More than anything, however, I wanted a copy of that black kangaroo sitting inside arose-
red map of Australia. We’d gradually worked our way through all of the lesser stamp
sin the kangaroo set
the 1/2d Orange, the 1d Red, the 6d Chestnut, the 9d Purple, the 5shilling Yellow and Grey (though our copy had a colour flaw that made it a
) and so on. After a time it was only that black and rose kangaroo left to acquire.Each time we asked Dad to buy one of the more expensive stam
ps he’d stand there
as if he were an aristocratic art dealer. Imagine that, a boilermaker, a sprinkler fitter, aformer
builder’s laborer sta
nding there like an art dealer. It was fascinating ritual to watchunfold, and one that a concerned mum increasingly liked to oversee
she tended to be the
realist when it came to the family budget. He’d
study the stamp or stamps we wanted tobuy, then he'd exchange small-talk for a few moments with the dealer. Finally, with a glint inhis eye
and looking at mum as though begging her not to overrule him
—he’d slap down
some money, the full price or a deposit. The more expensive the stamps got the more wetended to have to wait a fortnight or two for them to be paid off. Our collection became theenvy of many of the kids at school.Stamps were very important to me that time. They took me to strange new worlds, theytook me back in time, and they were fuel for a twelve year-
old’s imagination. One moment I
could be back in Yorkshire with my grandparents, the next with the Australian cricket teamin the West Indies. A kid could go anywhere with stamps. Our father understood this flightof the imagination and we loved him for it.The day came when Dad agreed to put the £2 Black and Rose kangaroo on lay by.Every time we went into the shop to make a payment, Andy and I would ask to see it. Westared at it silently for a while with a sense of awe
willing it home to our collection. It was,of course, a symbol of something I only barely understood. To me it seemed to be ancient,infinitely delicate and fine
and beautiful in a rugged sort of way. Looking back, it probablyrepresented the mystery, the vastness, the harshness even of our strange new homelandand the creatures that inhabited it. The stamp introduced me to the totem creature'kangaroo'. Soon, ver
y soon, we’d be able to take it
home.We never did get to take that black kangaroo sitting inside a rose-red map of Australiahome. Dad was half way through the payments when the family finances collapsed. Hecame home from work as a pipe fitter one night in agony. Mum bought some deep heat andgave him a massage. As she worked her fingers into his shoulder muscles he just about
jumped through the roof, ‘It’s very tender,’ mum said thoughtfully.
The company doctor didn’t think it was that bad, ‘Have a few days off, take thesepainkillers and you’ll be back at work in
Back at work in no time...
One week later, still sore and by now dosed up on painkillers, Dad did go back to work. Asrequested he carried huge pipes about above his head all day long. He also had to balancethem on his shoulders whilst fellow workers welded them into place or tied them up withsteel wires.
‘A bloke got killed last week ... no safety helmet ... walked underneath two blokes
who were tying stuff up ...
... from 100 ft ... just like that, dead...’ Mum would fl