Philately, and my part in its demise as a popular and absorbing childhood hobby.

Philately, I was once a philateler, when I was a kid, I collected stamps – what did you think I meant ?

Its a crap hobby because when I was a kid everyone did it and there’s no fun in having a hobby that everyone else does, two strange kids sat together in a room, “What do you do as a hobby ?” “I collect stamps”, “Yeah so do I”, see how distinctly lacking in fun that conversation is, how much better would it be if it were conducted thus, “What do you do as a hobby ?”, “I collect live alligators and sort them according to size and ferocity, see how I have very few fingers left”.

The thing about collecting stamps is that I can imagine it being a very fulfilling hobby as a child in Edwardian times for back in those halcyon pre first world war days a letter that came from abroad must have been akin to owning moon rock, “Aloisius has a stamp from France!”, “Really, from France, well blow me down with a feather, how on earth did such a thing come into his possession ?”, “Someone sent him a letter from France of course you dumbfook”.

And thats how it would have worked in those days, you would have collected stamps from the letters that arrived at your house although to be honest once you’d collected your first penny black there would be long periods of wait until someone went abroad to send you a letter, but still, the wait would have made it all worthwhile when you received your first “Centime Noir” and showed off to all the kids in your class.

And then of course there was the first world war and the kid turns up at school with a letter from his brother who’s in the army in France, “Hey look chums, I have a stamp from France on this here letter”, “Oh wow, look, a stamp from France, whats in the letter?”, “Oh I don’t know, lets steam the stamp off though”, “Aloisius, I think you should read this, it says your brothers dead”.

But by the time the 1960s came around stamp collecting was big business and no longer did the likes of I have to wait around for various tiresome relatives to send me letters from abroad for as a kid in the 1960s you could just go out and buy your stamp collection from stamp collecting shops, indeed you could buy the most impressive stamp collection via mail order adverts in the back of comics – and thats what I did.

Two shillings of your pocket money would buy you a whole packet full of foreign stamps, stamps from countries that you’d never heard of – but where was the fun in that, within three or four months of spending your entire pocket money on packets of stamps from countries you’d never heard of you had a stamp collection into the thousands, huge tomes of stamp books and every week brought more to the door, packets full of the bloody things all requiring self adhesive stamp hinges and arranging by colour, size, country or some random method of filing them away called “Just stick the fookin things anywhere and lets go play football”, which is the one that I subscribed to.

Theres no fun in a kids hobby if you can just go out and buy the results, indeed I finally resorted to sticking Green Shield Stamps into my stamp books and trying to convince fellow philatelists that they were genuine postal currency in Bongoland, Africa, with some success I must admit, and no end of swaps too.

The problem with buying packets of stamps from countries that you’d never heard of  is that you could never be sure that they were from genuine countries, indeed I suspected at the time and am convinced now that somewhere on the south coast of England, for all of the stamp supplier addresses were on the south coast of England, there existed a printing works who’s sole output was dedicated to inventing “Stamps of the World” and making up designs for gullible kids to collect and swap.

I mean, who on earth would actually publish a triangular stamp ?
What country’s post office would think that a triangular stamp would be a good idea ?

And yet we collected triangular stamps as if they were the pinnacle of our stamp collecting careers – you can just imagine the post master receiving his new stock of triangular stamps, “I can’t tear these ones off properly” he’d complain, “square ones are fine, oblong ones are fine, you only have two directions to tear in but triangular ones have three and none of the buggers on the sheet line up with each other, what a pain in the arse”

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