The Shock Of The Old


The passing of Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, The Queen Mother, has stirred up mixed emotions in me. I have finally had to accept that she has been a figment in my life for well over fifty years, and that her death should probably mark the final end of my youth. As a young boy I collected all kinds of things including comics, coins, bird’s eggs, dinky racing cars, conkers, hilarious school reports, marbles, cigarette cards and packets, and stamps.

The stamps continued to keep me in touch with people and places, and in fact awoke an interest in geography in me. The stamps which fascinated me the most were the pictorial issues. I particularly liked those from The Seychelles and Mauritius, which were miniature idyllic local fishing scenes and such, and those from Nyasaland with different colours of the same leopard on the same idealized mountain slope denoting different values. I also loved the ones from Swaziland with the tribal shield, and the views on the New Zealand stamps. There was a big world out there, and I could escape into it by just opening a book. There were stamps from other countries, and different exotic places, but some of these were too garish for my taste, and quite early on I decided to collect only Empire and Commonwealth stamps.

I find that it’s always best to specialise with something like that because it’s easier to maintain an atmosphere in a collection by so doing. All of these stamps of course had the King’s head in the top corner, so that a consciousness and an icon of the King was maintained in my life from a very early age. This was normal, and I didn’t think that much about it until I was about fifteen. I had remembered the King as a brave man from about the age of four. My consciousness of him grew in the first years after The Second World War. It was obvious that he was a frail kind of a man who seemed to be painfully shy. Everybody knows about his stutter, and that he was a diffident kind of person, but to experience him as a weekly event in newsreel coverage fostered an admiration in me which has never left me. He could have been anybody, but more importantly, a lot of people saw themselves in him. He was never showy, and always perfectly reserved. In this I suspect that people of my age and older have had the best possible experience of kingship in action. To have had such an extraordinarily constant man as head of state was an eye-opener and a blessing.

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