I love Lego. I know, as a 33 year old, I should be putting that in the past tense - I "loved" Lego - but, no, present tense all the way: I love Lego. It's the finest toy ever invented. It snagged me and my imagination at a very early age. It also represented the earliest manifestation of my God complex, where I would build towns then rain terror on their PUNY LIVES (see also: SimCity).
If you think that's bad, you should have seen me at eight or nine. My bedroom was a tribute to the joys of multicoloured bricks. I had an entire town set up across the floor, something for my mum to regularly kick to pieces by accident as she tried to tidy up.
Back then - I'm not sure if you still can - you could send off and join the Lego Club. Here's the ad:
This was too much for me to bear and, for my birthday, I bought a year's membership. I sent my postal order off to the address on the form:
I was a kid, so I didn't know where Wrexham was. Apparently it was in Wales. So in my head, it was a pretty village, nestling amongst high purple mountains and glistening streams (it didn't help that the only book I'd read set in Wales was The Mountain of Adventure). Wrexham was clearly some kind of idyll, where happy, well turned out Welsh people lovingly crafted each piece of Lego. Possibly singing Men of Harlech as they did so.
Wrexham was Lego Central for me (even their postcode was LL for LEGOLAND!). I got older, and I grew out of Lego (sort of), but Wrexham retained that strange mystique, and a sheen of glitter. People spoke disparagingly about it, said it was a bit of a dump, a bit of a mess, but that didn't matter: it's where Lego came from.
I finally decided to go and visit the town itself, combining childhood curiosity with the glories of Tarting, and I brought a friend along for the ride.
Oh yeah, Robert and Roy came too. They weren't the important travellers however. There was someone far more important in my pocket:
This was always my favourite minifigure, back when I was a child. Whenever I built a Lego town, she'd live in the best house: if I built an even better one, she'd be moved into that instead. Sometimes she had a husband with her, sometimes she was a free and single gal, but she always got the best. She had a name too, but I have to admit, I've forgotten it (it's been twenty odd years!).
Wrexham Central station is a bit, well, perfunctory. It was never the jewel in the town's railway crown - that was General - but it had a couple of platforms, and a route through to Ellesmere. As time went on, though, services were cut back, diverted, or closed, until it ended up a stubby platform in the middle of deserted railway lands.
A few years ago, the lands were bought up for a retail park. At that time, only the Borderlands Line still called here, and since it also passed through Wrexham General en route, it was suggested they just get rid of it altogether. Thanks to the efforts of the local rail user group, they managed to get the station retained, albeit in a different spot, and it now lies at the heart of the shopping centre. They even managed to get it built with space for a second platform, if that became necessary at some point in time.
There's a very nice, gazebo like entrance to the station, but what's inside? Nothing. Not even a seat, never mind a ticket office. A single machine on the platform handles all the ticket sales. The building is therefore all pomp and no circumstance; a shame.
Still, both Lego Lady and I were happy to be there (that's her in my hand):
After that, we had a bit of a poke round the town. Disappointingly, the place was not constructed out of red and blue plastic bricks, and the locals didn't have bright yellow faces. Instead it looked like - well, it looked like any town, anywhere in the UK. The odd bit of Welsh on the road signs and the posters was the only clue as to your location. Beyond that it was the same dull mix of retail sheds, sixties pedestrianisation, and old people flats you got anywhere.
Lego pulled out of Wrexham in 1999, moving the production of the bricks to Eastern Europe. They also moved their HQ to Slough. How humiliating it must have been for the people of North Wales to find out that they were second choice to Slough.
In fact, it was all so ordinary, and dull, we decided we'd best go for a drink.
From the pub we tottered back to Wrexham General for the train out of town. It's actually a remarkably pretty station, with a slightly French air to it. Since the Wrexham and Shropshire Railway started running services to London from here it's had some money spent on it, with the brickwork cleaned and plenty of light flowing through it. In fact, it really puts Central to shame, which is ironic considering it's about a hundred years older.
So that was Wrexham. I can't pretend I wasn't a bit disappointed by it. Not even the slightest hint of the Lego nirvana I had imagined. Still, my internal eight year old boy was thrilled. It was finally a dream come true.