I was particularly looking forward to Christmas this year.
Not, as most folk might think, because of all the traditional Christmas stuff: peace, goodwill, family visitations, gifts, feasting and the like - I'm sure that's all very nice for most normal, well-adjusted people, but I've never really considered myself to fall into that category. I'm pretty certain that at no point my life up until now have I ever been, nor in fact will I ever be, described as 'getting into the festive spirit'. I don't really do 'festive - I despise tinsel, for a start. I'm always the one at the Christmas dinner table who flatly refuses to put the paper hat on from out of the Christmas cracker ("No, you're wrong - actually it's not fun, and you all look like mental patients..."), and who supplies their own, deeply inappropriate punchlines when anyone starts reading a joke out: "What's worse that finding a worm in your apple, you ask? How about me finally cracking and killing you all with this fork...?"
However, this Christmas was always going to be special, because this was the year that Eldest reached an important and life changing milestone: this Christmas, she graduated from Duplo to proper Lego.
Now, your immediate reaction there might have been to think that this is not a big deal - but if so you would be incorrect, and should feel ashamed.
Let me be clear about my thoughts on this: Lego, as the Internet-savvy youth like to say, is both 'teh awesome' and 'made of win'. In fact, I would go further than that: I would say Lego exceeds both these descriptions, and is made of an exciting new alloy of both 'awesome' and 'win' (a material that I shall henceforth call 'Awswinium') - it's that great.
I got hooked on Lego in 1977. Prior to that I had been given a big tub of generic red bricks, a hand-me down from an Aunt or Uncle. I liked them well enough, but back then they were fairly straightforward: bricks were red or white, came in either the 'eighter' or 'fourer' varieties, and you could use them to build a wall, or a house. They were OK - a rainy afternoon toy.
But then, in that fateful year, I saw a box of Space Lego in the local toy shop, and I have never coveted anything so much in my life. I can still remember to this day, over 30 years later, almost everything about the small kits that were first available to me: within my pocket-money price range were two 60p kits; a lunar rover with a white spaceman, and a small wedge shaped 'skimmer ship' with a red spaceman. I swear that even now, if handed the component bricks, I could assemble both sets blindfold. It became a much loved part of my childhood..
Fast-forward twenty years. My own Lego is long gone - sold, if I recall correctly, to help finance the purchase of a ZX Spectrum 48k home computer. However, that year Shell petrol stations briefly run a promotion, whereby anyone filling up at their forecourts receive a small box of Lego as a promotional item. I immediately switch allegiance and begin filling up at the Shell station, even though I have to drive a little bit out of the way to do so. I soon have the full set of promo Lego boxes. I put them in the cupboard, telling myself that one day I will have children, and we can all play Lego together. I do not play with the Lego, you understand, because I am an adult - I would like to make that clear. I do open one or two of the boxes and assemble the models, just to 'test them out' and make sure no bricks are missing, but I return them to the box afterwards. That is just testing Lego, it is not the same as playing with Lego.
Five years later, I go on to meet my wife. For the first few years we are together, I do not tell her about the Lego in the cupboard, because I am ostensibly a grown man (at least in terms of age, if not maturity) and Lego is a child's toy - but nonetheless, if the opportunity ever presents itself (perhaps in the sales, or other Shell promotions, or using up foreign currency at airports, etc) and there is a box of Lego going cheap, I purchase it and stash it in the cupboard.
In 2004, my first daughter is born. In 2006, the second. Their Grandparents buys them a box of Duplo, which is essentially the Lego equivalent of a gateway drug: it is purpose-designed to get you hooked on plastic bricks at the earliest opportunity. Both children like the Duplo very much, though not as much as their father, who once spent an entire morning fashioning a life-sized peacock out of the bricks, which was left on the front step for them to find when they came back from shopping. (Please note: making a life-sized peacock out of Duplo is NOT the same as playing with Duplo - it is a selfless act of paternal kindness for the amusement of children. Similarly, stopping those same children from actually touching the Duplo peacock is another selfless act, because Duplo models are delicate and break easily, and it's best all round if children don't touch them so that they can enjoy them for longer...).
Christmas 2009. Eldest gets a small tub of very pink, very girly Lego. I bring down the assorted boxes I have hived away over the years from the loft, which I notice in retrospect are perhaps not ideal for a 5-year old girl, as they seem be exclusively themed on either (a) Star Wars (b) killer robots, (c) the emergency services or (d) racing cars. But no matter, I think, we'll press on regardless - between us we must have enough bricks to build lots of models. She will grow to love Lego just as much as her Father did at her age. It will be brilliant...
Sadly, the long awaited Father/offspring Lego session does not go quite as I expected.
"What are you building, sweetheart?" I ask.
"A house. For the people to live in."
"That's nice. Which people did you choose?"
"These," she says, waving airily at a small assortment of minifigures, which I peruse.
"Ah. That is Darth Maul," I say after a second. "He is a Dark lord of the Sith. He won't really like living in a pink house.
"He is a girl now" she says. "Look."
I look closer. Darth Maul does indeed appear to have dropped his customary black cowl this season, in favour of a blonde ponytail. It is not, on the whole, a very good look for a renowned Jedi killer.
"Right..." I say, in a carefully neutral voice, because although I want her to really enjoy the whole Lego experience, I also think it's important that we respect the Star Wars canon.
"She is the Mummy of this house" she adds. "These ones are the Daddy and the children."
I look closer. Thanks to the magic of Lego, it appears Darth Maul wasn't really killed by Obi Wan Kenobi at all: in fact he married a helicopter pilot, and then went on to bear two children: a son in the police force who was tragically born with his head on backwards, and a daughter who liked to wear a top hat and carry an oversize spanner.
"Right..." I say. "And what's that?"
"A dog? It is bigger than they are..." I point out.
"Yes" she agrees, brightly.
"It's also on wheels..."
"It doesn't matter" she says.
"No, I guess not," I say, thinking, Yes, it does. Dogs don't have wheels.
"What are you building?" she asks.
"A killer robot." I say. "It's really cool. Look, he has machine guns on his face..."
She studies it impassively. It is clear she is not impressed.
"Why do we need a killer robot for our town?" she asks.
"We're making a town?"
"Well, you wouldn't need him for that," I admit. "But perhaps he could attack it?"
"Attack the town?" she asks incredulously. Then, quite definitively: "No. That wouldn't be nice."
"It would be fun," I say. "Mrs Maul there could defend the family - perhaps she could set her giant wheeled dog on him..."
"I could build you another robot to fight him off..."
"Right. Well, what can he do, then?"
"He can stay away..." she says firmly, with a determined scowl that reminds me of her Mother.
"OK," I say, sadly. "What shall I build instead?"
"You can make a sweetshop."
I look at the Lego pieces in front of me. None of the assorted booster rockets, racing tyres, spruce trees and skeletal horses that I have collected over the years are going to be that useful in constructing a sweetshop.
"We don't really have the pieces for that..." I say.
"It's OK," she says. "We can just stick them all together and see what it looks like..."
I close my eyes and grimace. I am raising a Lego heretic as a daughter. It is clear that we have very different approaches: she is a five year old girl who likes playing with bricks, whereas I am a sad obsessive-compulsive who likes to follow the instructions. Never the twain shall meet.
"Perhaps we should keep my Lego separate from yours?" I say, noting with some inner sadness that I have just referred to it as 'my' Lego.
She looks surprised. "I thought it was all for us to play with?"
Yes, I think. That was what I thought too. But you're not playing with it properly...
Thursday, 14 January 2010
I was particularly looking forward to Christmas this year.