A bit of shaggy rope, an old tyre, a few pieces of oddly shaped wood slapped with some hand-me-down paint and our little fishermunchkins were ready to sail to the isles of ‘Turning 4’.
There was a certain Saturday serenity that settled over our sea garden when the fishermunchkins stepped into the Beastly Barge with their bamboo fishing rods. It was as if the sea really was whispering to them, gently dabbing at the sides of the barge and flicking the brightly painted fish up from its treasure chest of magic below. The fishermunchkins leaned over the sides to wander their eyes over the scatterings of fish beyond – rainbow lipped cod, snappy toadfish, a few angelfish with a scattering of polka-dot measles and the odd swollen and grumpy-looking pufferfish. After carefully plucking each specimen from the sea garden by its glinting magnetic eye, the fishermunchkins inspected their fishy prize with wide happy faces and stowed it away into their trusty bucket.
We thought it would rain, and so draped long lines of clear sky plastic above the sea garden, which happened to have the effect of a deeply humid atmosphere, as if we really were being lulled by the scent of salty heady air and the sound of hopeful seagulls.
Once the call of the sea had sirened its last song to the barge, the children swapped their poles for fins and allowed their inner fishy wilderness to swim free in a game of sharks. The fins were easy enough to make, and very effective – all that was needed was a bit of grey fleece (bought cheaply from cut-off rolls) and some pieces of stiff cardboard inserted to hold them in ideal hunting position on each fishermunchkin’s back. We played hide the shark, chase the shark and simply gnash about like a shark, exactly what four-year-old boys and girls seem to excel at. When it became apparent that a bait ball was imminent, we changed tune and brought out the old fiddle for a bit of sea-shanty ‘pass-the-parcel’ mellow time.
There’s something beautifully nostalgic about a pass-the-parcel played to the songs of a fiddle versus pre-recorded tunes. Was it the watchful eyes of the fishermunchkins on Sailor Skip’s bow as he cheekily slowed his Hornpipe as if to almost stop, only to gather full speed again with a piratey wink? Or was it his jaunty Drunken Sailor that rocked us into a dream of memories of parties long gone? As a child growing up in the 80s, Sailor Skip would always bring out his fiddle, piccolo or flute (and I even recall him banging at a banjo on one mad rainy-day), whipping our parcel-passing or statue-posing into hypnotic happiness: It seemed right to have him weave his magic again, thirty years on, for his grandson.
We chose to only hold a small party for our little fishermunckin, and I’m glad we did. The spell of the sea-infused garden waved its gentle wash over all of his friends until it was time to gather their rods, tuck in their fins and head to shore, armed with little buckets of fish and magical memories.
Keep it on a shoestring tips: