Monthly Archives: March 2012

À la recherche du timbres perdu

Regular visitors to this blog will be aware that my life has been going through a few squalls lately, mainly connected with the necessities of dealing with the aftermath of my father’s death.  Normal service will hopefully be resumed in due course, but right now I still find myself grappling with the geography and geometry of this parent-less world.  Having already written previously about ‘Stuff’ and the problems of dealing with it, it’s pleasing to be able to report that I have, I suppose, nearly reached the end of the beginning, inasmuch as most of the hidey-holes and shelves and cupboards in this house have now been cleared of extraneous junk. 

Most of this has either gone into a skip or has been bagged up for collection by the local Air Ambulance charity.  Some has been earmarked for sale by the Partner & the Princess, who did a table-top sale in Birmingham the other weekend and made £91 selling some of the  bric-a-brac and tat from this house.  The Partner, in particular, is really a market trader at heart and very good at persuading browsers that their life would be incomplete without that cheesy figurine for a mere £2.50.  Fair play to both her and the Princess; they have taken this on as a project and the Birmingham house is now filling up with boxes of this kind of junk – hopefully only temporarily.  Of course, some stuff will be kept and it’s not always the most obviously ‘high-value’ items.  Like many elderly people, my Dad had become a hoarder of light-bulbs; both the new ‘energy-saving’ type and the old-fashioned type, and boxes of these are being stashed away for future usage in Birmingham.  As a consequence, we probably have enough bulbs to illuminate most of our street for the next 10 years.

Anyway, like I say, I think we’re now at the end of the beginning.  The Princess is coming down here today for a couple of days to help me with what remains; notably a monolithic ‘unit’ in the main hallway which is full of the ‘best’ crockery and cutlery that my Mum would drag out about once a year, a row of bookcases in my Dad’s bedroom which is full of photo albums from across the years and the kitchen – which I’ve left until last, partly because of my need to keep the house running whilst I do this work but mainly because it’s another huge reservoir of junk and clearing it was always going to be a major task.  Nonetheless, I am hopeful that most of this can be sorted and cleared ahead of Sunday when the Partner will arrive to collect both us and some more stocks of car boot/table-top stock.

Having said all that, this will still leave me with several sizeable agglomerations of specific stuff that I am hoping to sell on to someone.  For one thing, there’s my Dad’s stamp collection, about which I know little in terms of its contents or its worth.  There are albums filled with British Commemorative First Day Covers going back to the 1970’s, but I have no idea how collectible or saleable they are.  Stamp collecting has always struck me as being up there with train-spotting as the sine qua non of collecting; of all my Dad’s magpie tendencies, this was surely the most inexplicable.  He probably started on long 30’s winter evenings with no TV and no computer; it was what a boy did when he wasn’t doing homework or out playing football or cricket.  You sat at home with your Stanley Gibbons album, glueing used stamps from Bechuanaland or French Indo-China into the relevant section.  Achieving what precisely? Was it just a way of trying to establish some control over your world or a way in which English provincial schoolboys could gain a whiff of the exoticism of Empire without travelling?

In the end, Dad’s active interest in philately withered on the vine, but the reflex remained,  So, every month or whenever a new set of commemorative UK stamps were issued, the pristine envelopes would arrive from the Philatelic Bureau or wherever, the franking mark just kissing the perforated edge of the stamp so as not to ruin its appearance and the envelopes commemorating 100 Years of Indoor Plumbing or the 25th Paralympic Darts Tournament in East Kilbride, October 12th-19th  would be duly filed away in one of these albums.  Try as I might, I really cannot see my Dad poring over these albums of a November evening when there was nothing on the TV and my Mother was deep into her latest book.  In the end, I think he just didn’t know how to stop this process.  It had become ingrained and to deny this was to deny something fundamental in his character.

It’s a different issue with his books.  As I have probably made clear in previous posts, my Dad’s life was dominated by war.  Born between World Wars 1 & 2, propelled into the second War as a green teenager, he never ‘got over’ the War and remained obsessed with it (and previous/subsequent conflicts) to the end of his life.  Perhaps inevitably, he had, by the time he died, accumulated a substantial collection of about 250 books, mainly about WW1 and WW2, but with sidelines in the American Civil War, Vietnam, the Spanish Civil War and so on.  Some of them are run-of-the-mill potboilers about D-Day or the Battle of Britain, but some are quite specialised studies of wartime airfields in Norfolk, Cambridgeshire, Northamptonshire and so on.


If my Dad were watching me from wherever he might be now, I know that he would want me to ensure that these books are, shall we say, ‘fed back’ into the community of military history enthusiasts, so I have contacted a few specialist dealers I located via Google.  One company in Suffolk have told me that they’re not buying any more stock right now, whilst another guy near Stratford-on-Avon seemed initially quite interested but backed off once I had sent him digital photos of the spines of the books.  This involved sending him 16 e-mails with a photo attached to each one and took me most of an afternoon, but the problem for him is that this has been a ‘working’ collection; they’re not in mint condition, the spines and covers are, in some cases, sun-bleached or marked or torn.  The books themselves are in generally good condition and many are no doubt out of print, but dealers are seemingly more concerned with condition than they are with content.  It’s all very well to accumulate stock, but you need to be able to move it on at a profit or you’ll soon be out of business.  So, reluctantly, I am beginning to accept that my Dad’s lovingly-assembled collection of WW2 minutiae is going to end up in some charity shop in Kettering or wherever.  Still, I should know by now that one man’s stuff is another man’s trash.

Nonetheless, now that epic amounts of junk from this house have been moved on or out, it is now possible to see a little further ahead.  My days of camping out down here and bagging up stuff are coming to an end.  I now need to focus on selling or getting rid of specific items of furniture or collections of books and stamps so that the place is clear enough for the decorators to get in and start tarting it up.  The light at the end of the tunnel doesn’t seem that much nearer, but at least I have now cleared sufficient amounts of stuff to be able to see the tunnel walls.

FA Youth Cup Quarter- Final: Manchester United U-18 v Charlton Athletic U-18

For the second year running, Manchester United are through to the semi-final of the FA Youth Cup following a thrilling victory over a powerful Charlton side in front of  over 4,000 spectators shoehorned into the lower deck of the North Stand at Old Trafford.

The game was a tremendous advert for Academy football and both sides will feel that they did enough to win it.  Charlton, a noticeably bigger and more physical team than United, looked dangerous throughout and dominated the game for lengthy periods.  They also created enough opportunities to have won the tie themselves but found United’s defence in obdurate mood. 

United made 2 changes from the team that won so convincingly against Swansea in the fifth round, welcoming back skipper Luke McCulloch at centre-back and bringing in Liam Grimshaw at right back.  The most notable name on the Charlton teamsheet was undoubtedly Diego Poyet, son of current Brighton manager, Gus Poyet, who joined United’s Luke Hendrie and Jack Barmby in the ‘Sons of Famous Dads’ department.

The game began at a frantic pace and it was immediately clear why Charlton had progressed so far in this year’s tournament.  They were forceful and direct and in Tobi Sho-Silva had a front man to worry any defence.  On the other hand, Norwegian Mats Daehli was also proving a real handful, regularly weaving his way through Charlton’s massed defence as both teams gave as good as they got.

Charlton came closest to scoring early on when midfielder Callum Harriot saw his powerful drive touched on to and over the bar by United keeper Jon Sutherland.  That chance came after 11 minutes and was the last really clear-cut opening we saw until a manic period leading up to the break.

First United nearly went ahead when Jack Rudge’s instinctive shot from six yards out was beaten away by Dillon Phillips  in the Charlton goal.  The ball then broke to Sho-Silva, who ran virtually the length of the pitch before driving in a powerful shot at the near post that Sutherland kept out with his knees.

United got their noses in front after 42 minutes with a strike from a familiar source.  Jack Barmby has scored in every round of this year’s competition and he maintained that record with a powerful skidding shot from the left-hand edge of the Charlton area which skipped over the diving Phillips and into the far corner.  However, Charlton were soon back in it thanks to another piledriver from Harriot.  This time, Sutherland could only parry the ball into the air and Sho-Silva arrived first to loop a header over the United keeper and into the net.  Harriot then spurned a gilt-edged chance to put Charlton ahead, blazing a shot over the crossbar with the goal at his mercy.

Barmby and Blackett celebrate United’s first goal

Into the second half and the pace remained unrelenting, but neither side could gain a clear advantage.  16-year old  James Wilson – so impressive as a sub at Swansea – replaced Hendrie some ten minutes in and United reshuffled their pack with Daehli dropping into midfield, allowing Wilson to support Sam Byrne further forward.  Both sides created chances with Phillips beating away a Barmby shot and Nick Iannou slicing a Jordan Cousins cross just over his own bar.

Further goals looked likely and in the end it was United who got their noses in front again after 77 minutes.  This time, full-back Liam Grimshaw went on an overlapping run and curled in an almost Beckham-esque cross which the onrushing Gylliano van Velzen stooped to head home despite the close attentions of a Charlton defender.  Unbelievably, within 85 seconds, the Londoners were level again.  A United move broke down in midfield and Oliver Muldoon fed Sho-Silva, who drilled a low shot unerringly past the sprawling Sutherland and into the bottom corner of the United net.

For United’s U-18 and for coach Paul McGuinness, this was all becoming a bit like ‘Groundhog Day’ – at the weekend, the U-18’s had taken the lead three times against Wolves. only to be quickly pegged back each time.  The same pattern appeared to be occurring here as well.

With cramp taking its toll – particularly on the Charlton team – there were numerous substitutions in the final stages of the game.  One of the Charlton subs, midfielder Harry Gerard, didn’t have long to enjoy his trip to Old Trafford as he was on the receiving end of a robust challenge from Tyler Blackett after 85 minutes and received fully 5 minutes of treatment on the pitch before being stretchered off.   Blackett was booked, though the tackle was over-enthusiatic rather than malicious.  This reduced Charlton to 10 men, but despite this, they had two great opportunities to score at the death, both involving another sub and their leading scorer, Adebayo Azeez.  First Nick Iannou contrived a brilliant goal-line clearance to keep out Azeez’s close-range shot, then the sub burst free of United’s defence only to see Sutherland hurl himself to his left to deflect his goalbound shot wide of the post.

Given how close they had come, it must have been a bitter disappointment for Charlton to concede what proved to be the winning goal in the 7th of 10 minutes of time added on for Gerard’s injury, sundry outbreaks of cramp and a raft of substitutions.

This time, van Velzen, quiet for much of the game, got away down the Charlton left and fired in a low cross which the stretching James Wilson managed to divert into the net from about 10 yards out.  Glee among the United players was matched by misery among the Charlton youngsters.  They had stood toe to toe with United for 100 minutes of end-to-end action and had only just come up short.  There were tears from some of the Charlton lads at the final whistle and, not surprisingly,  both sets of players looked utterly spent.  Paul McGuinness has got it all on to get the United lads down off the ceiling in time for next   Saturday morning’s trip to Barnsley.

James Wilson – United’s matchwinner and a real prospect.  But has he done his homework?

In an eerie retread of last year’s competition, United must now face up to a two-legged semi-final against Chelsea.  Last year they lost the first leg at Stamford Bridge but won comfortably at Old Trafford and though this year’s squad aren’t quite as robust or as physically imposing as their predecessors, you wouldn’t put anything past them now.