Adam Bird


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Wednesday, 23 April 2008

A Goodluck Wish

Stephanie, Oliver and I would like to offer our heartfelt best wishes to Will and Olivia, whom celebrate their marriage on Saturday at Christchurch, followed by a reception at Turkey Mill, Maidstone.

I mentioned previously in a blog posting when Will and Olivia got engaged that these two people had a certain destiny together and that their marriage was long ago conceived to be part of a life long journey between them.

Like Stephanie and I, Will and Olivia met at a young age. In fact, they were both younger than ourselves, and so the formative experiences that Stephanie and I have experienced are certain to have been felt by them.

What sets Will and Olivia apart, however, is not only there continued devotion to their relationship but the way in which they have handled and managed their individual aspirations.

For many, and I would probably include myself in this had I followed the same path, leaving home and going off to university is not only an educational experience, but a social experiment in which young people "find themselves" in life, including of course experiences with the opposite sex. To have gone through four years of university and still intact is no mean feat, and I feel needs to be applauded. I don't have any statistics to hand here, but I would have thought the figures would have been pretty low when looking at similar circumstances!

Will was at first a mutual friend of Gareth's and Stuarts through the golf club, along with Dan and Reaso. How we all became part of the same social circle is a little hazy, but I believe on one occasion at Zen's nightclub in Dartford, Will introduced me to a rather young looking Olivia. Apparently, and I tend to believe Olivia's account of the story, my first words to her were rather lewd and full of innuendo. She was, as I understand it rather taken back at such a young age and exercised caution whenever our paths crossed again... for the next ten years!

Will and I may lead very different careers, but we shared the same employment infancy when we worked together at Safeway's. Whilst I was rather happy with enjoying weekly paychecks and spending it all on the weekends Will was earning for reason. A way to save up for his university course. He had a dream, a plan and there was no way anyone or anything was going to stop him.

Whilst at Colchester University, James Holman and I went to visit Will for a weekend away. Olivia travelled over from Guilford and enjoyed the weekend with us. I will always remember the exact date as this was the very day that David Beckham curled in "that" goal against Greece to secure our spot at the 2002 world cup in Japan! That night, Olivia gained my eternal respect as she fault like a gladiator in keeping up with us boys all night long in the drinking stakes, beers, vodka, sambuca, whatever we could get our hands on, until about 11.30 she couldn't keep up any more and collapsed drunkenly in the middle of the university campus! Will had to take her back home and as I understand it - she was ill for most of the night!

If I have lots of good memories of nights out with Will and Olivia, they all pale into insignificance when you compare them to the memories they themselves must have from their excursion around the world. In 2004, worn down by the stresses of final examinations and the extended break from each other what better way to rekindled your relationship and relax your brain that by trekking through Thailand, the Far East, Australia, New Zealand and the US?

The experiences they enjoyed whilst in Australia started another fire burning in Will's belly and just as determined he was to succeed in his desire profession, he will one day I am sure fulfil another dream by spending a working sabbatical in Sydney, enjoying the lifestyle and culture that he fell in love with whilst there.

Having a desire to do something is easy, having the determination and the balls to succeed is what sets people apart. Having Oliver gave me a certain sense of determination to get the things I want in life, however long they take. But all the time that Steph and I have friends like Will and Olivia, people who are role models for Oliver when he grows up and starts to develop his own ideas. We can encourage him and show him Will and Olivia as examples in how to do things the right way, that whatever you want is out there, just don't be afraid to work at it and to stick to you what you believe in.

The two of them have come a long way, but they have done it together, all great partnerships are about teamwork, and they are one hell of a team! We would love to wish them all the very best in their marriage and success in their plans for the future - wherever that make take them!

Stephanie and I would also like to take this opportunity in thanking them very much for inviting Oliver to be part of their big day as pageboy, we hope that he is slightly quieter than the rehearsal!

Friday, 18 April 2008

A Fairytale Engagement

Walt Disney had a vision, a place for people to spend with their children, a land of make believe, a place where dreams came true. On Wednesday 16th April 2008, I asked Stephanie to marry me at Disneyland Paris, not quite the conclusion of a new Disney production, but a highlight in the road of our own personal story. A highlight in which Stephanie had her own dreams come true.

Like all good stories, this one contains a beginning, a middle and an end. Although we are still only really at the beginning, there have been plenty of plot twists and sub plots which would make Walt Disney himself proud.

Back in December of 2007, I realised that with the sale of the house and debts paid off now would be as good a time as any to finally get engaged. I decided that I would need to get permission from Steph's Dad in order to proceed, but straight from the off Steph made my task more difficult than it should have been.

Very rarely have Colin and I been around The Boat for a beer on a Sunday afternoon and I was aware that the very occurrence may raise Stephanie's eyebrows a notch or two. It may well be that my paranoia of being 'discovered' fuelled my sense of unease somewhat. But never the less, when I rang Colin and asked him if he wanted to meet up and have a drink on Sunday I had hoped to sneak off out of the house in the afternoon pretending to meet the boys somewhere instead.

What I hadn't banked on was Stephanie's plans to visit her parents at the same scheduled time as my disappearing act. Quickly thinking up, what I thought was a rather lame excuse, I suggested to Steph that I might invite her Dad around the pub as "everyone else has beers on Sunday with their father in laws". Rather than a flurry of questions, she simply admitted that it was a good idea and off we went. One final moment of fear just as Colin and I were about to set off was Colin's question to me in front of Stephanie saying "so what was it you wanted to go around the pub for?" Another squeaky bottom moment!

Asking the father in law for permission to marry his daughter is always portrayed as a moment from hell, as is the actual proposal itself, but all throughout this experience the traditionally hellish moments have actually been my easiest bits, the nerves and anxiety for me have always come from the fear of Steph working out my plans and thus spoiling the surprise.

After an ever so slightly emotional Colin accepted my request to marry his baby daughter all was left for me to do was too select a ring. Having a friend who is a jewellery maker was a godsend as he was able to advise me on whats hot and whats not and provide me with a final product that was far better than anything else Bluewater had to offer.

At only my second step was I nearly rumbled again. My poor nerves were at breaking point, but I called Steph to inform her that I was going to be late from work. On a normal day this would be fine and I wouldn't hear from her until I walked through the front door. However, on the day that I met Benj and took a walk around Bluewater to do some window shopping, her radar beeped which prompted her call me and enquire as to my whereabouts.

She probably called for something completely different, but when I picked up I was totally aware that the background noise was not that of the office nor the train. Again quickly thinking, again rather lamely, I informed her that I was at Bluewater, window shopping to see if I had enough money to buy her what I wanted to for Christmas!

She accepted that with goodwill and said that she would meet me to pick me up! Grateful as I was at the time, I was also cursing her for making my job slightly more difficult! Benj and I then had to rush around, find what we wanted and force Benj upon his way leaving me to wait innocently outside Marks and Spencers waiting for Stephanie to arrive.

At the same time I knew that I needed to formulate the "proposal plan", a wickedly romantic gesture that would leave her trembling with emotion and more importantly impossible for her to say no!

There were, I admit some rather exuberant ideas. The one that saw us flying to New York, taxi to the Empire States Building, popping the question, having a snog, taxi back to the airport and flying home again seemed quite good at the time, but the price ruled it out as a no-no.

Just as things were coming together and a proposal plan formulated, I decided that I would have a house party, celebrate the start of life in the new house and give a toast to good luck, concluding in a surprise proposal in front of our nearest and dearest. But, as appears as a common them throughout this story, lady luck intervened!

Firstly it looked like Benj had a new job lined up meaning he was unable to make the ring and secondly Carly and Reaso announced whilst in South Africa, Reaso had popped his own question and they were to be wed!

Coincidental Carly and Reaso's engagement was, and we wish them all the luck in the world! On a purely personal and rather selfish basis the timing wasn't great as I was worried Stephanie would think that I was being a copy cat and that Reaso had forced my hand! Adding further fuel to my fire was Stephanie suggesting that if I was to ask her right now she would say no, as it was "Carly and Reaso's time!"

Game over I thought, the house purchase had been brought forward, lady luck was swinging her wand over me and telling me with all the signs she could muster that I shouldn't be wasting my money on gold and diamonds but to focus instead on bricks and mortar!

As quickly and coincidentally had my plans bombed they were surprisingly reignited in the same way. I had by this point put the whole idea too bed for another day, resigned to the fact that Stephanie and I would forever be living in sin, forever would I be hiding behind the excuse that Gillingham would need to win the FA Cup for us to have any chance of getting married.

Firstly, a call from Benj, he hadn't quite got the job he was after, there was a delay of some sort - he was now able to make my ring after all. His cloud provided me with a silver lining as project "Mrs Bird" was back on! A few days later, whilst reading the Sun newspaper on the way to work I came across an advert which read (along the lines of) "Looking to propose to your girlfriend? Ant and Dec are looking for brave souls to propose live in a forthcoming episode of Saturday Night Takeaway".

So there I was, on Valentines night, the most romantic night of the year, in the company of two very attractive young ladies explaining to them in great detail why I wanted to marry Stephanie, what she was like, how I would expect her to react, ideas I had for proposing etc, in a bid to appear live on television in front of the nation the following Saturday.

I had to provide the ITV production company with details of some friends who they could contact to find out yet more information on Stephanie and I, further research as to our television potential. As I was to later discover, they were actually after a little more than information!

They wanted our nearest and dearest to appear alongside us both to create a "Mr and Mrs" style game featurette which would involve a little hypnotism and a LOT of secrecy!

When I found out that I wasn't to be chosen, I took it quite badly! I thought that I was a dead cert when I left the interview as it had gone so well! But when they phoned and said that it wasn't to be I took it quite personally, and looked at it as a sense of personal failure, that I had let Stephanie down. It wasn't until later in one of the various stages of information gathering that it was because of lack of participants from my side of the family that it wasn't possible.

Feeling slightly better on discovering that I did everything possible, I filed that disappointment away and looked ahead. We had our ten year anniversary coming up and a perfect window of opportunity!

Spending any spare time I could trying to hatch the perfect proposal plan, I came across the Orient Express website. "Wow, that would be perfect" I thought, "a nice trip somewhere on the worlds most romantic train... ooh... hang on... doesn't Kelly Bailey work for them?" Indeed she did and so a set of email correspondence resulted in a preliminary booking for two to Bath on April 16th 2008. Champagne breakfast on a steam train, a tour around Victorian Bath and all it's beauty before heading back to London Victoria whilst dining on a sumptuous 5 course banquet!

Due to the nature of the Orient Express friends and family discount scheme the Orient Express prefer to sell the maximum full price tickets prior to any discounts, which is perfectly understandable, all that was needed from me was to keep my fingers, toes and anything else crossed until the Friday 11th April when our booking could be confirmed.

As the event was scheduled for after our anniversary I needed to present Stephanie with a gift on March 24th, our ten year anniversary, so I though the best idea would be a clue as to what she could expect on the 16th. Thinking of Bath, I immediately thought of ducks, so brought three rubber ducks from Mothercare, some luggage labels from WH Smith and wrapped them in a giftbox for her to open on our anniversary.

What fun I had! Her face when she opened the box, goodness knows what was going through her head, but her face was a picture! She really didn't have a clue what the ducks represented, but the clues on the luggage labels gave her the date and begged her not to keep asking me questions as I wouldn't want to lie to her!

As we heading into April, I was constantly bombarding Kelly with emails as to the current booking figures which had always remained quite healthy. However, in fitting with this story, a one off group booking of 76 people left the available seats to a minimum! We would still be able to have a seat, but me being battle scarred and battered from bumping into all the obstacles coming my way I decided to bite the bullet and come up with a plan b (or was it plan h, i or j?).

I went through my whole thought process all over again, looking at the things I had long discarded, trying to work out what I could do at all the budget airline destinations, but all the while the lure of Disneyland Paris kept chewing at my mind.

I had thought of it previously, but thought that the Eurostar was too expensive and that flights were not in keeping with a one day schedule. I looked to see how long it took to drive seeing as I had already been there once by coach, but had been asleep most of the way. From internet searches it was roughly three to four hours by car, and the Euro Shuttle schedule was more than adequate for a day trip there and back. I was slightly nervous about driving, but the thought of going to Disneyland Paris with Oliver was more than enough incentive!

I hadn't really thought about the romantic possibilities or the amount of possible analogies that could be drawn by a proposal at Disneyland! I had in my mind that Stephanie, and Oliver, both of which would love it to bits and it would be a great day out for the family.

It wasn't until I started thinking about where to pop the question, and more importantly how I converted Stephs three duck clues into a clue for Disneyland that romantic notions were concieved! Armed with a pot of Fairy Liquid and a book called Tales by Edgar Allen Poe (Fairytales) I sadly informed Steph on my return home that her ducks had been hit by bird flu, they were to be culled and new clues were to be placed!

If Steph had trouble with the first clue she certainly had a problem with the second! It wasn't until the delivery of the second set of clues that we had a chat about what would be involved in the day. With Steph's Slimming World career kicking off the night before we were due to go to Disneyland she was required to perform a set of tasks on the following day. Being out of the country meant that she wouldn't be able to do them and so I needed her to make contingency plans. Rather than a two week battle of cat and mouse as I tried to keep a secret whilst asking her to make alternative arrangements I decided it would be easier to let her know where we were going so that she knew what she was up against.

After her initial excitement subsided the realisation that she still didn't understand what the clue stood for was evident. As I explained she laughed at me, "I thought you were going to take me to an expensive restaurant and not pay the bill! Then you would have to do the washing up whilst I stayed in the restaurant reading the book!" Amazing how some peoples brains work!

I have spent the last two weeks with a bubbling sense of excitement inside me, particularly for Oliver as we haven't yet taken him to a theme park of any real description. He has been on a few different things on his daily adventures with my Mum, but nothing whilst with us, so I was keen to make amends for our shortcomings.

Ultimately the day was about Stephanie and making it as memorable for her as possible. Luckily the bad luck that had plagued me seemingly the whole way through left as at customs in Folkestone as we enjoyed a carefree day.

I was concerned about the journey as I was told two days before we left by Dad and Gareth that my three - three and a half hour journey was a myth of biblical proportions and that I was looking at more like five and seven hours instead! Panic hit like a steam train and I spent the two days worrying incessantly that I had ruined the day before it began by being too optimistic. I decided that I had no choice and prepared for the scenario of driving all the way there, going to the castle, popping the questions, having a snog and driving all the way back again!

As it was, we made good timing, we arrived at the park gates at 10.30 and by eleven we was walking up Main Street USA with the dazzling Cinderella castle up ahead of us.

I had formulated a plan in my mind at how I wanted the day to unfold, but still playing the anniversary present card I suggested to Stephanie that she was in sole control, the day was for her, so she needed to lead us the way.

Not quite convincing in her final decision as to where we were headed we ambled towards Discoveryland and she decided that we would "go this way", towards Space Mountain and our first ride of the day "Buzz Lightyear Laser Blast".

With it seemingly being French national holiday or something, the whole park was totally packed! I had never been to a Theme Park anywhere in the world where there was so many people! Most of the smaller rides had queue times of an hour, so it soon became apparent that our ride count for the day wasn't going to be very high!

We still managed to ride Buzz Lightyear Laser Blast, Honey I Shrunk the Audience, and taking advantage of the Fastpass combined with the Babyswap scheme we managed a quick ride on Space Mountain, which being the best ride in the park was an added bonus!

All throughout the buildup to our trip Steph and I talked about our mutual excitement of seeing Oliver enthused by the rides and parades. We couldn't have been further from the truth!!! All in all, I don't think he took much notice! Whilst on 'Buzz Lightyear Laser Blast' we had to keep looking at him in wonder as he was looking around with a look of boredom on his face!

If Oliver's reaction to the days events wasn't in keeping with my expectations, Stephanie's went far and beyond anything that I could ever have dreamt of.

As lunchtime had passed and we were still walking around, Oliver began to get hungry and restless. We decided, with Stephanie's prompting to take a walk and get some lunch. I was at this point boiling hot having spent the whole day with my jacket done up tight in fear of losing the ring which was cocooned within. Time for action stations, and so I suggested that we head towards the Cinderella castle, pass through into Fantasyland and find somewhere to stop.

As we approached the castle I began to look around for the perfect spot, as we were walking up Stephanie said to me that she didn't realise we were going to our wedding scene already!

If that comment wasn't going to throw me the next one certainly did! I spotted a little arched balcony which jutted out over the moat just under the castle itself. I suggested that we stopped over and sat there to take a look up at the castle. Steph said "Great, I can change Oliver's bum!" Not quite the romantic gesture I had in mind, so I moved her swiftly on to the next balcony, a few steps closer to the castle entrance. Just as I was about to park the buggy and get Oliver out someone beat me to it and started rearranging his baggage, again forcing my hand!

I was going to have to stop right at the castle entrance, which was fine because it worked in with my plan! Just as we were about to step over the threshold into the castle I told Stephanie that we needed to stop and that she wasn't allowed any further as she needed to be a princess to enter. "Shut up" she said, "No seriously, you need to be a princess!" I replied.

She attempted to take another step forward so I grabbed her by the arm. "Steph, you need to be a princess, but don't worry, I may have something that will make you a princess. First of all you need to answer a question". The look on Stephs face was that of bewilderment! What on earth are you on about was written all over her!

I went for the ring which was inside my pocket and brought out the box "You haven't! Oh my God", as I got down on my knee and asked her to marry me she had already changed several shades of red and was clearly rather embarrassed. "You don't know my ring size" she claimed as I fiddled around opening the box, removing the ring and trying to place it upon her finger as she attempted to wrestle me back to my feet! "Of course I will marry you, I cannot believe it, you haven't! Oh my God" she screamed, quite clearly in some state of shock!

We had moved over to one side of the walkway into the castle, although I cannot quite remember if it was through force or nature. We had an obligatory kiss and cuddle and a couple of tears were shed. Her surprise, for me, made the occasion, made the previous five months all the sweeter as it was a truly romantic moment. Elements of comedy were involved, but that's me and Steph, we seem to have these moments occasionally which are undefinable in terms of defining their meaning.

It had happened so quickly, we didn't really spend much time embracing the moment, I proposed, Steph accepted and we were back on our way walking through the castle, Steph in a sense of shock and me in a sense of relief!

We sat down and reflected more on the other side of the castle walls, a pretty little raised walled flowerbed where we sat down to regain our composure. I briefly told Steph that this was it, the moment I had spent so long in trying to put together. She laughed and told me of her suprise, and I laughed back and told her how worse it could have been, on live TV in front of the nation, in front of Ant and Dec. This fuelled Stephs suprise even more as the realisation of the lengths that I had gone to, especially as not once did she register any suggestion of what I was planning.

Having written so much about how we got to the Cinderella castle and finally telling the story of how I proposed to Stephanie, I feel that the rest of the days details are too normal for the conclusion of this post. What I will say though, it was a day that was spent together in harmony, I felt that something had changed between us, some light really that began to shine over us suggesting a clearer future. There had been the question hanging over us for sometime as to when we were going to get engaged. Now that we were it seemed to help lift a weight from our shoulders.

Ultimately, all secret acts of suprise have worrying elements of revelation amongst them, the duration and my occasional over the top plans of action causing more cause for concern than many, but they will soon be forgotten. What will be remembered at the end is what is important.

The important part was and always will be the events of Stephanie's day. It was the day in which she got engaged to the man she loves, a day which for every girl should be special. It was also her first Disney experience, one that will be always be extra memorable. It doesn't matter if you are three, thirteen or thirty to experience the magic, just as Walt Disney always imagined it. If you have a dream, one day they will come true.

Finally, I feel that I need to say a huge thank you to everyone who has been part of this whole journey with me! Mum and Dad for putting up with my frustrations, Stephs parents for being patient and listening with bewilderment about my plan after plan! To Kelly Bailey for her hard work and efforts in attempting to get us on the Orient Express. Benj for his vision in turning a ring in which I liked into one that Stephanie loves. Also thank you to everyone who helped out the ITV people with their research, something in which I don't think I will ever understand the full story of!

Monday, 7 April 2008

Tales from Tallinn

Having missed out last year on Mark's Stag do, I was more excited than most when Reaso and Foordy declared that we would be going to Krakow to celebrate Will's last weekend of freedom before heading off into life as a married man.

However, despite Reaso and Foordy's best laid plans, the cat somehow escaped the bag and Will discovered the destination! Krakow was swiftly discarded and plan B put into place, we would now be going to Tallinn, Estonia instead!

I am not too sure how the change of location was not fully communicated, but sitting on board the Easy Jet flight to the Estonian capital, Tommy asked, almost knowing the answer "so we are not going to Poland then?" He had, only the day previously taken a visit to Lunn Poly or somewhere and exchanged some of his well earned English Pounds into Polish złoty rather than the required Estonian Kroon! How we laughed!

Although, by this stage of the day, I was I must admit, in a mood for laughing at pretty much anything. Having woken up at 2.45 am to meet Will and Hans ready to meet the others at Mid Kent Golf Club where a minibus would be taking us to Stansted for a 6.30 flight. The minibus never arrived, but a full 60 seater commuter coach certainly did. So much for our carbon footprints!

Within 10 minutes of arriving at Stansted, the law of the stag solemnly declared that as much alcohol must be consumed prior to boarding the aircraft as possible. So we did, along with, it must be said, a rather nasty breakfast from the Wetherspoons pub. I don't know why I persist, as I knew that it would be rough, but ordered it anyway. Still, it worked as a sponge which was well needed at that time of the morning.

After emptying our Easy Jet flight of alcohol and playing along with the card games, not wanting to appear non macho and optin for a sleep instead we arrived in Tallinn. The airport was rather a surprise, having been to some rather shed like buildings previously, the Tallinn terminal appeared to be still under construction, but the parts we saw were nice and modern. One slightly quirky experience was at customs, when you are faced with a locked door, similar to that of a contemporary apartment block. When the customs officer is satisfied you were not on the Estonian most wanted list you were able to pass through into an as yet unseen part of the terminus building.

Onwards into baggage reclaim, and instead of trying to recreate the porno magazine episode of Malia we had a whip around and the first bag off the conveyor belt won the money. Luckily for me Stuart and I did a deal whereby if either of us won we would split the cash. It would prove to be the only thing Stuart would win all weekend as his usual competitive streak reaped little reward. On passing me my half of his winnings, he gave me a sly wink and told me to "spend the money wisely my friend".

Not wanting to give a blow by blow account of the whole weekend, as much as we had fun and a great time was had by all, it won't be much fun for the casual reader, or for those who wish to know about Estonia and wanting a Judith Chalmers report from me. But I feel that I need to give an immediate first impression of what I gathered when I exited the terminal building and stood waiting for our minibus.

All that went through my mind was "wow, this country is grey!" Trying to define what I meant by that is quite tricky, but it wasn't the fact that the weather was certainly very cold, and indeed overcast, but it just appeared to be swathed in an ambient grey light, that made the buildings look dull and oppressive. As Estonia was formerly part of the old USSR it was clear than many of the buildings were from that era, and the legacy had clearly remained. There was a mixture of old and new buildings and a vast amount of construction work, but even the new bits looked... well very grey!

On arrival at our hotel, the Hotel Skane, another bizarre event was witnessed. It appeared that somebody had been run over right outside the hotel, so rather than excitedly looking around our rooms when we got there, we headed straight for the window to see if the man outside was dead, as some rather excited rumour mongers amongst us proclaimed. Luckily it appeared that the gentlemen involved was indeed alive, although I am sure an overnight stay at the local hospital was required.

Full credit to the best men, as their arrangements thus far had been exceptional. Within five minutes of checking in, we were acquainted with the hotel bar, and a young lady whose name escapes me, given the role of our guide for the day.

We were a very short walk from "The Old Town", the epicentre of Tallinn and the focal point of our weekends activities. We were taking to a couple of bars where we sampled a few of the local beers. The Old Town itself, as it's name implies, was very old, built in medieval times, and indeed many of the bars were themed with the history of the surrounding area very much evident.

Although the Old Town's infrastructure was hundred of years old and the country has a colourful past with its Soviet occupation, some of it's thinking is vastly superior to ours. For example, like the UK there is a smoking ban within public areas, but rather than banishing smokers to the elements outside, there are smoking areas within the pubs and restaurants themselves. Most of which were in the form of separate rooms, but nonetheless, all were warm, comfortable and didn't infringe upon other patrons in the non-smoking areas. Something which we agreed could be implemented over here.

After only the second bar I was the next victim of the bad luck curse which seemed to hit most of our party at one point or another. I had taken with me my camera, with the intention of taking photographs of our daily shenanigans and leaving it back at the hotel at night for fear of losing it. I had taken no more than ten photos and taken great care in keeping my camera in my jacket pocket when it wasn't in use. However, I had started to fall asleep whilst sitting at a table and so rather than risk having my eyebrows plucked or cigarettes put up my nostrils I decided to take a walk to the next pub along where some of the group had gone for some food. I hadn't anticipated the rest of the group leaving shortly after with my jacket in tow, minus the camera.

It was, one of those things. I could have been more careful, the person carrying my jacket could have felt it drop, or indeed it could already have been pick pocketed or one of a thousand different things. The staff in the pub were fairly helpful in that they called the police, but having only been in Estonia for 20 seconds or so I really wasn't in the mood for discussing something as trivial as a lost camera with the Estonian authorities.

It had been a long day, but we were only half way through as I was constantly reminded by Gareth, who was probably only telling me so in order to convince himself as much, but back to the hotel for a quick S, S, S and off out to dinner. Our daily guide had retired for the day, and so we were met by two other young ladies whose responsibilities where ensuring that we were indeed tucked up in bed by nine pm, safe and sound.... cough.

Dinner was a jovial affair with much banging on the tables in medieval style, speeches by the best men and father of the groom added to the macho atmosphere before all tucking into a feast of steak and chips. I don't think Foordy had eaten for a week as after we had all finished he slowly made his way around the table and finished off everybody else's.

It really was no rest for the wicked at this point, our desert for the night was waiting. At this point we said a fond farewell to our guides and made haste to a local gentleman's club. Now, most of us have experiences in some shape or form about what a gentleman's club entails. This one however was the first any of had seen containing a dungeon. When standing in the smoking room talking to a member of staff, I enquired as to what occurs in the dungeon and how much it cost. She rather happily informed me that for 1,400 kroons I would be tied to the chair and whipped. How hard my whipping would be was at entirely my discretion, but it was something, I told her I would maybe do next time... or not! Personally speaking I think we ought to have all chipped in and ensured that Will had the spanking of his life!

Indeed the evening drew to a close, and it had been a long day. I returned back to the Hotel Skane at 3am, a little over 24 hours since I last slept and rather than have nightmares about a rather enthusiast Estonian dominatrix I slept peacefully until 8am where Gareth woke me up telling me to get myself out of bed as breakfast was being served! He had been up somewhat earlier than I had as he discovered that he had lost all of his credit cards and debit cards and so had to phone back to the UK and cancel them all.

It took him two hours of constant punching and prodding, but I made it out of my slumber at 10am, albeit too late for breakfast, but ready to meet the others whom were already on their way to the Old Town and to a bar situated on the magnificent town square. I will readily admit, I wasn't quite ready for beer at that time of the morning, and with go-karting fast approaching I wasn't going to endanger myself by drink driving. I am fairly happy to say that it was my only shirk of the weekend, but one that had a very responsible thinking behind it.

Seeing as I had missed breakfast, along with Gareth, we decided to enjoy the perks of globalisation by visited McDonalds and having a rather unhealthy brunch. It was however a welcome tonic and settled me down for the rest of the day.

Over the course of the two days we must have walked from the Hotel Skane and the Old Town about twenty times, but we needed to head back and meet our guide and minibuses who were to take us on our go-karting activity. When you book a stag weekend you have plenty of choices to choose from about what activity you can do during the day. Go-karting had been done last time in Prague for Mark's stag, and was a resounding success, so Reaso and Foordy decided to stick with the winning formula.

I had only been on a go-kart I think once before, when I was about 8 at Butlins in Phwelli, nothing like the machines we would be driving around a warehouse in the middle of an Estonian Industrial estate. In fact, an industrial estate is probably being generous! I looked out of the window and it seemed as if the Russians were still blowing things up such was the destruction and decay in and around the surrounding areas!

My inexperience at go-karting was clear to see, as I posted my first lap time of around 40 seconds. If you consider that the fastest lap was something in the high 26s you would be thinking that maybe my go-kart had only two wheels. However, I won't say that I soon got to grips with things, but I steadily decreased my lap times lap by lap. On my second run I posted a quickest lap of around 31 seconds, which was far more respectable despite my limited experience. Once I had figured that I was driving a machine that needed to be driven and controlled rather than it driving and controlling me I was getting better and better.

Foordy was the star of the show, the Alain Prost french blood within him driving him to first place. Stuart was on his tail the whole way around in the final and ultimately it was his competitive streak that was his downfall. Will had the whole way around been driving erratically, like a boy racer on narcotics, and was disqualified in all four of his sessions, and rightly so, but Stuart can feel aggrieved for his disqualification being down to his willingness to win. As he, bumper to bumper with Foordy, trying to overtake on the outside of the last corner at speed, lost control slightly and crashed into the barriers, causing himself to fly a little out of the cockpit and giving those watching a little nervous twitch as we thought things may get slightly messy. As it was the black flag was waved, Stuart was out of the race and Mark and Dan took advantage to move up a place in the final podium finish.

Not one to take well to losing, everyone enjoyed ribbing Stuart about his 'loser' status, none more so that Foordy, Dan and Mark, who wore there winners medals with honour for the rest of the trip!

If pace on the track was unrelentless, the drinking stepped up a gear on our return back to the Hotel Skane, another walk into the Old Town in which we discovered a new bar, The Bar With no Name. Here we discovered a watering hole which we decided was more than adequate for our needs later on that evening, and as luck would have it, Stuarts losing streak continued some more. Despite me nearly decapitating Reaso with a stray cue ball, it was Stuart who got seven balled by Dan and another ribbing for his inadequacies.

Little jokes and laughs at others expense are what makes a boys holiday all the better, especially if it is at one persons constant expense. It must be the fire brigade mentality but Stuart took his ribbing with all the intention in which it was meant.

Another walk back to the Hotel Skane, another quick S, S, S where we discovered the cleaners had been and tidied our rooms. Whilst Gareth was on the first leg of his S, S, S, I found a little parcel on my bed. It was a wallet with a collection of credit and debit cards with Gareth's name on them! Evidently he hadn't looked very well and the cleaner had discovered them whilst cleaning the room. I dare not repeat what profanities were leaving Gareth's mouth at this point, but the tears of laughter were ringing all around the Hotel Skane a short while after!

Back once more to the old town for a meal in a great medieval style restaurant. Vodka was served with the evening meal, and I tried Venison for the first time which I was quite impressed with. But it was the post-meal events which really made the evening and made our stay in Tallinn so memorable.

We headed back to the Bar With No Name, and commenced our drinking marathon. I decided that being on a stag weekend we needed to liven things up slightly, so tried, not very successfully to implement a few games, such as the "corkscrew in a pint", whereby if you were unlucky enough to have a corkscrew put into your drink, you would have to down what was in your glass before selecting your next victim. The game didn't take off as I would have liked it to have done, but there was some worthy participants.

I was under the impression that being on a stag weekend meant drinking shots at every round, drinking through funnels and generally drinking far more than is humanly possible, but there wasn't really any of that going on, so I made my own way to the bar on several occasions and made my way through the shots menu myself. I understand it's not to everyone's taste to be so extreme, but on a stag a little more imagination is needed with the drinking rules! Especially seeing as it was the last night!

Of course, there are some drawbacks, the main one for me is that I get a little crazy on the dance floor and think that I am John Travolta on acid and start dancing like a loon. It started off in the Bar With No Name and carried on to the Hollywood club where things got progressively worse! I was best friends with everyone in the club, or at least that is what my drunken voice told me. High fiving complete strangers, and apparently jumping on members of our group from one of the elevated platforms! I would love to tell you all about what everyone else got up to, but in all honesty I cannot remember seeing anyone else!

Something that does flash back to me was running at Keith for a chest high five. I momentarily forgot that Keith is 8ft 3 and built like the proverbial brickhouse. I bounced straight back off him, onto my back and slid 20ft across the floor into a table and toppled a couple of pints of drink over my head.

Soaking wet, covered in booze I made my way to the bathroom and had a wrestling match with a hand-dryer for half and hour, without a great deal of success! Despite smelling like a brewery, the rest of the evening past, I think pretty much in a blur! All that happened next, at least in my mind is people leaving the club all at once and me emerging into daylight!

Rather than head back to the Hotel Skane for a couple of hours sleep some of us headed back to an all night café for breakfast, two more bottles of beer! I wanting to keep sleep away for as long as possible so I popped off next door to the casino and won myself 20 kroons at a game of video poker, but I relented in the end and had to head back!

When I got to my room, Gareth was already asleep, fully clothed, in his coat and shoes, and so I pretty much did the same, crashed right out! Next thing I know I am being woken up saying that the taxi is downstairs waiting to take us to the airport! I hadn't packed and hadn't the time to change, so I shoved everything I could find into my bag and went to the airport as I was. Dressed in my beer stained shirt and trousers, smelling of goodness knows what!

All in all, it was a huge blast! I am not too sure that the local Estonian people are entirely enthusiastic about groups of Englishmen overtaking their town every weekend, in particular, one women at a refreshment kiosk told me to "go away" when I asked her for an orange juice. Quite what her disdain with me was, I will never ever know, but there appeared in a minority of people a tiredness of the English people.

The Old Town itself, as I mentioned earlier was a beautiful place, and strangely romantic if you were exploring with a partner, but I am not too sure if you would have enough to keep you occupied for long. The vast amount of bars and places to drink is adequate for a group of friends, either on a stag, or a visiting supporter of either one of the home nations placing Estonia in a qualifying game. I can image the town square filled with Scottish Football fans, which may fuel some of the locals distaste, but we were not rowdy in the streets and very respectful to the local people in passing.

Will and I have spoken since we have been back in the UK and both of us would love to go back, even if it is again for just two nights, to visit the Hollywood nightclub which was a vibrant mix of foreign tourists and young Estonians. The local population has an alleged ratio of 70/30 in favour of women, which in my opinion could quite well be true. There were a lot of women about the streets of Estonia, and many had a Scandinavian appeal to them, which was great for us group of guys, looking around here there and everywhere.

Ultimately, even if I hated it, or thought it was the worlds greatest place, it is only the opinion of one man that counted this weekend, and Will had the greatest time he could have had on his "last weekend of freedom". We all played a part at one point or another, but it was the organisation and planning of Foordy and Reaso for which we all owe a great big thank you and a massive handshake for making it all possible.

Until the next time....
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