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The World (adapted from The Ends of the Earth) by Jim Moeller
When I was young, I read to the dog, a gentle and loving St Bernard despite being huge with a piercing bark. He was a good watchdog and more than once scared dubious characters away from our farm on the prairies.
When I read to him, he sat patiently with his tail thumping the ground. We varied slightly in our reading. He preferred the Bobbsey twins. I liked the Hardy boys. Between us, we read many stories.
There was no television in those days. I had to wait nine years for my first glimpse of it. The main excitement in my youth was the weekly visit to the nearest town which was more than ten miles away. My mother would shop for things we couldn’t grow. I would visit the little bookshop which was my main treat. There was only one counter. Behind it curious looking albums were stashed. One day I asked about them.
“It’s a little sideline,” one of the spinster sisters who ran the bookshop said. “It’s to do with stamp collecting.”
“What stamps do you mean?”
She pulled out a collector’s starter pack which included a small album, hinges to put the stamps in the album, tweezers, a magnifying glass and a packet of stamps which had “Worldwide selection” printed on the bag.
The lady in the shop opened the packet of stamps and shook a few onto the counter. She explained that I mustn’t handle them as I might transfer oils and dirt, even if I had washed my hands. She picked up a stamp with the tweezers.
“This one’s from Azerbaijan, a country in the middle-east with oil reserves.”
The stamp was a picture of an oil derrick and had funny writing on it.
“We don’t get many stamps. Are these valuable?”
The sister drew in her breath as if she were about to impart something confidential. “Some countries print stamps that never get used. They are intended to be part of stamp collections. You’ll soon learn the ones which aren’t…genuine…shall we say. Putting all the stamps into the album, will keep you occupied for many hours. You’ll learn a great deal about the world. Helvetica, for example, is Switzerland. Do you think your mother will let you purchase this stamp collector’s starter pack?”
“It’s less than the price of one book. She might let me purchase the collector’s kit and a book.”
When my mother arrived, I showed her the stamp collecting items.
“Your reading is important. You mustn’t neglect it.”
“I can learn a lot about the world from stamps,” I said.
I kept very still while my mother concentrated. She opened her handbag, took out her purse and handed over the money for both items.
So started my travels from Azerbaijan to Zanzibar.
Even the dog appreciated my hobby. He snuffled up a few stamps and listened attentively to my speeches about each new country. Together we travelled the world without moving.
Jim Moeller was born in the US but adopted Britain as his home from a young age. A great observer of life, Jim captures moments from the past and records them in beautiful prose.