Thomas the Tank Engine

When my children were infants they and I used to watch an awful lot of children’s programmes together; often on VHS videotape. One of the very favourites for many enjoyable years was Rev. W Awdrey’s famous Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends. Those red and mustard and green and blue liveried engines became our good friends during that time of my life; and each one having a distinctive character of its own; Percy the little scruffy pleb engine; Henry the big one but sickly and slightly complexed with inferiority; Duck the proud and diligent engine; Stepney the sensitive and kind engine; Oliver the nervous doubtful one; and so on.

I remarked to a friend of mine one day at my workplace that I was considering writing a piece for my local parish magazine which used the spills and spoils of this gcompany of engines so as to throw light on our adult behaviours as they manifest themselves quite a lot.

I never did write the piece – until now – but my friend did encourage me to write such a piece and he said he tended to agree with me on my observation about how adults too often behave.

The author of the Thomas books, Rev W Awdrey, I do believe was a bit of a philosopher, and that he placed in front of children for their joy and use his observations upon how the secular world works. He did this by presenting his Thomas world to children and via his stories for little ones. I found as an adult watching the videos of Rev Awdrey’s stories, especialy the earliest migrations to screen which adhered very closely to the written books on which the TV stories and characters were based, that these stories carried for me considerable adult content to chew on. And so watching with my children was not only family fun for us all; but it was for me also a stimulus to thought.

The beauty of these Thomas stories is that they strip down to bare bones the wellsprings of actions and words which we speak to one another; not only so that children see why and how arguments and accidents occurr in life by way of human disagreement and discord; they also show well the causes and effects of disagreement and discord; causes like pride and snobery; timidity and over-compensating; anger and rivallry; thoughtlessness and negligence; and effects like going off the rails; and making a smash; and disobeying instructions; getting one’s own back; laying traps; scheming for advantage; and a host of other everyday items of behaviour we all see and laugh at or else disapprove on TV daily; but yet none of us own them for ourselves in our own consciences about our own motives and actions.

“Ah, wad some god the giftie gi’ us

To see oursels as ithers see us”

Today whilst cooking lunches for the family I was over a stove whilst the TV was on in another adjacent room in the house. I was able to overhear the dialogue on the TV show; and since it was a Sunday, the show was on the topic of that new Sabbath repast in UK: Politics. Sunday daytime TV here is wall-to-wall politics and ‘analysis’; analysis being pundits speaking those confirmations of one’s most obvious and first thoughts concerning the latest political news items or on a current event.

Daily we have The Daily Politics show and Sunday; just as the soaps carry their omnibus editions on the Sabbath here, so we have too The Sunday Politics to take in the gist and import of the whole of the previous week’s politics in UK. It used to be the case that politics did not happen on Sundays here at all; nor even often on Saturdays; but these days Saturday is less busy politically than Sunday and Sunday has become the prime day for making political speeches and addreses by Parliamentarians; and for policy and comment issues to be launched by government.

It is usual for MPs and for Canbinet Ministers of State, even The Prime Minister, to appear on daytime Sunday TV; it is that big an event; and a great draw to so many sofa-ridden oglers. It has ousted, replaced religion, and along with sport, for those lesser classes who are not interested in politics because they (at least they feel) they have no stake in them, the day is well-spent in front of the cathode ray tube. TV is the gym of many overweight persons here in UK, especially on a Sunday. Ironic to say so but the watching of sports on TV is possibly a significant contributor to the obesity problem in adults which we have here.

Now today our TV was on and The Sunday Politics was in full flood. I overheard a beef from members of government who sit in the Lower House The Commons, which House has the legisaltive power, about those sit in The Upper House, The Lords, which aims only at being a check on the sobreity and judgement of the Lower House, The Lords having no legislative power in itself.

The Lords however is able to slow down legislation being put to the Houses for consideration and for approval or amendment by The Commons. And this is where The Sunday Politics MP comes in.

We have here in UK soon upcoming a deadline date before which we have set ourselves a target, to ‘trigger Article 50’ of the European Union rules; which article 50 allows those who trigger it to set in motion negotiations for a trigering party to leave the said Eupropean Union. This is that Brexit you may have heard of?

The Lords has potential to slow down that bill of law which allows this trigger to be made before the set deadline date, so that the trigger is not ‘pulled’ before the due date. Indeed were The Lords to be mischievous, The Lords might be able to angle thijgs so that the earliest date Article 50 can be triggered is that day on which The European Union is celebrating 60 years of solidarity as a political and economic bloc! Perhaps you can see a Thomas the Tank Engine lookalike situation brewing up here?

The speaker on TV, a member of The Commons, was getting himself quite livid at the prospect of such eventualities being brought about by The Lords; and it was for the TV pundit interviewing him to calm him by suggesting that were The Lords to act in such an unsporting way (‘it’s not cricket’) then The Commons might well decide to set in motion abolishment altogether of this Upper House The Lords.

Now when we were children myself and my young friends would play soccer in the streets. We were not too well off and a plastic ball was an important and a privileged thing to be the owner of.

Thus it happened now and then, that whenever a friend of mine – or maybe myself I can’t recall? – felt aggrieved at a decision made by other players, such as a free kick or the allowing of a goal scored which was felt to be dubious in some way, the owner of the ball, iwhenhe was an aggrieved party, might well just pick up the ball and walk, leaving a field of street footballers nonplussed because without a ball to continue playing with. This indeed was a quite commonplace Thomas the Tank Engine moment in my experience in my younger days.

My contention is that the threat of abolition of the House of Lords made by The House of Commons, this threat being pitched as a possiblity for The Lords because of its holding the aces in it being able to delay Brexit and/or to embarrass The EU and Britian to boot; that this situation is not at all different to the young soccerplayer walking off with his ball in protest at a decision he did not like.

Lewis Carroll has his Red Queen in Alice in Wonderland roar out at every instance she feels herself thwarted: “Off with his head!” of the person who is held by her to be responsible for her being thwarted. Is this any better? I don’t think so.

Another instance of a Thomas moment in politics, they are all over the place – everywhere in fact – just like the little engines throng the Island of Sodor – might concern the Speaker of The House of Commons, a position to which a person is apointed to keep good order in The House and to apply parliamentary protocols to debates and to members’ behaviours; and this Thomas moment might concern events which occurred on the present Speaker’s watch this week; and these events were opened for dicsussion on this week’s The Sunday Politics.

The Speaker has to consider him or her self as being a neutral party; and thus to show no favour or prejudice against any Party or any Member in The House.

Now in Britain there is another new and populist game going on; whereby whenever over 100,000 signatures to an online petition are raised the issue of the petition becomes entitled to be raised and debated in parliament. As if one referendum wasn’t sufficiently a disaster that the MPs allow this other hostage to fortune (petitions ‘triggering’ House debates) to be welcomed in as ‘innovation’.

This petition arrangement is a sop, and sadly quite possibly it is felt by many MPs and citizens here to be ‘a real step forward in our democracy’ and because, as well as allowing ‘more public participation in government’, it is made possible only because it harnesses new means in using the gadgets and toys of the electronic age revolution.

You may be offput by my words being so slighting and so harshly condemning such an arrangement as these online petitions in the UK; please bear with me a little.

Donald Trump has been invited to make a State Visit to Britain by The Queen and by The Prime Minister here. A State Visit is more than just a visit; it means that the monarch here is one’s host and thus such a visit is the highest honour which is able to be made concerning any official visit to Britain and to the persons invited.

Very soon over 100,000 signatures, indeed many many more, were raised online against Trump’s State Visit and the House of Commons is now committed to debating the issue of Trump coming here on a State Visit. Thus one has a situation whereby the British Head of State, The Prime Minister, has issued an invitation to visit here to Donald Trump, and the government which that same Prime Minister leads, is now obliged to debate the wisdom or otherwise of that invitation having been made to Trump.

If this were not Fred Karno enough (Fred is not a Thomas engine) The Speaker of the Commons this last week when the issue of Trump’s visit was raised for debate in The House, failed to impose a quite well approved and longstanding rule of due respect and impartiality, when the members in The House generally applauded a speech of a member who was against Trump’s visit Applause is not considered allowable in the Houses of Commons or Lords. It is too partisan – I believe that’s the reason?

The Speaker himself, whose role was to asure there was no applause, began to clap his hands along with those whom he sits over and directs concerning House ettiquette. The Speaker excused others and himself by claiming an exception to the rule – claiming this occasion to be the exception which proves the rule – that an anti-Trump statement should be applauded in parliament.

One might ask oneself here; who guards the guardians? Certainly not the citzenry who got parliament into this mess of contradiction by their online petition in the first place.

Even The Fat Controller (American readers might know him as The Fat Director) in the Thomas stories bears in his conduct greater integrity than The House of Commons Speaker did this week.

When Engine Percy, a small and fairly simple engine, is picked out by the other engines to lead A Deputation to The Fat Controller over an issue the engines in general have with a diesel engine (diesels are generally dificult to get along with in Thomas stories) The Fat Controller in the first place notes to the engines that it is his railway and that mangement affairs are his affairs and not the engines’ affairs; that A Deputation is not something he approves. He is understanding however and sorts things for them.

Now you may fear I am advocating a dictatorship as the one on Sodor under the auspices of The Fat Controller. Not quite so. I am advocating that those engines, being as it were the epitomes of their main audiences; that is of young children, are best governed by a firm and a single hand; one which is fair and secure and safe and kind, but which makes boundaries and requirements for behaviour quite clear and straightforward.

The general anaology can be extended. Whenever people of any age are unable to make sound decisions; either in their own best interests or else for the general good; then a person or persons who are more able to do so might best be appointed to govern them. This then is the very idea and heart of representative government under democracy.

Children’s diets of entertainment are both fun for them and often, maybe mostly, also instructive; so as to help prepare them for an age of majority at which they will be called upon to make decisions wisely for themselves and for those around them whose care they are obliged to consider – for instance for their own children.

Adult diets of entertainment are rather less so educative and instructive in our society. Once a guy or girl leaves school here s/he is somehow considered by most other adults to be justified in metaphoricaly ‘tering up his/her schoolbooks’ and in forgetting all about becoming educated further.

Maybe educated in plumbing or in engineering or in hairdressing or in sales, since learning about these things brings them in income. As for a liberal improvementof the mind: most people have been so encouraged here that they would not be able to expalin the very phrase to you. Yet decisions on governing, when encoruaged to be made by those whose life experience is not conducive to the making of such decisions; this is sheer daftness.

It is true that few if any Prime Mimnisters or Presidents of Nations anywhere are younger than middle-aged. This is recognised to be appropriate by most people. Their rises to Heads of State have been usually long and slow and on the way much has had to be absorbed understood and mastered by them. (Trump might be on an extremely steep learning curve right now)

(Here we are in the UK on the verge of Brexit and in possession of close on an entirely new set of governming MPs than were in office before the Brexit referendum was held – the same political party as before governs however, but the non-Brexit mainstream guys and gals in it all had to exit when the result went against their wishes. Much of this near entire new body of MPs in high governing positions here now is inexperienced; hence there is here a tremendous uncertainty been generated about our futures. Much of this near entire new body has little clue about what to do in order to achieve Brexit; let alone how to get ta good deal from our ex EU partners for Britain as we exit. Much of this entire new body is in over its head. Poltics in my view above all things is an art of knowing how to do things; an art of high technique. Our technique is lacking in th epresent government because those with high skils in politics are no longer in positions from where they can exercise their skills.)

Bringing into play the whims (I use the word appropriately) of the citizenry in 100,000 plus signature petitions is crazy and compounds the current problems at issue. The Brexit Referendum showed this to be the case if anything has done.

Why indeed vote in representatives when one is able to put one’s own oar in anytime and spoil the show? Which is what our Thomas the Tank Engine citizens tend to do with their petitions and their incursions into hands-on government.

I am not a fan of government as we do it now. I am less a fan of government by online petitions. Representative Democracy is about the best deal we can have right now out of what appears practicaly possible at this moment. Even though as we have seen even parliament has its own ‘busy little engines’ buzzing around here and there, and out of good order. The collective concensus of reprresentative government is about our best shot presently. For the future, in another lifetime perhaps, something more graceful and more competent might become possible?

In a time when education does not mean training up children and young adults to be only workers; the fodder for the machines and the means of the entrepreneurs. In a time when a daring act of example and good will might hope to attempt at running a society on principles of universal kindness and toleration; on equitaable behaviours and on sacred truths of love and compasion.

The sad and tragic assumption of politics and of politicians across the board in our present ways of doing things is ever and always an assumption of ‘prepare for the worst – the worst kinds of people, the worst kinds of conduct’ and this policy stems from an attitutde which was originally nursed by fear and which once innured to itself embraced also distrust; and maybe in some politicians goes as far as expressing a cynical comtempt for humanity, an attitude based on the behaviours of humanity’s worst instances.

Of course such a prevailing asumption harbours a great mountain of hypocrisy – of the kind – ‘I don’t mean you, my friend, but only that so and so over there and that what’s his name here etc etc’, and yet necessarily so ‘my friend’ is tarred likewise with the same brush and sunk in the same oceans in the same sack with the same heavy rocks as is ‘so and so and what’s his name’. One size fits all.

In letting go of our wayward images of ourselves; of our self-regards; of our self-interests; of our self-ambitions; of all those thing we think we are and think we possess; only in this is freedom found and it is always and ever a freedom of and in love and to love and for love.

He which testifieth these things saith, Surely I come quickly. Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus”

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