It eventually dawned on me that my back was not going to miraculously improve so I moved the computer into the bedroom. It’s not ideal but at least I can now lie down on the bed in relative comfort and once more relate the trials and wonders of parenthood.
So what’s been the biggest change this year, aside from my inability to sit down and pick things up? Well I guess the ditching of Tigger and the embracing of all things “Thomas” has been one of the more obvious changes.
Tigger had been Marty’s most beloved toy since he was about 6 months old. I suspect most of the attraction was based on the fact that Tigger could bounce around the room with wild abandon whilst Marty could barely drag himself across the floor. Certainly the love seemed to grow, right up until the moment Marty rose unsteadily to his feet and, mere moments later, bounced high into the air.
The fact that bouncing was now easily accomplished and relatively commonplace seemed to lower Tigger in Marty’s eyes. ‘So what else can you do?’ appeared to be his attitude and, sadly, the reply was ‘not a lot.’ Leanne and I both found this a bit of a worry, partly because we actually quite enjoyed watching and singing along to the Tigger movies every night before bedtime, but mainly because we’d spent weeks painting an 8ft high mural across Marty’s bedroom wall, a mural dedicated solely to Tigger, Pooh and the rest of the gang. However, Marty could not be brought around and, as Tigger sat more neglected with each passing day, Marty’s eye went a roving.
Quite how he settled on Thomas is still up for debate, was it a toy Leanne purchased at a car boot sale? Was it me encouraging him to watch an episode of “Thomas and Friends” on the TV? These were out and out accusations at the time as we both took great exception to this fascination with a train that did nothing but let off steam and roll his eyes whilst an aged Scouser droned on about tracks, buffers and the fat controller. Where were the songs? Where was the adult humour within the kiddies program? What had happened to all the bouncy, bouncy, fun, fun, fun?
Fortunately, over time, we've both come to appreciate Thomas and his enormous retinue, which is just as well as Marty barely talks about anything else.
In fairness we didn't have the greatest of introductions! The early episodes of Thomas & friends do take a bit of getting used to; the controller is unashamedly fat, nothing moves other than the trains themselves and Ringo Starr narrates the unfolding drama in a dull, monotone, drone. In truth, considering just how basic it is, I suppose it’s actually quite well done but it was a bit of a let-down after the Technicolor wonders of Walt Disney.
To compound our unease Leanne bought the film “Thomas and The Magic Railroad”, a star studded extravaganza featuring - amongst others - Thomas, Alec Baldwin and Peter Fonda. Alas, it turned out to be the worst film I have seen since I attended a late night showing of “The Wild Women of Wongo” - the only difference being that ‘Wonga’ was billed as being the worst film ever made, whereas ‘The Magic Railroad’ just quietly sidled in and grabbed this accolade whilst my brains dripped slowly out of my ears.
If you ever meet Alex or Pete out-and-about one day and they are being a tad annoying, a little ‘lovey’ and possibly more than a bit full of themselves, just whisper “Thomas And The Magic Railroad” into their collective ears and watch as they shrivel before your eyes and quickly shuffle off into the darkness, heads bowed low, eyes filled with shame.
It so incredibly bloody awful that’s its only redeeming feature is that Madonna and Eddie Murphy weren't in it. I was so upset by this film that I spent the next week desperately trying to rekindle a love for Tigger in Marty’s heart... all to no avail.
Fortunately, things have since improved. Thomas has modernised! He now talks, he’s CGI, he has lots more friends, the films are actually entertaining and Ringo has been cast aside in favour of a narrator that can be understood by people from as far afield as the Wirral - I must admit that I was a little miffed by this last change as Ringo is actually a distant relative of Marty’s. I'm not sure that Ringo is aware of this claim to fame but I’d like to think that, if he is, it offers him some comfort in his dotage.
The latest Thomas film is “Thomas & Friends: King of the Railway” and I'm glad to report that it is light years ahead of the ‘Magic Railroad’ – mind you so is ‘Battlefield Earth’. I won’t go into details but suffice to say that it’s that age old story of multi-millionaire rebuilds castle with the help of umpteen steam trains – we've all been there!
Films aside, it’s as an educational tool that Thomas and the gang have most impressed me. I was lying on the sofa a few weeks ago, quietly moaning in pain as my heat mat tried valiantly to ease the suffering in my lower back, when Marty came up and started playing with the controls.
“Ooh! That’s a little like Edward!” He muttered pushing the buttons. ”Ooh! That’s a little like Henry!”
“Ooh! What the bloody hell are you going on about?” Was my silent reply and it was quite some time before I realised that Marty was looking at the numbers that lit up as he played with the dial. A ‘little like Edward’ was the number 2 painted on the side of the train Edward, a ‘little like Henry’ was the number 3 writ large upon on that train! I was well impressed!
Sadly, my amazement has been slightly tarnished by the fact that, if you write down any of the numbers from 1 to 6, all you get as an answer is the corresponding train, so despite holding out for, say, “It’s six, Daddy!”, all I actually get is a triumphant “It’s Percy, Daddy!” I have a sneaky suspicion that he’s more than aware of what the number is called but just prefers the train name.
The other more obvious, but none the less impressive, knowledge that he’s picked up from Thomas are colours. I did try teaching him colours when he was very young by telling him that the balloon he was holding was in fact a blue balloon. This somewhat back fired on me when he started calling every balloon he came across a ‘blue balloon’ and it took almost six months to get him back to the idea that it was actually just a ‘balloon’.
Leanne told me off for this so I stayed well away from colour until one day Marty waved a blue car in my face and announced, “Daddy! It’s a little like Gordon” I might have been a bit slow on the uptake with his move into numbers but even I could see what he was driving at here – although it might aid the narrative somewhat if I tell you that Gordon is a large and popular train within the Thomas sagas who’s hue is distinctly blue.
So what else have we learnt from Thomas? Well I've learnt that Facebook can actually be useful - Yup, I never thought I’d write that either. My wife discovered one of those local ‘to buy and sell’ Facebook groups and has since been buying Thomas related merchandise like there’s no tomorrow – for the grand sum of £15 we bought enough Trackmaster rail to go around the entire house, complete with umpteen trains and carriages. From this Marty has amassed an amazing degree of dexterity and learnt that battery powered toys do not mix with either sand or water.
I've also discovered a use for YouTube – how many unexpected phrases can I come out with today? Marty and I now spend the last 10 minutes before bedtime watching various steam train video clips on YouTube. From this Marty has discovered ‘real’ Thomas trains and I've discovered just how many sad bastards there are out there wasting their brief time upon this earth freezing their arses off on God forsaken platforms around the country just to take poor quality videos of steam trains.
We've also discovered an enormous amount about trains – far too much if the truth be known – which has infected Marty’s entire vocabulary. He no longer has a bath or a shower; he “goes to the wash-down”. He doesn't push things; he “shunts” them. We no longer park the car; we “pull into a siding”. Everyone else walks around the village, we "puff". Why hold hands, when you can “couple-up”? It’s all very entertaining.
So as Christmas looms Thomas emblazoned clothing is being purchased, Thomas DVD’s are being amassed and relatives across the country are buying various engines to run on the 7 miles of track we seem to have quietly acquired. And what is Marty doing as the big day approaches? He’s only starting to show an ominous penchant for Bob the Bloody Builder!