On paper, it’s paradise: the chaps banding together for a last-gasp jolly before the marital knot is triple-tied. In practice, it’s a very different fish indeed – and a million miles from the ritual’s simple origins. Once it was an off-the-cuff Friday-night wander to the Cholmondley Arms for three jars of mild, a bar billiards tournament, and – if the Landlord felt the snug was sufficiently clement – a mutual round of Dizzy Dicks, before the long, anfractuous, arm-in-arm stagger home, with notes of raucous song and sinews of cigar smoke rising aloft in concert. What better way to usher in the minor business of the morrow – some gentle swaying at the altar and confused hiccoughing of I-do-and-do-nots? But the whole affair has been blighted by crazy inflation and crippled imagination. As a man who has been married for some six-and-a-half spells, Machell has been seven times a stag and seventy times a stag-stalker. But he still eyes every prospective stag-do with wary mien. Not so for the ladies, of course, who can caper into their hennish affairs with blissful omniscience: they know full well that their day will be an agreeable admixture of spa treatments, pink sashes and margheritas till eleven. Yet, for the modern stag, there’s only known unknowns: it’s an impervious welter of misadventure, a multi-day curriculum of misanthropic baiting. Well, we are where we are: the stag-do will be done, the stag will be done over, and you will be done for if you don’t attend, play up, and play the game. So here’s a necessary dose of five-and-ten ways to get you through those hard-and-fast miles of mandated staggery.

  1. Make clear that the whole stag-do will be conducted strictly according to the Chatham House Rule: stories of what happens can thus be leaked subsequently, but no event can be attributed to specific (re)agents among the group. For professional and legal reasons, it is vital that you stick to this.
  2. Whatsapp will provide an ineluctable, hand-held build-up to the planning of proceedings. You’ll be faced with a tidal wave of acronyms more obscure than the mummery of Mumsnet. Deploy the following to show that you’re in the know and in the game: MAPPA (Mine’s A Pint Please, Al), SWAKSAT (Should We All Keep Stumm About That?), IBAPS&< (I’ll Bring A Phillips Screwdriver And Angle Bracket), UIDIOT (Um, Is Dan In On This?), and PRICODOOM (Please Remember I Can Only Drink Ovaltine Or Mead).
  3. When approached for a subscription to the de rigueur nickname-bearing t-shirts, plot your course wisely, as there’s only so much space to fill between the non-negotiable ‘Ladz On Tour’ and ‘Hide Your Women, Poznań’. To deflect any unwarranted aggression, give yourself a riddling name, such as ‘Whistle-Whetter’, ‘The Ampersand’, or ‘Palmerston’s catamite’. If the others ask questions, double down and test their own commitment by suggesting the uniform should be ‘peephole polo shirts’.
  4. When – as is inevitable – you’re whisked abroad to an improbably cheap corner of an embarrassingly unknown place, you’re going to have to man up linguistically. Be sure, then, to practise en route the three internationally recognisable stag-do signals: a circular point at the table (‘yet another round of those unpronounceable beers, please’); a frown, wag of a left-handed finger, and pen scribble with a right-handed finger (‘seriously, pal, there’s no way in hell that our bill can be that expensive/cheap’); two-handed steering wheel flurry, with mild dribbling (‘are you sure you’re happy with us go-karting so many pints in?’). All other business shall be conducted in English.
  5. Whilst on the plane to your high-scoring-in-Scrabble destination, you’ll be able to revel in the temporary status of ‘Most Hated Men in the Sky’. Experts tell us that to savour the enjoyment of this to the maximum degree, close your eyes, cease bodily movement, reduce brain function, and stop shouting ‘I’m mooning the moon!’.
  6. It will be a genuine surprise to be joined on the stag by friends whose existence was previously unknown to you. Be prepared, then, for three instant and inescapable developments: (i) your name will be reduced to a monosyllable (if already monosyllabic, it’ll gain the suffix –o); (ii) you will, whether you like it or not, be introduced as ‘the one I emailed you all about’; (iii) you will at some point either be on the back of, or have on your back, all the rest of the stag-do crew, individually or at once – and liquids will flow.
  7. Within the first nine hours you will, I assure you, be engaged in indecent exposure. The worry here is not the flailing of flesh in public; no, it’s the very real possibility that you will be found out to have a wholly untattooed body. To avoid the ineffable shame of this, decorate yourself in advance with a multi-coloured biro, matching each of these three designs with the the body part that seems to you most apt: the ‘350 million’ Brexit Bus, the Microsoft Paperclip, Teenage Blair; left thigh, sternum, shaft.
  8. It’s the Law of the Stag that you will return with half the liver function you had when you left. A good Best Man will have a few fresh organs to hand in the communal coolbox, but many ill-chosen worse men will not have made such sensible provision. To avert disaster, spill three-quarters of every drink down the middle of your chest; after the first couple of genuinely awkward ‘mishaps’, you’ll be unnoticed by – and identical in appearance to – your sodden and sozzled stagfellows. They’ll be none the wise that your total beer tally is only three gallons!
  9. There’s simply no avoiding the activity of paintballing. Since this is always a divisive and painful affair, it will be advisable to ‘call shotgun’ on ‘doing a Chamberlain’. Once others are kitted out with guns and what-seems-excessive-until-you’ve-actually-been-shot protection, climb atop the central barricade, remove from your pocket a flimsy sheet of paper and wave it with vim, crying ‘Peace, lads! It’s peace in our time!’ One way or the other, your performance will be blinding.
  10. Since you’re going to be inundated with all manner of inflatables, make your mark through novelty. Outdo the lads’ inflated appendages with an exquisitely-rendered, larger-than-life blow-up doll of Liam Fox MP. When asked why you’re hauling around an eleven-foot grotesque of the Secretary of State for International Trade, frenziedly whisper ‘COBRA’s gone rogue!’ For full effect, be dressed – head-to-toe and without any explanation – as the monocled cobra.
  11. The cost of this bedlam will be extortionate. It’ll be best, therefore, to offset wallet worries by lugging abroad a selection of high-demand essentials to sell at considerable mark-ups to the rest of the party: try deodorant (£5/spray), non-alcoholic liquid (£11/gulp), pictures of their partners (£25/min-of-tears), and memory-cleansing pills (£100 a pop).
  12. During the first day’s play you’ll be certain to lose your watch, and very swiftly all sense of time. Keep a hazy handle on the day’s progress by assessing whether your company is a-pinting at one-per-hour (8-10a.m.), two-per-hour (10a.m.-noon), three-per-hour (noon-to-dusk), or five-wait-now-none-per-hour (late-til-8) pace. Remember, soon enough this will all be over.
  13. The banter. Oh, the banter. Its heady surf will toss you about like a wide-eyed ragdoll. If it all gets too much, feign a quiet death – perhaps bury yourself in the softplay area (presuming that the Gentleman’s Special Bar has one)? It will take four or five years to sort out the messy legal consequences of this move, and it will perhaps be emotionally difficult for some, but it’s often the easiest way.
  14. Stag, your bride is doubtless anxious about what lies in store for you at the hands of your soon-to-be-former mates. To allay her panic, it will be easier to fabricate the scenario that you have abandoned everything for a hermetic life of llama-rearing in Llandudno than to confess that you’re being whisked away on a no-holds-barred, no-questions-asked power-bender. When penning the clipped valedictory note, be certain to include the phrase ‘You’ve always known that I live and breathe llamas’.
  15. As for all the rest of the party, it’s often best just to lie low. So make ruddy sure you’re not called Octavius.

This list is dedicated to the memory of the friends gained and lost during stag weekends. I would gladly name all four of them, were they recollectable.