Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book

Mail Obsession: A journey around Britain by postcode

Rate this book
Each of the United Kingdom's 124 postcode areas has a story to tell, an unexpected nugget to dust off and treasure. Mark Mason has embarked on a tour of the country, immersing himself in Britain's history on a roundabout journey from AB to ZE. On the lookout for interesting place names and unusual monuments, along the way he discovers what the Queen keeps in her handbag, why the Jack Russell has a white coat and how Jimi Hendrix got confused by the M1. He visits the Harrogate hotel where Agatha Christie hid for eleven days, a bungalow in Kent that can't get a mobile phone signal because of the Second World War and the grave of a Scottish duke whose legs had to be cut off so he could fit in his coffin.

At the same time Mason paints an affectionate portrait of Britain int he 21st century, from aggressive seagulls in Blackpool to 'seasoned' drinkers in Surrey. And his travels offer the perfect opportunity to delve into the history of the Royal Mail, compete with pillar boxes, posties and Penny Reds - plus Oscar Wide's unconventional method of posting a letter.

A charming mix of fact, anecdote and overheard conversation, Mail Obsession plays homage to Britain's wonderful past and its curious present.

272 pages, Hardcover

First published December 1, 2015

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

Mark Mason

80 books26 followers
Mark Mason's previous non-fiction includes The Importance of Being Trivial, Walk the Lines, The Bluffer's Guide To Football and The Bluffer's Guide To Bond. He is also the author of three novels, and has written for most British national newspapers (though never about anything too heavy), and magazines from The Spectator to Four Four Two. He lives in Sussex with his partner and son.

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
74 (26%)
4 stars
118 (41%)
3 stars
65 (23%)
2 stars
18 (6%)
1 star
7 (2%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 33 reviews
Profile Image for Paul.
2,143 reviews
February 9, 2016
Every time you post a letter or card it is routed to the final address by a little seven digit postcode. Matt Mason has decided that he will visit each and every one of these postcode areas and endeavour to extract an anecdote or fact about that place as he travels from AB to ZE. But it will also be a journey back in time as he looks at the history of the postal service in the UK and discovers more of the strange world of the philatelist and pays a visit to the underground mail train.

On his journey he meets the great and the good, the famous and infamous, visits the smallest church, enjoys a pint in the smallest pub in Britain, goes to No Place and Pity Me, discovers that there is a village called Letter and that bits of William Wallace are interred in four different locations. Each postcode is celebrated with a single fact, like where the dartboard was invented or that there is only one hotel suite in the world with its own postcode. He does draw out much more from the people and places as he passes swiftly through.

Mason seems to delight in finding unusual ways of looking at Britain and mining our rich history for a subject and a story. Whilst the history of the postal service has been written about many times before, I quite liked the way he looks at each two letter coded area and bring alive the story from there. This is reasonable book that is written in a chatty style, amusing at times as well as being fascinating. What you don’t get though is a huge amount of depth to the stories; to get round all 124 postal codes means that he cannot fully absorb the character of the places visited. That isn’t a bad thing, as it is still an enjoyable read, but I thought that his book Walk the Lines was much better.
Profile Image for Stephen.
1,799 reviews296 followers
December 6, 2015
enjoyed the author's travels around the 124 postcode areas of the UK with some humour and quirky facts
Profile Image for Alex Sarll.
5,944 reviews243 followers
August 22, 2015
"I've been wondering if there's a difference between 'the Post Office', 'the GPO' and 'the Royal Mail' - Vicky explains that they've always been used pretty much interchangeably." Well, maybe to some extent they have, but it took me a minute on Google to confirm that they're distinct legal entities, one disbanded. I could forgive the bathetic personal observations on the trip through Britain's postcode areas that isn't even completed, if the facts were solid. But what's the point of a light-hearted trivia volume in which the reader needs to second-check the trivia?
(That's by no means the only example, but I saved the others (or at least the others I happened to spot) for my proper review - possibly coming to a paper in your postcode area soon. Ish)
Profile Image for Margaret.
Author 20 books84 followers
August 14, 2017
The best way to describe this book is that it is odd.

Mark Mason looked at Britain's 124 postcodes and decided to visit as many as possible and relay interesting facts about them.

For me the most interesting fact was learning how the postcodes work. This year in London I stayed in a hotel next door to the one I'd stayed in last year. They had different postcodes. I discovered that the first half of the code is the area, the second the property. So quite literally every building in Britain has a different postcode!

Some of the facts were odd, some amusing, some triggered WTF moments.

If you like travel and trivia, this book is for you.

Highly recommended.
Author 9 books3 followers
December 22, 2019
A book where the author travels around the postcodes of the UK and presents a fact about each of them.

That’s probably simplifying it slightly as it’s crammed with facts in between each. You can tell Mason struggled to keep it to one per postcode and so exposes a bunch like he has fact Tourette’s and couldn’t keep them in.

I think the quote on the back cover from Reader’s Digest sums my reading of this book up really well:

Almost every page contains at least one thing that you’ll be itching to startle your friends with.

It’s a wonderful book about Mason’s travels around the UK, with little observations, snippets of overheard conversations and side notes aplenty. It’s entertaining throughout and you’ll definitely learn something new.

One thing I would criticise is that he doesn’t visit every postcode, which feels a bit of a cop-out and that the author was either in a hurry or lazy (which seems unlikely given the exploits documented).

The other thing I found a bit odd was the chosen fact in a number of instances. You have the whole history of a postcode, each of which the book clearly illustrates are packed with stories, and then you end up with things like:

LU (Luton): Nick Owen was once refused entry to the Nick Owen Lounge at Luton Town FC’s ground.

Comical, yes, but the best fact for the entire of Luton? I’d hope not.

That said, the book does highlight just how much has gone on in any area of the UK you chose to examine closely. Life is literally busting out at the seams.

If you love a fact, the more obscure the better, then this is a great read.
413 reviews5 followers
June 2, 2023
Good title – a pun, presumably – for a book in which the author describes the bee in his bonnet that told him to visit every post code area in the British Isles and find a really interesting fact about each one. In the end, he does not manage actually to visit each one, but he does deliver an interesting fact about each, in fact often many interesting facts before revealing the one that came out tops for him.

Mason’s delivery also reads from time to engaging time like a version of Paul Sinha’s Pub Quiz. I found it entertaining.

Not much point detailing too much about the content of ‘Mail Obsession’ because that would spoil the fun, but a few tasters might excite the appetite. I learned a lot about how postcodes are organised; I learned a lot about the arcane wonders to be found in the British Postal Museum and Archive in Phoenix Place in London; I learned a lot about how to travel to the most northerly house in the UK, about horseshoes in Oakham, about a significant event on the Bath Road near Aldermaston in November 1919, and the one-up-manship Halifax can display when set against Joseph-Ignace Guillotin. And so on and so forth.

This is a very jolly book, though it’s a source of regret to me that I can never remember, and never locate in Mr Mason’s text, the list of cities in the UK that are blessed with single letter first elements in their postcodes. I know M for Manchester and G for Glasgow. I just struggle after that.

I have ‘Walk the Lines’ ready for when I want a good time.
Profile Image for Raj.
1,428 reviews30 followers
March 20, 2023
This book sort of falls between two stools for me. It tries to be a travel book crossed with a trivia book, and doesn't entirely succeed at either for me. It sort of felt like the author was trying to outdo Bill Bryson, and, friends, he is no Bill Bryson. Notes From a Small Island did the tour round Britain so much better, and even when Bryson didn't like a place, it never felt like he was looking down his nose at it, the way Mason does about Belfast, Swansea or Southall.

Because I never entirely liked the authorial voice, I didn't get on with the book. The facts are fun and all, but they're pretty random, and while I'd hoped that the Royal Mail might act as as central theme, it didn't really feature that much.

A bit disappointing, and, I suspect, a book that will find its way off my bookshelves, the next time they need clearing out a bit.
Profile Image for Ellesse.
110 reviews
June 1, 2019
I will be honest this isn't a review of the full book because I made it to page 26 before I'd had enough.

So I had a few issues with this book before I took it back to the library for another poor soul to read. On the very first page the author feels the need to point out at YES IT WAS MEN not women that laid the first rail tracks. Seems pointless unless you are trying to annoy women but okay. Moving on. There was a full page with someone else poems in it, why?

I got passed those though, I kept going. Until page 26. Then I had enough when I read this...

"A service station is a cross between a desert island and big brother house, though thankfully filled with ordinary people rather than transsexuals yearning to be pop starts"

How is that even acceptable in this age? It's not. I'm not reading a book from an author with that attitude.

I want a book by Harry the communication manager of the BMPA not by this guy.
Profile Image for Helen.
135 reviews2 followers
November 27, 2019
A highly entertaining book crammed with all kinds of fascinating trivia about Britain. I found it a little confusing at first, where the facts seemed to be quite random, but then the author set off on his various fact-finding expeditions and I was hooked. My only complaint is that I would have loved some photos. I found myself googling all sorts of things just to see what they look like: the Uxbridge gasholder, or the Scottish Royal Mail logo, for example.
I'm not sure whether this would appeal to readers unfamiliar with Britain and its postcode system, but for me it was a fascinating journey and I know many things about my country now that I didn't know before.
Profile Image for Sarahjoy Maddeaux.
113 reviews1 follower
July 7, 2020
This book was indeed full of fascinating facts about Britain. All sorts of things I wanted to turn to someone and share. And it's readable, but... it's not as good as, say, Bill Bryson or Dixe Wills. Somehow the writing seems more laboured. It's interesting but not delightful. Also he kind of cheats by smuggling in more than one truth about most post code areas, trying to get away with it by adding, 'I could make this fact *the* fact for this area, but instead...' Of course that means more fascinating information, but, well, cheating.
Profile Image for Rob Sedgwick.
339 reviews3 followers
August 3, 2021
This book didn't really work entirely for me. It's amusing in places and contains interesting facts and anecdotes (which I will all soon forget, I expect). However, it might as well just be a list of facts. Mark's haphazard journey around the country doesn't really add that much. (It adds something for sure, but it doesn't make the book, and the book could exist without it). Too much of it is seen outside a car window, I did enjoy some of the bits when he actually had his two feet on the ground and interacted with other people.
Profile Image for Adarsh Mishra.
28 reviews
December 13, 2019
its an odd trivia book about the UK Post codes. My key problem with the book- the writing style aside, even the trivia nuggets aren't interesting at parity! Yes there are a number of "Really! I couldn't have known that!" moments, but then as pointed by a few other readers- there are a bunch of "Really! that surely isn't true" bits as well.
Profile Image for Lcitera.
531 reviews1 follower
January 17, 2018
A delightful book that is a treasure trove of UK trivia...categorized by postal codes. Also useful facts such as why the mail delivery in the UK is identified as "the post". Written with humor...a good read.
1,975 reviews6 followers
January 27, 2018
Pointless trivia and a bit of travel makes another entertaining Mark Mason book. If you liked his other books you’ll like this one. If you haven’t tried one they’re lighthearted fun. Where else will you find out that the man who invented bank holidays taught his dog, who liked tea, to read?
Profile Image for Emily Sherwin.
23 reviews
May 25, 2023
Generally interesting, but I think he could have picked some better facts. Also I felt that the author was very snobby and had a weird fascination/tendency to specify people’s race that weren’t white.
589 reviews3 followers
December 21, 2016
Moderately entertaining little book about a project to visit and find a little-known fact about each of the 124 postal districts in the country.
Profile Image for Denise hodge.
4 reviews
September 19, 2018
A great zigzag journey across the UK. .

Full of great "well I never moments" . Written with great humour and you picture the journeys on your imaginary map
2 reviews
April 23, 2019
Easy and interesting read

An enjoyable trip around the UK written in a friendly style, entertaining and informative. Learned a lot of interesting facts along the way.
Profile Image for Sam.
58 reviews11 followers
January 19, 2020
Fun facts aplenty from start to finish. My reservations are the slight undertones that make it evidently written by a middle class, middle aged white man.
Profile Image for Max Baldwin.
58 reviews12 followers
July 19, 2020
Disappointed by this as the authors other two books I have read were both really good. The trivia in this one is just a bit boring and the authors disposition throughout the book isn’t to my liking
1,059 reviews7 followers
April 24, 2021
A fun way to tour Britain, with nuggets and charm aplenty. A mix of social history and travelogue, and a worthy part of Mark's excellent canon of books.
Profile Image for Ipswichblade.
910 reviews14 followers
October 3, 2022
Enjoyable and easy to read, but not all postcode areas were visited and there didn’t seem any logic to how the author chose which to leave out
118 reviews2 followers
March 14, 2017
Well it was definitely more trivia than geeky; so disappointed. Some of the facts were not really correct - eg Royal Mail = Post Office.
Profile Image for Sonia Bellhouse.
Author 5 books9 followers
July 19, 2018
Mail Obsession by Mark Mason
A great book for trivia lovers and those interested in finding out quirky facts about Britain. Not a book to read at a sitting, this is a book to amuse and delight, but one that is probably best read in small doses. There is a temptation to read out many of the amazing facts and bits of information to your long-suffering family.

A few snippets which amused me.

1879 Belgium trialled using cats to deliver the mail. The thirty-seven cats did not cooperate and the trail was abandoned.

The Queen carries several items in her handbag, including a handy suction hook to hold the bag itself

My favourite though is on April Fool's Day 2010 The company Gamestation inserted a clause in their online contracts which allowed them to claim their customers' souls.
Profile Image for Raz.
686 reviews32 followers
October 28, 2017
Complete review available: Mail Obsession

I guess I'm giving it a kind-of high rating because of it's quirky appeal. I'm a fan of the postal service (it's classic charm, the magic of a letter, the power of the written word delivered by a friendly postperson...) and I do love the odd, weird facts from the British Isles. I did also like how it was written - there was an index, the key facts were emboldened and it wasn't just a literal list of facts (there as a journey element to it!) However, a map would have been useful to locate the postal codes, some of the chosen facts were a little lackluster, and several sectors of the chapters did diverge into a very list-y style.

Nevertheless, I did enjoy the fun facts offered, and am tempted to pick up one or another of Mason's other titles.
Profile Image for Sarah Tipper.
366 reviews12 followers
January 10, 2016
Mason’s mission is to present us with one hundred and twenty four pieces of trivia, taking one each from each of Britain’s postcodes. This makes for a very varied book. As well as the facts that Mason picks, there are also the contenders, the ones that didn’t quite satisfy him. I was full of trivia by the end of the book. My personal favourite fact was the one from the AL (St Albans) postcode. It was the explanation of the phrase “Bob’s Your Uncle”. This had puzzled me as a child because Bob was my Grandad and Dave was my uncle and I found this saying impenetrable. I also liked finding out how ERNIE the Premium Bonds computer works.
Profile Image for Julian Walker.
Author 3 books7 followers
May 23, 2016
A whimsical meander around the UK using the British postal code system as its map and curious, trivial information as its compass.

Tremendous fun and written in a way that would make any spider building a web proud – it immediately draws you in and before you can notice it you are completely enmeshed in tales of the bizarre, eccentric and downright delightful.

Full of so much useless information that this should be compulsory reading for anyone looking to understand the British.

December 6, 2015
If, like me you are a fan of useless trivia, then you will absolutely love this book. I was expecting it to be the kind of book that lives in the bathroom and you dip in and out of picking up snippets along the way. But it is actually a entertaining story of one persons journey around Britain. On his travels he discovers interesting places, and uncovers useless, but interesting information whilst visiting all 124 postcode areas.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 33 reviews

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.