Thomas the Tank Engine has a lot to answer for. From the age of about one, Hamish was a Thomas the Tank Engine groupie. Everything had to be Thomas the Tank Engine – from pyjamas and T-Shirts to books and toys, from railway tracks to a bedroom rug. The gillet, an anorak and slippers all completed his passion. He had loads of books, from the new versions to the originals that Rob found in his loft. And then there were the DVDs – both the collections of single TV episodes to the feature length stories. I didn’t grow up with Thomas the Tank Engine; this was a whole new world for me and I loved it. I was able to immerse myself in it; Hamish didn’t need any help to play with his trains but reading books and watching DVDs was something we could do together when he came to stay.
Thomas the Tank Engine also took me to places that I had not been to before. The Great Central Railway station at Rothley has a miniature railway with Thomas and Friends which Hamish was absolutely fascinated with; it was unusual, in that on the railway banks there were giraffes and elephants and dinosaurs, the imagination of a train fanatic allowed to run wild! Children were able to operate the trains with a hand-held control. There were trips on the Santa Express at Christmas. We went to the Severn Valley Railway, in fact to anywhere where there were steam trains, even if Thomas was not there.
Hamish’s fascination with steam trains opened up a whole new world for me, with or without Hamish. If we went on holiday to Kent or Yorkshire, Lincolnshire or Dorset we always looked to see if there were any steam train lines. We had some great journeys. I have to say I am amazed at the dedication of volunteers in the repair, restoration and maintenance of the old lines, working in all weathers, fundraising, driving the engines, serving customers, arranging events, restoring the station buildings and platforms. I think one of the most amazing things I heard was on the line to Bedale when there had been severe floods; the steam railway was the only form of transport and for a week it had run a regular service to get people to and from work in rural areas. Brilliant idea. The steam railways conjure up that feel of a lost time. There isn’t a steam railway journey that I have taken that I haven’t enjoyed; it might be cold, it might be rainy; it might be uncomfortable but it is always a delight.
With Gwyn and Pete, Liz and I have been on a steam railway journey from Loughborough to both Carlisle and Edinburgh – great journeys and exciting days out. I bought this tea towel on holiday in Wales in 2012; it was at the Snowdon Mountain Railway shop. We had just been on the Mountain Railway and had passed Chris Bonnington carrying the Olympic Torch down from the mountain. It was a great journey both up and down (but very different); going up it was very misty, quite creepy and gloomy, almost mystical. Coming down the sun had shifted the mist and the views were spectacular. I did think that Hamish would really enjoy the journey but actually he preferred the journey up Snowdon (and down) with his Grandfather which he walked at the age of 5. He was so proud, as he should be. On another occasion on that holiday, we also went up the Great Orme at Llandudno, another great journey and another walk that I would not have managed.
Looking at this tea towel, reminds me of all the fantastic railway journeys that I have discovered, thanks to Hamish and his mate Thomas the Tank Engine, all those journeys I have yet to go on (and there are loads just in Wales according to the tea towel) and how sad I am that Hamish has moved on from Thomas the Tank Engine and I have no one to watch those DVDs with. But it was good for that short time.
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