As a young child I was always tremendously excited when it was time for my father to return from one of his business trips abroad. Naturally I was pleased to see him again but my enthusiasm for his return mainly centred on the fact that he always came back bearing gifts! I was usually treated to a beautiful doll in the national dress of wherever he had been and was very proud of my growing collection. It was a firm tradition in our house that travellers made the time to buy gifts and so when I first set out on my own I felt obliged to continue the habit.
I started travelling without my parents when I was 14. This was as part of a French exchange through the school but by 16 I was travelling independently. I will never forget my first trip to France. I was only in the Loire Valley but without my parents I felt like an intrepid adventurer exploring the Amazon. In the midst of my excitement I was mindful that I must find gifts to take home but there were few options in the small village where I was based.
The Only Shop
I was forced to resort to the only shop of any note within walking distance which was a strange little place with an assortment of kitchenware, ornaments and unusual gifts. I was in there for an age trying to find something my meagre funds could finance that would pass as a gift. I eventually settled on a crystal sugar bowl which I proudly presented to Mum on my return home.
My Mother acted suitably pleased but looking back that thing was hideous! It was undoubtedly fashioned from cheap Bohemian glass and of no use at all. I do believe that I endowed by parents with a series of quite awful offerings which they must have absolutely dreaded. Not only were they forced to feign gratitude, they also had to find somewhere to put all that rubbish.
Missing the Mark
In later years I perfected my technique and clearly my taste and the presents got better. I actually managed to buy things that a sane human being might want and with a bigger budget the gifts became more and more extravagant. This must have come as a great relief to Mum and Dad but I still felt guilty. Somehow I never quite found the really special things that could rival those dolls! I wanted to recreate that feeling of wonder but of course that was never going to happen. My parents were well heeled, well-travelled adults who were largely beyond being surprised.
The Wrong Impression
I will never forget those dolls and often wonder if they played a part in inspiring my travel bug. I was a born explorer anyway but being gifted little souvenirs of the various countries certainly excited my curiosity. On the other hand my gifts to my parents probably put them off France for life! They never took a holiday there almost certainly because they associated it with cheap glassware, pointless ornaments and unsightly pottery!
Articel by Sally Stacey