It’s four years since I last took my niece to LEGOLAND at Manchester’s Trafford Centre. Many things have changed. For a start, it’s now called the LEGOLAND Discovery Centre (to be fair, there’s a chance it was always called that – gazillions of screaming children clutching LEGO and running amok can skew the memory). But I know for sure that, in 2016, visiting LEGOLAND was, for this adult at least, a hair-raising experience that once experienced was never forgotten.
In 2020 and with the world in the grip of a global pandemic, I feel guilty saying that LEGOLAND (it’s so cool it’s capped up) is a much improved day out. God forgive me but the imposition of social distancing, limits on visitor numbers and the closure of some attractions have combined to make a previously alcohol-inducing Aunty rite of passage a pleasant afternoon. Short queues, staff available to chat and assist, and an available table in the café all combined to make an M60 trip with my lovely eight-year-old niece, Scout, into a proper wonderful shared adventure.
From the deeply impressive LEGO sculptures of Manchester monuments (the real life Manchester Town Hall is currently covered in scaffolding so its mini version was refreshingly appealing and detailed) to Blackpool Tower, there was a lot to admire on the way in to the interactive stuff. There hasn’t been any re-invention of Manchester’s LEGOLAND but that didn’t stop my niece from marvelling at the virtual reality race (an initial reluctance morphed into a wholehearted embrace of the technology) and the climbing wall (just watching her made me want to sit down).
While the pits of LEGO pieces have been scrapped, the organisers have done a good job in substituting these much-loved activities with bespoke bags of LEGO pieces and a challenge to build LEGO vehicles. Wahey, I thought, this is much easier than scrabbling through tubs of LEGO to build architecturally-impressive structures. Not so much. As we sat in the café, I became one of those dodgy students, the type who copies the person next to them. In this instance, my neighbour was an eight-year-old girl and I was struggling to connect wheels to, well, anything.
I like to think that, fortified by a mini packet of Pringles, my design flair won out. As for the test driving circuit of our respective vehicles, the less said the better (I have no comment to make on the fact that my niece’s car was bulletproof while mine disintegrated at the first hurdle).
Meanwhile, the ride that-looked-easy-and-fun-but-wasn’t wowed Scout. In what world do fairground rides require a cardio workout? To my horror I discovered that in order to make ‘Merlin’s Apprentice’ soar higher, the participants had to pump the wheels like they’d paid a year’s subscription to SoulCycle. “Peddle harder Aunty Helen, peddle harder!” shouted Scout. “I’m trying, I’m trying!” I screamed back. She’s only eight but I fear this may prove to be one of her formative memories.
To be honest, it was a relief to enter the LEGO cinema. Thanks to COVID, my last trip to the flicks was, well, it may have involved Robert Pattinson. And so Scout and I pottered into a 4D cinema. 4D? I don’t even know what that is. What I do know is this: it felt blissful to be in front of a screen bigger than my tele, and that comedy hot dog thrusting into my vision had me in stitches.