Every parent of a young child in lockdown either knows this fact or is about to learn it: you don’t get to choose where they find their joy.
For example, my two and half year old son likes to listen to the Thomas and Friends Storytime podcast. It is, by some margin, his favourite thing to do. By a similar margin, the opening “toot toot” of the podcast is my least favourite sound on the entire planet, which now activates my fight or flight reflex every time I hear it. But due to some quirk of evolution, I find myself unable to deny my boy his train show, as it gives him the kind of happiness unattainable to adults without the use of class-A drugs.
Nonetheless, I am genuinely confronted by how much I hate this show and the trains therein. Some of this can be chalked up to entering our fourth week of lockdown with no end in sight. Most of it can be chalked up to Thomas and Friends Storytime being a bad show about trains who I hate.
There are lots of interesting reasons to hate this show, but I’m not getting into any of them here. This is simply a list of all the trains in the show, ranked by how much I hate them. This ranking is not definitive. Those in a similar position to me may wish to make their own list of trains they hate from their child’s train podcast. It doesn’t need to be a train podcast specifically that’s driving you insane in lockdown. For me, however – and I really cannot stress this enough – it is.
Nia is the least objectionable train in my son’s train podcast, possibly because she’s afforded so little airtime. I can’t tell you much about Nia, other than that she’s painted orange, which is fine, and that she was once tasked with bringing an elephant to the Sodor Animal Park and the elephant ran away, which is not.
A lot of people don’t like Gordon, who is haughty and rude, but I feel an affinity with this train because the contempt in which he holds all the other trains on the Island of Sodor comes very close to matching my own. There aren’t a lot of Gordon-centric episodes in Thomas and Friends Storytime, but as if to make up for this, the actor shouts each of his lines at an upsetting volume. Gordon doesn’t get into adventures like the other trains, and seems to be very into the core business of “being a train”. It is for this reason alone that he does not rank higher.
I’m told that there’s a famous episode of the old TV show where Henry is bricked up in a tunnel for all eternity as a punishment for disobedience. I am not exaggerating when I say that if this happened to any of the trains in Thomas and Friends Storytime, I would take my shirt off and run around the living room like I’d just won the World Cup.
Henry is not entombed alive in the podcast, which is a great shame.
Diesel is a diesel-powered shunting engine and is the closest thing Thomas and Friends Storytime has to an antagonist. Why is he the antagonist? Well, when the Reverend W. Awdry was dreaming up the magical Island of Sodor to delight and entertain a generation of children, he decided to establish a blood feud between the diesel and steam powered engines. I can only assume he did this for his own inscrutable Protestant reasons, and the end result is a kind of completely incongruous, sectarian tension that runs through the series. Diesel is the head of the diesel faction on Sodor and once stole a Christmas tree. Pathetic.
My son has episodes that he likes more than others. Thomas’ Animal Friends, featuring Rebecca, is his favourite episode of all, and as a result I know Thomas’ Animal Friends better than literally any piece of media or art I have ever encountered. I have more clarity around the events that unfold in Thomas’ Animal Friends than anything that has ever happened to me in my actual life, including the birth of my son. It is for this reason that I would like to see Rebecca the Large Tender Engine exploded by huge amounts of dynamite.
4. Cranky the Crane
I’ll be the first to admit that Cranky The Crane is not a train. He still makes my list.
In 1896, the Lumiere brothers premiered their film L’Arrivée d’un train en gare de La Ciotat. It’s a 50 second clip of a train arriving at a station, and when it was first shown in Paris, the audience were so terrified that they ran screaming from the room. This was prescient, as 125 years on, it is my exact reaction when James The Red Engine appears in any episode of Thomas And Friends Storytime.
James is billed as “the funny engine”. To begin with, this is a lie. James does nothing at any point in any of the episodes that could even be generously described in those terms. The podcast’s insistence that James is comic relief might be what tips me over the edge in lockdown, ripping our speakers from the wall and walking them, and myself, into blessed traffic.
The only reason that this guy isn’t at number one is that the other day we were at the park and my son held out his arms and ran down the path and said “toot toot I’m Thomas!” with a huge smile on his face which was the best thing to happen to me all week.
Nonetheless, Thomas is a huge piece of shit and no doubt about it. J.R.R Tolkien once said that “cellar door” was the most beautiful sounding phrase in the English language. This was only because he had never heard the phrase “Thomas The Tank Engine has been turned to atoms by a futuristic beam weapon”.
And so, by default, Percy, The Green Engine, is my most hated engine on Thomas and Friends Storytime. He is in most of the episodes and says things like “Last one to Tidmouth Sheds is a broken boiler!” without any consequence from a sane God.
That’s the list. I do not wish to discuss the trains any further.