Coffee, Uranus, gas, spoilers

‘Week 18 of my column’ – words I thought I would never write.

 

Finally science is starting to give us some good news. After a week of terrifying weather events, there were glad tidings for those of us who are unable to function without coffee – it may be helping us to live longer. A study of 20,000 men and women found that three to four cups a day may help us to live one third longer.

This is great news for the caffeine junkies among us, who are unable to have a civilised conversation in the morning before they have at least one pharmaceutical-grade coffee, and possibly two on Mondays. The lead researcher in the Spanish study said that it is the antioxidants in coffee that provide the benefits, which I – like all sensible people – take to mean that I should get dosed up to the gills on premium grade Java to the point where my heart is jackhammering and the veins at my temple bulging.

Of course the only problem is how to come down off this obvious health kick – well, science has done it again, this time via the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, which has published a study that says moderate drinking may be beneficial to us physically, apart from helping us unwind from a day of guzzling black gold until our eyes pop out of our heads.

Moderate alcohol use in this study was considered to be less than 14 drinks a week for men and seven for women, and was associated with a 25 percent lower risk of overall death. Our path to a longer, healthier life is clear – jugs of the strongest coffee available without prescription, and a healthy dose of grain alcohol to wind down of an evening. After all, having fallen from first place in the year 2000 to an embarrassing 12th in an EU survey on national alcohol consumption, it’s important that we all don the green jersey and start chucking down the Irish coffees. We need to stagger back up the rankings, otherwise the Public Health Alcohol Bill might seem a little unnecessary.

Our frenemy science also gave us a wonderful headline (or terrible chat-up line) this week with the revelation that Uranus is stuffed with diamonds. Perhaps you thought that the light emanating from it was the sun shining out of there, but no, it’s far more exciting than that.

Uranus, despite being the butt of jokes since German astronomer Johann Elert Bode named it after the Greek god of the sky, or possibly after a co-workers backside, is a massive gassy cloud, but one that produces huge diamonds in its interior which then sink to the centre. It was a nice moment for a mass that for centuries failed to be recognised as a planet as it was considered too dim and too slow. The upside of the planet’s goofy name is that people in the mainstream media actually like writing about it – perhaps if we had named all the other planets of the solar system in this manner we would pay more attention to them, and gaze up at the night sky sniggering about the beautiful brown rings of Shaturn.

Bathers along the Sussex coast at the weekend were hit with a mysterious cloud of noxious gas (not from Uranus this time). The occurrence had a slightly apocalyptic feel to it, coming as it did after another bi-annual ‘storm of the century’ pummelled the southern states of America into the mud, while a scaled down version tried to wipe Donegal off the map. A cloud of poisonous gas seems unlikely to be the result of anything other than human endeavour, you can’t help but worry that maybe the planet has really had enough of us trying to kill it.

Perhaps it had this secret defence mechanism all along, much like in the incredibly weak M Night Shyamalan film The Happening. Aside from the moment the credits roll, the high point of the film – an ecological scare story of a sudden wave of human self destruction sparked by nature itself – was Marky Mark Wahlberg pleading with a houseplant to give humanity a second chance. If the Sussex gas did happen to be belched out by an angry planet, I think I would rather smother in its noxious fumes than have to explain to my decrepit vicus about why watering it once a fortnight was too much hassle, or explain to my velociraptor-friendly lawn about how ‘work has just been really crazy recently’.

If you haven’t seen The Happening, firstly, lucky you, and secondly, sorry for not offering a spoiler alert. However, there is a Shyamalanesque plot twist here – a study published by the US Association for Psychological Science showed that people actually preferred watching films when they knew the twist was coming. Some 800 subjects were recruited by the University Of California, where they were read stories by authors like John Updike and Raymond Carver, some with the plot twist revealed beforehand and some without. It transpired that the listeners enjoyed the stories more when they knew what was coming, and could see the machinations of the writers, as they conspired to misdirect them and camouflage the looming reveal. Perhaps we can console ourselves with this when scientists the world over say ‘we told you so’ as the planet self-combusts.

 

Monarch of the hen

I went on a stag once. It was a bit like Hostel, only less glam. So the Indo asked me to write about it:

 

There are few occasions as redundant in the modern world as the stag do. Ostensibly a way of marking a man’s ‘last night of freedom’ before embarking on married life, they have developed a reputation for a level of debauchery that would make Caligula blush. As a result, they have fallen out of favour – and yet they persist. Men still take part in this arcane practice, engaging in excessive drinking, casual misogyny and ritual humiliation of themselves and the stag – and now it turns out that they don’t really enjoy it all that much. A study carried out by researchers Daniel Briggs from Madrid University and Anthony Ellis of Salford University and published in the fittingly titled journal Deviant Behaviour found that males just go along with all the ‘shenanigans’ of a stag do without actually enjoying them. The report’s authors assert that the  excessive consumption of alcohol and embarrassing behavior are partially rooted in commercial ideology, which has become firmly embedded in the attitudes of young men.

 

So we hate the stag do – but why is it still happening? Surely ever since David Beckham donned a sarong and ushered in the era of the metrosexual, men shouldn’t feel pressure to behave like rabid vikings, pillaging European capitals in pursuit of paid-for nudity and self destruction? Apparently not. Stag weekends still exist because men are scared they might appear less manly if they say they do not wish to pay a thousand euro for a weekend that will leave them with lasting post-traumatic stress disorder and cirrhosis of the liver. Nobody wants to say ‘this is not ok’ and break the spell. Stag dos are like the emperor’s new clothes, except the emperor is chained to a lamp post in Temple Bar with his eyebrows shaved off.

 

With stags, it’s hard to know which comes first – the booze or the poor decisions. The drinking starts in the morning, continues all day and isn’t seen to be over until people are losing consciousness or their lunch (unless the ‘eating is cheating’ rule has been adhered to, another signifier of almost terminal masculinity).

 

Usually there will be a daytime preamble – go-karting, paintball, or something else involving machines and fake war. This, surprisingly, is the most normal part of the event – it involves exercise and is essentially harmless fun, a bunch of men running about like kids, pretending to be either Eddie Irvine or Jason Statham, ramming each other at 90kph or shooting each other in the head and groin for 90 minutes. It is when darkness falls that the true horror manifests – the trip to the strip club.  A clouded mind is often best when entering these charnel palaces, so thank the lord for those 12 pints and two dozen paintballs to the head. Strip clubs are masculinity’s lowest ebb, places that defy all reason – why is it arousing to pay someone to take off their clothes in front of you? How is that gratifying? We live in a glorious age of digital delight, where all manner of erotica – as well as willing partners –  are available at the touch of a button; so why is anyone willing to pay 20 euro to sit on their hands while a disinterested young lady adopts a pose known as ‘Crouching Stripper, Winking Butthole’ in front of them? Your guilt may compel you to try and connect with her as a human being, asking her about her ‘real’ life. This is a terrible idea, for as soon as she told you she was a dog groomer and you made a quip about her well-manicured chihuahua, the rest of the dance was conducted in a terrifyingly awkward silence.

 

Strips clubs are monstrous – temples of expoitation that smell funny and make you feel sad.. Even the iron-willed stag party attendee who avoids the horrors of the private dance will have to endure the over priced beer and constant harassment to spend money on the least erotic encounter of his entire existence. But the trip to the strip club is a box that has to be ticked before the stag moves on to the next stage in the ritual  – the casino.

 

After the Twin Peaks-esque interiors of the strip club,  a casino seems positively bright and airy, despite often being located in the basement of a fast food joint. Surrounded by dead-eyed men in shiny suits and soundtracked by the crashing din of slot machines and quiet sobbing, at least gambling is a marginally sounder investment than paying someone to take their clothes off while they aggressively chew gum. Once the stag has wasted some more money and braincells, it’s off to the next celebration of a life he cannot wait to leave behind – the nightclub. This is where things get tricky, as you are back amongst ordinary people, people who may not feel especially safe around 17 drunken men, one of whom is dressed as a Swiss milkmaid. If the group manages to get in – and that is a fairly big if – this is possibly the last memory they will have of what they will spend their lives telling people was a ‘great’ weekend. There was patter, there was banter, they were lads being lads, having one last hurrah. But as anyone who has been on a stag will tell you, the best part is getting home, having a long shower involving a lot of carbolic soap and watching Antiques Roadshow with your significant other, hoping they don’t ask too many questions.

 

The stag do is an anachronism – a grotesque parody of masculinity taken to its terrible extremes. But there are exceptions. A stag party in Michigan recently was crashed by a stray dog and her seven pups, who were malnourished and filthy. The men brought them in, fed them and washed them. They spent their beer money on puppy food and ended up adopting the pups. The group now meet up at weekends so the pups can still see each other – all considerably more positive omens for the stag’s married life than the wretched creature who slumps home with little more to show for his weekend than a skin-based parasite and a heart full of shame.

 

The report into stags has shown that men no longer want this tedious horrorshow – perhaps it is time to finally call it a day on the seedier aspects of it and embrace a new version of masculinity that celebrates the best parts of being a man – unless that most male trait of all, stubbornness, gets in the way.

 

Popular stag destinations:

Prague

A beautiful city with a seedy underbelly, it seems forever on the brink of becoming a scene from Hostel. Apart from the usual pits of depravity, there are also several gun ranges where you can go to drunkenly fire an AK47. Huzzah!

Vegas

The other end of the economic scale from Prague, Vegas (baby!) is imprinted on our minds as a stag destination thanks to The Hangover. It offers more prestige than Prague, but ultimately is a similar experience, albeit with a 12 hour flight home to think about what you’ve done.

Budapest

Even more guns than Vegas and Prague combined, and cheaper than both. Worth going there alone for the hilarious patter you can have by ordering the local liqueur Unicum.

Dublin

Expensive, and often more terrifying than a poorly lit Czech backstreet, your flights to eastern Europe probably cost less than a pint in Temple Bar. Avoid.

 

Alternative ideas:

Foraging classes

When the US sends nukes flying like maybugs and Ireland turns into a scene from The Road, who is going to provide for your loved ones? You, that’s who. Learn how to feed your family through foraging – see www.wicklowwildfoods.com.

The Camino

Technically a pilgrimage, it also allows the atheists among us pause to reflect on the beauty of the Spanish countryside, whilst also stopping at several taverns along the way. Or you could just walk to Knock with a bag of cans.

The Wild Atlantic Way

The key to a good marriage is to never take things for granted. With that in mind, fall back in love with Ireland by driving, cycling, or rambling along the stunning west coast. There are companies offering all manner of activities along the way, but Rachel Nolan of Rachel’s Irish Adventures offers tutored trail running, cycling and – most importantly – whiskey tasting events for the more civilised stag.