Friday, January 08, 2010

I Am Made Of Lego

(This is a piece of narrative non-fiction developed from "If I Build It...", which I performed at the Winchester Discovery Centre for the November Short Story Slam. Even though I didn't get into the top three, I had such a great time reading my work that I didn't mind at all. I'm looking forward to the next one :-)

During the summer, I spent a day helping to build a humungous house out of Lego bricks for that long-*curly*-haired bloke from Top Gear. You may be asking yourself why a thirty-harrumph-year-old man would take a day’s holiday from work and sit in a winery in deepest Dorking, elbow-deep in Lego bricks, trying not to get drunk from the fermentation fumes, building the same model over and over again. There’s a simple answer. I had to be there, because I am made of Lego.

I was an only child, so I got to spend a whole lot of time with my toys, with or without my friends. Exposed to the usual suspects, some bloomed and some... well, they would end up under piles of books and clothes in the back of the wardrobe, gathering dust. I didn’t really get in to Action Man, and the second-hand (or more) Scalextric that I pestered for at a jumble sale turned me off it permanently when it failed utterly to work. My dad introduced me to Hornby trains, but to be honest I was more interested in making up stories for them than I was in running them around the track. Such is the result of a strict diet of Thomas the Tank Engine. I had Matchbox and Corgi cars, but they didn’t do much apart from roll around the floor, or around in circles once one wheel became bent.

No, for me, there were only two toys when I was a child. The first was Star Wars figures. Collecting them was a no-brainer really, though I could be called a late starter, as I didn’t see the first film at the cinema. It was really the toys that cemented Star Wars in my mind. I would recreate the Rebel base out of the contents of Mum’s towel cupboard and replay scenes from the movies and make up stories of my own.

The other universe was my childhood Force, surrounding and penetrating every moment of my playtime, binding all the other toys together. If my Star Wars toys were the catalyst for my growing geekiness, this toy was the foundation it was built on.

Lego.

Out of all the sets I had, one stuck firmly in my mind. It was late in 1979 and I was lying on the living room floor, by the bookshelves, next to the stereo. The contents of a large cardboard box were spread out on the caramel-brown carpet in front of me. I’d never seen this many gray or blue Lego bricks before, but somehow it was absolutely right for the spaceship pictured on the cover of the instruction manual. The bags had been emptied, the instruction book was open and the gray plates aligned in front of it matching the drawings on the paper. I have no idea of what was going on around me; I had fallen so deeply into a world of building that all I can remember is adding blue blocks to gray plates, snapping hinges together and growing ever more excited that I’d soon be flying the “LL928” around the house, making the required “roooaaaaaar” noises and dive-bombing the dog. I knew instinctively it would fly; it was shaped like a spaceship should be, all pointy at the front and sporting Space Shuttle-style delta wings on the sides. It had four, *FOUR*, massive engines with another three underneath, it had guns and it looked so cool. At age six, that was all it needed to fly in space.

Of course, I came back down to the ground as I got older, but my Lego bricks guided me all the way. As the years passed, I found that building with them taught me much about life. Through being creative, I had learned that if I leapt in with both feet and followed my inspiration, I could create wonderful, unexpected delights. Or complete disasters that I couldn’t pull apart quickly enough. The thing was, at least I’d tried. There were other lessons. I found that if I didn’t have strong enough foundations, I couldn’t build very much on top of them. If I skipped steps and rushed what I was doing, I ended up with unexpected gaps and the prospect of pulling the model apart to put things right. But I didn’t learn the most important lesson until it was almost too late.

I gained a wonderful wife, a house and mortgage, a job and all the grown-up things that steal your time away. The Lego sets disappeared slowly into the attic and gathered dust, just like all the other childhood toys. And now I know you should take every opportunity to do something you love, because you never know when it will be the last.

So when it came along, I really couldn’t miss the once in a lifetime chance to help build a life-sized Lego house. The feel of the hard plastic edges on my fingers, as I scrabbled around in big, cardboard boxes, the way the studs would press into my fingertips as I placed them, the satisfaction of finishing a perfectly correct model; it all helped me feel the clarity of mind that only comes from being exactly where you belong.

I came home and immediately dug my Lego bricks out of the attic. With an instruction manual found on the Internet and a couple of spare hours one weekend, I lay on the beige, spare room carpet, a pile of gray and blue bricks spread out before me, and built that spaceship, thirty years after I’d first made it. It’s on display in my study now, a fitting tribute to the toy that made me the person I am today.

I am made of Lego.

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