We live in a Lancashire mill town that is full of noise. Surrounded by countryside, the birds begin to tweet at 4.30 am. The clock on the church at the end of the road chimes every hour, albeit five minutes late. In the days BC (Before Children) we'd often be woken at 10 am on Sunday mornings by the first tooting horn of the steam train on the heritage line run lovingly by volunteers and tracing a route through a line of local villages.
These days of course, we're up long before 10 am on Sundays. Despite all of the noise of the house we never miss the tooting though for T is obsessed - properly, utterly, passionately, madly - with trains.
There are worst things to be obsessed with of course. We have residents' passes for the heritage railway, meaning we can travel the entire route for less than half price (free for T) and making it an ideal lazy-idea day out. Standing in the garden and waiting for the toot which tells us a train at our small town station is ready to depart can occupy him for hours (well, half an hour maybe). And then there are the words. How many not-yet two year olds know what a piston, carriage, funnel and level crossing are. Well, I mean apart from the ones I see waving frantically from the vintage British Rail windows as we pause at the flashing lights and wait for the train to cross.
There is only one problem. I cannot bloody stand Thomas The Tank Engine.
I'm not adverse to children's brands entirely of course. We have enough In The Night Garden paraphenalia to open a small shop. I like the programme though. The colours, the pace and tone, the music, even the long unexplained absences of the Wottingers.
TTTE is completely different. The Rev W Awdry had a grand imagination, but the day to day goings on on the island of Sodor (which incidently must, according to accent, be located somewhere off the coast of Liverpool) aren't sufficiently interesting to keep T (or me!) distracted for more than a couple of minutes. Plus the newer TV versions of Awdry's stories are shown on Five as part of their Milkshake children's programming, presented by imbeciles who are at least 10 years younger than me. With adverts. Bah humbug!
The toys are hugely expensive. We have a small plastic helicopter with a rotating blade, it was a couple of quid. Paint him white, add eyes and call him Harold and he's suddenly a tenner. And have you tried the books? Yawn. I should have been suspicious when the library versions were still remarkably new looking, despite having been on the loan circuit for a couple of years.
All of this is surmountable of course. If T loved Thomas ('he's the cheeky one ...' - don't get me started on that theme tune) I'd be gritting my teeth and learning how to properly pronounce Skarloey. He doesn't though. Despite many generous gifts from Grandma and Grandpa - branded clothing, toys and DVDs - he's utterly unfussed with the whole thing, which (lets be honest) is quite alright with me.
Shaky amateur videos on Youtube though, with a close up of that piston on a wobbly zoom, clouds of steam enveloping the Handycam as the videographer coughs in the background. Those he can watch for hours.