I wonder if this is one of those parent/child dichotomies here? I wonder if I’ve even used the word “dichotomy” correctly? Anyway. Lego.
When I was a kid (cue the “Hovis” music and sepia-tinted video sequences of North Yorkshire) I loved Lego. I had a big box of the stuff I’d irritate the hell out of my parents with by rooting around for just the right piece while they were trying to watch TV. Anything to make the sporting programmes on the weekend more interesting, no? Can’t stand football. But I digress. Yep. Big box of Lego. I’d build all sorts of things. Usually castles or spaceships. Or combinations of the two. Add in the Technic stuff and I was building all manner of amazing machines. Fantastic!
Now, as a parent, Lego has definitely changed. The big kid in me still loves the stuff. We have “Bionicle Battles” where I have to craft the bad guys out of The Big Box of Bionicle/Hero Factory bits. The simple click-together parts of the new Heroes mean that all my kids can join in (even the smallest because the bits are pretty big and if we give him the right ones he can’t hurt himself. He may hurt others, depending on how hard he chucks them). And you can build some pretty fearsome beasts! I’d post photos but my villains never survive the battle. No “And off to the prison for you, sonny-Jim” for my kids’ heroes, they’re strictly of the shoot first, ask questions later brigade.
I love watching my kids playing with Lego! The thrill as they put these unpromising bits together (over several days, with the bigger sets) and make a huge walking T-Rex, or a dune buggy, or a Ninja training camp with spitting snakes. And when they’re not following the instructions their constructions are even more impressive. Thing 2’s been building small aeroplanes over the last couple of days. Thing 3 constantly re-models and upgrades his Heroes. Thing 1 claims to have out-grown Lego. This (if you could see it) would be what I call my “believing” face.
I love how Lego has changed. And I hate that as well. Lego City, Space, Knights. That was about the length and breadth of the range when I was a kid (sorry, there goes that bloody brass band again). You got big boxes of bricks and were supposed to use your imagination. You could build anything! Now, though, there’s Star Wars and Harry Potter. Lord of the Rings and Avengers are coming out this year and I, for one, can’t wait to have my little Lego John Steed and Emma Peel.
Not that Avengers?
Anyway. The branded, character-driven, sets outnumber the basic Lego. This is not to say that they’re not fantastic and they’ve not saved Lego’s financial arse. The clever blend of home-grown (Ninjago, Heroes, Dino-stuff) balances well with the licensed properties. But when you’ve got a set that builds Hagrid’s Hut, do you want to dismantle it and make something else? Probably not.
A box of Lego used to mean dozens of possibilities. Hundreds, when combined with what you’d already got. Fair enough, the small sets were only ever good for making the 1 Fire Chief’s car, or Knight’s camp, but it was all cumulative! Once you’d got a couple of castle sets, you could build a mighty fortress. Now, if you’ve got Hogwarts and the Atlantis Temple, you can build Hogwarts and the Atlantis Temple. Or maybe that’s just me.
Instructions have become easier, as well. Or rather, easier to replace. Time was when you lost the instructions due to some over-zealous tidying of your room (yeah, right. It could happen!) you were stuffed. Relying on memory. Now you go to the Lego website and download them. Perfect. This, more than anything, is the saviour of my kids’ Lego sets because they can’t look after the instruction books for love nor money.
Finally, I love the way Lego inspires. It’s certainly inspiring Thing 2. I think he’s going to be some sort of vivisectionist when he grows up. I’ll explain:
- Day 1. New Lego set arrives and is built, admired, etc.
- Day 2. New Lego set is played with for a while. Might be upgraded with bits from the Big Box.
- Day 3. Lego set is no longer “new” and therefore fair game for…
- Dismantling completely and putting into the Big Box.
- Minifigs having their parts swapped around. And not just the conventional removable ones! Hands get removed, sometimes arms as well. I’ve not seen a partial leg-swap yet but it’s only a matter of time.
- Day 4. Set now in pieces, minifig may still have legs joined to body but probably a head from a different set, 2 mis-matched hands and, well, you get the picture.
By about day 6, maybe 12 at the latest, some small yet vital component has been lost to The Hungry Hoover having been left out on the lounge floor at some inopportune moment. Gone and lost forever. Well, unless you go to Bricklink.com and order a spare or 3.
And this is where my big problem, as a parent, comes with Lego. There’s no automatic “tidy up” button you can press and all the Lego is magically back in it’s box. Doesn’t work. You can clear it up yourself or you can order the kids to do it (and then do the rest yourself as they do a half-arsed job of it). I’ve only met one little lad who clears up his Lego when he’s finished. And he keeps his sets mostly together, or he did when I last saw him.
On the whole, I still love Lego. But could someone send round the Lego fairy to tidy up once my kids have finished?
Oh, and the whole walking-on-broken-glass thing they do on TV for dramatic effect? Nah. Piece of cake. 1 piece of Lego at 2AM in a dark room will inflict far more pain and damage.