Hen weekend

****Please skip the first few paragraphs of this if you are offended by words for ladies' rude bits. Thanks.

"I'm always saying cunt, I just forget about it," said Laura. "Cunt this and cunt that. There's nothing quite the same in Spanish. Coño just isn't the same."

"It's true," I chipped in. "you get little old ladies saying that on the news here. It's not the same as cunt – it's just so horrible."

"Twat is good though," said Karate. "Twat is well funny."

"Minge is the best," said Kate. "But it's best when a Spanish person says it. I taught it to Ignacio and he won't stop saying it. Meenge, meenge meenge."

We all laughed at that. And there we were. One native Spanish speaker and three English girls discussing the different words for a woman's nether regions. We also threw snatch into the mix then pondered why, when they all mean the same thing, do they all have different levels of offensiveness?

Frankly, it wasn't really what I was expecting in terms of your typical conversation at a hen party.

But then what had I been expecting, from the conversation and the whole weekend in general? Dildos on heads? Male strippers and whipped cream? Not really – I know the bride, Jane, well enough to discern that – thankfully – that's not her bag. Good: I rate that kind of thing as about as much fun as chewing nettles with a mouth ulcer.

Until this one I'd never been to a hen party before. By the time close friends started getting hitched I'd up sticks and left England.

Living in Spain means it's just not financially viable to go back to England for the wedding and the hen, so the hen gets forfeited.

But this one was in Barcelona, so it was rude not to. Plus rather than a trawling bars and clubs and drinking yourself into oblivion this was a weekend in a lovely sounding casa rural in the mountains near Vic – and it involved paintball, something I've always wanted to do.

So while the stags headed to Madrid where they'd be doing their best to traumatise the poor groom Jim, I took the AVE to Barcelona and we set off in the car for the country house.

Just as we got out of the city the heavens opened and the sky turned black. Once we got to the mountains it was beginning to feel more like Evil Dead with each passing second, and the icing on the cake was the Tom Tom trying to get us to take the road to the local cemetery instead of the road to the house.

Finally we turned onto the right dirt track and after a kilometre of steep, near heart-attack inducing hairpin turns we were there. God knows how Jane managed to drive us up without having a panic attack.

We were in for the night. All that was left was to get to know the other hens and not too pissed and not go to bed too late as to fuck up paintballing for the next day.

There's always that slight bit of anticipation when you go into a situation where you don't know everyone. It's that kind of first day at university feeling – what if no-one talks to me, what if they're all annoying or worse still, boring? But there was no need to worry – everyone was lovely, we all got on amazingly, and before we knew it, it was 2.00am and time to drag ourselves away from the karaoke and to bed. The alarm was set for 8.30am so we could get up and do some killing.

It wasn't too bad to get out of bed the next day. And I felt a damned side better after I got a call from bloke at about 9am telling me the stags had just left our house. It sounded like carnage. They'd drank about 50 beers in the first hour, dressed Jim up in his special outfit – a lovely golden catsuit, wrestling mask and dog collar – and toured the tapas bars in Barrio de las Letras.

In one place he decadent lads had shelled out for half a kilo of percebes, but spoiled the air of sophistication by one of them accidentally pouring a pint of beer over some poor girl's head.

On his travels Jim even bumped into another English guy dressed like him – no mean feat when your material of choice if gold lame. He was stuck with it though, after loosing his clothes along the way somewhere. They'd ended up back at ours and had trashed our flat while drinking till we were getting up for paintball. Bloke later told me it took three hours to clean up (onlot for them to come back the next night and trash it again.

No matter - However bad I felt getting up at 8.30am after six hours sleep, I couldn't feel as bad as them, I reasoned.

Paintball was definitely the high point of the weekend. Such an adrenaline rush, making a dash for the flag you had to get back to your own base. I was physically shaking while crouching behind the various trees and bits of wood they put there for cover.

I always knew I was a bit wrong in the head, but there was something really satisfying about shooting someone in the other team – hearing them scream when the’bullet’ made contact. Anyone who's done it and tells you it hurts isn't lying. As well as a good number of body hits I took one in the neck, which bruised up to look like a hickey. Brilliant. That's what you get for doing kamikaze runs towards enemy lines. I can still taste the paint in my mouth now.

After a few games some of the hens dropped out, leaving the hardcore of me, Kate, Chris, and Karate to join up with a stag party, who were swigging beer as they went. The poor groom – he got covered in beer, then at the end we were all invited to just shoot him at point blank range to use up the rest of our ammunition. Best he had some shiners the next day.

Why is it that the main point of a stag seems to be to inflict as much pain and embarrassment on the groom as possible? Does he deserve it for leaving his bachelor days behind? I definitely think they get the bum deal.

Our hen was lovely, and it was so well organised. Kate had it booked up months in advance. Lovely Anna did all the cooking (for 15 people!) and it only cost us 12 euro a head. And equally lovely Nicola packed a hire car with booze and drove it up to the house. And that only cost us 19 euro – plus we went home with two bottles of wine each.

The boys bless them didn't seem to know what they were doing almost up to the point that they went out. At one point they ended up walking round mala saña for 45 minutes trying to find a suitable bar they all liked. Not a problem for most, apart from poor Jim, who was wearing a dress with no front, heels, a string of pearls, and not much else.

Even though they’re probably having the week from hell right now, I'm sure if you asked them they would say they had more fun than us. And we, of course, would say the same.

Because that’s the point of it all in the end – fun, whatever that is to you. It could be gunning down your mates in cold blood and ending up black and blue. It could be doing Queen power ballads on the karaoke. It could be drinking till you fall over or dressing your best mate up to look like the world’s worst tranny.

It doesn’t matter – it’ll all make great stories for the speeches at the wedding, whatever it is.


Fright Night – a Valentine’s Day date with a difference

I want to hate Valentine’s Day. I really do. Valentine’s Day, with its nazi romance-by-numbers, corny clichés and billboard naffness. I want to ignore it and coolly say: “Oh no, we don’t celebrate things like that,” when people ask what plans me and the bloke have for February 14. Every day is Valentine’s Day for us. We don’t need an excuse to be romantic, etc, etc.

But truth be known I don’t hate it. I can’t quite manage to hate it. For all it’s been commercialised to within an inch of it’s life and is just another excuse for the consumer industry to sell us more shit we don’t need, I just love the base idea of it. A day devoted to the special person in your life.

Yet when I think back to Feb 14ths gone by I can’t think of a single one that stands out from the others. But I certainly won’t have that problem about Valentine’s Day 2010, which I’m sure I (and the bloke too) will remember until we’re 80.

I’d told bloke to keep Saturday night free, as I had a surprise for him. He agreed, and proceeded to display a range of emotions for the rest of the week, from mild excitement to slight fear.

This continued, right up until five minutes before we left the house on Saturday night. “Please tell me where we’re going,” he begged. “I don’t like surprises.” Then, with a look of complete horror: “Oh my god, we’re not going to the place with the transvestites, are we? Please tell me we’re not.”

After I’d faithfully promised there were no transvestites involved, we grabbed a taxi into town, and departed on Calle San Roque. As we approached the place where we were going to spend the evening, I felt a pang of disappointment when the bloke said: “Oh I know what this is.”

But his guess: “It’s that nice Mexican place, isn’t it,” was so far off it wasn’t even in the same dimension. We walked through the door to be greeted by this sight:

“Oh my god, what the hell is this?” said the bloke, half laughing, eyes wide with shock. “What have you done?”

What I’d done was booked us into el Ultimo Mordisco (the last bite) Self titled “the most terrifying restaurant in Madrid. Twee house track Lady by Mojo was playing loudly over the soundsystem, but the CD kept skipping. Sound effects of people screaming and what sounded like Vincent Price laughing were playing over the top.

“Do you think this is going to be alright?” said the bloke nervously, trying to look everywhere at once. “What on earth are we going to find in there?”

Before he could make a run for it, We were greeted by a man wearing a maid’s costume, (ah so much for my promise of no cross dressers) wig, and huge platform shoes. He said the lady of the house, the Duquesa wanted to welcome us but she had a terrible hangover. And she was having some trouble with her daughter, who had been left at the altar.

He took us through and showed us to our seats, and left us to peruse the menu –shaped like a coffin and featuring dishes with names like Pesadilla (nightmare), Hombre Lobo (wearwolf) and Fantasma. (ghost)

The place - I’ve never seen anything like it in my life. Decked out in skulls, snakes, cracked mirrors and extoplasm. Gloomy as hell, but with a clubtastic lazer system, weird electric fake crystal chandeliers and flashing mini LED trees brightening the place up.

As the bloke put it: “This whole thing is so wrong. The staff are wrong, the music is wrong, even the food is wrong. I don’t want to eat it ‘cos I’m having psychosis it’s come from a dead person. It’s like every horror film we’ve ever watched rolled into one. It’s brilliant.”

He was right. We soon got to meet the Duquesa – the maid, now in a different outfit and blonde curly poodle wig and the splitting double of the real life Duquesa de Alba – and her daughter, fully decked out in a wedding dress and corpse-like makeup. Their whole aim was to mess with your head, whether it was getting up on stage and performing a routine to a mash up of Mecano songs or telling you they’d put drugs in the sangria.

I could hardly eat my food either. My solomillo came with a frambuesa sauce that just looked like congealed blood.

The music was similarly designed to freak you out. It ranged from The Final Countdown by Europe, to some unidentifiable early Nineties techno to Thriller, with all kinds of weird noises thrown in for good measure.

To my absolute delight there was even a bingo at the end of the night. And the icing on the cake – bloke won. So we came home with the possibly the best prize I’ve ever seen up for grabs in any competition, ever – a garish looking fluffy cat toy that raps and wiggles about with a mouse hanging from it’s mouth. We spent ages making it sing when we got home and trying to figure out what it was saying, and in what language. “Filthy bitch” and “mother and father” were in there somewhere, but beyond that, it’s hard to tell.

So that was Valentine’s Day my way. Not everyone’s cup of tea, and certainly not many people’s idea of ‘romance’. But just as I thought he would, bloke loved it. And our shared love of things like that, things which are quite off key, which is one of the things I really love about our relationship.

We really are two weird peas in a weird pod.

***Click here to see the rappin' cat in action


It's in his kiss… or is it?

It's a situation you might have found yourself in once upon a time. You're on your first (or maybe second) date and it's looking promising. The wine is flowing, the company is interesting, and you've found yourself getting giggly and flirty. Much to your delight, you fancy the pants off your companion for the evening, and you realise the feeling is mutual as he leans in for that magic first kiss.

Then joy turns to horror as your date clamps himself to your mouth and tries to extract your tonsils while covering half your face in a shower of saliva. Think the face hugger from Aliens, and you've pretty much there.

Though I have had that experience in my life before, in the comfortable realms of long-term monogamy it's now a distant memory. The same cannot be said of my mate Two Shandies. On her continuing quest for her half orange, she has come up against this slight hurdle in her latest conquest Mr Pony.

Mr Pony – christened by PB due to the fact he's a bit posh and likes to ride horses round his parent's ranch, is currently number one on Shandies' internet dating list.

Below was the lowdown after their unexpected first date (Shandies was on her way out to the gym when he called, but ditched treadmills and weights for drinks in la Latina.)

1) Tall and rather dashing
2) Broad shoulders
3) Easy to talk to
4) Gave me lift home
5) Waited to see I had got inside ok
6) Dark Spanish look
7) Sent me a sweet text saying how nice I am and he'd like to see me again

1) Maybe a little posh (he mentioned his parent's country estate - one half is woodland and the other has the cattle!)
2) He speaks at ten zillion miles an hour, felt like I was in an advanced listening exam

Promising. And good how the negatives weren't "bad points", but "not so bad points". Only two of them, both of which weren't so bad at all. So far so good. Then the revised list arrived after their second date (which involved three wines and a bit of snogging)

1) Really sweet guy and I fancy him
2) Understood him better this time
3) Seems to like me
4) Even wrote me a text this morning saying he woke up thinking about me (cheesy but nice)

1) I think his family raise bulls for bullfighting
2) I think he learnt to kiss on the farm (but nothing some subtle guidance won't cure)

As for the bulls – Sa pointed out that whatever Shandies' views on bull fighting might be, it was his family that reared the bulls, not him personally. The second point, well I was a little puzzled at what learning to kiss on the farm meant (practicing with cows and chickens?) but could kind of guess. A Tuesday Club gossip session confirmed my suspicions.

So who's to blame in situations like this? Ex girlfriends - we're assuming he has some - a bad washing-machine kissing gene, over enthusiasm or just lack of practice? Surely men can't learn to kiss like this from watching porno vids (do they actually even kiss in pornos?) And is it an indicator of crap bedroom antics that will follow?

Two Shandies hopes not. She's determined to lick him (ha ha) into shape. In fact she already laid the groundwork by saying dejarme respirar! (let me breathe!) during one of their first smooching sessions.

Judging by the report on their third date, her kiss masterclass went down well. Apparently there was "phone charging and sexual confidence". Just exactly what that turned out to be exactly, though, I will have to wait and see.


Be grateful

Have you ever felt completely floored by your own insensitivity? Or just wished you could grab the ill-spoken words from the air and stuff them back down your throat? Then you'll know how I felt on my first night back in London on a homecoming trip to the UK which, as it turned out, constantly reminded me to feel grateful for what I have.

I was sitting in a Japanese restaurant with my long-time best mate Munki. Without thinking about it, I complained that when I go out with the bloke, it's only ever to places which serve huge slabs of meat.

She went quiet, then told me: "I haven't been out for dinner with my man for about a year."

Tacked on to the end should have been "so count yourself lucky". She didn't say that, though, but blimey I should have thought it.

Poor Munki. Her other half has bad food allergies, so going out for dinner is a near-impossibilty. And on top of that is the fact that they haven't found anyone to move into the flat they bought – meaning they have to pay both a mortgage and rent on the place they're living now. That doesn't give you much spare cash for wining and dining really.

And there was me, sounding like a right boorish brat, saying: "Oh I'm so sick of eating steak." What a total tool. Argh.

I really have so much to be thankful for. No money worries, no mortgage… not even a car I have to finance (why bother when the public transport in Madrid's so good? Plus the fact the bloke has a car, which one of these days he's finally going to let me drive, I'm sure).

I have a man who I'm quite sickeningly in love with, and I'm pretty sure feels the same way. (Though we do both have days we want to kill each other, but doesn't everyone?)

When I was back up in Durham I met up with a school friend who's expecting a baby. She was over the moon, but mildly concerned by the fact her husband has been out of work for a year. The money issue aside, he was feeling quite down about it.

That's another thing I should be thanking my lucky stars for. I have a job I love - writing for a living (albeit writing celebrity news). Could it be that I'm starting to take everything for granted?

I certainly felt that way when I found myself comparing my life right now to the harsh upbringing of my granddad, who grew up in the 1920s as one of seven sons and two daughters, one of whom died as a baby.

He started regaling stories from when he was a lad during my visit to see him, and it just about blew my mind. There was no electricity or running water in his house – light came from kerosene lamps and water had to be fetched from one of three communal taps in the street.

There was a fire to heat every room, and the children shared beds – sometimes three a piece, top to tail.

Grandad's first job, when he was 16, was working down the pit, where men were constantly injured and got sick from breathing in coal fumes. Some even died.

"Weren't you scared?" I asked him? "Scared?" He replied? "Get away, why would I be scared?"

There was only money for the oldest child to be educated – he went on to be a school teacher – while the rest had to make do with whatever they could get. After his stint down the pit, granddad went to work in a factory, on the gruelling night shift. But he has no grievances about the way things were.

He remembers with wonder seeing the first car and the first 'washing machine', a wooden box with a metal drum and handle to turn the clothes around.

The blacksmith had that in his shed, and his mother Tomasina, a formidable woman with long golden hair she would plait and pile up onto her hair, would send him round to do the washing.

In fact she would also have him fetching the flour, butter and eggs from the shop too.

"She always picked on me," said granddad with a twinkle in his eye.

When I asked why, he replied: "She told me all them other ones, my brothers, they had cow shite for brains."

I cracked up laughing while my mum, who was also listening, said "Charming!"

"What's wrong with that?" asked granddad. "It's not swearing!"

Next time I find myself moaning at my lot I will think back to granddad, and how hard he worked to give me the chance to be where I am today. I will never have to fetch water from a tap, or wash my clothes by hand. I do not have to face injury and death on a daily basis to earn money to support myself.

If I dare to complain about silly things like going out to much to the same restaurants then clearly it's me who has cow shite for brains.