When I was little chap, no more than four or five, my Mum would often park me in front of the radio. There, I would listen to a classic British children's program appropriately titled, Listen With Mother, while Mum wandered off to the bottom of the garden to smoke weed. The one thing I will always remember (and I am sure hundreds of thousands of British kids have this forever stamped on their brains) is the opening moment of the program: "Are you sitting comfortably?" the narrator would ask. "Then I'll begin."
It really didn't matter if you were comfortable – the bastard would start reading anyway. But I remember this as a learning experience, as I remember so much of my childhood. As a wee one I learned, for example, that if I was making a grumpy face and the wind changed, then my face would be stuck in that expression forever. I learned that I should "do as grown-ups say, not as they do." Therefore, I avoided the bitter divorces, drug addictions and charges of tax evasion that accounted for most of my uncles and aunts. The person most responsible for turning me into the sociopath I am today was my lovely little grandmother, who told me frequently that if I didn't eat my vegetables then I would be killing little children in Africa. And God would probably kill a few angels in Heaven as well, just to prove a point.
As a result of these life's lessons, childhood was a very confusing time for me. I spent my formative years in a state of depression worrying if my eating habits were responsible for the painful deaths of entire African families. I fretted over the logistics of speaking only when I was spoken to, secretly daydreaming about watching with mild indifference as the adults responsible for filling me full of this shit were flattened under a runaway train that only I had seen coming.
Like all new parents, Nigh Perfect and I decided when Little Dude was born that we would never utter aloud any of the phrases that our respective parents used to bandy about with impunity. That lasted until he was eight months old, at which point we found ourselves telling him not to do all the fun things that we ourselves used to enjoy, such as pulling the cat's tail or welding without the correct headgear. I don't know about you, chums, but the old Scissors Sprint was one of the highlights of my week, especially considering the horrified scream my Mum used to let out every time I did it.
I'm not going to lose any sleep about being such a killjoy, though. Because apparently, Nigh Perfect and I have been doing a pretty good job of screwing the little guy up just by reading him his bedtime stories. I'd like to tell you about this in a little spot we'll call...
Thomas the Train is a Dick
and other bedtime stories
For a while, Thomas was Little Dude's favorite character. I always found this pretty amusing considering Thomas' weekly adventures on television could best be described as "complete and utter shite." I might have been more enthusiastic and supportive if not for the obvious problem that Thomas' status as a train rendered him incapable of leaving his tracks. Therefore, his adventures usually revolved around his frequent derailings, his shunting of rusty trucks at the rail yard and getting covered in things like snow and chocolate. And for each meaningless event in his worthless life, there was a requisite toy, meaning that Little Dude would flip out if we went to the store and did not come back with Sputum Covered Thomas, or Percy, the Little Engine Who Coughed Up Blood.
According to the opening narration, Thomas was a "cheeky little engine" who liked to pull tricks on all the other engines, making life miserable for the fat old bastard who ran the railway yet always managing to find forgiveness in the end. In my opinion, Thomas was "cheeky" in much the same way Genghis Khan was "boisterous." Cheeky means that you make naughty fart noises when your Mother In-Law is visiting. Cheeky does not mean they shut down an entire railway line to search for the body of Gordon the Big Engine, whom you shunted off a cliff when no one was watching.
Despite all of Thomas' deviant personality flaws, Little Dude was oh-so excited to learn last summer that a nearby town in North Carolina – and by "nearby" I mean two hundred fucking miles away – had become a temporary home to the Cheeky Engine himself. We reminded Little Dude that our previous visit to a Thomas exhibit at Six Flags had ended in disaster when we discovered in 110-degree heat that the only characters on display were a London bus and a helicopter named Harold. I mean who advertizes for a train exhibit and then provides only a helicopter and a bus? Six Flags over Georgia, that's who. Though they did provide a large store full of Thomas toys, which they graciously placed at the very end of the ride so you had no choice but to walk through it with your agitated three year-old.
Little Dude was not going to be dissuaded. We were going to see Thomas at his new showplace in the picturesque village of Bryson City, NC. And so we went. And now Little Dude is grounded until he is nineteen.
To say the good people of Bryson City had embraced the tourist industry might be overstating things a little bit. My previous experience with cities is that they will often possess large buildings, crime, and possibly a sports team. They are not usually a single street lined with revolting knick-knack stores and a restaurant that sells cold Chicken Cordon Bleu sandwiches from which you have to pick off chunks of ice. Little Dude didn't mind. Sodor Village (a large tent full of Thomas merchandise) was hopping with agitated three year-olds and various parents who wandered around with that kind of ragman expression you usually find on condemned prisoners. For some reason, a lot of the parents looked very pissed off. We decided to ignore their spoilsport attitudes. This was going to be the best moment of our son's life.
We had picked up our tickets online at the bargain price of about fifty bucks each. Nigh Perfect shuffled around looking guilty, trying to persuade me that we had gotten a deal because they'd also sent her a 10% discount on all future visits to the Thomas exhibit. I pointed out in no uncertain terms that the only way you would find me visiting Thomas in any possible future would be at the dead of night, and that I would no doubt be armed with explosives. She called me a killjoy and we got on the train.
This was it – the absolute pinnacle of Little Dude's brief time on the planet. He was excited. No he wasn't. He was terrified. His little imagination suddenly reminded him of all the times Thomas had derailed on the Isle of Sodor at what he could only assume to be a stunning loss of human life. We tried to calm his fears as the carriage gently pushed away from the station but it was no use. And so we left picturesque Bryson City for what might possibly be four hours trapped in a carriage with a screaming kid and four hundred of his closest rivals.
Thankfully, Thomas sidled along at only about five miles per hour, and we headed for a little bridge a few hundred yards down the line. We figured the organizers were going to have to fill up a couple more carriages before the trip began. Little Dude began to settle down as the voice of the conductor came over the loudspeaker:
"Hello Boys and Girls! Today, we're going to take you on a special journey where you'll see all the magical things Thomas sees every day and be promoted to Junior Conductors! First of all, Thomas wanted to show you a special place – his favorite bridge, which has been here since Victorian times. Isn't it just great?"
Little Dude agreed that this was, indeed, just great. Nigh Perfect, myself, and four hundred parents gulped nervously as the rusty Victorian-era edifice creaked and groaned. We hoped they would get the hell off the bloody thing and that we could be on our way without any of those pesky derailings that have so littered Thomas' career.
Mercifully, the train crept into action once more. At five miles per hour. Back towards Bryson City Station some five hundred yards down the line, where it came to rest with a judder.
"Boys and Girls, Thomas is so happy that you came to visit him today. The people of Bryson City thank you for allowing us to take you and your parents for a ride. Please collect your Junior Conductor certificate at the exit. Thank you, and have a nice day!"
And with that, three very large security guards moved down the length of the train so that the organizers could quickly replace four hundred bewildered children with four hundred excited children who were now congregated on the platform, unaware of the nine minutes of complete turd that awaited them.
We now began to appreciate the genius of Sodor Tent Village: the only way we were going to overcome the guilt of dragging our little guy all the way to East Bumfuck, North Carolina for nine minutes of complete indifference with his all-time hero was to purchase lots of toys in an attempt to make up for the disappointment. I wondered if we would find Bryson City Thomas for sale, complete with cold chicken sandwich accessory and Rusty Victorian Bridge.
I will tell you that this story – like all good children's stories – has a happy ending. Frankly, Little Dude really didn't care. He had spent time in the company of his hero, and that was good enough for him. He chattered about Thomas the entire way home. This, by extension, made it good enough for Nigh Perfect and I.
I would like to thank the good people of Bryson City for their wonderful hospitality and can only hope my humble little tale will do wonders for their continuing efforts to attract tourists.
Thomas, though, is still a dick.
Honorable Mention – Curious George
In my further nighttime readings I have discovered that Thomas is not the only children's character deserving of jail time.
George was a curious little monkey whose hobbies included ignoring the instructions of grown-ups and causing untold millions of dollars' worth of property damage. According to the classic tale, "Curious George goes to the Hospital," it was not unknown for this bundle of fun to destroy the hopes and dreams of an entire ward full of bed-ridden kids by fucking up their Christmas tree and setting fire to their presents. George is suspected in the total annihilation of a pizza store, has set fire to buildings on numerous occasions, and is currently wanted in nine states for breaking and entering the local zoo. Authorities suspect he has an accomplice – a man in a yellow hat.