Written by Rae Earl


Introducing My Little One To…Ivor the Engine

Our writers are (lovingly) foisting pop-culture favourites on their unsuspecting nippers. This week, Rae Earl and her five-year-old son choo-choo off to a world of gentle Welshmen and lonely trains.

“Would Ivor the Engine like to smell my bum?”

How my five-year-old greets my suggestion that we should watch the Smallfilms’ classic isn’t much of a surprise. He’s going through a scatological phase. His humour is entirely poo based and most subjects, from what we’re having for tea to what we should get Nanna for her birthday, can be turned round to excrement. It’s quite a skill.

Anyway, I press on. I have a recollection of being so profoundly moved by a couple of Ivor the Engine episodes that I had to suppress tears so I didn’t ruin both my egg and chips and The Six O’clock News. I wonder how Harry will get along with them. He’s been brought up with some seriously good modern children’s TV but they don’t really do the sentimental “feels” like I remember. Nostalgia is always cuddly though. I might be talking crap.

I find “The Lost Engine” on YouTube. A choir sings Bread of Heaven. We’re only 34 seconds in and already I want to cry. But I hold it in.

Harry is captivated. Ivor the Engine takes the choir to the seaside. He watches as his friends play in the water. Evans the Song swims solemnly. Eli the Baker splashes like a fountain but Ivor stands alone on the embankment. They all return home and Ivor realises he would “like to do things like people do – talking and laughing and going bathing in the sea”. Then he just puffs off by himself and cries.

Ivor The Engine 2

“MUMMY – IVOR IS SAD!! IVOR IS SAD!!” screams my son. I think he wants me to do something about it. Ivor is thoroughly blue and for very good reason. I urge Harry, outraged at my inability to make an animated engine from the 1970’s feel better, to keep watching.

And he does. And the episode finishes with Ivor still feeling totally depressed.

Oh GOD. I’d forgotten. The downer ending. Not neat or sweet, just real and unresolved. Modern children aren’t used to this. Actually children were never used to this. This is brave storytelling, even for an adult audience. I find the next episode quickly: “The Outing”. More Welsh choirs and Ivor returning to the beach where he was so sad. Harry looks at me, studying my reactions. This is where having children is really scary. They look for a lead and you’re often left scrabbling about trying to find the right one.

“Look Ivor – what’s that!” says Jones the Steam and then magic happens. Ivor’s friends have bought a crane and made him a track so that he can play in the sea too. Ivor has such a good time splashing that he puts his fire out and “LOOK MUMMY,” says Harry. “THE TRAIN IS PADDLING!”

It’s all so beautiful that I’m caught by surprise by my feelings. Perhaps it’s the echo of BBC1 just before the news when I was a kid with all the family watching or the realisation that my little boy, who starts school next week, will be sad sometimes and I won’t always be able to make it better. I don’t know. I start crying anyway. Rubbish tears. All partly held in but coming out at the same time. This is perfect television. Better than I remember it. Harry pauses too after it has finished and smiles broadly. He then legs it into the garden to finish his elastic band spider’s web. I put the iPad down and go to make myself a cup of tea.

It’s been a very emotional 14 minutes.

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Written by Rae Earl

Rae Earl is the writer of 'My Mad Fat Diary' and the 'OMG!' Hattie Moore series. She has never, despite three decades of trying, taught a cat to show jump. @RaeEarl