I attended my first ever hen party in Manchester at the weekend. Putting aside the fact that my friend smooched the 20-year-old fella who worked the nightshift on reception in the hotel -- at a reception in the hotel -- I think we conducted ourselves with admirable grace and decorum. There wasn't an L-Plate, plastic tiara or novelty penis in sight.
There was another hen party staying in our hotel at the weekend: an 18-strong crew from Liverpool called Anna's Angels, according to their T-shirts. They had penis-shaped straws for their cocktails.
Even if you did find this base brand of humour funny, surely the joke would wear off after, oh, 30 seconds? Or did they think we would look at their cocktails and screech: "Are they penis-shaped straws?! Good one!" Before going into side-splitting convulsions. Then I was reminded of something that made me reconsider my stance...
It was three days before the wedding when my grandmother met the man my aunt was to marry. And his mother. I was 18 at the time.
Husband- and wife-to-be flew in from America. His mother flew in from Turkey and our family convened en masse in Derry.
The groom's mother was a fabulously elegant woman, but she couldn't speak a word of English. The only Turkish word we knew was kebab.
So we bridged the language barrier with over-animated expressions and hyperactive gesticulations. Family members with a few drinks on board thought she would understand if they spoke in broken English with a foreign accent. I think I heard a cousin drop a few Spanish words into the mix...
We threw a pre-wedding party in my uncle's house. This was the night that the two mother-in-laws would meet. One from Derinukuyu. The other from Derry.
Being the oldest people there -- and non-drinkers -- we guided them away from the hustle and bustle of the party and into the comfort of the sitting room where they could take the weight off their sore knees and get to know one another better ... without a common language at their disposal.
Every so often we'd peek our heads around the door to see how they were getting on. Or rather to get a laugh...
They sat on opposite couches, rictus smiles on their faces, mugs of tea gripped tightly in their hands. Not a word was uttered. Instead, they stared intensely at the television screen, apparently captivated by a Toyota commercial.
"Anyone for tea?" I announced, bounding into the room for a snoop. My granny gave me 'the look'. This flicker of communication -- the emotional shorthand that you share only with your nearest and dearest -- told me everything I needed to know. "GET ME HOME!"
Of course that's not what she said. "Aye, I'll have a wee cuppa," she chirruped. The tone she adopted in fact ordered me to get her coat and order her a taxi, but I decided to plead ignorance. The awkwardness of this social experiment was just too much fun.
I turned to The Turk and made the universal sign for "tea?". She made the universal signs for "yes, please, one sugar" and I headed off to the kitchen, praying my contained laughter didn't erupt on the way out the door.
Once in the kitchen, I went in search of two matching mugs that would give our family an air of respectability in the eyes of The Turk. My choice was limited. The mugs couldn't have a Cadbury's logo on them, or 'World's Best Dad' emblazoned across them. They couldn't be cheap, chipped or have a penis on them... I'm sorry... WHAT?!
Hidden at the back of the crockery cupboard was a mug with a penis-shaped handle on it. I lifted it out and called my cousin over. "What in the name of Jesus is this?" I asked, waving the offending mug around for everyone to see. Her face reddened. "Aye, it's from a hen party," she laughed, giving me the universal look for "sure what can you do?"
We shared a look of mock exasperation and I went to place the penis mug back in the cupboard only for the devil on my shoulder to lean into my ear and whisper: "Do it".
The hollow handle became piping hot when I filled the mug with tea. You could say that it was a manufacturing flaw. Then again, I doubt it was meant to be filled with hot liquids, or indeed any liquids at all.
My grandmother instantly knew that I was up to something when I arrived back in the room. I swiftly handed her the penis mug and departed as quickly as I arrived, making sure to avoid all eye contact.
My mother also instantly knew I was up to something when she saw me collapsed in laughter outside the door. "What have you done?" she demanded. I needed oxygen at this point so it was after many attempts that I was finally able to say: "Pe------nis-----mug!"
"Get it off her!" she squealed. I was sent back into the room where my grandmother, erect penis gripped contemptuously in her hand, greeted me with the death stare.
"Sorry about that, I think I may have given you tea with sugar," I sang, reaching for the penis mug.
"Sugar?!" my grandmother thundered, realising that she could say whatever she liked thanks to the language barrier. "That was a hot dick I was handed!" The Turk was in a state of acute terror at this point, but she smiled sweetly. Besides, she obviously had other things on her mind, such as whether her son had produced a pre-nuptial agreement...
Penis paraphernalia is gaudy and graceless, but I dare say that mug brought me one of the best laughs of my young life. It was worth the scolding. And the scalding.
I can only hope that 'Anna's Angels' find a similar purpose for their straws ... otherwise the joke is just wasted.