In this blog we hear from Dan Harris who tells us about how he got back into LEGO after many years adrift and started building with Brick to the Past.
Returning to LEGO after so long apart is a strange but delightful thing; much like rekindling a romance with a long lost lover; a mixture of joy, fuzzy nostalgia and the creeping suspicion that it's probably going to cost you a lot of money and inflict no small measure of emotional pain.
For me it was over 15 years since I'd left my childhood LEGO in its box in my parents attic and entered a long Dark Age of teenage insecurity, followed by an ill-defined adulthood that loosely occupied my 20s. My re-awaking, if I may use this slightly evangelical term, came by accident, coming as it did during one of many acts of wanton procrastination that have continually hampered my productivity and thwarted my already limited ambitions. As usual, this procrastination took the form of idly scrolling through nonsense on the internet.
I cannot remember the hows or whys, but for some reason I came across a photo of the Mountain Climber CMF from Series 11. I should say that for years now I have been a keen rock climber, a passion which has taken me far and wide; so this little piece of kitsch was right up my alley. I could see this fellow accompanying me on my weekends in the mountains as well as the opportunities for the irreverent photographs that would follow. Indeed, LEGO Dan is now my most reliable climbing partner and is always by my side, no matter what absurd challenge I set for us or what trouble I manage to get us into; he can’t belay to save his life though.
Anyway, procrastination begets procrastination and so I launched a comprehensive investigation into what else the internet had to offer. This immediately led to the LEGO community on Flickr where I was blown away by the models people had built. Such was the impact that I was immediately thrown out of my Dark Age and into the world of brightly coloured plastic bricks (except mine are mostly to be reddish brown and blueish grey). I didn't know that at the time of course, it wouldn't be until much later that I became accustomed to all the Lego related jargon. For better or for worse, this investigation inevitably led me to Bricklink and a hitherto unforeseen drain on my personal finances.
Further Flickr related procrastination yielded my second important CMF related discovery – the Roman Soldier from Series 6. Now I was truly transported back to my childhood since I have always had a nerdish interest in Roman history. In fact, as a child my mother fashioned me some legionary armour out of cardboard and my brothers and I used to run around the garden launching bamboo pilum at each other. The point of this digression is that it underlines the fact that this discovery led to the inevitable conclusion that my first MOCs would show a clear Roman bias. So I went out and bought a few; a few actually turned into about 70 and a big hole in my pocket; it's a good thing I had an understanding girlfriend (now wife, so obsessively amassing vast quantities of LEGO need not be a barrier to finding love) who tolerated what most people my age would regard as a massive waste of money. Not me though, I love them.
Once I had amassed a nice haul of bricks and a bucket load of Roman Soldiers I set about making my first MOCs, the first being a scene from Julius Caesar's victory at Alesia in 52BC. To my delight it was well received and with my ego boosted I set about planning my next project – a Hadrian's Wall Milecastle. Like most civil engineering projects my initial estimates of cost were way off and so more money was spent, more bricks acquired and more time invested. It was at this point I started to doubt myself... was I just going through a mid-life crisis that would eventually be buried as an embarrassing mistake, only I was going through it some 20 years earlier than most? I decided to reflect, what would 10 year old Dan think of 30 year old Dan? A difficult question since 10 year old Dan hasn't existed for nay on 20 years. With some effort however, it turns out that 10 year old Dan thinks 30 year old Dan is awesome, mostly because 10 year old Dan's aspirations are limited by being 10 years old; that and because he has a great big TV, a PS4, a big box of Lego and a girlfriend who lets him play with them, sometimes all at once. It's a good thing 10 year old Dan could be channelled because otherwise the Milecastle would never have been finished and 30 year old Dan would have been crushed under the realisation that he'd just wasted several thousand pounds of his hard earned money on a child's toy, despite not having any children of his own.
The Milecastle was picked up by The Borthers Brick and the reaction blew me away. Now I could develop new Lego related ambitions and perhaps these ambitions could even avoid death through mindless procrastination. It was about this time that I started to make contact with the guys at Brick to the Past and after a few more months and a few more MOCs, it turns out they were recruiting and I was invited to join them for their 2015 collaborative build, which we soon decided should be based on Hadrian's Wall.
If, like me at the time, your experience of MOCing has been a solitary one, then collaborative working will conjure a whole new world of problems and concerns for you to wrestle with. Of course when we were children my brothers and I used to build together, but these early days of indiscriminately jamming together whatever bricks were at hand offers few transferable skills to the serious world of large-scale collaboration.
Joining Brick to the Past would be something of a watershed in my development as a LEGO builder. For one thing, it would force me to leave the comfort of my spare bedroom, which was converted into a fully operational arena for building, and taste the serious world of the LEGO event. After all, if you're going to get involved in a collaborative build, it would probably be a good idea to know what you're getting yourself into. And so in October 2014 I found myself standing outside Swindon's STEAM Museum, ready to attend the Great Western Brick Show and meet the Brick to the Past team. I have to admit to a sense of unease as a throng of overexcited children swept by me and into hall – is this really a normal way for a 30 year old man to be spending his time? I don't even really like children, they're noisy and carry disease, so why should I want to visit an event which appears to be aimed at them?
I was also feeling uneasy because up to this point my communication with the team had only been via the internet, and if I'm honest by the time I'd got to STEAM, I was beginning to question the wisdom of joining a group of people I'd never met in a project that would stretch my building ability, not to mention my wallet. So I meandered around their model, the now famous London 1875, and did some inconspicuous browsing before slowly sidling up to a man with a badge and introducing myself. The man with the badge turning out to be Steve Snasdell. And from here I was introduced to the rest of the team. I needn't have worried, these guys are as awesome as their online personas suggest.
That was one major and, as it turns out irrational fear, quashed, though it does raise an important point – if you're going to get involved in a big collaboration, make sure you like the folks you're getting involved with because, let's face it, who needs a dysfunctional relationship with a group of Lego obsessed man-children... or lady-children (...this does not describe Brick to the Past, or anyone else I've met for that matter)?
The other thing you probably want to make sure of before joining a collaboration is that you're interested in the subject matter, because when you build to the scale of Brick to the Past, you're going to be spending a lot of time building it. Since building bits of Hadrian's Wall was my self confessed forte, I reckoned I'd lucked out. Plus I already owned the minifigures. The scale for this collaboration was of course of an entirely different order and my ability to make good on my promises was to remain a concern throughout the build.
What meeting the guys at the Great Western Brick Show really bought home was the amount of time, care and effort they put into their sections; living up to these standards was therefore a bit intimidating. Because it was my first go at a collaboration, I decided to limit my contribution to a modest nine 48x48 baseplates, on which I built a small Romano-British settlement, known as a Vicus, to sit next to James Pegrum's auxiliary fort. The evidence of such settlements can be found alongside the remains of all of Hadrian's Wall's forts and I was really excited to be able to take on this aspect of the build. The final build also had a milecastle, Roman baths, a villa and a village of northern Celtic types.
When we unveiled The Wall: Rome's Northern Frontier at the Great Western Brick Show in 2015 we were blown away by the response. Unbelievably at the time, we were also reported on by the Smithsonian Magazine and Kotaku. Anyway, since then I’ve never looked back and have continued to feed my obsession with more and more LEGO… This has had some weird consequences; a couple of years ago my wife and I moved house… try explaining to an estate agent that you need a room exclusively to build LEGO in.
We hope you like Dan's work and may be inspired to build your own LEGO models. You can see more of Dan's work and follow him on Flickr. To be kept up-to-date on all our models, events and other goings on, please follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram!
The blog is modified from an article that first appeared in Blocks Magazine issue no. 6.
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