“I’m going to Paris,” boasted the little girl at the airport.
“I’m going to Morocco.” said Tom.
They were both scrambling around on the floor in the departure lounge, occasionally pressing their grubby fingers against the window, agog at a takeoff or a landing.
“I’m going to Disneyland,” said the little girl, twirling in her Snow White dress.
“That’s a lovely dress you’ve got there,” I said to her. I have learnt now how much little girls seem to go in for the princess thing and that they usually like it if you comment on it.
“She’s got lots of others,” her father said, “One for every day of the trip, in fact.”
“Well I would like the Buzz Lightyear costume,” Tom said, “And I have got Superman and an elephant and a skeleton pirate. And lots of Disney videos and DVDs.”
I felt suddenly very guilty, as though I had booked the wrong trip. The thought of going to Disneyland Paris fills me with dread, but Tom would probably really enjoy it. I would have probably really enjoyed it, when I was four. Would I have enjoyed being dragged round a dusty North African city just because my Mum had always wanted to go there?
They called the Paris flight and Snow White skipped away, but Tom never asked if we could go too. Soon, we were sitting in the back of a cab, hurtling through orange and olive groves, eating fresh fruit given to us by our driver.
“Bonjour!” Tom had said to the Policeman at Passport Control.
“Bonjour!” smiled the Policeman, kneeling down to Tom’s height, “Parle vous Francais?” (That could be wrong; I know less French than my son.)
“Well,” Tom sighed in his little Northern accent, “I can say ‘Bonjour, j’mapelle Tom, une deaux trois, merci and au revlar.”
That lot could have served him well at Disneyland Paris.
The driver parked up and lifted Tom on to his shoulders, leading us through the cobbled warren of the medina that was just how I had expected it to be. We stopped at a stall that had slippers in every colour imaginable lining every wall and the owners gave Tom a miniature one on a keyring to keep, insisting it was a gift. The driver stopped again at a hatch in a wall that turned out to be a shop, handing Tom a milkshake and a biscuit. We turned a corner, ducked under a low pink arch and knocked on the door of our riad. Inside, the chaos outside was banished, incense burned and coloured lights lit the staircase.
“Wow! This is the best house I have ever seen,” Tom said, “Is it a palace?”
Our host made a bed on the floor for him, with a brand new fluffy blanket fresh from the pack.
We rose early the next morning and after breakfast on the roof, set off for the High Atlas Mountains. Tom had his own donkey for the trek, which pleased him. He thought he was some kind of knight or hero and kept drawing the stick from the panniers and wielding it in the air. Luckily the donkey was placid and good and his handler even more so.
“Hold your breath when we get round the next corner,” our guide said at one point, “A cow died at the side of the road.”
“Oh yes! I can see the dead cow, it looks funny and red!” shouted Tom, a grin on his face, as we all clutched our tops to our faces and gagged.
Apart from the cow carcass, the scenery was breathtaking and we stopped for mint tea then lunch with two Berber families. Tom was tired and ratty by the time our freshly baked tagines and bread were served, but all he wanted to do was play. And he did, with the Berber children, despite the language barrier.
Back in Marrakech, we visited Jardins Majorelle, haggled in the souks for Christmas presents, listened to the prayers from the mosques and children beating drums in the street, ate really good food, explored the city and drank Orangina and played Guess Who on the roof terrace. Everywhere we went, Tom gathered kisses and hair ruffles and free gifts.
As we packed our bags to leave, our brilliant host stood in the doorway of our room and Tom ran over and hugged him.
“You leave tomorrow. Tom stays here with me.”
“Well, sorry. I really like it here,” he said, “but I’ve got my school play and some other stuff like Christmas and my class party, so I think I’d better go home with me Mum.”
On the plane, he said “Thanks Mum, that was the best holiday ever.”
“I am so glad you liked it, which bit did you like?”
“The ice cream.”
I laughed, “You can eat ice cream anywhere you want.”
“I liked the ice cream but it wasn’t my favourite. My favourite was riding my donkey in the mountains and staying in a magical palace.”
We flew from Manchester with Easyjet. We stayed in the beautiful, welcoming Riad Zayane Atlas. Our guide was the wonderful Nourdine for Berber Travel Adventures. Our incredibly patient donkey handler was Mohammed. The donkey himself was nameless.