I loved Alan Johnson’s first book which was about being a child in the 50s and 60s. Please Mr Postman continues to take me on a history lesson as I learn what was going on in the world during the author’s long tenure as a postman through the 1970s. By now he’s married and living in a council house in Slough. While a whole house with a garden and three children is far away from the slums of Notting Hill, he is now living on a estate where middle class, quiet, racism reigns. They took the house despite there being ‘white’s only’ posters displayed in the neighbourhood. Council estates back then seemed to be, well, what they should be; safe affordable, community-driven housing.
Here the Johnsons thought hard on whether to take advantage of the ‘buy your council house’ scheme bought in under Margaret Thatcher’s government, as many of their neighbours had.
It’s interesting to see laws to protect the rights of ‘ethnic minorities’ are starting to be introduced in the 1960s but pay being awarded by age rather than experience seems ridiculous. The Post Office paid more for older people than those younger who have worked at the organisation for years. It’s likely then that people getting paid more are being trained by those on less wages! Also, at that time, strikers could claim benefits for their dependents but not themselves, making the author better off – albeit without the regular overtime – than when working.
These are also the times of no seat belts, breathalysers coming in, half day closing on Wednesdays and the start of lengthier paid holidays leading to beach holidays becoming two-week summer norm – whatever the British weather. And it’s the time of the second post; today I find many post boxes closed so I can’t even post a letter and those that are open have one collection, unhelpfully at the start of the day!
God grant me the serenity to accept the thing I cannot change
After losing his mum when he was so young, there is more loss to deal with at still relatively young age but the road to union leadership continued. It was while on the postie rounds, Alan Johnson learns to argue without rancour, via a family who had very much opposing views and yet they got along enough to be invited in for tea and toast and to lend each other books. Alan Johnson also delivered to the house that was home to the then Home Secretary.
The language at the Post Office was similar to the military where much of the employees came from. Posties came ‘on duty’ and went ‘on leave’.
The job of the union leader isn’t to predict the rain, it is to build the bloody ark
The book explains how the author learnt the art of negotiation from those gone before him, along with patience, earning the respect of the other person and to listen. And the importance of terminology – something I have a lot of time for. The right words make all the difference when the aim is to influence. All of which lead him to be a union boss and ultimately an MP in the cabinet office.
This is a world away from a kid who didn’t want to leave London and yet it’s unsurprising, given his nature, how much he appreciates the ‘breath taking scenery’ on his first train journey through Inverness, an overnighter on when on union business.
I just had to include this quote to finish:
Inexperienced union reps who’s response to a problem was to lead a walk out – like pilots who knew how to take off but who’d never been taught to land.
It’s another fantastic read although we do seem to have swept through the 1970s with no real mention of power cuts, 3-day-weeks. Was it not as bad as we’re told?