As stag dos go, this one could easily be described as having taken a proper stab at the idea.
Though introducing sharp objects to this particular weekend might have tipped the balance of our actual survival.
Julian has, of course, already had a stag do. The one I arranged in London. The one where I enjoyed myself enormously by dressing up in tweed and hoping for boyish larks tipping Bobbies’ helmets off with my brolly and that kind of thing, while wondering innocently why everyone else in said stag do was looking at me expectantly by 1.00am with very clear ‘And…?’ expressions on their faces. Like they were expecting something else or something. Like a nice meal and a few spirited hijinks with voddy glasses didn’t constitute the full stagging monty or something. The stag do where I did an uncomfortably good impression of Will from The Inbetweeners, in fact.
Yes, well apparently these larks weren’t quite enough. Not for an international chap like Jules.
I can picture us talking about it now. As light dawned, I had said, crestfallen: “I’m sorry, old thing, I don’t think we have time for a whole Grand Tour of southern Europe and the Latin peninsular.”
To which he had replied: “Get on the plane, doofus.”
He hadn’t, obviously. It was a made up scene. Plus, I’ve never once heard Julian say the word ‘doofus’. And anyway, the second gig was always planned because there was always a second Best Man.
A man who had, I understood all too well as the date loomed, a secluded house in the wooded, wild countryside of Norway.
Angela had once recently said to me with an unnerving amount of gravitas: “I’m relying on you to keep Julian alive in Norway.” As well she might have done it seems, for she has met Anders and been to Norway and seen what happens there.
In the event, however, Anders himself wasn’t the primary protagonist Story Creator. All great stag dos – in fact, all great memoirs – need at least one good Story Creator. Someone so unpredictable, energetic, creative and oblivious to appropriate times of day for being sense-spankingly pissed that Things Simply Happen.
Enter John-Magner, stage left. Wheelying quadbike. Wearing permed wig. And Russian General’s hat. Waving beer can like World Cup. Doing big thumbs up.
I can offer some advice when it comes to the safe operation of a quadbike for the very first time: have a fair bit to drink first. Everything subsequently happens in slo-mo; gives you more time to think.
You might want to check with your own GP first, however.
As you may know, I’m not a big drinker. That is, I reach for the red grape fairly often in social circumstances these days, but only a toddler’s tinkle of it is needed for my child-like constitution to start warping my vision warmly. I am, it must be said, a very cheap date.
So it was hardly a surprise that, having as we did about a thousand cans of beer piled on the deck, by the time John-Magner was enthusiastically talking me through the controls of his 50cc toy, I was comfortably soft around the wits.
I should explain that Anders’ fairly beautifully-restored pine-panelled house sits on the edge of a stunning, wide valley of woodland and is surrounded by a useful amount of land for the primary use of buggering about. But take an extra mental beat to consider the topology there – the edge of a valley. Slopes. And rocks. And trees – which also means terrain-ambiguizing grass.
As I flew through the warm evening air, I was thanking the Lord in soothingly detached fashion for my weirdly natural ability for Driving Stuff – still there, it seems, when sober – without which I knew I’d have been bucked over a boulder at 50kph at the touch of the throttle that night. That, coupled with a lot of very dumb luck.
Naturally, John-Magner had a second quadbike down on his farm. Appearing with it not long after we’d eaten the evening’s multifarious barbequed meat, he pointed out casually: “Iss bedder. Smaller. Bigger engine. Brakes fakked.”
Chasing eachother around the hillside in a hastily-prescribed relay course was then the work of mere moments, as you’d expect. One of us throwing a bike too enthusiastically into the steep run around the bottom of the house and flipping it against a rock and splitting a head open was the work of not many more moments.
Given that Anders grew up riding quadbikes around the stupidly unpredictable landscapes of Norway, he must have been a bit peeved that it had been him. But, as a local friend turned up a short while later to give him a lift to an equally amused local doctor to sew up the hole behind his ear, we concluded quickly that the best thing we could do was finish the nice Bordeaux and really see what the bikes could do.
Yes, I didn’t know the course at first. Yes, I thought I stood a good chance of getting four well-treaded wheels to climb the wall back onto the gravel track. Still do. But yes, thankfully small quadbikes aren’t really so hard to push off when they fall backwards on top of you. Not if you use both feet. And have plenty of time to think.
As Jules and I chased each other in muddy circles around the top field, I then remembered that we really could keep doing this all night if we wanted – Norway knows no night at this time of year.
In the event, by half midnight, when Anders still hadn’t returned, John Magner said: “I know a pardy. D’you wanna pardy? I call a texi, yeah?”
We looked at eachother. I casually dusted some crumbs of earth from the sleeve of my smart cream suit shirt, ignoring the grass stains across my back.
“Sure” we all said.
The pardy had ended some time ago, as we stood with a crate of beer in the town square, a 20-minute, bass-bin-propelled Mercedez drive later. By the time we made it back to Anders after an hour-or-more’s essentially pointless but entertaining round trip, we were ready for whisky.
John-Magner said: “Let’s go into Lillehammer. There’ll be some other pardies.” We actually contemplated it at 2.00am, but eventually retired to cards for an hour or so.
I had survived Day One.
Day Two dawned in different ways for us all. For Julian, it was with a playful amount of hangover and John-Magner appearing from a night in the barn with the words: “Hair of de dog, men – whisky.” For me it was with a blind stagger to the shower, followed by a deafening banging on the bathroom door and JM’s enthusiastic voice shouting: “Beer, men! Start de day wiv a beer. I heff it out here for you, men.” For Sebastian, slumbering still, it was with said Norwegian force of nature shaking him awake and pushing a beer can into his vision; “You need BEER, men!”
Now, I don’t want you to think that the group was intoxicated all weekend. Contrary to myth, most of us are essentially sensible chaps of a certain age – young enough to still wheely a quadbike, but old enough to avoid hangovers. But after JM had disappeared and Seb and I had been enjoying a highly civilised conversation about music and theatre or somesuch, out in the lazy sunshine on the deck, I did find myself wondering if I should give into the enthusiastic pressure to steady the nerves with something – as JM reappeared with an ominous rumble, eventually bursting into the balmy peace with the full roar of his 150hp, large-framed, John Deere tractor.
I can’t say what we all found ourselves doing next, naturally. I leave the picture with you. But it was a step up from quadbiking. Hypothetically, you understand.
Which left us with a dilemma by lunchtime: where to take things from there?
Which, in turn, presented the only obvious conclusion. Bob-sleighing.
Like so many former Olympic sites, the bob complex near Lillehammer looks a little sad out of season. Without the snow, it had the faint air of Mrs Havisham’s home, a faded memory of former glories.
None the less, as the five of us, plus Lush the enthusiastic, short-haired pointer, arrived at the run, we still felt the effect of the safety signs, doing their best to put you off going any further.
“No one with spinal problems or heart conditions can ride” said Linda, Norway’s only female bob sleigh driver. “In the corners we pull about three gs or so” she added calmly.
We stood there and blinked. But the point, I should point out, was this: It was a stag do. And Linda was Norway’s only female bob sleigh driver. There was a combination of reasons why there would be no way any of us would be backing out.
I should say simply, by way of avoiding dragging it out, that they wouldn’t let us employ John-Magner’s hearty suggestion that we drive their van down the bob sleigh run. They simply put us in a little cage on little wheels with little Linda and before we could consider the possibilities of this, pushed us off a very smooth cliff.
I did wonder if my little arms would simply snap half way down. I really wasn’t sure what their braking and/or breaking tollerances were.
Yet, after a few faintly horrific seconds of rocket spine compression, neck jerking and barely holding on, we rolled to a halt.
“You boys should come back when there’s ice” Linda said flatly as we peeled ourselves off eachother and crawled back to the car.
I thought we might go shooting. There was also talk – serious talk, it seemed – of dynamite. There was also talk of other things even more creative and unwise. But as the afternoon waxed into the humid evening, we walked around the rocky tree line for a while and then went back to cook moose burgers. We then, despite the colourful ideas, essentially just played cards, drank affordably nice wine, moved onto Anders’ very expensively nice congnac and cigars, played cards until about 2.00, when we turned in. Light still in the sky.
John-Magner had turned in – that is, climbed onto the sofa with a blanket – at about 8.00. We left him sleeping there like a baby.
I had survived Day Two. But who knew how.
I shall conclude it there. We laughed a lot and enjoyed both the grape and the grain and overall I think Julian had a blast. We learned all kinds of things about driving, hunting and first aid and left with some profound gratitude to Anders for his calm generosity.
I also wanted to thank John-Magner for being the Story Creator. There was, under the unnerving lack of inhibitions, someone there that some instinct in me – some essential genetic survival aerial – had told me I could trust. I certainly don’t know anyone else who would still know what they were doing under similar circumstances. But those Norwegian guys are tough as Vikings. And JM seems especially loved for it.
Traveling back on the train through the incomparable countryside of lake and wood, I was grateful for japes together. The random madness of it.
Yet I couldn’t help feeling a good deal of relief at the idea of getting back to the studio and back to work, doing something where I at least knew my arse from my elbow. Not to mention the idea of seeing much-loved chums without being expected to drink my body weight in meths and perform vehicle circus tricks.
No way, mate. On yer bike.