Monday, 6 October 2014

Alan Johnson – Please, Mister Postman – excellent book, that leaves the reader once again waiting in eager anticipation for the next volume of memoirs

This latest volume of memoirs from Alan Johnson continues in the highly readable style of  “This Boy.”

Readers who were awaiting with anticipation this second volume - covering from 1968 to 1987 – will not be disappointed.

Johnson retains his light, highly entertaining writing style, that keeps the reader captivated from beginning to end.

The book begins as Johnson and his family move from West London to a council house in Slough. Johnson enjoys the life as a postman and with his growing family in the new community at Britwell Estate.

He reiterates his main interests in life as being reading, music and football So there are the regular updates about things like the 1975/6 season when his beloved QPR miss out on the First Division title by a point to Liverpool. He recalls the three days when Rangers were top of the table prior to Liverpool’s final game against Wolves which they needed to win to take the title.

But tragedy always seems to be lurking in the background. So, while life seems settled, there then comes the bombshell of his brother in law Mike Whitaker, being revealed as an alcoholic who eventually takes his own life. Johnson tells the story with great warmth and sensitivity, conveying the hurt of the time which has clearly remained with him.

The catalogue of events over the years also gives some indication as to how Johnson manages to rise in the trade union movement. Initially, he just seems to go along with things at the branch. He is active in terms of supporting the union over things like the seven week strike in 1971, going to the regular rallies in Hyde Park.

In one notable observation he declares how the middle class students who attended talked posh but dressed scruffy, while the working class posties dressed posh but talked scruffy.

Johnson’s interest grows in the union, which sees him become branch chair. He attends conference and seems initially struck by the theatre of it all. He is though marked out early by Tom Jackson, then general secretary of the Union of Communication Workers, as a potential future leader of the union. Jackson gives Johnson some good advice as to how to make his way in the union.

The role of Johnson as a good fixer and negotiator comes through as the book progresses. He gets the job of effectively selling a new working arrangement agreed between the Post Office and the union. It benefits the workers but there are suspicions. Johnson goes around the country selling the process, making friends amongst the union and management.

There is a nice balance throughout the book between Johnson’s work and personal life, with the tragedies providing a helping of pathos.

The reader can detect just how the Alan Johnson of the mid to late 1980s became the can do man that first Tony Blair and then Gordon Brown promoted to the highest of ministerial offices.

Testimony to just what a good read this book provides is that - as with This Boy – it leaves the reader once again eagerly anticipating the next one.

*Published by Transworldbooks Price £16.99

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