Have you seen it then? Piccachu and his cronies? The Pokeman thing. What's all that about then? Anyone know? No? Me neither.

Of course the kid's Pokeman craze isn't exactly original, based on swopping a few cards around. We had similar games back in the post-war days (yes, WW2) and my Dad even had 'em when he was a nipper when the object was to try to achieve a full set. Not quite sure what the object of the Pokeman thing is though.

Anyway. Those cigarette cards. It was the Pokeman toy of the day and the sets flying around the playground went from the nancy-boy sissy stuff (sets of wild flowers and butterflies) through to real men, hero stuff (famous aircraft, cricketers etc). I was one of the few boys interested in none of these however. I only had eyes for one set. British Fresh-water Fishes on cards found only in one particular brand of tea, I think?

To say it meant a lot to me to obtain a full set is like saying that Bill Gates has a few bob. It slightly understates the savage greed of an obsessed 11 year old. I was prepared to do almost anything to achieve my goal. I actually broke a ten year old kid's arm for trying to cheat me out of one particular hard-to-find card. This event neither enamoured me with any of the parents involved nor, even in school, did it bring me too much kudos. I was about eleven at the time and beating up younger kids was less popular an activity then than it is now. But it did bring me a good hiding and, worse, I also had to work off my penance by taking Johnny-one-arm fishing with me every day for half the school summer holidays. Still, it taught me how useful a ghille could be. Even a one-armed ghille can dig up worms for his master. Boys can be cruel and some of the lengths we would go to in order to secure the rarer cards in the set demanded extreme cruelty. Or so we thought in the days when a Chinese Burn constituted exactly that

Collecting a full set was massively important. My Dad was probably having some kind of mid-life crisis at the time. He got in on the act and started to re-enact his childhood as he put together a collection as well. He told me a story of when was about 12, perhaps it's not word for word but this is how it went:

During the first half of the last century, the early 1930s, it was normal in the East End for every house to have smokers. You would think being brought up in that environment that a kid would have little trouble in collecting a full set of cigarette cards but you would be wrong. There were lots of problems. A major one was that neither of his parents, my grandparents, could be trained to smoke the correct brand of cigarette. Grandma was on Weights (no excuse for incorrect spelling with Dads method - "When England Invaded Germany Hitler's Troops Surrendered") and Grandad rolled his own, a foul smelling concoction, probably dead dog hair and underpants; and quite likely a major contributing factor to the smogs of the era.

My grandparents' choice of brand put Dad at a distinct disadvantage when it came to card collecting but he overcame this by figuring out a crafty ruse. By knocking at all the doors in the street and offering to do the snout-shopping for the occupants, he soon deduced which houses were worth doing the shopping for. He then whittled the dozens of houses in the street down to just those who smoked the correct brand and was in business.

He would collect the money from the smoker's houses and write up the shopping list. The list and the money was then handed over to Sid (Dad's 'ghillie') in order that he could walk the quarter mile to the nearest shop to do the actual shopping. Sid would then return to his general with the smokes, whereupon Dad would distribute them to the correct address's. Job jobbed. Benefits were that he got to 'keep the change' and obtained those vitally important and valuable cards too. Any cards that were surplus to requirements were used as wages for his slave, er ghille, and everyone was happy. Not least the manufacturers who cleverly and profitably tied the mental knots of 'toys' and 'tobacco' to all and sundry at a very early and impressionable age.

The actual album to put the card in was subsequently procured, Dad forgot where from, and slowly it filled. Not before he had all memorised the words written on the back of each card though. Remembering the card backs word-perfect was probably a precursor to the modern TV afternoon quiz games. We played the same games and educated ourselves in much the same manner twenty five years later. In fact, much of my early fishy knowledge originated from those cards, Crabtree being a bit thin on Vendace and Burbot. That summer we spent our evenings catching four inch crucian carp on bread and the days catching perch on worms from the local pond. The rest of our time was occupied bobbing and weaving, thinking up new plans to acquire more cards.

I'm pretty sure that it was a tea company, Brooke Bond or Typhoo perhaps, who released another series of freshwater fish cards because I would swear that the first time I remember seeing a picture of a wels catfish was on a card; the legend reading 'bottom feeding scavengers' as per the accepted knowledge of the day. That set I lost somewhere along the line. I think by that time my attention was moving on to sex, drugs and rock n'roll and from that point for the next 10 years or so my memory fails me. (Which was the point of the exercise I seem to recall?). I somehow lost my original album of cards but managed to replace them with a somewhat shoddy set from a second-hand shop for 2 twenty years later. The antiques mob are probably getting a little more for them these days. I saw a framed set on the web for about 40 the other day but for me, those in the classy wooden frames don't produce nostalgia like my tactile grubby little album does.

As I flick through this little book today, the memories come flooding back. All inside my head is sighs and ahhhs as I look again at these pretty little pictures; some good, some not quite so good. You could almost persuade me to use a cane rod at the moment. And there on the back cover, the legend that says it all. "Players Please".

I think I'll go and have a cup of tea and a fag.