x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Travelling with Kids: a nine-year-old's delight in tourist tat

From mango-wood elephants to bags of beach pebbles, my son Calvin can't get his hands on enough tacky souvenirs.

Calvin loves tourist tat. Set my nine-year-old loose in Goa's Anjuna night bazaar or Bangkok's weekend market and off he goes in search of cheap trinkets, happy as a clam, unmindful of his mother in hot pursuit in an attempt to stop him from spending all his hard-earned pocket money on an overpriced mango-wood elephant or a bag of beach pebbles or a monkey head carved from a coconut.

But I haven't been very successful, and some of his recent purchases include a garish snowglobe featuring the Singapore Flyer, a mouldy book full of ancient stamps and a grubby drum from Goa, a 3-D puzzle of Kuala Lumpur's Petronas Towers, a Thai demon puppet that comes to life when its stiff paper limbs are worked up and down, a hideous hat bought in Siem Reap that he insists on wearing when we're at the beach (but in which he also manages to look extremely suave), and - his favourite possessions by far - six large, grimy peacock feathers from a very persuasive vendor on a Mumbai street.

On every trip, he asks the usual question: "Can I buy a little something when we go shopping in the market? Please?"

"Of course," I sigh, and inevitably, he finds something to bring home that disgusts me as much as it delights him.

He also insists on shelling out for a travel guide and map the minute we arrive in a new city. This, I must admit, comes in quite handy, especially when we've forgotten the address of a highly recommended but little-known local restaurant or when we're looking for a 24-hour pharmacy in the dead of the night because one of us (usually me) has succumbed to food poisoning.

While guide books and maps are a welcome addition to our home library, Calvin's rapidly growing collection of travel souvenirs is getting to be a bit of a headache, especially since his room is littered with them - they clutter his desk, cover the walls, decorate his loft bed. Sometimes, as in the case of the terrifying demon puppet, I even find them stapled to the curtains.

But despite the fact that my dusting woes increase with every new purchase, I can't begrudge him his little treasures, because they all have a different story to tell, each item inextricably bound to our collective travel experiences as a family. And as I go about straightening his room, my mind is immediately flooded with recollections of various trips and holidays we've been on over the years - whether good, bad or just plain silly.

Yes, memories truly are made of this, even if that horrible, leering puppet is the first thing that greets me when I walk into his room every morning.