Em oi! #446: Train, in Vain

Train: I won't come out. The rain will damage my paint.
Fat Controller: Have you ever read Poe, Train?
Train: ...yes.
FC: If you don't come out, I shall have you bricked up in there like a cask of amontillado.
Train: I'm going to report this to OSHA. Workers have rights too, you know.

So I need to make it clear that this isn’t something I made up. This is genuinely something that happened in a Thomas the Tank Engine video. You can check out the UK version here, and the subtly different but still incredibly weird US version here.

Here are a few “fun” facts I have found out since I started researching this comic:

  • Sir Topham Hat is often referred to as “the fat controller” in the British version, but always by name in the US version, because the word “fat” is considered more pejorative in the US.
  • The story this comic is based on (linked to above) was originally published in 1945.
  • The character of Sir Topham Hat is originally an engineer and referred to as “the fat director” (i.e. Director of the North Western Railway). Then, when the railway becomes nationalized and joins the British Railway, he becomes the fat controller.
  • In a show of nepotism (and sexism), he’s married to the sister of the MP from Sodor East and owner of the Skarloey Railway. No wonder he became controller.
  • In the books, he has two kids, and eventually his son and then his grandson become controllers of the railway (more nepotism, more sexism).
  • He’s styled “sir” because he’s a baronet. This means he ranks above all knights/dames but is not a peer, BUT it is a hereditary title. Please feel free to check Burke’s Peerage for more information on what this means for how deeply he has to bow when meeting the queen.

Seriously, a long time ago I was worried that grandparents who hadn’t touched a baby in thirty years would:

  • Put my child down to sleep on his stomach.
  • Give him solids too early.
  • Feed him nothing but sugar.
  • Somehow fuck up his sleep cycle (this happened, but we recovered, and they never managed to fuck things up so badly we were forced to co-sleep or anything, which was a story I heard).

I should have been more worried about the introduction of children’s television.

And it gets worse, because I know I have brought this upon myself. A few weeks ago, we were pretending that Thomas was only viewable at Grandma’s house. Then daycare closed, and we decided to start potty training. I mean, we’d been planning to anyway, but we started a little early because hey, you’re already hanging around the house all day trying to do eight hours of work while watching a toddler, why not also add in an extra level of difficulty with regards to bodily fluid management?[1] The point being that I told Hal one morning, “Hey, we’re going to start potty training today!”

Sensing an opportunity, he said, “You say ‘training’?”

“Ah, yes,” I said, suddenly feeling like a bar owner who understands that there might be a way out of my current dilemma with the health department via paying some cash to a local businessmen’s association. “If you use the potty successfully, you can watch a Thomas video.”

Plus side: Potty training accomplished. Minus side: This is what being hoisted by your own petard looks like.

We’ll file this one under PS648 R3 L86 2020, for American literature–Collections of American literature–Prose (General)–Special forms and topics, A-Z–Railroad stories.

Anyway, there’s a new episode of Ask a Medievalist over at AskAMedievalist.com (or on iTunes/Google Podcasts/Stitcher/etc.) and a new episode coming out next Thursday. Also, for everyone who has given us positive feedback! It’s great to hear from all of you, and it makes us feel really great about the amount of time this project absorbs.


[1] One million percent gratitude to Sarah, who has allowed us to get some toddler-free work hours. She is a rock star and has made the transition from dog sitter to babysitter with great ease and grace. If we have retained any sanity, it was because of her.