Thursday, 5 September 2013

Just looking...

‘A picture’, someone once said, ‘paints a thousand words.’  Or ten thousand words.  Or is worth a thousand words.

There was definitely something about a picture and some words, and how one equated to quite a lot of the other.



In the days before the internet, if you wanted to shop from the comfort of your sofa, you did it via a catalogue.  It was a ‘Mum’ thing.  Everybody’s Mum seemed to have one or other of these books.  ‘Grattan’ was one that rings a bell.  And Marshall Ward.  My Mum had a Kays catalogue, and it was an absolute doorstop of a thing.  You’d get a Spring/Summer one, and an Autumn/Winter one.

This, children, is what the internet used to look like.

As a youngster, the Winter one was always the best, because it would have 30-odd pages of toys in it, and you’d eagerly thumb through it making Christmas lists that you knew were never going to be fulfilled.  An Action Man Helicopter and an Action Man Scorpion Tank?  And a Scalextric set? I don't think so...

And so on and so on.

In later years I had less of an interest in the toys and more in the ladies underwear section, but I was a teenage boy, your honour!  I was a slave to raging hormones!

Moving swiftly on...

The catalogue was an Aladdin’s cave of, well, seemingly everything!  Toys, clothes, bicycles, kitchen accessories, furniture… you name it, it was in there.  And all payable in weekly installments.
I remember wondering whether I could get the Atari VCS videogame system, which was a staggering £99.99, but was available for about £2.00 something a week for what seemed like the rest of my life. (1)

Later (although a bit of research suggests that it’s been around far longer than I thought), came the Argos catalogue.  This, despite the advent of the 21st Century, still appears to be going strong, even though the more traditional mail-order catalogues now seem like relics from the age of dinosaurs.  We’ve got the latest Argos catalogue sitting on our bookshelf, although now I come to think about it, I don’t know how it got there.

I’m pretty sure I didn’t pick it up from a branch, and it’s clearly too big to go through the letter box...

Do they just leave them on the doorstep like they used to do with the Yellow Pages?  Before people realised that the internet could do all that stuff and the Yellow Pages pretty much went bust.

They must do.

And the Argos catalogue is pretty much universal - it covers most of the country and it’s very easy to get hold of, which comes in handy sometimes.

I married into a large family and went from no nephews and nieces to (at the last count) thirteen.  This can make things like Christmas shopping something of a nightmare.  My eldest three nephews however, when younger, were eager to help and came up with a system.

They’d each go through the Argos catalogue, come up with a Christmas list, and these would be duly posted up on the noticeboard by the phone.  In early December then, we could phone up my sister-in-law, who could just quote us some catalogue numbers, and hey presto!  

Problem solved. (2)

So when I started getting back into Lego, I obviously had a look at the Lego website.  And what do I see?

I can order a catalogue!

Sign me up!!

A few days later, said catalogue dropped through the door, and they’ve been arriving on a regular basis ever since.

Because (as I keep banging on about) I broadly speaking stick to Technic, I don’t tend to look at much of the other Lego ranges if I’m wandering though a shop (3).  But when you’ve got a catalogue, and a few minutes (and as the catalogue lives in the magazine box in the smallest room of the house, I usually do have a few minutes), you read it all.

It never ceases to amaze me, when I consider that in my youth, Lego was basically just a bunch of bricks, how many specific themes there are.  City.  Monster Fighters.  Star Wars.  Legends of Chima.  The Hobbit / Lord Of The Rings. Technic (obviously).  

The list goes on.  
And on.

I guess that most people just pick a few themes and stick to it.  I mean… if you decided you wanted everything, you’d be broke!

Although if your home was repossesed, you’d probably have enough Lego to build yourself somewhere to live. (4)

So I tend to just flick through.  There’s always something that catches my eye.  The Architecture range and the Star Wars range are the usual suspects, but I have to confess to an admiration of the big LOTR sets.  And the modular buildings.

And with Christmas on the horizon, I really fancy a Winter Cottage from the Creator line… (5)

But what I’ve found myself doing lately is playing ‘guess the piece count’.

Without looking at the description, I have 10 seconds to study a picture of a set at random, and then (as the name suggests) I try and guess the number of pieces in the set.

I am, I can tell you, rubbish at this!

Basically, Lego sets are far more complicated (as I found with the recent build of the Back To The Future Delorean) than I think.

So I look at something like, say 60013, the Coast Guard Helicopter set.  Maybe 50 odd pieces in the helicopter itself, and then a couple of dozen for the rest of it?

Let’s say 84 pieces.

84 pieces.  90 tops.

(Image courtesy of



What?  Where?  Where are all these pieces going?  Is that helicopter twice the size I think it is?  Is it built entirely out of 1x1 tiles?

Maybe the shark swallowed a few parts…

But I keep trying.  

I don’t seem to get any better at it, but it does mean that I study the catalogue far more intently than I used to study the Kays catalogue.

With the possible exception of the lingerie section…

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

(1)  When you’re 10, 48 weeks is about 9% of your entire life, so not an unreasonable view.

(2) Many big department stores offer a similar service for weddings and the like, where the happy couple choose a number of items, and their guests can ring up, or go into a branch, look at what’s on the list and purchase something.  The stores can dress it up with fancy names and touchscreen computers, but basically it’s just the Argos catalogue all over again.

(3) It’s a bit different if I’m in the Watford Lego Store, as I will have made a special trip, and so usually end up having a look at everything.  

Although I’ve never felt the need to go anywhere near the Pick-A-Brick wall.

(4) James May (the sensible one from BBC’s Top Gear) built a house from 3.3 million Lego bricks.  You can read about the result here.

(5) I think it would work well as a sort of Christmas ornament type of thing, but the management has other ideas.

I will not be getting a Winter Cottage.

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