When I talk about loss I don’t mean something that your normal adult would consider “a tragic loss”; I mean something that was really important to me only when I was a child.
The first thing that comes to mind is my Premier League sticker book from when I was nine years old. It was 1994. Premier League stickers were a big thing in school; every boy was busy swapping stickers every chance they had. The stickers were mostly of the players and the team crest of every football club in the English Premiership. There were a lot of them, and I spent a lot of time and money putting my collection together. All of these stickers were stored in a sticker book.
When I was well on the way to completing the book I found that finding the new ones was becoming a struggle: most, if not all, of the stickers in the packets of five I bought were ones that I already had.
After a long campaign of swapping and buying new packets hoping that they’d at least contain stickers that had a high swapping value, I finally arrived at the point where I was only thirty or forty stickers short. The significance of this is that once you got here, for a fee you could order the remaining stickers directly from the manufacturer, which is what I did.
I remember the day they arrived and I eagerly completed the book. I had conquered the mountain that so many other boys were fighting to climb. No longer would I have to battle it out in the playground, using what negotiation skills I had to convince other boys to part with the stickers I needed. I had joined the few elite who could relax and watch the others argue it out with as much passion as opposing politicians feeling that their way is what’s best for the country.
I divided out the excess stickers I had among my friends as if I was a billionaire sharing my fortune. My learning had come to an end and I had become an expert in the highly-cherished field of sticker collecting. Over the next week I often flicked through my completed sticker book and marvelled at my success. Then the disaster happened.
It was a hot night. The temperature had soared well above normal and I couldn’t sleep. After trying in vain to fall into a slumber for over an hour I decided to move downstairs to try and sleep on the sofa where it was a lot cooler.
When I was a kid I drank a lot of milk. I even had my own huge sports bottle for it which I kept beside my bed at night should I awake and fancy a drink. That night I took it downstairs with me and placed it on the coffee table beside my sticker collection. I pulled the coffee table close to the sofa so I could reach my bottle during the night. I made myself comfortable on the sofa and soon I was asleep.
The next morning I awoke and sat up. When I had rubbed the sand from my eyes I looked down at the coffee table. The sight before me slapped me wide awake: my sports bottle, with its lid resting a short distance away, was lying on its side, right on top of my sticker book! I must have knocked it over in my sleep!
I desperately tossed the bottle aside. I carefully picked up my sticker book with both hands like a mother handling her child, as it was soaked. I stroked as much milk off the cover as I could, knowing that it would do little good. I gently opened it on one of the middle pages to find that the book had been soaked through. It was ruined!
But I hadn’t given up hope. I placed it in the airing cupboard, begging for it to dry it out and make everything okay again.
It took a day or so for it to dry. When it did I lifted it out as if it contained the cure to some awful disease I had. But to my dismay the waiting had been a waste of time: the pages were all stuck together, reducing the book to nothing more than a thin slab of paper mâché. I tried to pull each page open at only a centimetre at a time, but the pages stubbornly refused to part without tearing.
The book was dead. All of the effort I had put in was for nothing. I didn’t cry but I’m sure I was very close to it. I mourned for the loss of my Premier League sticker book for many days after that.
Now that I am an adult I realise that I’m very lucky that I didn’t lose anything really important. I now have enough awareness of the world to know that there are many people out there who are much less fortunate than me and have lost things and people in the most horrible circumstances who were special to them. But I did not have this knowledge as a child, and as a child that sticker collection meant the world to me.