At long last…The Year That Would Not End, is Ending!!

As I write this, Thailand is experiencing a surge of COVID-19 cases that has been declared “worse than the first wave”. All group gatherings have been banned, forcing schools here in Phuket and elsewhere to close until at least just after the New Year and the cancellation of all holiday-related activities. We are not in lockdown but it may come to that before this is over. Thailand just had its first pandemic-related death in several months but despite widespread testing (mostly at migrant worker camps), Phuket still has found only three cases.

By all appearances, the start of 2021 feels a lot like late March or early April 2020 without the constant barrage of often contradictory announcements and restrictions from both the central government in Bangkok and the local governorship. This time around, we are fairly well prepared and we all know what to do in our own individual ways.

Twenty-twenty was not the year any of us expected and it really seems to have dragged on and on. Now that it’s almost over, the New Year is rushing in at a rapid pace although from where I stand it feels weird to welcome it as nothing really has changed.

Or, has it?

One thankful change as far as I am concerned is the rise of keeping connected virtually. I have long been a proponent of online communication be it through my various blogs and social media. The rest of the world is now catching up to me (ha ha). The online stamp collecting community has exploded even though I have not had the free time required to fully participate. I do administer two Facebook groups (The Stamps of 2020 and Pandemic Philately) both of which take up a bit more time than I would prefer with my other main focus being my Philatelic Pursuits website which has just passed 112,000 hits since the end of January.

Christmas 2020

A big part of virtual connections is the now mainstream platforms for giving socially-distanced family members, friends, and business associates (not to mention teachers and their students) easy-to-use ways to communicate. In August, I joined in a reunion of my family (including relatives in Kansas, New Jersey, Florida, and California) via the Zoom platform. I hadn’t seen the majority of my various aunts, uncles and cousins since my mother’s funeral in 2001; some I don’t think I had talked to since our last physical reunion way back in 1990! This was repeated on a much smaller scale (just my sister and her husband and son, along with my dad and step-mom) early on Christmas morning.

Christmas Day was supposed to see our school putting on a big party and show to celebrate the special day. We had been rehearsing our assigned groups for the past couple of weeks in preparation; I was to do a Thailand-specific version of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” with 21 P3 students (aged around 8 years old) from the Intensive English Programme.

Due to a single student from each of two local schools being confirmed as having the COVID-19 virus on Tuesday last week, other schools began closing their doors to students starting on Wednesday. Thursday, our foreign teachers reported to do deep cleaning (I doubt our office had seen a broom or washrags in the last 50 years). Most of Christmas morning saw us undergoing training to do online teaching “just in case”. While their chosen platform is Google Meet, most of the information we were given was in the Thai language and I am still unclear how we will connect to the students themselves. We were then told that the school would be closed until 3 January and we will teach online only if the students are not allowed to return on Monday, the 4th of January.

I was fairly lazy through most of the weekend, mostly reading (trying to finish my goal of 50 books read in 2020) and watching YouTube videos. I bought a new tablet (Samsung Galaxy Tab S6 Lite) as my combination birthday and Christmas gift to myself) and spent some time setting it up and then customizing it just a bit. By Monday (yesterday), I had decided I had better do some school-related work as well as recently-neglected website maintenance. I spent most of that day on my unit assessments (grading students on their creativity and language used in Christmas cards they had given me early last week). Around 250 out of my 487 students turned in a card which is better than expected. I also entered all of their nicknames into the assessment spreadsheets (a total of 42 students have yet to attend any lessons; many boys “hide” by playing football or volleyball rather than coming to class). I will get caught up on writing lesson plans later in the week.

As I mentioned, I am nearing my goal of finishing 50 books in 2020. I am almost finished with book #49 (Head Wounds by New Mexico-based police procedural writer Michael McGarrity) which will leave me a day and a half to finish an as yet determined book #50. I may “cheat” by choosing a novella (balanced out by the fact that most of the books I read are somewhat more than a thousand pages in length). Rather than including the list in my year-end wrap-up, I am preparing a separate article complete with book covers to make it a bit more interesting.

While on the topic of books and reading, I recently found a great app called CalibreGo with which I can sync my library with my new tablet and even purchased a 100-GB upgrade to my Google Drive in order to handle this (I have around 20 GB of eBooks right now). On my laptop, my preferred eBook reader is the creatively-named Book Reader app from the Windows Store (although I also have Bibliovore and Liberty Reader still installed) while I use ReadEra for Android on my mobile and tablet. For tracking and statistics, I am a big fan of ReadNow on my Android devices and Goodreads on Windows.

During the first lockdown, I set up playlist rules in my music player (MusicBee) which give me some statistics for each month as far as tracks listened to. I very rarely listen to music in shuffle mode, preferring to play full albums. The month by month breakdown follows:

MONTHSONGS LISTENED TOFULL ALBUMS LISTENED TO TOTAL TIME
January397 tracks40 albums1d 05h 47m
February529 tracks77 albums1d 17h 46m
March614 tracks82 albums1d 22h 26m
April618 tracks72 albums1d 20h 07m
May853 tracks111 albums2d 10h 37m
June678 tracks57 albums2d 01h 55m
July395 tracks84 albums1d 04h 16m
August649 tracks62 albums1d 22h 16m
September919 tracks103 albums3d 00h 07m
October1,000 tracks72 albums3d 03h 30m
November695 tracks61 tracks1d 23h 20m
December972 tracks76 albums3d 01h 16m
TOTAL FOR 20208,309 tracks851 albums25d 12h 48m
Music Played in 2020

As you can see, I had a music-filled year. More rocking tunes took a backseat during most of the first lockdown (18 March until 30 June) with my playlists filled with softer genres such as light country, Americana, jazz and even a bit of classical late at night. Some New Wave and 80’s pop began creeping in shortly after I returned to work at the beginning of July, partly influenced by my reading Chris Frantz’s autobiography. While I have long been a big fan of Talking Heads and recently rediscovered the joys of the Stop Making Sense film, this book led me to finally give a deep listen to bands such as Television and the Ramones, among others.

I also managed to branch out on PJ Harvey and found a lot of her great music other than the superb To Bring You My Love album which I fell in love with after seeing her video for “Down By The Water”, still my favorite Goth rock track. The usual candidates of Tom Petty, The Who, Roger Waters, The Allman Brothers (in all its incarnations and off-shoots) and, at long last, Bruce Springsteen began dominating my playlists around the time of Halloween/Día de Muertos.

This past week has been a mish-mash of all of the above and more. Note that there are very few repeated songs and albums in all of this. My collection now contains 9,043 albums (well, some of those are singles) containing a total of 138,093 tracks which will require a whopping 450 days, five hours and 17 minutes of non-stop listening to get through it all!

I am sure there is a way to find out my most-played artists by month and year but I am too lazy right now to figure it out. Since I installed this particular music player several years ago, Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band is way ahead of the number two slot, The Beatles, who aren’t that far from #3 (St. Vincent) and #4 (Marillion). My fifth most played artist is Fleetwood Mac but I don’t recall playing more than a handful of tracks by the group in 2020.

And now….. For a bunch of holiday-themed images from around Phuket Town over the past two weeks (I took A LOT of photos on my last Sunday at Central Festival, surprised at how Christmasy they’d made it this year).

Lots of Christmas cheer in this Buddhist country at the end of 2020…

What’s in store for 2021?

Who knows? I do know that I am not going to try to make any New Year’s resolutions as the New Normal really means that you should not look too far ahead because you will get walloped if you do. I am attempting to become even more organized (says the most organized person I know!) in my daily routines and short-term planning.

Another thing that I am reasonably certain about is yet another change in the focus of my hobbies. In 2020, I strove to cover the entire world in my reporting of new stamps being released and managed to write nearly 1,400 articles about issues from around 180 different territories, nations and organizations. I intend to scale that back considerably in the New Year, promoting just a few choice issuing entities (Thailand, of course but I am not overly enthusiastic about the States right now), a few topicals (surely Christmas and probably more pandemic stamps as well), and anything else that catches my eye enough to want to write about it.

I also intend to get even more serious about my own collections. In recent years, I have kept up with all the stamps issued by Thailand (which doesn’t release as many as a lot of places) and just a hodgepodge of other items with no real goal in mind. I want to return to basics with one or two specialties (German East Africa being my current main interest) as well as get back to where it all began for me, General Worldwide. My first albums were hand-me-downs from my mother and her big brother who’d began collecting while living in Santa Fe, New Mexico, during World War II. As I recall, many of the stamps were roughly from the 1920’s into the early years of the 1940’s.

When I became serious about forming decent collections of the United States and Great Britain, I fell in love with the classic era of the first century of stamps, 1840 to 1940. I concentrated on filling spaces with those stamps from a limited number of countries falling within that period. I made some really nice purchases during my “peak” in the 1990s but I sold the really quality material at auction when attending the Pacific 97 international exhibition in San Francisco and this marked the end of my major stamp collecting endeavors for a decade as I concentrated on travel and music. My full return to the hobby didn’t happen until sometime in 2007, not long after I had started living in southern Thailand.

For several years now, I have wanted to return to the classic era of stamp collecting, partly inspired by the wonderful Big Blue and Filling Spaces blogs. I have spent many an hour wading through eBay listings looking for the perfect copy of what is affectionately known as “Big Blue”.

Published beginning in 1941 as Scott Stamp Company’s International Junior Stamp Album 1840-1940, this originally intended as a 35,000-space “representative” selection of worldwide stamps housed in one (fat!) binder as an alternative to the publisher’s iconic five-volume “Brown” album. By the 1947 edition, the “Junior” had been dropped from the name although the stamp selection contained within tended toward the inexpensive with simplified listing ignoring watermark and perforation differences. Eventually, that 1840-1940 album became Part I to an ongoing series of albums covering the entire world (Part II included stamps issued from mid-1940 through mid-1948, Part III covered until 1954 up until the present-day Part 55; the 1840-1940 range is now sold in four volumes, Parts (IA1, IA2, IB1, and IB2).

Well, to cut a long meander into philately as short as possible, that years long search finally came to an end this week as I hit that big blue “Buy It Now” button on an eBay listing from America’s Stamp Shop in Berkley, Michigan USA for a bound 1947 edition of my desired album. The binder and pages look to be in great shape, the album contains “hundreds” of stamps and the price was much less than to be expected (I think the fact that it’s a bound version meaning that one cannot add or remove pages had something to do with that). It was just under the average cost of the newest edition of the Scott Specialized Catalogue of 1840-1940 Postage Stamps which I also would like to purchase in the near future and nearly the same cost in postage and import charges to ship the 8-pound item. It is estimated to arrive around the 20th of January and I am really looking forward to transferring my holdings from boxes, stock books and glassine envelopes into the album.

Not my albums….

Hopefully, my reduction in scope on Philatelic Pursuits will give me time to get back to semi-regular posts for Postcards to Phuket and A Stamp A Day, not to mention this one.

On the home front, my tiny apartment has been overwhelmed by clutter for many years. I need to start chucking boxes out as there are many that I have not peered into for many years. I am certain that a lot of what was once inside of them has been turned to dust by feasting bugs. Better to not look inside (my stamps and postcards are in plastic containers and stockbooks on my shelves). That will be one of my first heavy-lifting tasks for the New Year.

Another goal is to simply become healthier. I have been in fine health for a long time — the walking to and from work everyday has certainly helped — but I need to lose some weight. I just like to eat too much and most of what I put into my mouth is not in the least bit healthy (the local grocery store is partly to blame for no longer carrying any salads — pre-made or otherwise). I would like to drop at least ten pounds within the next couple of months.

Do you know what? Much of what I have written in these last few paragraphs do indeed sound like Resolutions!

Happy New Year, everybody! May all of your wishes come true for 2021 and beyond….

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