Thursday, 15 March 2012

Another brick in the wall

When I was just a young lad, Grandma in Cyprus bought me an Encyclopaedia Britannica.  It's always been something I have treasured, especially as it was quite a sacrifice for her to buy.  Although my memory of the times is hazy, it was I believe not long after she and my father were divorced and I am sure money was tight.  I came home from school one day, GinC wasn't there, but there was a note which said "There's a mess in your room can you tidy it up please".  Of course, as there was always a mess in my room, I ignored it until it was too late.  She arrived home before I went upstairs, so I somewhat spoiled the wonderful surprise.  The Encyclopaedia was never easy to use because it wasn't (in 30 volumes) in alphabetical order.  No that would be insufficient for the intellectuals wouldn't it?  Instead it was divided into two sections - ten volumes in the first and twenty in the other.  In order to find anything that you wanted to know about, you had to first look it up in the first section to find the reference in the second.  Getting to the bottom of any query was a labyrinthine challenge.  That was part of the fun.  Did it teach me anything?  Well yes, probably that the harder you work for something the better will be the reward.

When I moved to Brighton the Encyclopaedias eventually followed me.  In fact I think they nearly killed Grandad in Cyprus as I had moved in to a top floor flat with no lift and he helped bring them up.  In fact he may have carried most of them up.  There were over a hundred steps to the top.  Each part of the Encyclopaedia is thicker than a telephone directory (oh do those still exist?).  Legs, arms and hearts were well exercised that day.

They sit now in the 'library' - the small box room that we've given a rather grand title, as an icon and testament to a slower age.  It still gets thumbed through...although it looks pristine.  And the information is woefully out of date...but it is still an object of beauty.

Yesterday I read that the Encyclopaedia in print form will exist no more, replaced instead by a 'media rich knowledge experience'.  Yes I know there will be more in it, it will be interactive, there will be videos to go with the words and pictures and it will be constantly updated.  But, but, but will it have the stature and status.  Somehow I doubt it.  That's a shame.

When I was younger we had Lego.  Everyone had Lego.  It was a brilliant toy that stimulated the creative juices.  That was in the days when Lego simply consisted of rectangular bricks of different sizes and colours.  There must have been wheels too because I remember that in addition to all sorts of different buildings we used to create cars, vans and trucks...although there was no way to make the wheels steer.  Rockets and planes didn't require wheels.  Boats and ships were not very waterproof and mostly sank like the Titanic.  Each was carefully designed by my brother or I in our heads in about thirty seconds.  Built in ten minutes and then driven, flown and more importantly crashed over and over and over.

But in more recent memory, and presumably due to a decline in the creative spirit amongst small people, Lego has taken to selling 'kits'.  Fabulous constructions...often themed around the latest film sensations (Pirates of the Caribbean, Star Wars, Harry Potter, etc).  But all this you know.  I always felt this was a shame, although it didn't stop me buying the kits as gifts for kids of friends and family.  And from Lego's point of view it was the saviour of the company.  It was the way to compete in a digital age.

Then, last year I was bought a kit.  Not a Bionicle, not a Harry Potter, nor even The Death Star.  The Muffins bought me the Guggenheim from Lego's Architecture series.  Each one comes with a comprehensive set of instructions (IKEA please take note) and a booklet which gives loads of background.  Proper educational it is too.  We bought a second one (only another ten to go) and yesterday constructed the Rockefeller Center in a couple of hours.  If it took God six days to make the earth, and Rome wasn't built in a day, I think a couple of hours is quite good.  I didn't do it alone.  For both buildings, The Cat's Mother has equal billing.  The results are fabulous, and they're now displayed in our treasure trove room.  If I worked for a proper company, the HR department would probably describe it as a team bonding exercise.  Perhaps it is.

P.S. If Lego wants to send me one for "Review", I'm prepared to make the sacrifice....Fallingwater looks interesting