Posts Tagged ‘imagination’

A headline in a recent newspaper caught my eye which in turn had me thinking nostalgically about the plaything that as a child I returned to again and again. I don’t mean teddy bears – they don’t count as toys – they are loyal confidants; one of life’s necessities (Bear ones) and I wouldn’t be without mine.  I’m not talking about skipping ropes, board games or dolls. I was never much interested in the latter although I of course had them. I was a little girl, after all, and dolls are what girls were meant to play with. I had a dolls pram too – maroon if I remember correctly – a miniature version of the sturdy Smart-Car-sized Silver Cross that my mother perambulated for years. The doll’s house was used initially but quickly abandoned – a shame really as it was made for me by my grandfather – a facsimile of his own home.

But it’s the humble Lego brick to which I pay homage. Apart from books which have always been a constant companion, the androgynous red and white bricks of my Lego-filled youth provided me with hours of creative activity and sparked imaginings beyond even the wildest playroom. I think the first set I ever owned consisted of a few bricks of each size and a flat grey base unit. I built houses. I built cottages by the sea; I built state of the art tower blocks; I built castles as my collection grew – whole towns once the Lego street map arrived. I made farms and zoos. Each Christmas stocking produced a tiny box containing much needed single tenners or double sixer bricks or window shapes, some with tiny closing shutters. Envisage my utmost delight when Lego brought out the translucent brick and I designed my architecturally inspired sixties houses with integrated translucent walls and imagined internal spiral staircases. This was only surpassed a little later by the production of a tiny circuit board with bulb, switch and battery which could be concealed within my house and – lo and behold – there was light! (And I had my first ever physics lesson. Sadly things have gone downhill in that department ever since).

Picture of assorted Lego bricks from Wikipedia Picture of assorted Lego bricks from Wikipedia

My Lego collection is still around somewhere in the family, having been added to by various keepers over the years. To my mind though, these later additions are pretenders to Lego’s original ideals. Gone is the need to imagine a jumbled creation of duo-coloured blocks as something tangible and mysterious – now we have vivid themed sets with instructions. Where is the creativity, where is the encouragement to imagine?

The aforementioned headline stated that Cambridge University are to appoint a “Professor of Lego” with funding from the eponymous company. My first reaction on seeing this was one of ridicule but as I read the article and thought about it, I think they may be on to something. The Lego Foundation has provided the funding to research how children play. The article suggests that children have lost the ability to create their own amusement and this is impacting on their educational development. I am amazed that it has taken an injection of £1.5million to come to this conclusion. You’ve only got to look for children playing outside in the fresh air during their school holidays and you’ll pretty soon realise that our wide open spaces are largely empty. No jumpers for goalposts these days. No tree climbing either (too dangerous) no camp-making in the woods (again, far too dangerous) and definitely no unsupervised pond-dipping (even more dangerous).

Lego has been lauded as a therapy tool for children with autism and has also been recommended as a creative thinking device for business people – everyone should have a box of random bricks on their desk. I don’t think that’s too whacky an idea – it’s even thought to reduce city stress levels.

I think I might suggest that we introduce Lego to our department if the budget can stretch that far – we could get the students to create the finest structure they can with limited resources – introduce a bit of competition, just like the real world. Oh, wait a minute; competitiveness is frowned upon these days too. We’ll need another research project – Professor of Rivalry, perhaps?

 

 

 

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There’s been much in the media this week about a certain 50 year anniversary – the one that everyone over a certain age professes to know exactly where they were when the event occurred. You know the one I mean – it instantly shocked and rocked the world in a way that Mahatma Ghandi’s assassination didn’t, news not travelling quite so fast or as globally fifteen years earlier.

I was convinced I knew where I was the day the news came through about JFK. My mother disagreed – she said that I couldn’t possibly remember – I would have been far too young. (From where I am on the age scale now, I find that rather comforting). Of course, she was right (mothers always are); it wasn’t JFK’s assassination I remember – it was that of his brother, Robert, some five years later.

I have a vivid memory of standing on a moor somewhere in the West Country while my father listened to the news on his car radio that Kennedy had been shot. I know I was wearing shorts and a navy sweater; the weather was chilly and I remember goose pimples on my legs.

A moor somewhere in the West Country

A moor somewhere in the West Country

To corroborate my memorable tableau of times past, I consulted our holiday diaries, recently passed on to me by Mum during one of her sorting-out fests.

As a family, we kept a holiday diary, the writing of which fell to me from about the age of ten. These diaries have proved invaluable over the years in settling petty family disputes about when and where we may have done something or other while on vacation. So, to prove to myself that the car radio scenario was not a figment of my imagination, I checked to see if our holiday date and venue corresponded with the shooting of Bobby Kennedy in June 1968. No doubt about it. In early June of that year we were indeed on holiday in North Cornwall, as described by my own fair hand in beautiful pre-exam italic style.

While the news item was not mentioned in dispatches exactly, other vaguer memories that I have associated with Robert Kennedy’s death were established. The speedboat ride around Padstow harbour in grey and windy weather bears out the chilliness I experienced on that remembered moor, (must have been Bodmin); followed by knickerbocker-glories in a café.  I am pleased to report that the weather for the rest of our week was hot and sunny and we apparently spent a lot of time on the beach – but of that I have no true memory.

Isn’t it odd how our mind play tricks, selecting what is remembered in crystal clear vision while other things remain lost forever? Reading through some of the old diaries again jogged my memories into believing I had retrieved something from my past – but had I really? Does imagination help in recreating scenes that have slipped away?

Other, more recent world events will always stay with me, just like the memory of JFK does for people slightly older than me. I know exactly where I was when I heard about the twin towers and I know exactly how I felt the morning I woke to the news that John Lennon died, but although our London 7/7 bombings were a recent tragic loss of life – I have no recollection of what I was doing on that day.

As far as earliest memories go, I have a fleeting ghost of a picture in my head of walking along a low brick wall holding Nanna’s hand. It is sunny, there are leafy trees above and to my right is a big white house. I think I am waiting for Dad to drive up in a car. I am convinced it is where we lived briefly before moving to the country – but I would have been less than two years old and the year would definitely be pre-1963. Is this real thought or an imagined picture of my past that I have created because I have since seen that building?

And more to the point – can I ever prove Mum wrong?

Do you have a memory connected to a world event – or I wonder what your earliest memory is? I’d love to know.

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Oh, and just one more thing…

The thought occurred to me that sharp-eyed car connoisseurs will be wondering what make of swanky car my family must have been driving in those days for it to have been fitted with a car radio. Well, let me tell you. It wasn’t.

This was our car:

1968 Morris Traveller

1968 Morris Traveller

And this was Dad’s radio:

or one very similar

or one very similar

And the reason I was standing on chilly Bodmin Moor was because we would have had to drive for miles to high ground so that Dad could get a signal. He was obsessed with the news. Every evening at home he would demand absolute silence while he watched the news on television which was, as I recall, often followed by something called ‘All Our Yesterdays,’ which for my sister and me at that time was just plain dull.

(We were both ace at current affairs though).

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