‘A favourite pursuit followed as an amusement.’
If I accept this dictionary definition, then I’ve had, and have, dozens of hobbies. But the definition is far too loose, and misses the crucial element of a true hobby, which is obsession. In my sense, I’ve only ever had the one, which was – guess what – stamp collecting.
My parents had no experience of bringing up a boy, and my father probably had few memories of his own upbringing, which in any case would have been very different, in the 1920s, to mine in the 1950s. He certainly had evolved his own set of hobbies by the time I was eight or nine – woodworking, gardening, fiddling with electrical stuff – but I’m sure he didn’t think of these as hobbies: they were just the fabric of his life, things ‘done’ rather than ‘followed’.
I was a compliant child until I reached puberty, and took a natural interest in whatever was placed in front of me, so when it was suggested that I might like to take up stamp collecting, I just went along with it. The idea was prompted by the fact that a particular aunt, Maud maybe, had ‘collected stamps’ and decreed, as late Victorian aunts did, that Timothy might like to inherit her collection and make something more of it. My mother (who was in charge but also in awe) had no choice but to pass this early bequest on to me; I had a look, saw an opportunity for some sorting and classification*, and got stuck in.
Aunt Maud’s stamp collection was, I rapidly saw, a chaotic mess. It seemed reasonable to try and make sense of this, so I did, sorting by country, then (having acquired a Stanley Gibbons catalogue) by date, issue, colour variations, perforations … After a few months, I decided to specialise in what was then called ‘British Empire’. In 1953, I was gifted a full set of mint Coronation stamps, from every Colony and Dominion. But what I craved was a Penny Black. I saved up pocket money for months, and finally went to the stamp shop in Boscombe and bought one, with a rather unusual red revenue postmark, for £2.
Part II will follow tomorrow.
* Perhaps my only true enduring hobby.