I think I can guarantee that if ever you have been a stamp collector, and perhaps even if not, you will love First Class - A History of Britain in 36 Postage Stamps. I never cease to be amazed at the original and innovatove ideas people come up with for books, and Chris West has hit on one here that could run and run. There is a series here surely.
The next thing I can guarantee is that, if you were at any time in your life a philatelist, this book will have you running to the shelf or climbing up into the loft to find your albums, just to see if your memory serves you well and you do actually have any of the thirty-six stamps mentioned here.
I was on it in a nano-second but left wondering what all the gaps were (I suspect philatelic children)
Then of course it all kicks off...
'So who's nicked my England Winners World Cup 1966 stamp then...there's a gap there where it was... look...you can see where the stamp hinge was...'
Then the disappointment..
'Oh that's a shame. I'd always hoped that Victorian Penny Lilac might be worth a few bob...huh, thirty-three billion produced... put them all side by side and they'd reach to the moon and back or round the equator sixteen times...mine's not so special then'
Then the disagreements...
'Hmm, well, not sure why he's chosen that one... I'd have included that long 700th Anniversary of Parliament one for sure...'
Then the recollections ..
'Oh look, I had completely forgotten about that one...'
Each of the thirty-six stamp illustrations then herald a chapter that outlines some history and if within my living memory acted as a memory-jogger of the times.
Take that England 1966 one for example. Placing England's victory (of which we really do never hear the last in this country as it was such a never -to-be-repeated football one-off) within its social context of the mid-1960s.
The Kinks singing Summer of Love...
The Beatles recording Revolver and about to give us Eleanor Rigby and Yellow Submarine..
'A totally new style seemed to have emerged out of nowhere- yellows, pinks, purples interweaving in swirls; velvet jackets, long hair, floaty dresses, boots ... A sexual revolution was taking place too...'
And Chris West goes on to elaborate how Britain teamed all this up with Victorian military outfits, granny glasses and Union Jacks as a way of holding onto tradition, whilst seeing them in a witty and ironic light as it moved forward into a new era.
Swinging London, 'disc jockeys' operating from offshore pirate radio stations..
But I had somehow completely forgotten how the summer of 1966 came to its tragic end,
'On the morning of 21 October, a slag-heap collapsed onto a school in Aberfan, a Welsh mining village, killing 116 children.'
Who ever would forget that tragedy. I was thirteen and I remember quite clearly trying to imagine what it must have been like for those children as we watched the frantic rescue attempts on our black and white television set. Those greyscale images somehow added much more to the depths of the sorrow and misery now that I look back.
Each chapter in the book dissects not only the moment of the stamp but any history related to it before placing it within the social context of the times and I think anyone, stamp enthusiast or not, would be thrilled to find this one under the tree.
But I wonder too about the whole future of stamps??
Isn't the art of letter-writing a dying one??
Wasn't it brilliant to see the Royal Mail producing the Gold Medal winners stamps and painting the home-town pillar boxes gold, but I didn't see a single one of those stamps arriving on anything here
Every time I take anything to the post office they seem to head for the machine, insert a gigantic-sized stamp which is then printed and stuck on. Gone are the days when the counter clerk would flick through that book, do some nifty mental arithmetic and make up the postage with a strip of commemoratives, or a nice selection of multi-coloured Queen's heads.
Perhaps we need to ask for them these days.