Daily Archives: March 2, 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.