I think the two most transformative toys of my childhood were my bike, and Lego. The bicycle might earn a place in this list at some stage, but today I want to talk about magical Danish bricks.
Five things Lego taught me about life
1. Lego taught me perseverance
The sound of my hand moving back and forth between one thousand plastic pieces in a wooden drawer. A pause as I draw up a helpful looking piece. The wrinkling of my brow as I realise it is too long, or too short. The feeling of the gentle-sharp bricks against my skin as I re-sift. The presence of a dozen four by four bricks when all you want is a six by four. Alanis Morissette would sympathise. The satisfaction as I finally roll a blue one-er between my fingers, all I need to complete the periscope on Captain Nemo’s submarine. Lego rewarded perseverance.
These days the hunts for a lost piece are over wider areas: Car keys, credit cards, camera chargers. As I try to remember where I left something, that old Lego drawer could be a metaphor for my ageing brain, my consciousness trawling back and forth between irrelevant information, trying to draw out the one piece I need. Maybe I should keep all those useful things in a wooden drawer. Good idea Lego.
2. Lego taught me competitive spirit (or perhaps selfishness)
The battles to the last part. My brother, sister and I combing frantically, harvesting wheels in the race to build the most powerful battle truck. Their younger eyes, my longer arms, I lean further and further over the drawer attempting to obscure their views. Lego and a shared pack of fish and chips were the two surest way to encourage my competitive edge as I hoarded blue bricks and hot chips with the watchfulness of a lioness and the selfishness of an elder brother. I don’t think I ever wished my siblings would disappear, but I did sometimes imagine how much more simple life would have been if they’d been born with little baby t-rex arms…
3. Lego left gaps for my imagination
A brick is a wall, is a building, is a spaceship blast-door. The most powerful thing about Lego was that it left space for my imagination. Jagged brick lines became a dragon’s tail, a pirate’s whip (everyone in my imagination had whips after Indiana Jones) or a breaking wave. Spit would fly as I added a juddering soundtrack of explosions, laser blasts or dragster wheels spinning. The joy really was in the neutrality of the bricks, they were simply a stepping off point to a story. The creators of Dr Who understood that dodgy props and costumes don’t matter, as long as you’ve engaged the viewer’s imagination.
4. Lego encouraged versatile thinking
Perhaps because Lego let me imagine I could build anything, it also encouraged me to think outside the bricks. At its core it was a building set, and it played well with others. It had hinge and hooks, holes and connectors. With a rubber band I could enable a catapult to fire, or make the world’s most delicate tank tracks. One of my friends got a Pez dispenser for his birthday. I eventually swallowed my envy and built one out of Lego. Ok, my fish bowl wasn’t so successful, but the epic flyovers us kids built for the slot car set were Californian in scale, if a little third world in execution.
Lego didn’t make me an overnight engineer, but I learned that if I didn’t have something, then I could make it. So I built medieval weapons in Granddad’s workshop, tea-stained treasure maps in the kitchen, and launched hand-crafted rubber-band powered planes with Dad on the driveway. I’m convinced that a childhood of making and crafting has contributed to my conviction that I can make do with less.
5. Lego was a hardening agent and a catalyst for curses
For every miracle of Scandinavian toy creation there is a dark side. Bare footed night-time walks to the bathroom were the best way to hunt out lost bricks. Actually maybe that’s just a spectacularly good design feature, no piece of Lego was ever lost for long. Lego prepared my feet for jerky barefoot walks down gravel paths, and jolting runs over hot black sands. Unfortunately it also earned me a few scoldings for the foul-mouthed language of discovery, but other people treading on misplaced bricks did help widen my cursive vocabulary. Very useful for blending in at Glaswegian festivals.
Still, I’d much rather run over a pit of hot coals than a blanket covered in those jagged-edged plastic shards. A blessing and a curse then.
Lego as guru
You taught me of Dependability and versatility. You were an aid to my story telling. You taught me never to get too attached to my creations, as the next day they would need to be demolished to make way for whatever came next. You tried to teach me that there was no such thing as perfection, that it was ok to have an all red sports car, except for one side of the bonnet. We had to agree to disagree there.
Thank you Lego, for the part you played in my own construction. And thank you Mum and Dad, for paying over the odds for a Danish toolkit for my imagination.