Penny Red stamp

8. A born collector
Hobbies and interests

For as long as I can remember I've collected things ...

When I was nine or ten, mum and dad gave me a stamp album for Christmas. Dad had a stamp collection, and he taught me how to identify stamps from different countries and put them into my album.

I swapped stamps with friends and asked people to save stamps for me. The pages of my album filled up with colourful stamps from around the world. I probably didn't think of it at the time, but I'm sure stamp collecting helped me with world geography.

Like a lot of stamp collectors I eventually decided to concentrate on the stamps from one country – my own. Dad collected British stamps, so I did, too. One day he gave his collection to me, and my collection doubled in size.

I really liked collecting things I could find. Here's a list of some of the collections I made:

  • Fossils – I was given my first fossils and then went on to look for ones myself.
  • Empty cigarette packets – I liked the designs, but they made the house smell so they had to go.
  • Old bottles – I dug them up up on Victorian rubbish tips.
  • Old coins – in the years when you could still find coins in your change from as long ago as Queen Victoria's reign.
  • Clay tobacco pipes – I found them in fields and along river banks, some from 300 years ago.
  • Brook Bond PG Tips tea cards – these were the trading cards of their day, given away free in packets of tea.
Art pottery vase

I'm still a collector today.

When I worked at the Ironbridge Gorge Museum I found out about a nearby Shropshire pottery where decorative pots were made from the 1880s to the 1920s.

The Museum had some of the pots in its collection. I quite liked them, and I decided to collect them myself. Well, as any collector will tell you, once you have one item, you want another, and then another. And that's what's happened with my collection which has grown over the years.

Sheep tiles

The Ironbridge Gorge Museum also has a superb collection of Victorian wall and floor tiles – so guess what else I began to collect.

I went to demolition sites and asked for permission to remove any tiles I found, before the buildings were knocked down.

One day in the 1980s I spotted an old butcher's shop being knocked down in Manchester, and persuaded the demolition man to use his brick cutter to remove a panel of wall tiles of sheep in a field. The panel is now on the wall in our kitchen. There were actually ten panels in the shop of farm animals – the other nine were all destroyed, which was a great shame.

And finally ... let me tell you about 'a very beautiful garden'. This is how a
Year 6 girl described the allotment site where I've had a plot since 2006.

Each year I arrange visits for local primary schools to our town allotment site. It's a 'classroom in the open air', where children and teachers find out about growing fruit and vegetables and, hopefully, go on to grow their own back at school and at home.*

Pumpkins and squashes

Wherever I've lived I've grown food to eat. I'm sure it stems from when I was very young, because my dad had an allotment where he grew vegetables. I used to go there with him, on my little three-wheeler bike.

Dad put potatoes in the carrier on the back of my bike for me to take home. When dad became unwell, he gave up his allotment and started growing vegetables in the garden at home.

Many years later, when I was working in Manchester, I grew tomato plants on the windowsill of my office window. I think some people thought I was a bit mad!

I don't only grow on the allotment – I use the garden as well! I like to grow tomatoes (of course), hot chillis, sweet peppers, cucumbers, courgettes, potatoes, broad beans, runner beans, French beans, sweetcorn, beetroot, carrots, parsnips, salad leaves ... and lots more!

Oh, and have I mentioned pumpkins and squashes yet? They come in so many shapes, sizes and colours, and have a wonderful taste. I absolutely love growing them! Try counting them all in the picture above!

* If you'd like to see what schools do on their visit to this beautiful garden, click here: Children's Open Day at Over Allotments