The Hen Do

Hens admiring the cocks on the 'Hen Calendar'

Hens admiring the ‘Hen Calendar’

I wasn’t planning to end my hen do in A and E. I am sure nobody does, but as a sedate thirty-something bride with my daughter in attendance for half of the event, I wasn’t planning a scene of messy carnage. The most adventurous thing I did was to wear contact lenses, one of which tore and got stuck in my eye, bringing my night to its premature end.

The ‘hen do’ apparently first appeared in the UK in the 1960s as a feminist response to the tradition of the ‘stag do’ and became popular in the 1980s. They were initially modelled on the stag do, which enacted every male stereotype in the book – excessive drinking, womanising and creating outrageous initiation rites for the groom (tying him to a lamp-post naked seems to have been a popular one). Although the name ‘hen do’ apparently references the Middle English word ‘hen’ meaning ‘female bird’, the aim of the night was not to conform to the typical female stereotype – it was for women to indulge in laddish behaviour. Just because they could.

As hen and stag dos competed for the reputation of showcasing the worst of British drunken behaviour, and more and more places refused to host them, the entertainment industry came up with solutions in the form of hen and stag ‘experiences’. Now, Google ‘hen do’ and you are answered with a whole host of organised events, ranging from canoeing in Wales, to dance lessons, to nude drawing classes. While it is still possible to stick with the popular 1980s format of drinking too much and dancing on tables until you collapse, there seems to be an expectation that you will ‘do something a bit different’ (and also, ‘a bit more expensive’).

I avoided the pull towards the suggestive and bawdy (blindfolded games of ‘pin the willy on the man’ being one suggestion from a friend which I rejected), and planned a day having spa treatments. Chief Bridesmaid and her friend came, and had their nails painted and their hair done. I had a massage and my first ever facial, most of my friends had facials or manicures, and my Mum came out with beautiful red toenails. My hen do approximated more closely to older forms of the bridal party, which would focus on preparing the bride for the wedding day. In the West, friends of the bride-to-be would dress like her in order to confuse evil spirits, and in India, it was traditional to paint henna tattoos on the bride, to protect her from the evil eye. Another suggested origin for ‘hen do’ is that it comes from ‘henna’. My day was focused upon relaxation and beauty, but without the precautions against the evil eye.

It certainly beat being tied to a lamppost, but my eye looked pretty evil after the jagged edge of the contact lens had lacerated it for a few hours. It began as a slight irritation while I had my hair styled in the spa. As I drank cocktails and got ready to go out, surrounded by the woman who brought me into the world, the daughter I brought into the world, and the friends I have made in between, it became more of an insistent pain. By the time we went out for a meal, the alcohol was definitely numbing the pain. The evening was relaxed and happy, the wine was flowing and glasses were clinking in my honour. It was perfect.

Sometimes this is the right time to leave – on a high – and this is what happened when two of my nurse friends looked at my eye and decided that the emergency department, not a nightclub, was the place for me.

A couple of hours later, my eye thanked them and the doctor who managed to remove the lens. Eye patch in place, I decided to call it a night, although my friends were still in the club, now drinking shots in my honour. It was enough for me, although there is now talk of a replay, a ‘bride do’ to make up for the bits that I missed. Whether that happens or not, the night can never really be replayed for me, for never again will I be at that point in time – less than 3 weeks away from getting married, wondering what the Big Day will bring…

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