A special mention and thank you to Olivia who inspired me to tell you this story:
Time has flown on the island of Sodor. In the days after Thomas’s original tales a very important man came and told the Fat Controller to shut all the branch lines.
Only Gordon was allowed to thunder up and down the main line for a little while longer. Not all the branch lines were closed: after a big argument a couple of suburban stretches were kept.
The narrow gauge lines in the mountains were abandoned. And the Thin Controller lost his job. He went to a second career as a tour guide at the Railway Museum, so he could still talk to his little engines when nobody was watching.
Gordon was soon retired, replaced by dodgy, unreliable Canadian diesel engines, who pull comfortable and elegant French coaches; they don’t get on at all. Now the local railway lines are operated by a fleet of busy Spanish diesels. And often you see a green Japanese diesel train in Tidmouth when the express engine has broken down again.
All rural services, once operated by Thomas and his friends are now taken care of by buses. The original Bertie Bus is in the museum together with Henry. No one is really sure why they kept that engine; all he did was toot, huff and puff.
Mrs Smith lives in a little house off one of Tidmouth’s main roads. The main road is clogged with cars and buses. Cars were the future they said. Motorways would snake across the city, whisking people here and there. The reality was somewhat different. The city’s roads are congested, noisy and smelly. It does Mrs Smith’s asthma no good.
Her mother’s cottage by the former railway line was surrounded by a fragrant garden, with flowers and blossoms of every kind imaginable. She remembers her mum telling this crazy story about her saving the life of a talking engine. Certainly, every year she was entitled to one free trip to the seaside, courtesy of the railway company. But when the line was abandoned she didn’t go to the seaside anymore. “I don’t care for coaches”, she used to say.
Mrs Smith prefers getting about on a bicycle. She has an antique black bicycle with a basket. Such as a community midwife would have had in the middle of the last century. People point and laugh as Mrs Smith cycles past.
Mrs Smith uses the bus lanes to get into town. It’s not great; and officials from the government are forever hatching plans to make it worse. She protested against allowing taxis in bus lanes at City Hall and got a photo taken by the Tidmouth Mail, probably because she was the only woman there.
But a little while ago an information leaflet came through the door telling her that the bus lanes were to be extended and would be for the use of buses, cyclists and permitted taxis between 7 in the morning and 7 at night.
The new buses, all called BeRTie, were full of themselves: puffed up for having Priority over other traffic; they had Magic and could Change the Traffic Lights to Green. And with their Camera Eyes they could Enforce. And BeRTie buses were so important they could never be late.
Mrs Smith cycled down the bus lane one day when all of a sudden a BeRTie Bus hurtled past her beeping its horn loudly. Mrs Smith was so shaken she stopped cycling altogether.
The New Controller, however, was delighted, because BeRTie was on time.
Mr Clyde lives a couple of streets up from Mrs Smith. He has a family bike and uses it to take his twin boys to school. People recognise him because of the bicycle. People don’t laugh at him or his bike. They stand dumbfounded and slack-jawed. Children think it’s wonderful and all want to have a go.
When the Government announced their plans to have BeRTie buses he campaigned to stop them using the abandoned railway branch line as an “Expressway” for the BeRTies.
Mr Clyde even wrote to the Fat Controller to come out of retirement and speak against the plans at a Rally. The Fat Controller replied though he supported the campaign, public speaking was no longer possible on account of his throat cancer caused by smoking too many cigars.
Mr Clyde had been delighted when the campaign succeeded in saving the abandoned line as a Greenway. And now he was delighted to see the BeRTies with a halt at the end of his street.
One day Mr Clyde was taking his twin boys to school, going along the BeRTie Bus lane when he overtook a BeRTie at a halt. When Mr Clyde was beside the bus it suddenly pulled out. Mr Clyde was sandwiched between the beeping BeRTie and a car that was overtaking Mr Clyde.
Happily, no one was injured but Mrs Clyde would only agree to him cycling if he stayed on the pavement. Mr Clyde thought a bus stop bypass would have prevented the “near miss“, but the New Controller said there wasn’t any room, or money to put in such an expensive thing. He blamed the Project Creep for the lack of money. The Project Creep doesn’t do anything but costs money nonetheless.
BeRTie Bus’ camera eyes showed that he hadn’t done anything wrong. BeRTie was pleased and so was the New Controller.
Darla and Chuck are from Omaha. They love Sodor because Darla’s great uncle by marriage has a Sodor heritage, and that made her a Sodor-American. She was the President of the Sodor Friendship Association in Omaha. Chuck also has a Sodor heritage, but mainly because he believed that Sodor was part of Sweden and his grandparents emigrated from Sweden.
Darla and Chuck hired some Pimm’s hire scheme bikes to see the sights and visit the address where the great uncle lived. (The original terraced house is no longer there, because it was cleared to make way for a motorway that was never built. Instead it is a run-down surface car park.)
Darla and Chuck were cycling on a BeRTie Bus lane when a large lorry turning left cut across their path and they were both killed instantly. The lorry driver drove on for about 100 metres before onlookers managed to attract his attention and stop him. He put his phone down, telling his lover he’d be a little later than usual.
The Coroner was scathing about many things, but mostly about the design of the BeRTie Bus Lanes which gave a false sense of security to cyclists, but in fact, as in this case, led them into the path of danger and their untimely death.
The lorry driver, the government, the Mayor and the New Controller said they were very, very sorry. However, they soon forgot all about it when a member of One Direction said something vaguely intelligent: “Let’s stop pretending bus lanes are cycling infrastructure that will encourage non-cyclists to start cycling.”
But no one understood that really.