Friday, July 12, 2013

Friday Reading Assignment: Getting the Message

I was expecting Christopher Browne's Getting the Message: The Story of the British Post Office  to be dull, so it was a pleasant surprise that it turned out to be funny.  It's British humor: so dry it is nearly undetectable, but it's there.  The illustrations, droll in themselves, are each captioned with a play on words, similar to the title.  You're not going to laugh out loud, but there's something mildly hilarious about the whole thing.  He took what could have been a boring subject and made it charming.

This book was not easy to find.  Mine is a withdrawn copy from the Dyfed "Llyfrgell" in Wales.  I'm glad I made the effort--the chapter on Anthony Trollope alone was worth the price of the book.  I knew that Trollope worked for the Post Office while he wrote novels.  I didn't know that it was his idea to introduce pillar mail boxes to Great Britain.

Who knew the post office had such a rich history?  People have been sending messages since prehistoric times, but the Romans were the first to organize it.  In Great Britain, the postal service grew gradually over time, but it was Victorian reformer Rowland Hill who introduced the postage stamp and other features of the modern mail.  In the GPO's heyday, a London household could expect twelve deliveries a day, and last call for mail pick up was midnight.

Browne details a few of the more famous postal-related crimes, the "Birmingham Phone Bug" the "Lambeth Walk" the "Butcher and the Betting Slip" and "The Trojan Horse" all solved by the post office's internal investigation department.

Getting the Message is truly informative non-fiction that's also light enough for the beach or a plane. If you're sick of novels, but don't want to commit to anything too serious, this would be a good choice.