The Golden Banana


Or how to cope with a ship-load of pirates

I was dreading my son turning four. It wasn't the fearsome fours replacing the terrible twos and the troublesome threes that bothered me. It was the thought of that party. That dreaded party. For the first time, Phillip and I would have sole responsibility for a small hoard of three and four year olds - for two hours.

One thing I'd learnt the previous year was that the more organised I was beforehand, and the more I kept them busy going from one thing to another, the easier it was likely to be. I also like the idea of having a theme, and then getting my son to help as much as possible with the preparations. Since he and his best friend had been going through a phase of playing pirates, it seemed like a good idea to have a pirate party.

So we issued invitations to a party aboard the 'Golden Banana' (Matthew's choice), and sent them out with black eye patches. We made a giant pirate flag, and Matthew's Dad cut swords and cutlasses and an anchor out of old cardboard boxes and stuck them to the wall. A small catalogue called 'Party Pieces' supplied skull and crossbones balloons, pirate party cups, treasure boxes to use as party bags, and stickers to go into them.

Then Matthew helped me to cut out hats from black card, and skulls and cross bones. We decided that the first thing that the guests would do when they arrived was to make their own hats by gluing the skull and crossbones to the black templates. Then this got expanded, and we ended up making telescopes and flags as well. Actually this is one point when we could definitely have done with more adult help, because it proved so popular that it kept both of us fully occupied so that there wasn't enough time to prepare for the next phase.

We put some new twists on old games. We made a child-sized picture of a pirate with a cut-out head and an outline of Matthew which he painted in himself, and played 'Pin the Parrot on the Pirate's shoulder'. We cut gold an silver coins out of card and had a treasure hunt. And we stuck pictures of a desert island to cardboard, scattered them round the floor, and played 'Shipwreck'. While the music played, the children had to pretend to wade through the water, but when it stopped, we shouted 'shipwreck!' and they all had to jump onto an island. (For this age, there was really no need to eliminate any one, and we kept the number of islands the same throughout.)

Since all four-year olds seem to adore story-time, it seemed like a good way to quieten everyone down before tea. So for weeks before hand I scoured the library for pirate stories that were short enough and easy enough to read to a big audience. And while Phillip finished laying out the tea I read 'The Trouble with Uncle' and 'Maggie the Pirate Queen'.

For tea we had boat sandwiches (bridge rolls and mini-hovises with paper sails stuck on with cocktail sticks), pirate necklaces made of pretzels, popcorn and hulahoops, and lots of things cannon-ball shapes, like cheesy footballs and mini tomatoes. We should have had a treasure chest for dessert - jelly filled with fruit, made in a loaf tin - except the jelly stubbornly refused to set, even though I had made it first thing in the morning. And wonderfully talented friend made a cake that was a pirate ship in full sail, with candles for cannon. (If you have a friend like that, cultivate them: they're invaluable.)

Finally, I adapted a Swedish idea of 'fishing' for party bags, and used one of the anchors that had been cut out to haul up the treasure boxes from the sea bed. (This was another point where things became a bit of a scrum and more adult help would have been handy.)

I had plenty of help with the ideas. 'The Great Pirate Activity Book' (Deri Robbins, ISBN: 1856975789) from the library was invaluable, as was 'Successful Children's Parties' (Julia Goodwin, ISBN: 0706374304 - very good both on themes and on targeting ideas to different age groups). Having (just about) survived the experience, the best advice I can give anyone else planning a party is - organise, plan, and leave the little darlings as little time as possible to turn into little horrors.

Party Pieces is a UK catalogue, now available at . I am informed by them that they will send orders overseas - the usual procedure is to phone up one day with the order, and phone up again the next to find out the cost of postage and packing. The address is Party Pieces, Childs Court Farm, Ashampstead Common, Berkshire RG8 8QT, UK . Their telephone number is +44 (0)1635 201844 and their fax is +44 (0)1635 201911. Their phones are manned Mon-Fri 0830-1800 GMT (which is five hours ahead of EST), and Saturday 0900-1200.