Friday, 20 August 2010

An afternoon with Meccano

Just imagine, this was once a few pieces of metal in a box.
Last week, on a road trip on Vancouver Island, I had a look in an antique emporium and to my delight, discovered a very old, just about complete Meccano set from the 1950s or 1960s. This was a treasure find.

I grew up with Meccano and its distant cousin, Lego. My parents weren’t the kind to buy me GI Joe or Star Wars toys. “Make your own!” my dad would say if I wanted a Han Solo action figure or a new toy car.

So, I learned to make things on my own. Plastic models were my specialty. Many of my birthday presents were just that – plastic models.

In short, I grew up assembling things. Learning how things worked. And, I suppose, learning the patience that comes with building things.

So, this afternoon, I spent four hours assembling a sports car with my new vintage Meccano set. I fumbled with the tiny screws and nuts and bolts, and heaved when I realized that I had done things the wrong way and had to take apart and reassembled. But not once did I throw everything down and say “Fuck this shit, I’m watching True Blood.” I finished the job and I have the picture to prove it.

I remarked to my partner that kids today – yes, those rascally kids – don’t know how good they have it. Anything and everything seems to come pre-packaged or pre-installed. Everything they want or need is available at their fingertips, literally, via iPhones, the Internet, Blackberries. Hard work? Pah. It’s not in the dictionary.

Am I an old schmo? No, but at the wily age of 38 I’m starting to understand why people get grumbly about the younger generation as they age.

Allow me to introduce to you this book; I haven’t read it yet, but read about it in the Georgia Straight just yesterday. The author, Nicholas Carr, talks about how our brains are wired via deep thinking, and how this isn’t happening nearly as much because of the Internet. Makes sense to me. I’m a victim of the Internet as well – hell, it’s a large part of my job – and am constantly battling the urge to spend hours and hours on it every day when not at the office. It’s a bad habit.

Four hours of Meccano was a good way to get off the Internet. It allowed me to think, to ponder and to learn. As I assembled the little metal parts of my childhood, I learned how to assemble the thoughts in my brain to make sense of everything out there.

I see sometimes why my parents wanted me to learn how to “make my own” rather than take everything pre-assembled, pre-packaged, ready-to-order.

Thank goodness for Meccano. I know when I have kids I’ll be passing on this valuable lesson.