Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Sticker Sickness

When I was nine years old, I would occasionally be granted the massive privilege of a sleepover at the Harcourt Brothers (names changed to protect the virtues of a small town dynasty), who were as close as you could get to pre-pubescent hip in early 70s Lincolnshire. They were the first to get Chopper bikes, and they had rich half-sisters in Canada who’d send them money that they accrued in a savings account. We would regularly hear from the brothers how many hundreds of pounds they were racking up, with interest, and be scorned for suggesting that they might blow some of it on, say, a mass visit to Arthur’s Tuck Shop. They may not have actually used the words ‘retirement fund’, but they were definitely implied.

The Harcourt Brothers didn’t just collect money. Another benevolent relative would send them valuable coins which, they assured us, had never been touched by a human hand. These coins were locked away somewhere in case some non-believer in the importance of limited edition currencies took it upon themselves to slap a fingerprint on a virgin surface. A wise move, because I must admit that I would have been severely tempted. Meanwhile, we could see their stamp collections, but they had to be handled with extreme care, an earnest expression, and the odd declaration of spurious awe. But what I liked best of all among their hoarded treasures were the stickers.

Some of us find it hard to save money (we spend it), or collect stamps (rather than soak them off the envelope, dry them out, then carefully fix them in to a designated book, we chuck them out). Some of us also find it hard to see a sticker without peeling off the back and sticking it somewhere, as the inventors of stickers intended. ‘Stickers stick’ is the centric principle of stickerdom. Especially for a nine year old. But the Harcourt Brothers possessed the strength of character to resist that temptation. They coveted piles of unstuck stickers. They’d let me look through them, but although I begged pleeeeease, they wouldn’t let me have any spares. They weren’t a charity. These boys were investors in adhesive-backed futures.

Every year I went to the Lincolnshire Show and ran from tent to tent collecting free stickers. I didn’t care if they advertised tractor tires, pig feed or the benefits of five portions of potatoes a day - I’d grab them and run, and when I got home I stuck them down, mostly on to a cupboard in my bedroom, which was eventually covered entirely in stickers, with neither theme nor form. The idea of preserving them in a stack and keeping them for some unknown future purpose was as unthinkable as being given a tube of Smarties and being told to keep them until my fortieth birthday.

I was reminded of my free-sticking habits last week when reading ‘Swap Yer! The Wonderful World of Football Cards And Sticker Albums’ by Rob Jovanovic, a compact and delightfully pictorial history book that delivers on its title. It had me reaching for my still incomplete Panini sticker albums of the late 1970s. And the reason for their incompleteness? Instead of using my doubles for swaps, I would just stick them somewhere else. On my pencil case, on my cupboard (which started to acquire second and third layers), on my radio, on my school bag, or on any available surface that wouldn’t garner me a crack around the head for spoiling the paintwork.

I looked on EBay to work out the chances of getting the last eight stickers I need to complete my Football 78 album. It seems that the Harcourt Brothers weren’t the only hoarders. There are people who have been sitting on their swaps for 30 years, resisting for nigh on three decades the urge to peel the back off and stick them. This is of course good for my chances of eventually filling the Football 78 album, but a pitiful reflection on the characters of the EBay vendors. Upon discovering the items in an old shoe box they should have ripped off the backs and slapped them on to the nearest desk top or household item. That is, if they had been even half way human.

But no, like some seedy pornographer, they lined them up on a table side by side, took photographs of them, and then put them up for sale on the internet. And they didn’t even have John Hickton (Middlesbrough, Football 78 sticker number 258) or Irving Nattrass (Newcastle United, 265) for sale. Bloody sticker sickos. As Captain Beefheart would have told them - lick my decals off, baby.


No Good Boyo said...

The more I read of contemporary English childhood, the more I realize that Wales, like the past, is a foreign country - but more old-fashioned.

Apart from Geest banana stickers - smuggled north from Cardiff Port by Blaenau Ffestiniog goose-drovers - I saw nothing sticchabile apart from Lovecraftian life forms, Castrol oil ads (which hung in the local church as banners) and Uncle Idwal the Pervert.

Your Harcourt brothers reflect a peculiarly English malaise - the joyless collector.

Think of Larkin, with his attic of melancholy cross-referenced spank mags; think of the puddle of train-spotters at end of the railway platform; think of Dennis Nilsen with his cadavers round the coffee-table.

If only Hannah Arendt were around to write about it.

Kenneth said...

I had a strange dream last night in which I was reading a football magazine that publised photo of a great school team from the 1950's. Many of the players went on to be top professionals. As I looked at the young faces I could only recognise one face - Peter Osgood now a hero of football card collectors....

Any major dude with half a heart said...

The smell of stickers is certain to transport me back to my childhood just as sure as hearing an old Schlager hit by Udo Jürgens might. And then the quite different and distinctive smell of Panini stickers...the cocaine for adolescents.