The pirate’s hat

It had been another busy morning.

The usual wrangling over breakfast, negotiations over getting dressed and bargaining over leaving the house.

We’d ended up at the local gymnastics club where young children are allowed to play every morning in the summer holidays.

The kids are let loose and run wild in the sports hall, sort of like the plot of Lord of the Flies condensed into an hour and a half.

My son likes to chase me and mummy around the gym until we’re cornered in the pit. Then he beats us repeatedly over the head with a giant foam stick. (Foam party?)

We left sweatier and dustier than we arrived and headed to a local cafe which has a play area full of cars that kids can sit in.

My son and nephew soon commandeered two of the brightly coloured vehicles and proceeded to ram other less fortunate children while us grown-ups supped cappuccinos and nibbled on sausage rolls.

By the time we arrived home mummy and I were already spent. Just as we were having our mid-afternoon slump our boy was getting his second wind.

Randomly he decided he wanted to wear his pirate costume.

I knew straightaway that this was trouble.

I tried to distract him but his decision was fixed.

I dug out the red and blue trousers and shirt we’d bought for him a couple of Halloweens back. The costume was a little small now but still serviceable.

I dressed him and waited.

I knew the question was coming, as inevitable as Tuesday following Monday.

‘Daddy, where’s the hat?’

There we go.

‘Son, we’ve discussed this before, remember? The hat is lost. I’ve looked for it and I can’t find it. Do you understand?’

‘Just get it for me daddy.’

Clearly he didn’t understand.

The pirate hat has been missing for years. I think he wore it only once. The black fabric and skull and crossbones were a far distant memory.

Every couple of months, from somewhere in the depths of his brain, my son will remember the pirate costume which I have buried at the back of his wardrobe.

And then we have a big row about the hat.

His little mind just can’t comprehend that the object he desires cannot always be immediately produced to meet his favour.

And here we are again.

‘Daddy, I want the hat!’ his little eyes moist now.

I begin to search through boxes of toys that I’ve emptied and refilled, emptied and refilled, many times. I already know it’s not there.

‘I don’t know where it is son.’

He weeps softly for a short time. In his pirate costume.


‘Daddy, is there something else we can use as a pirate hat?’

I’m impressed, an attempt to meet me in the middle. A compromise.

I produce various hats and caps but he rejects them all as too conventional. He’s demanding I use my imagination.

‘Use something else as a hat daddy!’

Use something else as a hat! What does that even mean?

I place a cauliflower on his head. He’s interested for a moment.

But then it rolls off.

My usual tactic here is distraction

Put the telly on. Pull out another toy. Something to make him forget the pirate hat.

I start to look around for a suitable diversion.

Then a little voice in my head says something.

‘Why don’t you make a pirate’s hat?’

I chortle to myself. The audacity of it.

But it keeps gnawing away, like a rat at a rope.

‘Why don’t you make a pirate’s hat?’

Make a pirate hat? Could it really be done?

At this point I should probably give some context.

I can’t make things.

When it comes to anything remotely handy – DIY, construction, assembly, repairing, hanging – I’m utterly lost.

I’m good at the bit of looking at a problem and scratching my head. But there the talent ends.

Whatever little bit of skill I have been given with words and communication has been reverse compensated ten times over with the complete absence of any ability to use my hands in a useful task.

I just can’t make things.

Also, I lack common sense in this area.

Once, when I was at school, I gave myself a nasty burn on the hand by inexplicably grabbing a metal toasting fork while the teacher was blasting it with a welding gun.

‘You damned fool!’ he roared at me as he swiped my sizzling hand away from the glowing red metal.

That was actually one of the kinder things he ever said to me.

But this was just a pirate hat. I remember making them out of newspaper as a child.

It’ll be a giggle and something I can do with my son, I thought.

To hell with it.

‘Son, shall we make a pirate hat together?’

He’s immediately enthusiastic, but holds just a little back. As if he can’t quite believe it. Or fears I’m going to do something which leads me to a breakdown.

Soon I have newspaper all over the floor and we’re folding, taping and cutting merrily.

My first attempt resembles nothing.

The second is clearly a paper aeroplane.

A badly made paper aeroplane.

By the third go I’ve worked out the basic technique.

We make something which resembles a hat.

Except it’s huge.

Big enough to serve as a pair of Giant Haystacks’ underpants.

My son’s head disappears completely when we try it on.

But we’re on the correct route.

Another couple of attempts and we have a hat which stays on his little head.

He’s beyond excited at the process of creation. And his part in it.

And now he wants to go further.

‘Daddy, let’s paint it!’

I suggest black, but he’s set on blue with gold glitter. Unconventional for a pirate.

I hate paint. It always makes a mess, no matter how careful I try to be.

However, my hatred of it is comfortably exceeded by my feelings towards glitter.

That stuff ends up everywhere I don’t want it.

On my face. In my ears.

Between my toes.

In my bum crack.

There is no force on this earth that can contain the malevolence of glitter.

We don’t so much paint the hat as lob large volumes of blue liquid in its rough direction, hoping some stick.

My desperate pleas to go easy with the glitter are blithely ignored.

And then it’s finished.

I step back and take a look.

Just to see what we’ve done.

It’s awful.

Completely awful.

Mind-rottingly awful.

If I was religious I would say it’s the pirate hat that spewed from Satan’s bottom.

It’s the pirate’s hat that’s been through the digestive system of a gnu.

A very ill gnu.

In fact it looks more like a wizard’s hat than a pirate’s.

Some poor unfortunate drunk wizard who’s stopped for a leak in a field on the way home from the tavern and fell head-first into a sheugh.

No. It ain’t pretty.

But I’m strangely happy with it.

And my son is thrilled.

Of course he can’t wait until it dries properly and we end up with blue paint and gold glitter all over the bed clothes.

And then just as sudden, he grows bored with it.

Casting it aside, he goes off to play Buckaroo.

But that’s ok.

Of course it was rewarding to make this hat with my son.

The sense that we were doing something together, like a team.

But the greater satisfaction is that I chose the more challenging path.

I didn’t follow the easy option of just plonking him down in front of the TV.

We had a go.

Who cares that it turned out shit?

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