Please Mister Postman by Alan Johnson is a great book to take on holiday with you, if you haven’t already read it. It’s now available in paperback, published by Corgi Books for a cover price of £8.99, although you can get it for less.
There are two types of memoirs by politicians: boring self-justification and interesting, good reads. Johnson’s writings are firmly in the second category, along there with Alan Clark, Chris Mullin and Paddy Ashdown (“A Fortunate Life”). Very often the early days of a politician are the most interesting – as was the case with John Major’s auto-biography.
Alan Johnson is an attractive personality anyway – the cheeky chappie of politics who manages to be funny and self-deprecating as well as sensible.
But his life story is extraordinary – brought up by a single mother and then his teenage sister. He became a postman and a father/husband in his teens. He then read a lot and rose through the ranks of the postal union to became its national leader.
This book tells the story of those early days. There are a few passages which tell of personal tragedies which happened around Johnson. His telling of the death through alcohol of his brother-in-law is harrowing and deeply sad.
We also have detailed descriptions of the processes at Barnes and Slough postal sorting offices. Although that sounds very anorakky, in fact it comes across as quite interesting – especially given the subsequent modernisation of the processes. We also get an interesting picture of famous union leader, Tom Jackson (the one with the big handle-bar moustache), and the shenanigans of the unions at a key time for them.
All in all, this is a fascinating and compelling book by the man who delivered post to the Home Secretary in Dorneywood, and then ended up living in the same house as Home Secretary himself. A remarkable tale on several levels.