I’m going to talk about Christmas stamps. Eventually. I’ll share some imagery of various versions as we get there.
My father’s life was a journey of sorts. As a teen, in the Army at the end of WW2 he abhorred petty rules and authority generally even if he joined willingly to be part of the ‘show’. His antipathy to the Government at the end of the war – not Churchill per se, but the Tories he led – was deep rooted. By the time I was old enough to discern his political instincts, he was about as liberal as Nigel ‘Mine’s Pint and Send Them Home’ Farage. He reach peak reactionary, I’d guess around the Falklands conflict of the mid 1980s when his general suspicion of M. Thatcher had morphed into an abiding respect. He liked her principles, her values and her inclination to traditions rather than novelty. I’m pleased to say that thereafter the edges became softer, the opinions more considered if no less strident and empathy for the perils of his fellow man more obvious.
That’s not to say he didn’t enjoy the benefits of progress, even if, for him a revolution only brought you back to where you started. Mind you, progress in the guise of technological advancement could leave him splenetic with barely suppressed frustration.
‘This bloody thing hates me, Barbs,’ he would complain to my mother when he discovered his latest attempt to record the rugby on the VHS player had instead left him to enjoy a Malcolm Muggeridge special on the verrucas that shaped Christianity. The epitome of this antipathy was his relationship to motor cars, with each of which he had a fractious and tendentious relationship. He would insert the key in the relevant aperture, pull out the choke, grip the starter and pray; he wasn’t especially religious and, in the case of cars, it wasn’t a prayer to a benign and loving god that he pledged allegiance every morning, but to the most egregious kind of capricious sociopath who had ever been allotted a small rocky outcrop on Olympus from which to ply His trade. On the good days the car started and stayed started until he reached work; on bad, he could be seen through the net curtains in the dining room window, gripping his pipe in his teeth as he plotted revenge on this particular deity, if ever they bumped into each other in the public bar of the Harp and Hymnal or whatever passed for a watering hole in his allotted afterlife.
This urge to stick to what he knew, keep it simple and avoid frills manifested itself in his taste in stamps. He was opinionated on the subject in ways most might find faintly ludicrous. To this day I can hear him engage in one of his favourite past-times: the anticipatory moan. This small pleasure is found in the toolbox of the collector of passive-aggressive behaviours. There is something that is about to happen/be revealed/announced. It is being kept secret save for some teasers. That’s all Dad needed to nestle onto his launch pad and engage the countdown. It could be pretty much anything. The new Doctor Who, recently revealed would have been one such…
‘It’ll be a woman… (there has been a woman, dad)’
‘Or foreign though we had that Scottish twit… (and Welsh)’
‘I’ll bet they want a ginger after that bloody Royal… ‘
‘I don’t know what was wrong with William Hartnell…’
In the case of stamps, it was the designer David Gentleman who set Dad ready to stun. In truth there were some of Gentleman’s images he didn’t mind, but the one that started his dislike was the Battle of Britain stamp that came out in 1965 on the 25th Anniversary. It laid out the groundwork for a life of bafflement and pseudo despair.
But, and here we come to the point, he never enjoyed the Christmas Stamp. That disdain started with the very first in 1966. Here it is.
As you can see it comprises some children’s drawings. Dad had nothing against children’s drawings or, indeed, was his antagonistic to the notion that Christmas, for those of no especial religious bent, is for children. But things have their place, or otherwise they will fall apart and we will end up with a society in which the News is no longer at Ten, you have to explain what sort of milk you want with you tea and men stop wearing ties to work (he’d really not cope with the world today).
For some time, I assumed he disliked these naif images for the lack of skill shown in their design. However, I think he was in fact expressing his political prejudices; in 1966 the Postmaster General, the man (of course it had to be a man) in charge of the issuance of stamps was one Tony Benn. To say Benn epitomised the character of the Labour Government of the time would both true and enough of a reason for Dad to instinctively hate the stamps. Looking back, it does seem a bit unfair on children who drew these images that they should get caught up in this small class war being fought between Dad and all things socialist.
Mind you, Benn wasn’t the worst, in Dad’s eyes; that mantle fell to be worn by Roy Jenkins the Chancellor who in 1967 devalued the pound. When the soap we were watching was interrupted with the news Dad sat bolt upright and began a diatribe against the Wilson government in general and Jenkins in particular for destroying all we held dear. Condoning the issue of a non traditional stamp was symptomatic of this awful malaise