Bye bye tailless donkeys and musical chairs, hello bespoke party packages that sell experiences far beyond the traditional happenings in the local church hall. The ante has been upped in recent years with the range of activity on offer for kids' birthday parties. ‘In my day’ the options were stark, involving mainstays such as jelly, cake, pass the parcel, the bumps and birthday beats. Thankfully the bumps have now given way to party bags as a finale, thanks to the advent of 'elf and safety.

Nowadays parents, and I include myself in that number, aim to provide a dual purpose. Firstly, to give their kids a memorable time on their birthdays (and take advantage of numerous photo opportunities) and secondly to outdo the Smiths down the road who, the flash buggers, took little Johnny and 82 friends to Matilda before meeting the cast backstage, prior to resting up in a nearby five-star restaurant before being escorted home in one of those garish white stretch limos.

In recent years we have attempted the stay at home party (somehow ludicrously expensive), sleepovers, movie nights with eight girls taking over the front room and throwing insults at any males (me) who dare to venture into the room despite being laden with nachos, cans of Diet Coke and bowls of Haribo tangtastics. We have had art parties (which is less labour intensive for me as my wife is an art teacher). Usually I am entrusted with the pass the parcel (bad idea) and cinema parties (the trick is in choosing the right film, and I didn’t) and, my favourite thus far: the safari. This was a military operation, taking 12 young girls to Whipsnade in a minibus borrowed from a previous employer. Sitting in the driver’s seat in drizzle as kids scream in close proximity to my bad ear as a monkey clambered onto the sunroof was joyful in part, with the euphoria short lived when two of them wet themselves, one trod in hyaena faeces and another aimed to bolt for freedom in the lion enclosure. I then had to fib furiously the next day when my boss asked what the animal marks across the windscreen and roof were from. He didn’t believe the safari park housed ‘mountain goats’ with a penchant for a Ford Transit minibus.

The truth is, us parents must soak up every second and enjoy them while we can. In a few years’ time, it will be uncool to have dad at the party as they get ready to go and celebrate at Batchwood with the rest of the bright young thangs, driving licences in hand whilst dressed inappropriately for a harsh British winter.

Today, it is my daughter's 11th birthday and, running out of ideas, we have decided to take her and her friends roller skating despite none of them being able to roller skate. Loaded like a Nepalese packhorse I lugged a huge M&M birthday cake, drinks, food and a first aid kit as fellow parents gleefully dumped their offspring at the leisure centre door before enjoying a couple of hours shopping in the commercial mecca that is Welwyn Garden City. There were laughs, tears, a sprained wrist and presents that I less than stealthily hid in the boot before peeping out the window every five minutes to check the local scallies haven’t taken a shine to them through the MG windows.

As for next year, I have agreed to her first paintballing experience which could be a disaster. My last sojourn a decade ago culminated in a bruised nipple whilst a compatriot suffered a twisted testicle after the paintball didn’t explode. His pain was intensified with five people shooting him in the bum and back as he pleaded for mercy and an ice pack through high pitched squeals

Classmate parties in recent times have raised the bar, including doughnut rings, panic rooms, Go Ape and laser mazes. The one thing I have learnt though is, it’s not the money you spend but the time you invest in making it as enjoyable as possible. No one remembers the product or the vehicle, but the people and the laughs. I intend to make the most out of the time I have left before my kids become young adults and take their own steps to providing birthday enjoyment. For now though I am going to tubigrip myself up after an unfortunate incident earlier involving a roller skate and some stairs. Thankfully I’ve now got a year to heal before getting hunted down in a local wood by anti-authoritarian pre-teens aiming a gun at parts of my anatomy that only an unexploded paintball can reach.

  • Brett Ellis is a teacher who lives in London Colney