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Save the children from this evil train.

I THOUGHT WE had reached the final frontier of outrage when cupcakes were declared fascist, but I was wrong. I hadn’t reckoned on the bottomless fury of the sisterhood against the patriarchy in all its forms, real or imagined. Thus the rumbling discontent over Thomas the Tank Engine has broken out into open hostilities again. If cakes can be dangerous then nothing is above suspicion, not even children’s entertainment.

Ms Tracy Van Slyke was so outraged by the subversiveness of the tv show that she cut her kid off from it for good. She took to the pages of the Guardian to lambast the stories as “forever caught in British colonial times”. That’s a good one to kick off with, the old colonial jibe; it puts you on the “right side of history” even if you’re spouting nonsense. Sometimes I wish the Empire still existed, just so that we could enjoy watching the likes of Ms Van Slyke strung out in a permanent frenzy at the wrongness of it all.

The decaying reek of colonialism, however, is not what really gets up her nose. It’s all the other stuff. It’s the sexism (not enough positive lady engines), the authoritarianism (the Fat Controller is a “controlling autocrat”), the anti-environmentalism (diesels represent the progressive good but are reviled as villains by the steam conservatives), and the homophobia (a train is mocked for being painted pink). It was this latter crime that pushed Ms Van Slyke over the edge.

She’s not the first and surely won’t be the last woman (for all the critics seem to be women) to attack Thomas. We had the sorry sight a few months ago of Labour’s shadow transport minister, Mary Creagh, blaming the shortage of women train drivers on the stories. It was a “national scandal,” she said, showing either a sense of humour or no sense at all.

AND BEFORE THEN the redoubtable Sarah Ditum (again, in the Guardian – it’s a limitless spring of comicality) criticised the stories for their anti-working class bias, even going so far as to discern a Cold War edge:

Sodor experiences its own miniature version of the cold war with the arrival of Bulgy, a red (yes, red, just like a Soviet) double-decker bus who cries “Free the roads!” and anticipates the revolutionary overthrow of rail transport.

She may not have lived much of her early life while the Cold War was a global reality but I won’t excuse her for not realising which was the right side to be on.

Her reading may not be all that far-fetched, given the context of the times, so it’s back to Ms Van Slyke to leave the realms of common sense when she discerns incipient racism:

(For the record, all the “villains” on Thomas and Friends are the dirty diesel engines. I’d like to think there was a good environmental message in there, but when the good engines pump out white smoke and the bad engines pump out black smoke – and they are all pumping out smoke – it’s not hard to make the leap into the race territory.)

Well, yes, it is a hard leap – for anyone with their head screwed on properly.

It’s a pity, really, because if poor old, dead old Rev Awdry had included a beturbanned Muslim train she could have shouted Islamophobia! and claimed a full house.

I no longer think that people with these views are laughably over-sensitive, too serious or a little eccentric. I just think they’re unhinged. And I bet their kids are more fun than they are. May they all grow up to be libertarians, conservatives and Republicans.

Michael Blackburn.

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