Being Dad

Transformers Vs Thomas The Tank Engine

I never thought I’d say this but I miss Thomas The Tank Engine.

There was a time when “Thomas he’s the cheeky one…” was sung several times a day in our house. A time when I had to learn the names of a fleet of engines who hadn’t even appeared in my childhood. And then in a puff of smoke that time was gone.

“Thomas is for babies Daddy”, says my apparently grown-up three year old. “We can give the trains to Frankie.”

Frankie is his brother. He is one and doesn’t know who Thomas The Tank Engine is. Although, he has started saying “Toot toot” quietly to himself, sitting on the carpet, like Toad in Wind in the Willows. So I suspect the timing is apt.

Meanwhile, in Billy world the talk is all about Transformers: Rescue Bots (henceforth referred to as TRBs so I don’t have to keep writing it).

In fact, we now hear of nothing else. We’re in the middle of a full-blown obsession.

The Invasion Of The Rescue Bots

Rescue bots

If you don’t know about TRBs count yourself very lucky. If you’re a parent I expect you’ve had your own version of this and there will be many more to come but this obsession is very strong.

A typical day now goes something like this:

630am: Rescue Bot Billy is energised. His arms and legs transform from sleep mode into action mode and propel him at super fast speed up the stairs to mummy and daddy’s room.


645am: One of us is now downstairs slumped on the sofa clutching tea while Billy tells us in great detail how one of his TRBs or, in fact, any object he’s holding, traaaansfooorms!

7am: Billy is watching an episode of TRBs to keep him quiet for five minutes while we eat, get dressed, dress Frankie.

715am: I attempt to transform the Billy pyjama bot into a jeans and t-shirt bot. “Daddy no I want to play rescue boooots!”

730am: The family are transformed into their daytime modes (we’re dressed and ready to leave the house).

745am: If it’s a nursery day we leave and someone else has to play rescue bots all day.



If this is a Wednesday, when I look after both boys, you can assume that at any given time I am either being forced to play TRBs (which basically involves a series of situations where other toys get stuck and have to be rescued, or there’s a fire in part of the room that needs Heatwave to extinguish), having to watch TRBs on the ipad when I need some time to do jobs (because he won’t watch anything else), preventing his brother being squashed by Billy being one of the bots.

9am: “Daddy! Frankie is a Decepticon – he must be stopped!”

Poor Frankie. He doesn’t know why his brother is marching around and making laser-type noises in his face.

930am: We’ve escaped to the park. Rescue Bot Billy is chasing a squirrel: “Stop Doctor Morrocco!” The bushy-tailed villain scampers up a tree. “Daddy he went back to his lair – we have to transform into plane mode.”

1030am: Rescue Bot Billy’s batteries have run down and he needs a snack. “Daddy I need recharging, can you plug me in?” The plug is on his arm, next to the screen where he communicates with TRB HQ.

11am: We’re all upstairs. I’m trying to build a Brio train set for Frankie but the Decepticons keep destroying it. Frankie is crying because Bumblebee and Thunderhoof are fighting in the farmyard with a Decepticon cow.

12pm: Lunch. All the Rescue Bots have powered down temporarily. Frankie and I would like to watch What’s On Your Plate. Billy demands to watch Transformers: Rescue Bots until we give in just to get some peace.

1-3pm: Frankie is asleep. I do try my best to distract Billy with other activities. I don’t want you to think we’re giving in without a fight. But if we draw we draw a Rescue Bot, and if we play Lego we make Rescue Bots, and if we go out in the garden we hunt for Rescue Bots in the undergrowth. At least he’s using his imagination…

5pm: Tea is served. Everyone is now entering the tired and cranky phase of the day. Rescue Bot Billy is sitting on the floor sobbing because Strongarm’s legs have fallen off again and he can’t find Stuntwing, who is very small and frequently goes missing under the sofa, or in the car, or in a shoe. Frankie dares to reach a tiny hand toward Bumblebee.

“Daddy! No! Doctor Morrocco is trying to steal the Rescue Bots!”

Poor Frankie. He doesn’t know why he’s being hit with a yellow plastic robot.

6pm: Bathtime. Rescue Bot Billy normally refuses to have a bath but he might if accompanied by his mechanoid brothers.Some of the Rescue Bots can go in the bath. Some of them can’t as they will malfunction. This requires highly skilled diplomacy.

7pm: It is bedtime. We have to put the Rescue Bots to bed in various ‘firehouses’ (their base) including the farm, the garage, the wigwam, the train table. Finally, it’s storytime. I sometimes manage to read a classic Julia Donaldson but I often have to make up a story about the Rescue Bots and Billy saving Griffin Rock (home of the TRBs).

At last, the day is done.

“Daddy can you put me into stasis now?”

And Rescue Bot Billy powers down for another day.

Why I Miss Thomas The Tank Engine

When I was being forced to endure Thomas The Tank Engine on repeat, of course, I was wondering when that phase would pass, but I’ve been surprised by how quickly Billy has grown out of trains.

I thought he’d be chuffing happily until he was four or even five. I recall reading the books at age seven but I suppose there were fewer toy brands to distract me (and my mum would never have allowed TRB even if it had existed).

So here I am feeling nostalgic for a fictional character who I didn’t even like in his modern incarnation. A programme that was heavily moral and populated by a grumpy and paternalistic Fat Controller, overseeing a fleet of smug (Thomas), toadying (Diesel), whiny (Percy), austere (Gordon), self-satisfied (Emily), or pompous (James) engines with faces that were often the stuff of nightmares.

And then there was Chuggington, Superwings, Paw Patrol, and PJ Masks (he never liked Octonauts). So we had a variety of annoyances. Now we only have one!

What is coming next? That’s my bigger worry. Batman and Spidey are lurking in the wings. I’ve desperately turned off Power Rangers whenever it gets advertised but I fear he’s clocked it.

There’s No Escape From Griffin Rock

Brands like Transformers are so prevalent it’s really hard to avoid them. I think it’s striking that we’ve never mentioned them but he’s been targeted and hooked anyway by the marketers. Every time we go to the supermarket we have to go and look at the Rescue Bots. (I was confused for a while but basically, Rescue Bots are a junior version of the full-on Transformers, which I find a bit too violent.)

There’s a magazine, naturally, so this has entered our lives:

Rescue Bots magazine.jpg

However, the very worst aspect of Transformers: Rescue Bots isn’t the magzine or the cartoon, or the games, or having to play with the toys.

It’s these sodding Youtube videos where American (usually) men and occasionally bratty kids unwrap endless examples of Transformers and talk about them.

If you haven’t seen one prepare to be appalled.

Billy knows he can’t have lots of toys and that pestering us won’t work (he gets a small amount of pocket money – if he gets his stars for good behaviour). But he insists on watching these videos. Yes I know we could ban them but we are choosing to indulge him as long as it’s for a limited time each day.

I’m not worried about this obsession with Transformers: Rescue Bots. He’s still a lovely boy when he isn’t fighting the Decepticons (Frankie). And most of his games involve rescuing people or animals.

But I am hoping Frankie is going to like Thomas The Tank Engine. I’m even enjoying In The Night Garden these days, because I know now how quickly it will be gone from our life.

Now, if you’ll excuse me Griffin Rock is suffering another earthquake and I need to go and transform into a helicopter. Let’s roll to the rescue!