Letter - Political correctness is daft and silly

Although a lifelong Labour voter (albeit with a hiatus during the Blair era. I do not consider Tony a Labour person), I had to raise a wry smile when I read your article and the picture depicting Mary Creagh MP’s face on the front of Thomas the Tank engine’s boiler.

This brought back a recollection from the mid 1980s. I was, in fact, a train driver at this time, towards the end of British Rail.

I recall an article in Rail News (BR staff newspaper) when a female “traction trainee” was taken on at a London depot. As far as I was concerned, this was inevitable and to be welcomed.

Although the days of steam had passed in 1968, British Rail was still predominantly (at least on the footplate) a very male, masculine environment. One driver told me when I first started as a callow youth “it’s like being in the army, this job, lad”. He was right.

Being possessed with a sense of humour and the ridiculous, I could rub along with the dry jokes and occasional bickering you found in such an environment. Most of the chaps I found very congenial (all different types) although there could be a something of a canteen/schoolboy culture which could, at times, manifest itself in less than pleasant ways.

Having observed the effect this had on one or two individuals, I wrote to the ASLEF journal “Locomotive” about this sort of thing. I suggested, only a little tongue-in-cheek, that maybe a few more women on the footplate grade could have a civilising effect on some of our colleagues. This brought forth quite a hostile and defensive reaction from quite a number. I suspected, though, that ASLEF agreed with me.

The Thomas stories were written by the Revd W Audrey, a gentle Anglican clergyman. He wrote them for his son initially, after the war. This was at the time of the classic steam age (although those snearing nasty diesels started to appear later)

At the end of the day, Mary Creagh as Shadow Transport Minister, has a valid point, although I would question the wisdom of using “Thomas” to illustrate it; “Thomas” is of another era.

The problem when you approach things from an angle of political correctness is that it can come across as daft and silly (as with Ba Ba Rainbow Sheep - the attempt by a London kindergarten to re-write Ba-Ba Black Sheep) or it is just seen as an inflexible, unscaleable icy precipice of political theory which does not relate to reality.

In my case, it was direct experience! Eventually, I left the railway and went into education but the railway was the best education in life I could ever have had!

John Roberts

St John’s Court