I love trains. Both the real or the train-set variety. So when the Vet and the Pest Controller bought me a ticket to ride on the Mail Rail, I was in heaven.
Do you remember the excitement of receiving a letter, in the days before email and tax reminders? In many ways that love has never left me, even if most these days are offering me more junk than junkets. Reading the letters Dad wrote to Mum between 1944 and 1948, when I discovered them after her death has been both a joy and unutterably poignant.
Here’s an example: Dad was waiting for a posting, having completed his training as the War ended – he was off to Palestine shortly – but meanwhile was enjoying a ‘break’ in the Brecons in Wales.
And some thirty years later, I was grinding through my Law finals in Guildford while the Textiliste finished her degree back in Bristol. I’ve kept all her letters to me but I’d have to kill myself to publish any here – let this short extract give you an idea, even if neither of us has a clue about the Napoleon reference nor why she had taken to calling me Josephine!
The point is, how much I adored seeing those envelopes on the mat. Was there any better experience (well, apart from seeing her on the mat…)? The receipt of the post was special, as in SPECIAL and can email ever replace that? Will we keep emails as long as Mum kept Dad’s letters and I’ve kept the Textiliste’s?
The postal service we have today is a mite different to that of ten years ago, let alone fifty. When it was established, back in the dim and distant it proved crucial to both business and personal lives. And London was, inevitably, the hub for so much. Main line stations saw a mass of post arriving that needed sorting and sending on. Crossing London with it was a nightmare so a railway was built, during and after WW1, electric powered and running seven days a week.
Eventually, it carried upwards of 4 million pieces of post to the sorting offices and then out to the destinations. In 2003, as letters lost out to email, it closed but, glory be! it has been rescued, at least in part to allow people like me to sit in a carriage, a tight squeeze this and hurry across town imagining myself a love letter or an offer of a job (never a tax demand, mind you).
This is for the big kids in us all. It’s informative and fun and, on a bleakly cold day, at an even temperature so far under the earth.
I’ll end with an extract from the Post Office film’s 1930s masterpiece – The Night Mail – written by WH Auden with music by Benjamin Brittain which was penned to reflect the rhythms of the London to Glasgow Post Office express. Genius.