When I was a kid I was an avid reader - I've written here before about my love of reading. My weekly trips to the library didn't only get me out of the house, they gave me a ticket to somewhere else entirely. The books I loved best were always those where I could imagine myself as one of the characters. I practically lived in Narnia during the months I worked my way through the Chronicles. I spent weeks imagining the tiny world of The Borrowers that might exist under our floorboards, dreaming that one of the borrowers might slip out from behind a skirting board to befriend me. And I spent hours dancing around the bedroom - a floating ballerina from any number of books about an ordinary girl who makes it as a ballet dancer.
So, imagine the impact when I first saw a film that moved me as much as a book.
I must have been around ten or eleven, when I was taken to see Lionel Jeffries' adaptation of E. Nesbit's The Railway Children. For those of you who aren't familiar with the plot, it's the story of a family who move to a house in Yorkshire, when their father is wrongfully imprisoned for selling state secrets to Russia. There are three children - Roberta (Bobbie), Peter and Phyllis, who pass the time playing by the railway, watching the trains and waving to the passengers. They become friends with Albert Perks, the station porter, and with an Old Gentleman, who they see regularly on the 9.15 train to London. The children enjoy a series of adventures, all loosely connected with the railway, while their mother sits stoically writing children's stories to keep them supplied with buns for tea. Eventually, the Old Gentleman is able to help prove their father's innocence and at the end of the film, the family are reunited.
I was one of three children, and although I was the middle, rather than the eldest daughter, I was often deemed the 'sensible' one, so it really didn't take much imagination for me to become Bobbie, marshalling my siblings through a series of mishaps.
I've lost count of how many times I've seen the film - it's rolled out on TV almost every Christmas, and I have DVD copies of both Lionel Jeffries' original and a later made-for-TV version.
And although, as I've grown older, I've sometimes wondered about the way that poverty and class are portrayed in the story, the film has always been able to hold me spellbound.
This week, Philip, Megan and I took a trip into town for the biggest treat.
With amazing foresight, some clever and imaginative person had decided to turn the abandoned Eurostar terminal at London's Waterloo station into a theatre. We walked from the hustle and bustle of the main station at rush-hour, through the metal and glass surroundings of a modern international railway terminal, towards a black-curtained entrance. As we stepped past the curtains, we were transported to another world.
Leather luggage trunks were piled up along the station platforms, a cream and gold footbridge arched across the track and ahead of us sat the station-master's house complete with white picket fence. Banks of seats had been set up each side of the track, and as we took our places, passengers dressed in full Victorian costume began to emerge onto the platforms, mixing with and talking to the audience.
For the next two hours, I sat in wonder as The Railway Children was brought to life. I was drawn in just as much as the little lad in front of us, who stood on tiptoe throughout, craning his neck to see every bit of the action.
And most fantastically, because it was a real railway station, with real train tracks, they were able to use a real proper steam train, with shiny green and gold paint, a tall black chimney and the actual Old Gentleman's carriage that was used in the film.
And there was steam. Which is important. And which brings me back to the title of this post.
You can probably tell by now just how much I love this story. Most especially, it's the scene at the end, where Bobbie feels drawn to go down to the station. People are behaving oddly and we all begin to understand what is about to happen. But she hasn't realised it yet.
A train pulls in, the passengers dismount and then the train moves on, leaving clouds of steam billowing across the tracks. As the steam clears, Bobbie sees the figure of a man slowly taking shape at the end of the platform. After a moment's hesitation, she begins to run towards him, with a heart-melting cry of 'Daddy......my Daddy'.
It's those three words that get me. Every single time.