Lego, and what it means to me

When I was in my late 20s, one Saturday I went to Myer at Chermside and bought and paid for my very first Lego set with my own money. It was the Millennium Falcon. At the cash register I was so embarrassed I pretended I was buying it as a present for a kid. The person behind the counter only half-believed me.

And so, as I brought the massive box home, I realised it was the very first Lego I had touched since I was 11. I spent the next few days building the fuck out of that bad-boy and just loving every second.

See up until that point, all the Lego I had owned had been given to me, usually as a Christmas or birthday surprise. Only once did I get to choose a lego set and it was the very last set I obtained in that period. And It was bought for me by my godmother. I am not a religious person – but – god, fucking, bless her. I was so happy I could have been overdosing on ecstacy. Not that I know what extacsy feels like – but I think I can half imagine.

So once upon a time – my sheer, brutal-love affair with lego started. Try as I might, I cannot remember my first lego set. It was just there – a lovable constant in my upbringing.

I must have adored those early blocks and miscellaneous bits, but only with the “love” a 4 or 5 year old can dismissively muster. So I would imagine those first lego bits would be prone to being lost – consumed by a sinister vacuum cleaner, buried somehow in the garden or just suddenly missing in the constant moving I experienced as a child.

It now occurs to me that this space ship I had constructed a day or so later after the “mobile rocket transport” outlined below. You can see how the satellite dish is exactly the same…

But then on Christmas Day 1983 I had an epiphany. It was at my Nanna’s house in Ipswich and my mum was visiting from Sydney (which was a big deal) and I was forced to open the smallest presents first. My parents seemed to understand the value of suspense.

See in those days the smallest presents were invariably the shitiest. Nowadays with the iPhones and the Garmins and other super-electronics stuff, the smallest gift just might be the best.

But sometimes my parents would just wrap up a set of batteries. And you would rip this present open and just go – “Wha? Are you guys on drugs?” And then suddenly your brain would start to work again and when they excitedly thrust another present in your hands you would realise something very special was about to be unveiled.

But getting back to Christmas 1983. So eventually I got through all the little forgettable or practical stuff – and soon enough I was unwrapping this box that shuffled and rumbled inside with the musical frequency I knew instinctively as “a shit load of lego”. Even before I opened the wrapping I could feel my bladder was a tiny bit compromised. This would be my very first major Lego set. And through the magic of the time-machine of the internet – below is the cover of the box. Something until today I had not seen in decades.

And when I gazed upon this box I saw it was from the newly established “Space” genre. And it was called “Mobile Rocket Transport” and I just shook like I had full-body Parkinson’s – with a happiness I will never experience again.

Holy moly. First of all the box was twice my width and almost half my height. And then it took me most of Christmas Day to assemble, a simply magical experience.

So Lego’s new “SPACE” theme became my ONLY theme. It was now my world. I would not accept any other bricks. Had someone bought me a big city set I would have first told them how disappointed I was, then cannibalized the set for anything useful to me building SPACE stuff. Then I would have chucked the rest of the bricks in the face of the person who had given me that trash in the first place. UGH!

A relative then gave me two plastic trays (avec handles) to stow my blossoming lego collection. I can remember digging through those trays looking for pieces I needed. The smallest pieces were always the most important. The one bit lights for instance.

This was the set my Godmother —  Kim — bought me. I cannot tell her much it meant to me at the time. Horribly awesome, but a bit horribly guilty that she had bought me the biggest gift I had ever received.  

When my dad was briefly and quite suddenly hospitalised I was literally dragged out of school and shoved on a train ultimately to be temporarily re-located to the country town of Wagga Wagga in NSW where my grandparents (both born and bred in Scotland/England) lived. It took 2 days to get there and the train actually caught fire on the way! (Only a little bit but it was so freakishly dramatic to an 8 year old!)

Once we got there it was established that my grandad was working at the airforce base as a mechanic. In the seconds I had before the trip I remember insisting I take the entirety of my lego collection with me. The train ride was so imminent no one had the strength to argue. So probably sans quite a bit of important clothing and other essentials we were suddenly on a train heading south.

And at the time it seemed such an adventure – but it soon became less of a Lego adventure, but more of a Dr Who one. See I was travelling back in time. I was now under the archaic rules of my grandmother. Indeed my grandad was not much better. Although he worked in the airforce and I wished so fucking hard he would tell me about it, he was effectively a zombie to me. The only time he was animated was when he chastised me for leaving an inner door open – something that would excise the demon known as “the draft”.

My grandmother was even more intense. She is a Baptist and seems to be forever atoning for very minor discretions (by today’s standards) as a youngster. At the time I was used to it. It seemed to be cool that she left a glass of milk next to my bed after I fell asleep just in case if perhaps I woke up in the dead of night and suddenly needed lactose I could drink it’s milky goodness…and it was a tiny bit endearing that she washed my hair in the bathroom sink, but everything else was just evil. So much religion, no laughs, and an inherent cynicism about the world and the people in it – unless they went to Church.

But thankfully I had my little plastic bricks and the imagination to transform them into a world I could escape to.

That time in Wagga was actually quite amazing. I was suddenly top of the class. I felt like a total braniac and thus I got an incredible amount of respect around the school-yard. No apparent interest from girls, which I was completely used to – but at least I was an intellectual celebrity which was inspiring I guess.

For a show-and-tell school spectacle, I built the most ambitious Lego space ship I had ever attempted. I used every brick I owned. It was so ridiculously long and fragile I needed my sister to help me carry it to school. I remember it being quite a scene as we waddled through the school gates — the ship waddling quite a bit more than us. I didn’t win any prizes, but I didn’t care. I had made the biggest lego ship ever. Exponentially so.

At least in Wagga.

The end of lego came quite suddenly again – almost as suddenly as that move to Wagga. Admittedly by the time I was 11 I had moved on a bit and Lego was now a bit “kids stuff”. My Grandma either sensed this or just decided this. Now I think about it – it was the latter.

After all she was that crazy-brutal Grandma from Wagga who was now back in my home-town of Ipswich and thus her Death-Star-tractor-beam of influence was even more intense. She, who had been raised during the war… she who had lived through bombs raining down and living (perhaps) perpetually on cardboard and rations not exactly unlike cardboard had just decided I needed to donate my totally indulgent Lego bricky magic to another kid. A less fortunate soul would now perhaps enjoy this intensely personal stuff. She was probably working through some charity she helped out with through her Church. Confronted with that logic, confronted with her history, her brutal soberness and her omnipresent seriousness, I had not choice but to agree it was the right thing to do – even though quite a bit of my heart thought maybe I would miss it one day. Maybe even perhaps the day after tomorrow.

But then it was gone.

And now, despite being a bit embarrassed at first, I am embracing it all again. And it is fucking awesome. Even the “intellectual” bricks of the “Architecture” series. Refreshing. Just a few weeks ago I saw a rather normal-looking-dude in his 20s buying a pretty awesome Star Wars set. Ans so now I have now come full circle. Totally.

That’s me as a baby in the frame in the background. Oh the irony.

Lego’s “Falling Water”

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