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LEGOmaniacs! Thought Lego was for kids Meet the men (and women) who spend 20 hours a week playing with their little bricks
23:46 GMT, 27 December 2012
Every year for the past 20 years, secondary school teacher Michael Addis and his wife, Catherine, have built a giant Lego model in their living room. Something so big and bold that it almost touches the ceiling.
Their latest creation is a 10ft-high replica of the 2012 Olympic mascot known as Wenlock. In previous years, they’ve built a giant Dalek, an oversized Victorian post box, even a replica of a 10th-century church that’s a few miles from their home.
Each item is made entirely from Lego bricks — around 100,000 of them, assembled (with no instructions) over a period of around six weeks.
Olympican feat: Catherine Addis with a 100,000-brick replica of the 2012 Olympics mascot Wenlock. Catherine and her husband Michael have built a giant Lego model in their living room every year for the past 20 years
The regime is always the same. ‘We start on my birthday, October 13, and we’re finished by December 1,’ says Michael. ‘We work on it for roughly two hours every night.’
Why do they do it ‘Because otherwise we’d just watch too much TV.’ And, anyway, it’s an affordable hobby: Michael, from Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire, buys his Lego secondhand on eBay, where you can purchase bricks by the kilo.
‘If the price goes above 10 for 1 kilo, I walk away,’ he says.
It’s an odd way for a grown-up to spend his time, you might think. But Michael is not alone in his Lego obsession. Up and down the country, there are people — OK, the vast majority of them are men — who devote their leisure time to the tiny plastic building blocks that most of us left behind for ever when we discovered members of the opposite sex, skateboards and booze.
Regime: The Addis family start on their masterpiece in October each year and they finish by December 1
There are regular shows where hundreds of enthusiasts — they call themselves AFOLS, or ‘adult fans of Lego’ — meet to swap notes and show off their latest creations.
And the things they create! There are warships, motor cars, football stadia, dinosaurs and spaceships. There are 40ft Christmas trees, working railway trains, architecturally accurate landmarks. The only thing the models have in common is that they are all huge.
I know what you’re thinking: geeky men, no girlfriends, live with their mums. Well, you’re wrong. All the Lego enthusiasts I’ve spoken to are happily married, and many of them blame their obsession on their wives, who reintroduced them to Lego in adulthood.
‘I hadn’t played with Lego since my childhood, but then, in my mid-40s, my wife bought me a large Star Wars Lego kit for Christmas,’ smiles 52-year-old Gary Davis. ‘And she’s been regretting it ever since.’
Gary is an amazing craftsman. /12/27/article-2253927-16A9F403000005DC-780_634x445.jpg” width=”634″ height=”445″ alt=”Flight of fancy: Gary Davis's (pictured) wife bought him a lego set when he was in his mid 40s. He now spends around 20 hours a week with his Lego bricks” class=”blkBorder” />
Flight of fancy: Gary Davis's (pictured) wife bought him a lego set when he was in his mid 40s. He now spends around 20 hours a week with his Lego bricks
A while back, Gary, from Welywn, Hertfordshire, woke up with the idea of creating a super-sized model of the face of Yuri Gagarin, the first human to journey into space (as you do.) The project took him five months and 20,000 bricks. The result is an extraordinary work of art.
The process of adding a brick here, moving one there, with no colour-by-numbers masterplan to follow, is similar to the way a sculptor might manipulate a piece of clay. Meanwhile, he has also built a brilliant model of the Olympics aquatic centre, complete with two swimmers splashing about in the pool.
‘Some people think it’s childish that you’re playing with a kids’ toy — but they change their mind when they see the models I produce,’ Gary says. ‘They’re much bigger and more sophisticated than a child would make, so I don’t get so much mickey-taking now.’
Martin Long, 43, works similarly long hours on his Lego. He played with Lego as a child, stopped when he became a teenager, then returned to the toy in his 30s when he stumbled across some old sets on eBay.
Reaching for the stars: Gary Davis and his Thunderbirds Lego model
‘I’d forgotten about Lego and how cool it was,’ says the Vodafone project manager from Faringdon, Oxfordshire. ‘I very rapidly began amassing large amounts of Lego.’
In fact, very large: his stash, he estimates, stands at around 500,000 bricks. Martin has had his loft converted in order to create a Lego room for himself, so that his wife, Susan, and their children Millie, nine, and Alfie, five, can enjoy a relatively Lego-free existence.
Not that it’s turned out quite like that. ‘I’ve got my Lego room full of bricks, but most of my garage is full of it and there are various other bits and bobs all over the place as well,’ he admits.
What does his wife think He pauses for a moment, then laughs.
‘I think she’s comfortable with it,’
he says. ‘I guess she understands my hobby; “tolerates” might be a bit
strong — but she certainly appreciates the fact that our children get
‘In any case, at
least my hobby doesn’t involve me disappearing every weekend. If I were
playing golf or rugby, I could be out of the house for hours on end.’
it seems, is enjoying something of a boom. The family-owned Danish
company is the world’s third biggest toy firm, and it is estimated that,
on average, every person on Earth owns 80 Lego bricks.
In 2011, the company produced more than 36 billion (yes, billion!) pieces — the equivalent of 68,000 every minute. The firm now employs double the number of people it did five years ago.
Yet the company has struggled to attract girls to the delights of construction. In 2012, in an attempt to counter this, the company launched Lego Friends — featuring female mini-figures, garish pinks and the opportunity to build the ‘Heartlake pet salon’, a ‘summer riding camp’ or ‘Emma’s horse trailer’. As yet, it’s too early to know how many girls have been won over.
They’ll not have much luck if the grown-ups are anything to go by: when the AFOLs get together, there are at least four men for every woman.
The truth is, there is something very
primitive and, dare one say it, rather male about the idea of plonking a
block of something on top of another. When mankind was first standing
on two feet, it was the bloke who roamed the neighbourhood collecting
branches and leaves to build a shelter, while the female stayed behind
to protect her young. Many thousands of years later, maybe horse
trailers and pet salons might change the way Lego is viewed. But maybe
Splash! Mr Davis has also built a brilliant model of the Olympics aquatic centre, complete with two swimmers in the pool
Extraordinary: A while ago, he woke up with the idea of creating a super-sized model of the face of Yuri Gagarin, the first human to journey into space
For a start, many women might not enjoy adhering to the rather rigid rules many of the AFOLs insist on. The first of these is: no glue. Glue is only allowed if your model is to be exhibited permanently in public.
The reason You guessed it: health and safety regulations. In case it falls down and hits someone.
What about Blu-Tack Also frowned upon. Is it ever OK to paint a Lego brick in order to improve a sculpture No, say the AFOLs, it is not. Ever.
Meanwhile, a tip: if you’re creating a building, it’s best to use a scale of around 1:40 — because that way they are in proportion with the Lego mini-figures (the little yellow-faced men and women) who will inhabit them.
That’s a rule that enabled Warren Elsnore, a 36-year-old former IT consultant from Edinburgh, to build an incredible replica of St Pancras railway station out of 180,000 bricks. It took him two years.
He returned to Lego courtesy of a former girlfriend, who bought him a Statue of Liberty set when he was 21.
He’s not looked back since. Indeed, Warren, who reckons he owns around two million pieces of Lego, recently gave up his job in order to focus full-time on his obsession.
And the decision — which has the full support of his wife, Kitty — seems to be paying off. It seems that many companies want Lego creations in their foyers, and, in the New Year, Warren has been employed to perform at a trade show in Florida. He also has a Lego book in the pipeline.
It is possible to make a living out of Lego. Duncan Titmarsh, a Surrey father of two teenage girls, left his job as a kitchen fitter to start a firm called Bright Bricks.
He is regularly called on to create ambitious installations in shop windows, from Hamleys to John Lewis.
Enthusiast: Mr Davis also created this Thunderbirds model. He has a stash of 'around half a million bricks'
Proud: 'Some people think it's childish that you're playing with a kids' toy – but they change their mind when they see the models I produce,' says Mr Davis
This Christmas, he installed a 40ft tree in the Trafford Centre in Manchester. It took five people four weeks to assemble the 550,000 bricks — each of which had to be glued into place as passers-by do have a tendency to ‘pick’ at his pieces.
AFOLs are evangelical about their chosen medium. ‘The brilliant thing about Lego,’ says Warren Elsnore, ‘is that it’s so simple. If you’ve got enough bricks and a big enough model, there’s nothing you can’t build.’
Sadly, Warren does not get day-to-day pleasure from his St Pancras. It’s so huge that he has to keep it in storage.
But — bizarrely — most adult Lego fans don’t feel the need to keep their creations at all. Like a fisherman who throws his prize carp back into the water, it’s common to break up your model once it’s been exhibited.
Michael Addis, for example, throws a party on Twelfth Night, during which his friends help him to dismantle his Christmas creation.
Isn’t it a bit sad demolishing something that’s taken so long to make ‘I always feel a bit like that,’ he says. ‘But we pack it away properly, and we know that we’re going to do it again next year.’
Michael is lucky. And unusual. His wife does not just tolerate his obsession, she is a willing participant.
It’s not like that for everyone. I ask Gary if he mentioned his affection for Lego when he went on his first date with the woman who was to become his wife, or that his plan, later in life, was to spend 20 hours a week messing around with little plastic bricks.
‘No,’ he smiles. ‘And it wasn’t mentioned in the wedding vows either.’