WHEN 15-year-old Sophie Amundsen dusts off her Lego blocks in philosophy-themed novel Sophie’s World, she does so to research a question set for her by her spiritual guide, Alberto.
“Why is Lego the most ingenious toy in the world?”
While Alberto uses the toy to explain Democritus’s atom theory – which is perhaps best left for another time – the act gets Sophie thinking about when she stopped playing with her building blocks and why adults simply don’t play at all anymore.
It is a very good question. I sometimes find myself playing with my child’s Duplo long after she has got bored and wandered off – or gone to bed. Just putting those blocks together, even when you’re limited to trains, cars and perhaps a chunky, rudimentary house, is so …therapeutic.
When I was younger, I could lose myself for hours creating and building. This was to the great delight of my engineer father, who “nudged” me towards Lego and Meccano in the vague hope I might follow in his footsteps. Sorry Dad.
But I did become a proficient builder. I once made a canal boat out of a combination of the bricks from the walls of a holiday home and the boat part of the Dark Shark pirate ship set. It still ranks to this day as one of my greatest achievements.
All this was was why I was so excited to hear that you can buy adult Lego.
A friend recently posted a picture of a Lego Creator campervan set someone had given him as a gift, with the words “If no one hears from me for the next few days, you know why.” It is beautiful: it has wonderful little details ranging from checkerboard flooring to a fold-out table, complete with miniature glass of wine.
I am insanely jealous. I have been desperately Googling the set and sending not so subtle links to my husband in the hope he might buy it for my birthday.
But the discovery that grown-ups are now actually buying Lego for themselves has got me pondering Sophie’s question – why don’t we play?
Grown-up people who do play – perhaps those who are into painting Star Wars figures, racing their Scalextrix cars or even the board game nuts and video games addicts – are often ridiculed as reclusive weirdos who need to grow up.
But, in a stressful world, over-18s have no less need to let off steam – or even enjoy ourselves – than children.
We are conditioned to think that we have to do so only via “challenges” – running a marathon, for example, or belting up and down at the swimming pool to fit in as many lengths as possible – all in the name of fitness rather than fun. Even taking part in five-a-side football isn’t seen as much of a laugh when a bunch of adults do it.
Everything is organised, teams have even numbers – maybe even matching t-shirts – and the whole experience is a far cry from a spontaneous kick about in the park, aiming the ball between two piles of jumpers.
Some workplaces are beginning to latch on to the issue, realising that a chance to play can unleash creativity and help workers become more productive.
On a recent visit to the new offices of Edinburgh technology whizz-kids Skyscanner, a half-built Lego model was lying on a table in the open-plan room – apparently to help get the creative juices flowing.
Google, whose Californian mega-campus I was once lucky enough to tour, has table tennis tables, games consoles and diving pools for staff to play in during lunch hours and “downtime”. Even the Queen, it has always been said, is a big fan of jigsaw puzzles – leaving them lying around on tables in the Palace to help break the ice for people feeling overwhelmed at a royal party.
Back in Sophie’s World, Sophie admits, reluctantly, as any grumpy teen would, that when playing with her Lego, she “hadn’t had as much fun in ages”. We should take a leaf out of her book and start having some more fun. Playing shouldn’t be just for children. Now, I just need someone to buy me that campervan set...