I was lucky enough to grow up with Meccano. My parents gave me a small set for Christmas one year and I think I may have stolen the rest. Perhaps I was given it as hand me downs, or borrowed it, but I did seem to gather quite a bit of it, in used condition (which was better than the new stuff I always thought) so I well may have stolen it from friends and relatives.
I spent so many hours building useless things with it I can’t even begin to add them up. I do not recall building anything of note, not a single useful thing, not a can opener or an opening bridge or a beach buggy, not even a crane which seemed to be all the rage in those days. I do however remember the social impact my playing with Meccano had.
Mostly because I was lazy, I did not put things away. Meccano is one of those toys made up of hundreds if not thousands of tiny pieces that can play havoc with a vacuum cleaner and even worse, rip holes in socks or even worse just stick into you like a splinter. Tiny bolts and nuts and cogs all of which could have been designed in some sort of bizarre housework torture chamber.
My mother was driven mad with me getting half way through building something monumental then walking away, with thousands of tiny odd-shaped pieces of steel strewn through the room. Or better yet, if I felt it was something really important I had to build I may have taken over the kitchen table or the surrounding floor, inconveniencing the maximum number of people.
So I have a vivid memory of people either asking me to remove it, or tidy it up or screaming at me because they had a piece imbedded in their foot because I had left it lying on the floor. It was difficult to know who was to blame really, clearly I blamed the Meccano, but I was flying solo there.
I remember swapping Meccano pieces with friends, all of whom were much more accomplished builders and engineers than I. Which is also perhaps where I get the idea that I may have pocketed more than the pieces that were offered in the exchange process. My negotiation and procurement skills were pretty strong even if my building skills let me down.
Meccano was probably the electronic game equivalent of today, it was time-consuming, absorbing and at best provided real skills while at worst was just a way of removing oneself from reality. I still find myself from time to time imagining feats of engineering that need to be built and then grinding them out in my head using imaginary Meccano pieces, usually arriving at the point of understanding or the aha moment with the realisation “so thats why that is impossible and has never been built.”
The other thing Meccano provided me with was a bookmark or marker. My life after Meccano and my life with it. My life with Meccano was full of envy and longing for other sets and pieces. Full of unsettling moments when my dreams didn’t quite match my capabilities. Full of moments where I unveiled my latest and greatest build to indifference and familial contempt. With my limited view of the world it was entirely possible to build anything I could imagine, which most of the time was not much.
Post the toy engineering set, life was full of impossibilities and restrictions and hoops one had to jump through before being allowed to participate in the next stage. Dreams and imaginings had to be based in some sort of reality. At least I don’t have people yelling at me anymore, oh wait…
Note: Michael is the curator of the The Life Log Project in Sydney Australia. Helping people tell their life story.
Note: Michael is the curator of the The Life Log Project in Sydney Australia. helping people to tell their life story.