There was one toy I always wanted when I was small, but never had. Well, I suppose there were really several toys I always wanted, but the one I really, really wanted was a wooden train set. The type where you spent all day arranging the track into the most complex arrangement possible and then run out of time to actually play with the trains before a parent calls 'bedtime!'.
My mum said a wooden train set was too expensive. At least I think that's what the excuse was. It's hard to be sure of things that happened so long ago. But I do know how to hold a grudge.
Fast forward a few years and I've just finished my degree. My PhD is due to begin in a couple of months and - somehow - there's still some of my student loan left. Yes, a miracle indeed! I could, I suppose, have simply left it in the bank account where it was happily gaining interest. On the other hand, I was about to start my 3 year paid holiday so I figured 'what the hell' and went straight to the toy shop.
(Actually, I stopped at the electrical shop first and bought a large TV, but the next stop was definitely the toy shop).
I suppose some people thought it strange for a twenty-something year old man to have a wooden train set in his bedroom. But, hey, it was Thomas! Yes, they now did Thomas the Tank Engine wooden train sets!
My life seemed complete.
Fast forward a few more years, a couple of children, and suddenly there're a couple of large boxes of wooden railway littering the house.
In the meantime something has happened to Thomas. Once upon a time he was the sole train on the tracks, but no longer. Like Mario and Sonic, Transformers and GoBots, betamax and VHS, Thomas now has a rival:
Chuggington is done with fancy CGI (though it didn't take long for Thomas to convert to that too), and has an incredibly catchy theme tune. It doesn't have the charm of the old Thomas series, when it was all done with little models, but it's really ten times better than the newer Thomas stories which bash you over the head with a moral in every episode. True, Chuggington has morality tales too, but they're a little more subtle.
So while Chuggington rides the rails on CBeebies, Thomas chuffs away on Five. Rivals at every turn.
Except when it comes to the wooden railways. Because both Chuggington and Thomas are made by Tomy. In the world of toys, they're all best friends.
Chuggington, Thomas, and all the other wooden railways are compatible with each other, which is really handy if, for example, Tomy sends you a Chuggington set and you've already got a load of Thomas stuff. This means you can start making HUGE layouts.
We were sent the Over and Under Starter set to review, which is a basic figure of eight layout with a clock tower in the middle. It also comes with Wilson and KoKo, two of the main engines from the series, and Vee - although Vee doesn't really do much except fall over when you try to stand her/it on carpet.