Portillo brought back memories of stamp collecting
I WAS watching Michael Portillo on his choo choo train on BBC2 last week, when it came to me.
Actually I wasn’t particularly watching the television (in fact I was looking at shirts on eBay) and I had only half an ear for what the former politician was saying, when all of a sudden I heard him mention the Yorkshire town of Goole.
Goole.. Eastrington Goole . . .
Yes! I was 13 again, and I was carefully writing those words on an envelope. It was terribly important that it got to its destination; otherwise I would be owing a whole lot of money.
Now in a reverie, I came out of eBay and tapped "Eastrington Goole" into Google — and then to make the search as accurate as possible, I added "stamps".
After all these years, the very advert that had bewitched me, here it was on a page in an old Look & Learn magazine. It was like finding a much-loved childhood Hornby railway carriage in the back of a cupboard, or happening upon my Ardgay wolf cubs stripy cap in a forgotten drawer.
"This old Penny Red and approx 500 stamps for only 1/-.
"Here is a super bargain that no collector can afford to miss! Send only 1/- today for this guaranteed and unsorted collection of about 500 stamps, often containing scarce and unusual stamps, plus this Great Britain 1d Red issued 100 years ago. You may not get one of the stamps illustrated, as they are guaranteed unsorted. The catalogue value of each lot is at least 50/-, just think — 40 stamps for 1d."
"We guarantee complete satisfaction or your money will be refunded. This very valuable offer must be limited to one packet per applicant and is to introduce our Latest Approval Books . . .
"Philatelic Services (Dept. C.N.5), Eastrington, Goole, Yorkshire."
One shilling eh. One shilling (5p in today’s money) — four empty lemonade bottles taken back to the wine shop in Castle Brae at three old pennies each, that made 12 pennies, which made one shilling! (I did a brisk trade in empty bottles; I used to wheel them into Tain in an old pram). Very shortly my precious shilling, together with the 3d stamp that Philatelic Services (Dept. C.N.5) had asked for, was on its way to Eastrington, Goole.
Agog with anticipation I awaited the return package.
Well! A real Penny Red! Just the same as a Penny Black (which is worth thousands of pounds) except that it was red. And slightly creased and missing part of a corner. Nevertheless it was a Penny Red and it went right at the top of the United Kingdom page of my stamp album.
500 stamps — what wealth!
I tipped them onto the table and sorted them out.
Hmm, an awful lot of what looked like Chinese ones, and made out of the flimsiest paper that you ever saw. I tried looking them up in an old Stanley Gibbons stamp catalogue that my aunt had given me, but no, these depictions of Mao Tse-tung, jolly looking power stations, and bronzed chaps driving tractors, weren’t in the catalogue. Still I stuck them in my album; and when the China page was full, I simply moved onto the Japan page. Seemed logical after all.
But this is to digress; because apart from the thrill of the Penny Red, the real meat and drink of the business was a pale yellow folder almost exactly the same size and shape as a cheque book. Inside it, oh joy, were the famous "Approvals".
These were much more serious stamps; and there was a number of pages of them, all carefully attached in the book by means of proper stamp hinges, that were there for you to buy should you feel the inclination.
Below each stamp was the price — anything from perhaps a few pennies to a bob or two (a bob was a shilling) — and the idea was that once you had chosen what you wanted, you carefully removed the stamps in question and returned the yellow cheque book together with a postal order covering the cost of what you had bought.
In the case of my very first transaction it was an Edward VII 2d "Tyrian plum" and three colourful Hungarian "Magyar Posta" stamps with strange fish on them.
Empty bottles, to pennies, to shillings, to a postal order — and my Michael Portillo-inspired memory of carefully (tongue out with concentration) addressing the envelope to Eastrington, Goole.
I sighed with relief when the "Latest Approval Book" was safely on its way. Stamp collecting was the greatest fun, but now it was time to devote some time to the products of Airfix and Britifix 77 "adhesive cement".
Actually my philatelic purchases had left me rather short; but I knew that in a few days I would have my next pocket money and soon everything would be all right again on the model tank and battleship front.
And then another fat envelope from Eastrington, Goole landed on the front mat . . .
To be continued next week.