Mr Ali, who served Jericho as postman for 30 years, was the ‘My Jericho’ guest on 4 December 2018. Mr Ali’s real name is Akram, but in the Oxford Post Office – where he has now worked for 46 years – he has always been known by his father’s name. This is because, as a young man, he used to go and collect his Dad from the Office after his shift, and one day someone asked who he was. ‘Well, in that case,’ he was promptly informed, ‘you start work here tomorrow morning’. This happened in February 1977, and ‘Junior Ali’ never looked back.
His father, Senior Ali, showed him the job. The Jericho round – 956 houses and Walton Street too – was so large that it was not popular among the postmen, so it fell to Junior Ali to make it his own. There were two deliveries in those days, and it was tough. ‘First delivery was between half past six and quarter to seven, had to be done by nine, never mind the weather.’ Some winters were very cold. In 1982 the canal iced over and it was freezing for weeks.
Mr Ali liked his round despite its size. ‘I got to know everyone. I had a bicycle with a bell, and I could take the letters out of my bag and put them through the letter boxes without getting off my bike.’ Now there is only one delivery, the bikes have gone, and so have the bags: it’s a case of the trolley. ‘When they said I would have to give up my bike, I didn’t like the idea. That was when I moved to the Office to work there instead.’ He is still there, as everyone visiting Oxford parcel office knows. He has just reached retirement age, but he has chosen to stay on.
Mr Ali has seen many changes. ‘In the 70s, the staff were military men who went into the service after they had finished in the forces. They were very smart, well turned out. In those days we were a public service, very loyal. Now it’s a business’. His first pay packet was £26 a week, and stamps cost 6p for first class, 4p for second. ‘Those days it was real letters, not the ads they have now.’ Mr Ali worked hard and soon bought a house in East Oxford. ‘Then, the Building Society would give loans to Post Office and Railway workers, and we worked overtime to pay the mortgage off.’
He remembers the odd crisis. On one occasion, his bag was stolen when he left it in his bike basket for a moment to go into a building. It was never found and he felt very bad about it. On another, he called the fire brigade to No 32 Wellington Street and was honoured as a hero. He was also on his rounds the day of the infamous murder at 6 Nelson Street, and was able to tell the Daily Express who the victims were. But mostly, things were routine. He would try to adjust his round to fit with people’s own time-tables – he would know, for example, when a mother was taking the children to school, and time a parcel delivery for her return.
Jericho used to have a wild and violent reputation. Did Mr Ali encounter any personal dangers during his 30-years of deliveries? ‘There were no vicious dogs that I recall. But there was a vicious child in Cardigan Street. He used to wait for me with a rubber band …’ Whatever damage he inflicted on Mr Ali was swiftly passed over. He was busy remembering Miss Wall, Mr Miller the architect, Mr Woodward who mended shoes and whose his brother became Mayor of Oxford, Mr Malik of Nellie’s Deli and other local friends. He looked back with nostalgia. ‘Hand-writing has gone downhill now, you can’t read addresses, standards have dropped.’ What a wonderful postal excursion down memory lane.
Author: Maggie Black
St Barnabas Church
Wed 3 Apr - 5:45pm
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