Letter from my Grandfather

by Richard Carmichael on February 8, 2010

Thoughts by Thomas H. Pettit (1902-1989)

(Grandfather of Richard Carmichael, founder of HeadsUpDad) (Recorded on tape and sent to my Mother 50 years ago)

It is a few minutes to midnight on December 31st, 1959. The last minutes in the last hour of a decade.

We are situated by the side of a busy road at Reading, overlooking the town which lies in the Thames Valley. It is a moonless, dampish night, with a slight breeze from the south.  The lights of the town shine brightly against the inky sky, and on the breeze come the busy town sounds, with addition on this special night of the church bells ringing out the old year – ringing out a decade and heralding a new one.  Our own thoughts wander to thinking of life in decades – the memories of decades gone by to wondering on the decade to come.

No, better to think in years – life’s span is too short to measure it by decades.

Back to reality, to the town and the bells, with the sounds of the trains on the busy Western Region, of which Reading is an important centre. From our vantage point we hear the siren of a fire engine – weaving its way through the town with a sense of urgency. A plane crosses our path on its outward journey, red and green lights blinking brightly. The railways will be demanding all our attention in a few seconds as it is traditional at the stroke of twelve for all Hades to be let loose.

Every steam engine that has a whistle will let itself be heard, vying with its neighbours on the line to herald in the New Year.  Big Ben booms out from the radio of a neighbouring house, giving us warning of the last quarter of the last hour of the old year. The whistles die down and give way to a new sound – something different, as a diesel electric train heralds its way through Reading, and we wonder, have we been witnesses to the end not only of a decade, but to the end of an era, the era of the steam engine?

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