| 14°C Dublin


CERTAIN moments in life make you suddenly super-aware of the here and now, alive in a slow-motion Matrix millisecond and wondering, "How did I get here?" and, "What the hell happens next?"

This is one of those moments, I decide, as I find myself tethered to a bucking donkey while a 4ft, blindfolded cross-dresser comes perilously close to removing my teeth with a hockey stick they're swinging in a way that could only be considered homicidal.

A crowd of children nearby shriek deafeningly and make as if to scatter in all directions as the deranged-looking animal at the end of my rope almost does a crazy cartwheel.


"Whose idea was this again?" I hear myself say then I wince as the midget with the pink wig does a full 360 and narrowly misses taking out our kitchen window.

As it happens, the 'cross-dressing' was my daughter's idea, the donkey pinata suspended by a rope from the spare-bedroom window was my wife's. And in the pantheon of 11th birthday parties, despite the imminent risk of damage or serious injury, this one is, I suspect, probably no more 'lively' than most.

Only hours earlier we'd been standing in the November gloom surveying our overgrown wreck of a garden.

"We can't allow children out here," I'd said, equally impressed and horrified at the extent to which our dog had been defiling the lawn. "Well, we can't do the pinata indoors," said my wife, drawing a series of menacing arcs in the air with the broom, discarding this in favour of a racquet, and finally settling on a hockey stick. "These kids all have gum shields, right?" I said, flinching as she made a final jab in my direction.

So we set about preparing the back garden. "A family project," declared my wife, meaning, as always, she does all the work as I lob helpful suggestions from a safe distance and the boys stand around amid piles of clippings, hands in pockets, mouths hanging open.

Hours later, our party girl appears with a huge fake moustache and a pillow up her hoodie, looking worryingly like Cheech Marin. The first guest arrives soon after, a boy with flamboyant pink hair, and soon the dining room is milling with moustache-wearing girls and boys in wigs, whooping it up like some bizarre children's version of a Fellini film.


I look at the time forlornly, one fist filled with sweets lodged deep inside a paper donkey's bottom. I wonder quietly if life could get more surreal.

That's when my wife shoos everyone out back and we whip the pinata around from what seems safely-out-of-hockey-stick reach and the most violent game of pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey ever ensues.

It seems it might go on forever, too, until a quiet little girl whose mother runs the local Chinese takeaway steps forward and with a single awe- inducing overhead slash cut, entirely decapitates the donkey, showering everyone with shattered toffees and lollipops. It's carnage.

Hours after the last hyperactive guest leaves, we're still peeling toffees off the living room walls, ears ringing.

"That was probably our last children's party," says my wife, meaning next year our youngest will be 12. I know what she means but give her a slack-jawed, shell-shocked expression. "Promise?" I say.