Uckfield Post Office, 1955
Harry Tomsett, second row, centre
My dad was a postman from the day he left school at the age of 14 until he died, 43 years later. I have written at length about him. His life story is the narrative thread which runs through my first book, Love over Fear. And as readers of that book and this blog will know, I was twenty when he passed, in my second term at university.
Dad was 57 years and 102 days old when he slipped away at 1.06 am on 6 February 1985. You may wonder why I am being so precise about dates and times. Well, today, 17 November 2021, I am precisely the same age as my dad was when he died.
My dad never wholly enjoyed his work. He had to get up at 4 a.m. to go to the sorting office. In those days the first post arrived at breakfast time. He had a Baby Ben alarm clock to wake him. His lack of qualifications meant he had little choice but to spend a life in an unskilled job, whilst my education allowed me to enter a profession. He was three years from retiring, but never quite made it; I, on the other hand, have already retired from teaching. I am blessed to enjoy such freedom.
Like most people of 57, I feel as though life has hardly begun. Back in 1985 I had no real sense of how my dad must have felt about dying. I know now that he was so terribly young. Thus, on this particular day, I think of him, 13 years shy of his three score and ten, and how he had worked hard all his life but departed this world with too much left undone.
On reaching the same age as my dad when he died
At 4 a.m. each working day you rose,
Awoken by your Baby Ben’s alarm
Whose tyrant-ring the grind of work imposed
And clanged you out into the breaking dawn.
A life dictated by that jarring note,
Your thirties schooling meant no choice for you;
Though you could read quite well, you barely wrote –
The collar of your Postman’s shirt was blue.
Your clock sits on a shelf above my desk,
Its bell long stilled, arms stuck at five past three.
And as I write or chat or sit and think
I feel its presence frowning over me.
The oval face looks down and seems to ask,
“What granted you such untold liberty?”