LET me begin with a warning:
this dispatch could be the final pebble I lob into the ocean of words. However far-reaching or finite the ripple, I hope putting my feeble shoulder in jeopardy this close to the start of the golf season is worth the risk.
For this morning, as you settle down to your eggs Florentine, I am staring down the barrel of a gun. More precisely, I am in the icy middle north of Scotland participating in one of life's most ancient and lethal traditions: a stag do. I can but pray nobody, least of all myself, has an itchy trigger finger.
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Once upon a time, a stag do was a world of boozy possibilities. How many pints could you sink? How could you best propel the stag across the rubicon of humiliation without sundering your friendship? Did you have the stamina to stay up all night? Alas, that particular epoch - the alcoholocene, if you're feeling geological - is little more than a speck in the rearview mirror.
Stag dos are a young man's game, make no mistake, yet this weekend's bacchanalia - marking the impending marriage of my amigo Colin to the fragrant Laura - will be entirely absent of young men. The callowest among our crew is maybe 37 and the most senior 50 years young. Yet the dearth of physical youth will be roundly overshadowed by the feral immaturity of 11 people, many of them parents, cut free from their quotidian responsibilities and lashed instead to and by a wealth of premium spirits and refreshing lagers.
Initially there were murmurings of activities, which may even have informed the choice of location (I'm being deliberately vague; needless to say, if you happen upon us in your local today or tomorrow we come in peace). Skiing, quad-biking and hillwalking were mooted, but the weather and our collective thirst have kiboshed anything more than walking to the pub. Probably just as well.
Beyond providing a memorable conclusion to the stag's years living in sin, my goal is merely to survive. Driving back from the last such shindig - a frenzied war on beer waged in the hostelries of sleepy Royal Deeside - I had the misfortune of having to perform a breathalyser test 12 hours after draining my last pint. It wasn't my driving style that drew the cops' attention. Rather, the blowout in Braemar culminated in a literal blowout, my nearside rear rubber spitting the dummy and thrusting my aging BMW 320i Touring into the central reservation of the A9. I passed the test. Speaking as one who has summited the mountain of life, in terms of quantity if not quality, I have learned my lesson.