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1,001 things not to do in London: join a hen night in Soho

Posted at 5:15 pm, October 27, 2012 in Fun London, Top 5

© Matt Herring
Time Out’s Executive Editor Michael Hodges knows what’s bad to do in London, because he’s done it himself.  This week: experiencing somebody else’s pre-wedding jitters in Soho.

‘The hen night is going badly wrong. Bride-to-be Lucy has already lost one of her shoes and her chief bridesmaid Eleanor has managed to lose herself. I’m not on Lucy’s hen night; I’m on her future husband Nick’s stag night. The two events are concurrent but separate, yet – such are modern telecommunications – both parties are able to maintain a near-constant stream of live footage, tweets and texts as they hurtle around the same streets, just missing each other at key intersections.

The latest of these intersections is Walkers Court, the sex-shop-lined alley that leads from Brewer Street to Berwick Street. Yes, we are in what’s left of red light Soho, celebrating this very special moment in our friends’ lives among strip bars and ‘model this way’ signs. There is much else that we might have done. A glance at this magazine suggests we could be watching Bryn Terfel playing Wotan at the Royal Opera House. Or Cheryl at the O2. Instead we have chosen to celebrate Lucy and Nick’s forthcoming union by drinking half-pints of mai tai and pointing at gay underwear shops. At least Eleanor has.

I’m not suggesting abandoning tradition. If we’d gone to the National Portrait Gallery we’d have had an instructive cultural experience before naturally gravitating to the gallery’s rooftop cocktail bar. Afterwards there would have been nothing to stop us stripping Nick and tying him to something – the statue of WWI heroine Edith Cavell, say, or even Bryn Terfel – leaving the groom exposed to the elements but also to the transformative properties of great art.

But best man Tom didn’t fancy any of that; he wanted to do drinking and pointing at things. Although Tom is technically Mr Eleanor, rather than rescue his life partner he has brought the stag party to a halt at the top of some steps. ‘Time,’ he says, ‘for the entertainment.’

‘Entertainment?’ asks Nick, with unmistakable fear in his voice.

Tom now reveals that he has booked a private show for our party in a small strip bar. The steps we have stopped at lead down to the small strip bar. A long moment follows; our eyes flash panic back and forth. Is Tom being ironic, cleverly undermining the threadbare signifiers of contemporary Western man’s sexual insecurity, or does he want us to go down the steps?

A burst of footage comes in from the hen night. Lucy has fallen over as, with only one shoe on, she was perhaps bound to do. But Eleanor has reappeared and she is waving a large blue plastic pepper mill around her head. This decides things and the stag party enters the strip club. As we go down the steps, I fear proceedings will be at best seedy and at worst offer an exploitative and unsettling denouement to the evening. For once, I’m right.

Tom has booked the club for 9pm but it is now only 8.55. We are early. Inside, all the lights are on and a woman in a jumper and knickers is eating pieces of chicken from a box. ‘Oh, sorry,’ says Tom, as we stand behind him, embarrassed. ‘No, is okay,’ she says. ‘We start now.’ She puts the chicken box down, wipes her hands on her bum, pulls her jumper off, leaps at the pole and grabs it with both hands. She then immediately slides down the pole and lands with a bump.

I close my eyes and wish myself away, but when I open them again I am still here. So I flee. Emerging into the street, I walk straight into Eleanor and discover that it isn’t a pepper mill. Not for the first time, it strikes me that Tom and Eleanor are a strange couple.”

Also not recommended: Five other ways not to celebrate a wedding

Frisk the guests
When 72-year-old Great Train Robber Ronnie Biggs married his ex-lover (a former Brazilian samba dancer) at Belmarsh Prison in south east London in 2002, the service couldn’t begin until everyone had been searched.

Get dolled up
In the 1600s, London’s legislators were obliged to push an act through Parliament declaring marriages achieved by women using ‘scents, paints, artificial teeth and iron stays’ to be null and void.

Make a list
In 1829 Woolwich-based pamphleteer William Cobbett advised Londoners only to marry women possessing the following qualities: chastity, sobriety, industry, frugality, cleanliness, knowledge of domestic affairs, good temper and beauty.

Threaten the bride
In his 1839 written marriage proposal to Mary Anne Lewis, future prime minister Benjamin Disraeli said refusal would lead her to a ‘penal hour of retribution’. Surprisingly, this led to happy nuptials at St George’s, Hanover Square.

Overdo the carbs
When the late Queen Mother married at Westminster Abbey in 1923 the centrepiece of the wedding breakfast was a giant cake made by McVitie’s, inventors of the Hobnob.

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