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Block Party

Block Party

Mark Harrowell shares a Christmas tale of the unexpected


My wife gifted me this on Christmas Day. 

I’m not sure why, I haven’t shown an interest in anything similar since the 1970s when I tried to construct a Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress and neglected to paint the pilot before gluing him into his cockpit. In fact, the whole experience was a gluefest of the Airfix clear adhesive kind, the sort that punk rockers sniffed, and I squeezed with no finesse, ensuring that the bomber’s front wheel had little chance of revolving.

Santa had brought my son a rather expensive Nintendo Somethingorother with a game called FIFA 23. As far as I could understand (not a great distance), he could pretty much select any footballer to play in any fantasy fixture he desired. Rather than recreate the epic Messi – Mbappe World Cup Final, his first game ended Watford 0-1 Cambridge United in the Carabao Cup. He said he’d rested most of the first team but Hungbo had come on and ‘looked lively’.  Dear God, what sort of monster have I created?

It was only a matter of time before bloody Love Actually came on TV, so I gave my replica Vicarage Road a shot. How naïve I was and how I wish I’d known the torment that lay ahead.

On opening the box, it was clear that there were a lot of pieces, 1,083 and three bags full in fact. It looked quite complicated for a cack-handed man with no practical skills, but I got the base done in reasonable time and opened one of the polythene pouches. The fact that the manufacturer was called Microdesign should have offered a clue, but the plastic bricks really were very, very small and I worried that some may get misplaced, a fear not allayed when I found what I suspected to be part of a floodlight in the dog’s fur before bed. However, I was curiously intrigued by this Diet Lego conundrum and, unwittingly, already in its icy grip.

The following morning my son came downstairs early (to play Crawley away, I was subsequently led to understand). I was already in the lounge with my head under the couch and using my phone as a torch. I didn’t hear him, and along with ‘trillions’ and ‘microscopic’, I’m ashamed to admit that I muttered the word that his mum doesn’t know I use. The one I said when Theo Walcott scored.

After breakfast, he asked if we could play ping-pong, but I had an inexplicable compulsion to fit the roof onto the club shop before it got hoovered up. When he suggested that we go to Millwall at home, I told him that given the time of year, it was a particularly Godless fixture and returned to the strategic seating in the Rookery. The puzzle now had me firmly under its spell.

I was a helpless but willing slave, and when the family were asleep I surrendered to my dirty new obsession. I decided to collect all the pieces necessary for building stage four rather than fitting them one at a time directly from the motherlode. I located and set aside the various ‘eighters’, ‘flatters’ and tiny ‘oners’ required into some Tupperware previously employed for the Boxing Day bubble and squeak. This went well and I gained confidence. 16 white ‘long uns’ were needed for stage five – how hard could it be? Into a teacup they went. Rather than assemblage, I figured that I could dig around for the components needed for the next few stages while I was at it. Eventually, I was admiring a row of (note unlabelled) kitchenware full of Vic. I looked at my watch. It said 3:18 am.

On the fifth day of Christmas, I feigned indigestion to avoid a visit to the in-laws, firstly due to sheer fatigue, but mainly as I still wasn’t happy with the nurses’ accommodation overlooking the allotments. After an hour or four tweaking the Rookery, I embarked on a particularly tricky section of the north-west corner, but couldn’t find the necessary smooth, grey pieces. Odd, I was sure that I’d put stage seven into the pie dish. Or was it the boy’s Harry the Hornet mug? The gravy boat? What madness was this?

By New Year’s Eve I was a husk of a man. My plans to establish any sort of system were in disarray. The dog caused havoc in a toy squirrel incident and when my wife needed the milk pan, she tipped the roof of the SEJ back into the mixing bowl (which still held a suspicious number of unused and apparently unnecessary pieces). After a week lost to this seemingly harmless toy, I put the ‘Watford 2-0 Unspecified Opponents’ sticker onto the scoreboard and declared it finished.

My son told me it looked really cool and that he wanted to display it in his bedroom. Yesterday I found it at the back of his wardrobe.

The Vicarage Road Building Block Set (suitable for ages 8+) is available from the Hornets Shop.