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As a child I was always a big fan of Lego. Whether it was building a set with instructions or just creating whatever the imagination thought of, I spent many happy hours building. For the uninitiated (although I find it hard to believe there are many people who have not seen a Lego brick), Lego is a brand of construction toys that typical feature small plastic bricks with bobbles on the top for secure building.
At uni, I had a very brief dabble with some Harry Potter Lego I had won in a competition, but didn't think much about it for the next decade. Then, last autumn, they opened a new shopping centre in Leeds including shiny Lego store. To start with we were able to treat it like a museum, somewhere to go and look but not touch. Then, one day our friend bought something. It soon became clear this was an actual shop were money could change hands and bricks could be bought, so after admiring the expert range of shops and buildings for several months we took the plunge with the Lego Pet Shop.
Having not bought any Lego for some time, I was really impressed to see how much it seems to have evolved. The expert range in particular focuses on architectural detail and the little things, and there are a series of wonderfully intricate sets that clip together to make a full street. These include a town hall, fire station, cinema and the pet shop. I think these sets are going to disappear in the not too distant future (the fire station already has), but recently they have released a new French bistro in the same range, so hopefully they will continue with more.
The age rating for this particular set is 16+, which in itself shows you the set has been made for a more mature audience. It is 2032 pieces, and builds into two fully separate buildings (the pet shop and a house) which clip together once you have finished building. It comes on a large cardboard box, and I must say I was a little disappointed at how the contents were packaged. On opening it was literally a big empty box with a few cellophane bags of Lego dropped in. The instructions were protected in a cellophane wrapper and had a piece of cardboard to keep them flat.
The bags are all numbered 1-4, with around 5 bags per number. Each of these numbers corresponds to a section of one of the buildings - either top or bottom, house or pet shop. There are two instruction books, one for each building and the beginning of each section tells you which number bags to use. There is little in the way of organisation where the bags are concerned, so for the first few steps it is very difficult not to spill the Lego everywhere whilst rummaging for a particular piece. Each set has bags ranging from large to small, and a couple of tiny bags inside other bags. You'd think by now someone would have thought resealable bags were a good idea for this, but alas - once you have opened them it it's only a matter of time until it rips down the front. This could be problematic as not only do you risk losing pieces, you need to make sure that if you re-pack the Lego the replacement bags are also numbered, otherwise you could have a bit of a jumble on your hands.
Building the set was a lot of fun. We spent an hour or two each evening doing this over the course of a full week (a bit longer over the weekend) and ended up with two fantastic buildings that look just like the pictures on the box. The instructions are in a very simple format moving step by step with full illustrations and extra instructions for more complicated parts. Each step shows you all the pieces you will need for that step, and then how to assemble them. The only slight problem with this was colour - the dark grey, light grey and black blocks could sometimes be hard to distinguish, so there were a few frustrating moments were things were unbuilt and rebuilt in the right colour. The brown was also very difficult to read on the page making it hard to work out the order of rows of bricks in some steps. This aside, everything was reasonably straight forward. There were a few bits that required patience and a delicate hand, but achievable in the end.
What made this set so special for me was the attention to detail. For example, we built the house first. The first few stages were actually creating what seemed like basement foundations, but once the building is complete the only evidence of this are the doors over the coal chute at ground level. There is also a small toilet on the ground floor, with a full Lego toilet inside which is really impressive. Again, though, no one would ever know as there are no windows into the room, a door in front of it, and it's round the corner from where you can peer into the house. There are winding staircases and stained glass windows. The pet shop itself is also equally impressive. The bottom floors are pet shop, with cats, a dog, parrots and a see through fish tank all putting in an appearance. The top of the house is a flat, including bedroom with bed. The set also includes four mini figures and a bike. I also really like that hat stand by one of the front doors, complete with hat.
I wouldn't recommend this set for children as there are so many pieces, and they may not find the subject matter stimulating enough, but for older teens and adults who just enjoy the thrill of building something out of Lego, it is a fantastic purchase. It also requires a certain amount of organisation to prevent you from losing any of the bits. As with most Lego it isn't cheap - £119.99 currently through Lego, but you will spend hours building it for that. You can also join the Lego VIP club, which we did. Just by signing up in the store we'd earnt £5 to spend on a future purchases as for every £100 you spend through the VIP club you earn £5. We also were given a small set from the Lego Movie which was a nice bonus - although I can't guarantee this will still be on offer now.