As someone who was a child of passions (read: a massive nerd), observing my son’s first big obsession is something I’ve looked forward to. Well it’s here, and it’s trains, in every shape and size; to push, to assemble and always to mimic their sounds. And so his – and our – every waking moment is now scored by a constant call of ‘Choo Choo!’ any time the sight, thought, or distant memory, of a train passes through his little head.
I know my tribe. By his age, I was a dinosaur guy. Just the fella to tell you that Compsognathus meant ‘elegant jaw’ or scold you for calling pterosaurs dinosaurs at all, since they’re just large flying reptiles, you idiot. I would follow such morons (my loving family), carrying a cardboard trove of dinosaur-related trinkets, braying facts.
What I lacked in respect for idiots, I more than made up for in commitment, as my mum’s best friend Patricia will attest any time she recalls the eight golden hours she spent being hectored and shushed, as I assembled my world famous A-Z of Dinosaurs; a multi-sheet monstrosity which soon took up most of her living room, and which I refused to let her put away. Her Nobel prize for this, and many other kindnesses, is a mere ink stamp away.
My son, too, is starting to bend the usual rules of etiquette and the chickens are coming home to roost. His traditional wake-up call of ‘Hiya Mumma, hiya Daddee’ has been replaced with ‘hiya choo choo’, because we no longer exist and trains are now his parents. At best, we’re the tracks themselves, and a thin film of grime now coats our arms and trousers as he traces his grubby little vehicles up and down our bodies all day long. And this passion travels. On a recent trip to his auntie Fionnuala’s, he screamed ‘choo choo’ each time a train went past. Since she lives opposite Dalston Junction, with a fifth-floor view of the line, this was the entirety of our visit.
Trains weren’t a big thing for me, personally. My corner of Northern Ireland didn’t have much rail infrastructure, barring the extremely pretty Derry to Belfast line that’s been saved from closure because BBC4’s train mad Michaels (Palin, Portillo, etc), keep making programmes about how nice it is. I’d naively presumed the dearth of railway infrastructure in the northwest of Ireland was due to the broader programme of chronic underinvestment in Catholic areas, which denied us motorway accessibility, job grants and a university for Derry. Now I realise it was simply so the region’s urban planners could save themselves from waking up to the ceaseless sounds of the railyard and a life spent being pawed by an ever-filthier fleet of wheeled, wooden objects.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to tag in for a relief shift in the living room, and I can’t be late. We may be in the grip of a grisly new dictator, but at least he keeps the trains running on time.