Wednesday, March 16, 2005

the butterfly collector

I remember when I was at junior school my best friend's birthday was exactly one week before mine. David Hampson. I was in awe of him. He was my hero. Once he told me that his Dad had explained the solar system to him, including the asteroid belt and the possibility of planets beyond Pluto. I said 'does your Dad know everything?'. David looked at me, thought for a few seconds, then said 'not far off'. I was impressed.

Anyway, one year I asked him what he'd got for his birthday and he answered 'a stamp collectors outfit'. 'Wow!' I thought. How cool is that. I had an image of a smart jacket with flashy epaulettes, trousers with a stripe running down each side, a rakish hat perhaps a little like the little gendarme's from the Pink Panther cartoon, and the possibility of maybe a little machine on a leather strap.

'Mum, David Hampson's got a stamp collector's outfit!'

I wanted one.

I asked for one for my birthday.

On the big day I got a plastic envelope. Inside it was a sort of exercise book with little empty squares printed one each page, a tiny plastic tray, some tweezers, a packet of odd greaseproof paper stickers and a dozen crappy used stamps from places I'd never heard of like Magyar and Hellas. I'd love to say that they opened up a magical world of far off places, animals, plants and undiscovered races, but the truth was less romantic than that. Yes, some were pretty, but I couldn't use them to write to Grandma...

...and definitely no hat.