I’m sure we would all agree that the best YouTube videos are of Lego people and even on the big screen, wouldn’t you rather watch a blockbuster Lego Movie than one with real people in? But many people would be surprised to learn that Legoland is where some of the greatest writers get their inspiration.
My family are all Lego mad; you never grow out of Lego, you just spend more and more money on it, but it was only this year, after many hints that I got some Lego. You do not need to take the popular Bachelor of Arts in Lego Literature and Creative Danish at the University of Legolandto enrich your writing with inspiring plot lines and character development.
One of my lockdown birthday presents from Team H was a firefighter’s set, aged 4 plus. I just about managed to meet the challenge of building it on Facetime. There is a fire engine, a firefighter, a BBQ on fire and a Lego boy with a complex character – you can turn his head to have a scared face or a relieved face. How did the fire start? What happened next? Fearless Frank the Firefighter and Frightened Freddy became a short story. Then Team AK sent me a boat set, age 7 plus, a real challenge. A boat, two scuba divers, a sword fish and a treasure chest. I built a landing stage and it wasn’t long before the hapless Frightened Freddy was standing precariously on the edge of the water… Frightened Freddy Falls In became the sequel…
I had also ordered myself a lockdown present of a big yellow box of bricks and bits – ages 0-99 so it should last me a while.
If you have had writers’ block during the pandemic, you need the world’s most famous plastic blocks.
Are you inspired by Lego or has Lego taken over your house?
Susan doubted that the Crafton Castle Crafters were ready for the online world, a year into the pandemic and they were only just having their first Zoom meeting. Jenny had been urging them on and as she was home schooling her six children they all agreed she was best qualified to be host.
The Crafton Castle Crafters didn’t actually meet at the castle, but at the First Crafton Scouts’ hut. They did pay a hefty contribution to be ‘Friends of Crafton Castle’and on their frequent visits, pre-Covid, they gained inspiration from the famous tapestries, carved wood panelling and beautiful gardens. Susan had been very disappointed that their various gifts of samplers, marquetry and pottery had not featured in the castle’s recent on line exhibition ‘Now and Then’. She was looking forward to hearing what the other members thought.
Susan scrolled down on her ipad to find the email with the link and soon was faced with the message Your host will let you in shortly. 7pm they were meant to start, the minutes ticked by, 7.05, 7.09… Suddenly the screen was filled with the faces of lots of grumpy old people looking confused. Then Jenny appeared in a corner of the screen.
‘Sorry everyone, bedtime stories and I had to reassure Guinevere that the Covid monster could not get in their bedroom. Now have we got everyone? Giles has managed to co opt a couple of his bored sixth formers, Josie chicken wire sculptures and Ben junk statues. Hello Josie and Ben…’
Susan peered closer at the tiny views of living rooms, offices and kitchens; not how she would have imagined Martin’s place. She didn’t recognise Graham at first with that beard and who on earth was Bryony? She was sitting on a floral sofa looking very demure and how had she managed to get her hair done so nicely during lock down, or was it a wig?
Jenny was still talking. ‘…and I’m still trying to negotiate a socially distanced cream tea in the castle gardens. Now who wants to start? I’ve finished another three dozen masks from my fabric scraps and made the curtains for the girls’ bedroom with matching duvet covers. George, we can’t hear what you are saying, you’re still on mute. Phyllis, tell us what you have been up to.’
‘Oh, um yes, can you hear me…’
‘Yes, loud and clear.’
‘I have nearly finished that bookmark knitted with sewing needles and sewing cotton… oh dear, that’s my phone ringing…’
Susan tried to keep a straight face as Phyllis heaved her bulk out of the chair. They all watched as she waddled the two steps to grab the telephone. Her voice was picked up perfectly and broadcast into all their homes.
‘Phyllis, put yourself on mute.’
‘Oh hello dear, oh no, how many bits did they have to take out? Has he got one of those bags? No it’s awful you can’t go and see him.’
‘Phyllis, you have to put yourself on mute, the rest of us can’t hear ourselves.’
‘Well I must go, we’re having a Zoom meeting. You didn’t know I was so tech savvy did you. The crafters, hilarious, they have all aged about ten years in lock down, except for Brian.’
Susan noticed a variety of expressions on the faces of the others as they tried to pretend they weren’t listening. Josie and Ben had broad grins. Phyllis was now laughing and struggling to get out her next words.
‘Yes… six foot four Woodwork Brian has become Bryony during lockdown, well you can tell, but he’s a lot more glamorous than most of our ladies. Jenny took him clothes shopping in between lockdowns.’
Susan peered closer at the top left hand square containing ‘Bryony’ and wondered how Phyllis knew all this gossip. Then she glanced down at Josie and Ben; they were obviously enjoying the meeting far more than they might have expected.
‘Byebye dear, yes and you… ‘
Phyllis put the phone down.
‘Sorry about that everyone.’
‘Well I’m sure we shall gradually get used to Zoom’said Jenny. ‘I think Phyllis has rather pre-empted the announcement Bryony wanted me to make on hi… her behalf.
Susan felt the gloom of the past few months lift, what a fun evening, she couldn’t resist speaking out.
‘Well, we’re really members of the BLTGCHQ Community now.’
The little girl stood on tiptoe and peered over the stout cliff top fence at the sparkling blue sea.
‘I wish I could go in the sea Mummy.’
‘It’s much too cold.’
‘But there are people swimming in the sea.’
‘Beach Bubble people are used to it, you wouldn’t like the horrible salty water going in your mouth, Sally, the swimming pool is much better for swimming.’
The sun shone in Sally’s eyes, taking her to a dreamland. The sun warmed her face. She loved being up on the cliff top, but now she was tall enough to see over the fence she could not stop asking questions.
‘I wish I could go on the beach, what is sand like, Mummy?’
‘Horrible, you can’t walk on it properly, the wind blows it in your mouth.’
‘Well the Beach Bubble people look like they are having fun playing in the sand.’
‘That’s because they have nowhere else to play. You wouldn’t like to live down there, especially in winter.’
‘Why don’t we live down there?’
‘Because we’re the Cliff Clan, we live up here and they live down there.’
‘Why can’t we visit them?’
Sally’s mother sighed. ‘How many times have I explained darling, we have to keep separate; them, us, the Forest Folk, T’othersiders, Town Team, City Crowd… You sing that song at school, you should know by now, but there are more bubbles than even I can remember. Besides, we don’t need to visit them, we can meet them all on Zoomtime.’
‘Tell me what it was like when you were six.’
Sally’s mother smiled at her daughter, the child never tired of her stories.
‘Well we couldn’t go to school, no one could come to our house and when we went outside we had to wear a great big hot suit and a very heavy helmet. But we hardly went outside because there was nowhere to go; the shops had all closed down before I was born.’
‘How did you get your food?’
‘Once a week a helicopter flew over our road and dropped a great big crate on a parachute. My Daddy was very important as he was in charge of unpacking the crate and making sure each house got their box of rations. Out the door he would go in his suit with his air tank and mask and yellow gloves, then deliver each box to the doorsteps. So you see how lucky you are.’
‘And I only have to have an injection once a year?’
‘Yes, we had to have a great big needle in our bottom every four months, when the yellow van came round with the scary robodocs to give us our medicheck.’
Sally squealed in horrified delight.
‘How come we have real people doctors, what happened to the robodocs?’
‘I’ll tell you about that when you are older. Now do you know what Daddy and I have planned for your sixth birthday treat tomorrow? We’re all going on the train.’
‘The train, the real goods train with the special carriage on the back?’
‘Yes, we have lucky tickets to ride in the observation saloon.’
‘Where are we going to go?’
‘Wait and see.’
The next morning Sally tripped happily ahead of her parents as they walked to Cliffton Station. She had never been inside the old building, let alone stood on the platform. From the footbridge they often watched the long solar powered train glide silently into the station to deliver supplies for the Cliffton shops.
Standing on the platform, the train looked much bigger and they had to help Sally up the steps into the carriage. They said hello to the other passengers, who all knew it was Sally’s birthday, everyone knew each other in Cliffton and they were happy to let Sally’s family have the best seat facing the viewing window at the end of the carriage. They glided smoothly out of the station looking backwards down the long snaking line. The platform passed by, they went under the bridge, houses disappeared into the distance, then suddenly it went dark. Sally gripped her parents’ hands.
‘It’s okay,’ said Daddy ‘we’re just going through the tunnel, leaving Cliffton and going into the forest.’
Sally stared as if her eyes would pop out, so many trees and then an open field, people were waving at the train, others were riding horses. The little girl was excited to be going somewhere new at last. The train started to slow down and a platform slid alongside as they stopped. A sign said Forest Halt.
‘Are we getting out here?’
‘No, no, they’re just dropping off supplies for the Forest Folk.’
The train started again and Daddy pointed left at a huge stretch of flat water with colourful boats floating idly.
‘Lakeland, where your Aunty Kate lives.’
Soon the train stopped again at a lovely little building covered in flowers.
‘Can we get out here and visit Aunty Kate?’
‘No darling, but you can tell her on Zoomtime we have seen her station, she’s the station master and plants all these lovely tubs and baskets of flowers.’
All too soon the train gathered speed, the lake was left behind and they went through another tunnel. The scenery began to look familiar; Sally thought she glimpsed a flash of blue sea in the distance, then more and more houses appeared and very soon platforms slid alongside them. Sally felt a catch in her throat and her eyes welled up; even before she saw the sign she realised where they were.
‘Here we are ‘ said Daddy in a jolly voice ‘home again.’
Sally looked up at the yellow and blue sign ‘Welcome to Cliffton-on-Sea’.
Ellie sipped her tea as she watched breakfast television. Women doing amazing things, how come she hadn’t thought of these ideas in this year of living strangely? Swimming in the Thames every day, wild swimming… cold water was the latest way to keep healthy. If everyone went in the river every day the whole country would be healthy, probably immune to Covid as well. Ellie tried to imagine herself going down to the local river early every morning; alone, bit risky but who on earth would want to join her. Where would she get in, not that swampy reed bed by the bridge, the slipway at the rowing club…
Perhaps it was better to stay in a boat like that English yachtswoman; Vendee Globe non-stop round the world. Ellie didn’t even know the race was on, let alone who was in it, but Pip Hare was and here she was back again and talking to Breakfast Television. She hadn’t actually won, but it was still pretty good. She looked about Ellie’s age and totally normal. A good way to avoid lockdown, or rather it would be like lockdown only with the scenery changing, mainly sea, but Ellie could cope by herself, she had learned that much since Dave had announced his departure this time last year. Turned out to be the best thing that could have happened. In lockdown with Dave, Dave working from home, 24 hours of Dave… what a nightmare. If Ellie could cope by herself in this little flat, she could cope by herself in a state of the art yacht. She had only been on the ferry to the Isle of Wight, but she loved the sea, looking at it, swimming in the summer. The open seas, independence, learning about yourself; she had looked into her inner self, but hadn’t found anything yet; well that on line course ‘Unlocking the True You’ had been rubbish anyway. She should probably start by crossing the Atlantic; it couldn’t be too hard to learn how to sail, it was all satnav and computers on board and everything was made of tungsten. Ellie would have to give up her job… she would love to give up her job. Working from home she had realised that it wasn’t just the people at work she didn’t like, she hated the job as well. Money could be a problem, but she could get some charities to sponsor her…
Her reverie was interrupted by her phone buzzing, message from Ruth.
Do you mind if we give it a miss this morning, it’s bloody freezing out there, I had to melt the bird bath and that east wind will be unbearable on the prom, you’d best stay in.
Ruth was chickening out of their daily walk, their daily exercise with one person from another household? The daily exercise and gossip was all that was keeping Ellie sane. It was alright for Ruth with her garden and birdie friends. Ellie would have to go out all by herself. Well a bit of a breeze wouldn’t put her off, she could do it. If she wasn’t meeting Ruth at their usual spot she would go on a different circuit.
Half an hour later Ellie realised her first mistake, she should have walked the other way round, heading east along the promenade the wind took her breath away, the sand stung her cheeks, her eyes were watering, her scarf came unwrapped, her hood would not stay up. The next zig zag path up the cliff looked so far away, who would even notice if she didn’t make it home. Despite hardly being able to see, she could not fail to notice a familiar bright pink hat in the distance. The pink hat was heading towards her, it could only be Ruth and she was walking with someone else. It was galling that they had chosen the right direction to walk, setting a fast pace with the wind behind them. Did Ruth assume Ellie would have stayed at home or on their regular circuit? Ellie was Ruth’s one person from another household, so what was Ruth doing walking with someone else?
Considering you were not to let him out of your sight, let us clarify how long you think he has been missing.
I’m not exactly sure.
And are you sure he is definitely missing, hasn’t just wandered into the garden or gone after the cat?
I… we’ve checked everywhere, not in the flat or the offices.
Not popped next door?
No they have not seen him, we have double checked everywhere.
What about the dog?
He’s not missing, he’s gone with her and the baby to her mother’s.
I’m not worried about that mongrel; so we know he hasn’t gone out with the dog… Bicycle still there?
Where he keeps it locked up of course, I know it’s your first day on the job, but you did do the induction and familiarisation, Sergeant?
Of course Sir and now you come to mention it, his bike has gone …and his rucksack and the keys to the cabinet…
WHAT! We now have only thirty minutes till the press briefing and we don’t want to call a major security alert.
I don’t think the press conference is our main worry Sir, they can delay it, won’t be the first time, or get that expert chap or one of the ministers? Not really our problem is it Sir, we’re just pro..
Precisely… remind me why you wanted to be a protection officer?
I wanted to do Royal protection duties, but they wouldn’t have me.
This is a most important press briefing, have you seen how many are outside? All we can do now is make sure this doesn’t get out, so before I suspend you from your duties as second in command of the Prime Minister’s protection team, could you contrive to leak some kind of cover up story to Laura Kuenssberg and the BBC.
No, we’ve already done that story, think of something else credible that she wont see through…
Bringing you the news you may have missed… today we report ona statement by the Woodland Trust.
‘The Woodland Trust has been the victim of a sophisticated, high level cyber-incident and it is feared confidential information about many of our trees has been accessed. As soon as we became aware of the situation, we took immediate action to mitigate the impact on the trees and notified the relevant woods. We have been working hard alongside experts, including forensic timber specialists, to determine the nature of the attack and assess if any branches may have been compromised. We are sorry for the concern this incident will cause. It is affecting our ability to support certain services for our trees and our woods. We are working hard to resume normal services as soon as possible.’
When asked about the effect on trees a spokeshuman said
‘When human beings ‘buy’ a tree or trees to dedicate to a loved one, or as an environmentally friendly birthday present, that tree or trees remain anonymous. Supporters may visit the wood where it is planted, but they must sign an agreement not to contact the tree in any manner.’
‘So they cannot carve their initials into the bark?’
‘Certainly not, no contact at all, no photographs may be taken and no hugging.’
‘What will happen now?’
‘This is a terrible situation for which we can only apologise to all trees and their saplings. Their identities could be revealed and lead to great stress, resulting in the postponement or even cancellation of spring.’
Susan switched on her ageing ipad, checked the time, pressed the Facetime link and the familiar face appeared.
‘Hello Mother, how are you, what have you been up to this week?’
His greeting never varied and each week she would rehearse fascinating snippets of news and intelligent comments on world events. But when it came to the moment her mind went blank; there was not a lot to tell and even less that Guy and his family would be interested in.
Three little faces popped in and out of the screen, mostly upside down. Her son adjusted the camera so she could see her three grandsons tackling their new assault course; the latest ploy by their mother to direct some of their cooped up energy. Bouncing off the walls took on a new meaning in their confined home, it was so hard for parents not to be able to take them out.
The assault course was such a success they could not be prised away to come and talk to her; after nearly a year it was only natural that little ones would not be interested, they had their own lives now. It was a marvel that she could see and hear them so easily, across so many miles, but she found herself envying instead of pitying her sister with the daughter from hell. The girl had turned up back home a year ago, with three children from different fathers and no money and had not left until it was too late to leave.
Susan was proud of her son and all he had achieved and admiring of her daughter-in-law who had adapted so well to their strange new life, but the two further years until his posting was up seemed interminable.
Who would have thought when Guy was so young, devouring books about space and science in preference to children’s stories… perhaps it was not such a surprise, but obsession was not enough, he had the brains and ambition to achieve his dreams. Still she could not quite believe that her son was leader of the first Moon colony, IMC, International Moon Colony. Seeing the boys now, totally adapted to zero gravity, screeching with delight as they crawled along the curved ceiling of their living quarters, belied the cold fear she felt that this was a remote risky venture that only grown men should be attempting.
‘Grandma, Grandma, we can see you now.’
The camera panned round to the large porthole, through which she could see the Earth beginning to rise. It was a beautiful sight that she was privileged to see and as her grandsons floated and jostled around the porthole it was some comfort that they knew where they had come from, where they belonged.
Yes I’m proud to be serving my country, proud of the uniform I wear; keeping everyone safe.
Last week, but already it feels like this is what I was destined to do.
No, we always work in pairs for safety, it can be tough out there and I know I can trust Nat with my life. We also need to show our presence.
The most important aspect of our work is to gather intelligence; does something look not quite right? Is that person a local? What is that chap carrying? Why does that woman keep glancing around nervously.
No I don’t think we’re turning into a police state, most people know why we are doing this.
What do we actually do? Every hour, every day is different, we never know what we’re going to face. But that doesn’t stop us taking risks, talking to strangers…
You have yesterday’s recording from my headcam? No, that’s not allowed. Oh, it’s already gone out on the lunchtime news… No, I have nothing to hide, it will be good for the public to see what we face.
Are you out for exercise… and you ran all that way… well there isn’t going to be an Olympics so you don’t need to run twenty six miles every day.
Is this your car Madame, how far have you driven? Yes we do know where you live – ANPR. Did you drive down the spur road? So your details are already on the PNC. I am using plain language – Automatic Number Plate Recognition, Police National Computer. Well we would all like a walk by the sea, but it’s hardly local. Yes it is actually against the law to go to the seaside.
Is this outing for the purpose of essential shopping. No I don’t think you are carrying four heavy bags just for fun. May I look inside the bags. No you don’t know your rights and you’re wrong. Do you consider chocolate and three bottles of wine to be essential? Home schooling does not make them essential.
I would believe you were out for daily exercise if you were walking a little faster. If you have knee trouble why don’t you stay home?
Sitting on a bench does not constitute exercise Sir. CPD? Why does being obsessive mean you have to sit down? Ah, yes of course that’s OCD, so what made up condition is CPD? We didn’t do that on our one day first aid course. Oh, my colleague here says yes we did, but I was asleep. Anyway, please don’t drop dead on my watch ha ha, we’re not allowed to administer mouth to mouth resuscitation because of Covid.
Isn’t it time for our lunch break Nat, let’s just clobber one more. Good morning Madame, is this your vehicle. Yes I can see you have a disabled badge, but you don’t look very disabled… so is that your ninety nine year old mother in the passenger seat? Shouldn’t she be at home? A last look at the sea before she dies, we’ve heard that excuse before….
What do I love about my job? Working with people, I’m good with people and I love being a Covid Warden.
Vivienne put the phone down with relief, she really needed that cup of tea she was about to make when her daughter phoned. She never liked to phone them, they were always so busy she never knew when was a good time. As chief administrator at a large hospital her son-in-law Jack was now ridiculously busy. If he worked from home Julia found it impossible to keep everything calm and his OCD under control and if he was at the hospital she complained ( usually to Vivienne ) about being left alone to deal with the home schooling. Vivienne couldn’t understand why her daughter had decided to set up her own business from home. Being made redundant from Billings Department Store, early on in the pandemic was surely convenient for looking after the twins, but Julia had been over optimistic in the autumn when children at last went back to school and still optimistic when they started the new term on January 4th… until Boris closed all schools the next day.
Vivienne had been at home with Julia and James when they were young, so there would not have been the same panic all these modern parents had. Not that she would have been much use at home schooling, she couldn’t get James to do his homework let alone a whole curriculum.
Julia was now apparently wishing she had been a teacher or nurse, a key worker so she could have sent Jason and Jacintha to school. Vivienne smiled to herself; Julia had never shown any inclination to be either when she was doing her A levels. Neither profession ran in the family and Vivienne herself had never had any desire to be a nurse or anything medical, or any job that involved other people’s bodies. She had the utmost admiration for nurses, except for that bitch on the ward when she had James and that other one when she had her operation; there was one on every shift probably, but most of them were as wonderful as portrayed on the news and those hospital documentaries.
Julia’s mother-in-law was a nurse and had volunteered to come out of retirement to do vaccinations. Of course she was much younger than Vivienne, having had Jack at some ridiculously young age. Being busy vaccinating didn’t stop her helping the twins with their home schooling via Facetime and writing them stories. She lived nearby so was missing being a hands on granny. Julia said that was the only good thing to come out of lockdown, they had a break from her, though she never said that to Jack. Jack’s mother, in her forty eight hour day, had also set up a zoom group and Facebook page for lonely grandparents, which had featured on the local news.
Vivienne sighed as she took her empty cup to the kitchen and looked out at the damp, dreary January garden; she felt so useless. Julia and James said she didn’t need to do anything except stay home and not catch Covid, or climb on stools and fall off and break bones. But that bloke volunteering at the food bank on the news looked older than her, how did these people do it? Her thoughts were interrupted by the phone ringing, her surgery were doing vaccinations, could she come in tomorrow? She wasn’t doing anything else, that was for sure, but she was rather miffed, she wasn’t old or vulnerable, why were they calling her? They should be doing the police and shop workers next…
If you want a glimpse into Julia’s life back in May, link in here.
Yes busy all day and a long day at that, we stretch ourselves to breaking point, but we know people won’t survive without us.
Why do I do this job? No day’s the same, never time to get bored, sometimes the load is very heavy, other times light.
We used to chat, but now we have to keep our distance. The good side of that is we can work quicker, we need to work quicker.
No I haven’t, I pride myself in never making mistakes, make sure I have read the instructions properly. We can’t afford to make mistakes, this is people’s lives we are dealing with.
I do ring the bell, I know some aren’t bothering now we don’t have to get a signature. It’s heart breaking knowing people want to talk, desperate to see another human being, they call out, trying to thank us, pitiful, but I’m already on my way to the next person.
No I don’t feel exploited and I certainly don’t want do-gooders boycotting the company. I need to earn money and I like being out on the road, by myself, out of the house.
Yes I have, four, the wife deals with all the home schooling, another reason I enjoy my work.
Vital? Of course, where would you all be without your Amazon deliveries?