Among the less useful skills I have acquired as the mother of a small boy is the ability to name all the major Thomas the Tank Engine characters, and many of the minor ones too. What is it with boys and trains? I’m intrigued to see whether our baby girl develops a similar obsession with steam engines – I certainly don’t recall having any interest in trains at all until I was old enough to catch one by myself, when the West Dulwich to Victoria line suddenly became my ticket to freedom and independence.
But Arthur can’t get enough of them, so we have acquired a number of Thomas books. We read them a lot and I have probably spent more time than is normal, healthy or sensible thinking about the premise behind the island of Sodor and its inhabitants, but here’s my problem – the engines all have drivers, firemen, guards etc, who presumably have access to their controls. And yet when the engines bump the trucks or get into difficulty by going too fast, it’s the trains themselves who are held responsible. It just doesn’t seem right.
In The Sad Story of Henry, Henry shelters from the rain in a tunnel and refuses to come out for fear of ruining his lovely green paint and red stripes. When reasoning, arguing, pushing and pulling all fail to budge him, he is bricked up inside the tunnel and left there. It’s a positively medieval punishment for poor old Henry, and every time I read it I can’t help wondering why his driver doesn’t just, you know, drive him out. But as I said, maybe I’m thinking about it all too much. (And, spoiler alert, thankfully there’s a happy ending for Henry in the next story.)