There are many things that annoy me, but one of them is when people tell lies to children. I don’t mean actual, “Of course Uncle Gary isn’t your daddy!” type lies. I’m talking about lazy, false, over- simplified and dumbed-down answers given in response to a child’s curiosity about the world. I think children are often cleverer than we give them credit for, and I think they deserve to have the adults who care for and raise them attempt to explain the world as fully, and as accurately, as they can.

I witnessed a grotesque failure to do this just last weekend. My wife and I had gone for a ride on the Swanage railway, a preserved steam-railway in Dorset. While waiting for the passenger train to take us into Swanage, we saw a short freight train draw up, pulled by this locomotive:

As you can see, it’s a medium-sized engine that is technically described as a 2-6-4, meaning that it has two small, un-powered wheels at the front, six large driving wheels in the middle, and then four small un-powered wheels at the back. We got talking to the guys who were driving it, and found out that they were on a “drive a steam train” experience that had been a gift from the sister and brother-in- law of one of them.

A few minutes later the passenger train pulled up. This was a much bigger, grander affair, a 4-6-2 with a separate tender, and was of the sort that would once have pulled main-line trains. Unlike the smaller freight engine, this one had a nameplate on its side: “Eddystone”.

We travelled into Swanage, spent some time there sheltering from the rain in a rather nice dog-friendly cafe, and then got on the train to head back. A little way down the carriage from us were a man and a woman and their small daughter. A few minutes after the train set off, I heard the man utter the following line to his daughter:

“This is a real-life Thomas train.”

Consider that line for a moment.

“This is a real-life Thomas train.”

Here he is, with a young mind before him just waiting to be filled with facts and understanding, and that’s what he comes up with.

“This is a real-life Thomas train.”

I leaned forward and whispered, perhaps just a tad too loudly, at my wife. “That’s not right!” She shot me a warning glance but I wasn’t to be halted. “It’s not a Thomas train at all. Thomas was a tank engine. That’s why they call him Thomas the Tank Engine. This is more like a Gordon, or a James or something!”

You tell me. Does this 4-6-2 tender locomotive:

…look anything whatsoever like this 0-6-0 tank locomative:

I think not!

A few minutes later the train stopped, and I heard the man telling his daughter that, “…the train has to stop until the red light turns green.”

Don’t even get me started on that.