
Anyway, the point is that only Arab princes have Porsches when they’re 22. So unless you are the ageing son of an oil rich potentate, the best way to rewind to your early twenties is to buy a really shit car and drive around in that. Or in my case, walk everywhere and live on a diet that consists mainly of Bombay Mix and toasted sandwiches. I’m sure you’ll agree that all of the above options are rather pointless.
There is, however, a way that you can grab a little shard of your broken former life without cutting yourself too badly. The Boys’ Night Out. And for the ultimate Boys’ Night Out, one where everyone involved is most likely to stick to the premise, it has to be a Stag Night. Just over three years ago, I got the opportunity to go to a Stag Night. Or, Rather a Stag Event, because the plan was for it to last the entire Saturday.
I’m not going to mention the names of anyone involved in this Bacchanalia for two reasons. Firstly, there were about 14 of us and my memory is no longer capable of retaining that level of bulk information. Secondly, in this digital age it is possible to get fired for doing something as harmless and wholesome as posting a picture of your cock on Facebook. Employers just don’t see the humour in it.
Even if you have drawn a face on it and dressed it up as Dr Who, complete with a little bow tie and everything. (Yes, I know technically he’s just “The Doctor”, but that’s a little ambiguous if you’re not a huge fan of the show. And like many men my age, I dislike ambiguity. Plus, referring to your cock as “The Doctor” is probably a little egotistical.)
This particular Saturday outing was to be a more sedate affair than the stag night I had when I was 25. The finale of which was me running around the tower block I lived in wearing nothing but my boxer shorts while my mates took my clothes up to my future wife and pretended that they’d put me naked on a train to Edinburgh.
It was not to be a “Stag Weekend”, as is popular nowadays. The little scamps that were our former youthful selves might still be in residence inside us, but our bodies were still that of middle aged men. A two day bender would see us all in the local casualty department. Our Saturday beano was to begin with something even further back our collective youth than drunkenly running semi naked around tower blocks. It was to start with Go Karting. In Gateshead.
As soon as you enter an indoor Go Karting track, you are hit in the face by and old and familiar smell. The smell of the school metalwork room. Cutting, metallic odours, overlaid with a blanket of two-stroke and testosterone. I’m not going to give a lap by lap account of what happened, but I will say this, to give you a flavour of the kind of day we had ahead of us. The Groom broke 3 Go Karts. One chap couldn’t make it because his Grandchild had just been born. I was taken off the track for dangerous driving (too slow).
I also remembered that the 10th anniversary of me having my pacemaker installed has passed two days before. And finally, one old friend- despite having enjoyed his racing experience enormously- threw up outside afterwards. And at a set of traffic lights on his way back home to get changed for the rest of the shindig. Not a drop of alcohol had yet been consumed.
Despite finding many things on my trip to Newcastle, I only went up there looking for two things specifically. Some clothes to wear for the stag night and The Vampire Rabbit. No, I’m not having some sort of brain spasm, there really is a Vampire Rabbit somewhere in Newcastle upon Tyne. But more of that later.
Oddly, the clothes turned out to be the more difficult and mysterious of the two to locate. The dress code for the Stag Night was undemanding enough. Jacket, shirt and slacks. No jeans or trainers as there was a possibility of clubs and casinos later in the evening. The idea of a Star Wars theme for the event had been mooted. It was to be held on the Fourth of May and the opportunity of taking advantage of the “May the Fourth Be With You” gag had been very tempting. Seductive it was. Easy. Sorry, I really shouldn’t have said that. That’s the dark side for you.
But the Star Wars idea was rejected, I think on the premise that it would become too much of a pain in the hole as the day progressed. So jacket, shorts and slacks it was. Simple, yes? Not as simple as you might think. The day before the event, as I perused the sartorial delights offered by the various emporiums on Northumberland Street and Eldon Square, I found myself in something of a minor panic. I was fairly solid of the definition of “not jeans”, but what exactly did “slacks” really mean? There are many trousers that are “not jeans”, but some of the materials they come in are still a little bit canvassy.
Not knowing what “slacks” actually meant, I played it safe and went to British Home Stores. I figured anything there that wasn’t jeans pretty much, by definition, had to be slacks. Whilst in BHS, I had an uncomfortably middle aged experience. I spotted a blazer that I quite liked the look of. To be fair, this wasn’t a seismic shift. It wasn’t that moment that Jasper Carrot talks about when you look into the window of Greenwoods and think to yourself “nice cardy”. It’s not like I’ve never worn a blazer before. I wore one for five years at school. It was, nonetheless, a little unsettling. I managed to shrug it off and buy myself a sports coat.
So, suitably armoured without the need to visit an actual tailor, I walked back out onto Northumberland Street and into the brave new world of the middle aged stag night.
After the Go Karting, The Groom, The Best Man, myself and another old friend headed to the city centre hotel where we going to spent the night. It had been decided that we were not to suffer the considerable indignities of running the gauntlet that is a late night taxi rank in Newcastle. The Groom paid for my room. Because I’m poor, and that’s the kind of chap he is. With our bags safely ensconced in our rooms, we set off to The Cumberland Arms and the drinking began in earnest.
As with the Go Karting, I’m not going to give a blow by blow account of our drinking. You’ve all done it and you all know what’s involved. I will say though, that a few pints in, after the Best Man had done his job making introductions and wrangling the group together, the theories started.
Whenever you get a group of men drinking together, you get theories. You might have noticed that none of the photos accompanying this post are actually pictures of the stag night. That is because nobody took any. The main theory of the evening was that women take lots of photos because women like to remember events by looking at pictures of the events and that men like to remember them by just remembering them. After that theory I think everyone felt a bit girly taking photos. Or just couldn’t be bothered to. More likely the latter.Incidentally, I noticed that at least four of the party were wearing blazers.
After the Cumberland Arms, we went to another pub called The Tyne. It’s called that because it’s right next to a river. The River Tyne. This is one of those rivers whose name means “river”. So the River Tyne means river river. Though those of you who watch QI probably already knew that. This pub had picnic benches outside and this was where we were going to do a grand toast to The Groom. Whisky and cigars all round. And this is where The Bride made a brief appearance.
The Stag Party consisting entirely of curmudgeonly old men, it was decided that splashing out ninety quid on doubles all round from the pub’s optics was wholly unacceptable. So The Bride turned up with a decent bottle of single malt and some tumblers from Asda, while The Best Man handed out the Cuban smokes.
So toasts were toasted, whisky was sipped and Romeo Y Julietas were puffed upon. Then we headed back into town to get something to eat. When soaking up beer and getting your second wind, there’s only one kind of food that will do for a group of blokes out on the lash. Indian. So we took taxis to a place called Dabbawal.
In Dabbawal we were chastised for our loudness, had to keep nipping over the road to The Bacchus pub to go for a slash because there was only one toilet and I had what was basically the best Indian food I have ever tasted. I have tasted a great deal of Indian food. I also came up with the concept of the Nap Dancing Club.
A Nap Dancing Club basically involves the same thing as a lap dancing club, but for middle aged men. You pay your “dance” fee, but instead of a pelvis gyrating in your face, you get a quick kip with your head nestled between a pair of welcoming breasts. This happens halfway through a night of revelry and restores you so you have more energy and enthusiasm for the rest of your evening. It was an idea that went down very well with the rest of the group.
After Dabbawal, we took in a couple more pubs and saw lots of young ladies wandering around dressed as Princess Leia. It was May the Fourth remember. After that was the highlight of the evening, and the reason I came up with the Nap Dancing idea in the first place. We were heading for The Titty Bar. But before we got there, I mentioned to another old friend that I wanted to see The Vampire Rabbit.
No problem! It was just over the road from the bar we were in. the rest of the group headed to the club and we headed up a set of steps to Amen Corner, which is where the Vampire Rabbit is. I wanted to take a picture, but it was too dark and the Vampire Rabbit is about 15 feet up a wall anyway. In fact it was so dark I couldn’t even see it, never mind take a snapshot of it. We agreed that I’d go back in the morning and look at it then.
It was at the titty bar that things appeared to go a bit wrong. I use the word “appeared” because the more I think about it, the more I think that this part is where the evening actually went completely right. The place was exactly as you are probably picturing it. Dim lighting, loud music and wall to wall lapdancers. What better activity for a bunch of forty something men to engage in at the tail end of a lengthy and highly enjoyable stag night in what is widely recognised as the best party town in the country?
As it turns out, quite a few activities would have been preferable. Nude Snapper Turtle Rodeo and Root Canal Work By Trained Chimps are two that spring immediately to the top of my head. Surprised by that? So were we. There had been about 14 or so of us at the beginning of the drinking. But the men who had home and hearth to go to and toddlers to tuck into bed had said their reluctant goodbyes. So by the time we entered the titty bar, the herd had thinned out to about six of us.
Now, I’d never been to a lap dancing club before but I sort of knew what to expect. Your role of Man the Hunter is completely overturned when you enter these places. When you cross its neon threshold, you become the Hunted. You are most definitely the prey and not the predator. Well the contents of your wallet are the prey anyway. What I didn’t expect was not to be happy having virtually naked girls draping themselves over me, even if they were just after my money.
I made the mistake of going to the bar on my own. The little baby caribou separated from the aforementioned herd. I was cornered by a girl who, despite the fact she was clad in nothing but high heels, stockings and a rather fetching basque, insisted she just wanted to talk to me. I told her I was gay and had been dragged out on a stag night. She still insisted on talking. I pointed to one of my friends and said that he was my husband. He was wearing a wedding ring, because he is actually married though not to me. She saw through it.
The fact that I was not wearing a wedding ring gave it away. That and the fact I couldn’t stop staring at her tits. So I told her I had no money, which was pretty much true, and scampered back to the group. Everyone there, except one man, was feeling really uncomfortable and not in the expected trouser department way. And here’s why I think that was.
The fact is that the Stag Night had been a roaring success. Four of us in that titty bar had either been either to school together or at university together or shared a flat together. Everyone has a bubble of personal space. During the day we had formed a sort of group bloke bubble and now it was being invaded. By women of all things. Highly professional, very insistent women. We did what any group of sensible, middle aged men would do against insurmountable odds and an unstoppable enemy. We ran away.
Except for one of us, who is quite the connoisseur of this sort of establishment. He stayed for a couple of lap dances and joined us back in the final bar of the evening. A bar called The Brew Dog, which was an odd mish mash of decent cask beer and Eighties music. It was like a CAMRA convention had gatecrashed The Breakfast Club. It didn’t quite work for me.
It reminded me of all the times I’d tried to be ironic and failed rolled into one. Nice beer though. It was in this bar that The Groom hit the wall. One minute he was talking coherently, the next minute The Best Man was having to talk to him in a sort of ersatz sign language to ascertain what he wanted to do. He wanted to go back to his hotel room. I was assigned the tricky task of getting him back there. I managed it. Just. We slumped into our respective beds and passed out. The stag night was over.
So what were the things I lost and the things that I found on this epic trip home? Well I found the Vampire Rabbit. There it is up there, see? I found that changing room mirrors in clothes shops are unforgiving to a middle aged man in ways that normal mirrors really aren’t. And I found that old friendships, I mean way back when friendships, really can just hit the ground running where they left of no matter how infrequently you see each other.
Things I lost? Any illusions that I might have any remaining shreds of youth hanging about my person. Any niggling worries that my old friends might think that I could be wasting my time trying to pursue writing as an alternative career. Oh, and a ten pound note. But I found that again when I got back to my good lady. It was in the back pocket of my slacks. Whatever the fuck they are.
© Copyright Michael Grimes 2013