Let’s have fun.

And learn something.

At least, I’m told, it kept me out of trouble. My end-of-year holiday assignment was to build Meccano’s Meccanoid robot. And it ended in Mission Accomplished, not that it involved any great skill on my part: sheer bloody-mindedness, mostly. You can read the full story on Page 30.

Until my holiday experience, my last hands-on time with Meccano happened when I was still in short pants, not necessarily out of choice. Meccano has moved on since then, but you can’t mistake the philosophy of learning through play, even if the style has changed from when it first appeared a little over a century ago.

There was a time that Meccano figured large in the formative years of a certain type of individual. Geeky, shy, studious… yes, that was me. And so, while other kids got flashy battery-operated death ray guns with winking lights and loud sound effects, I got Meccano.

It was much more than a toy, as engineers never tired of demonstrating. Meccano even formed part of a pioneering computer, the differential analyser. Yet impressive as that feat may seem, in my view it can be topped by a nifty little dance routine that I am preparing to program into Meccanoid. Admittedly, I don’t doubt that today’s makers – after all, that’s who the new breed of Meccano is aimed at – will take my humble efforts considerably further.

It may surprise you to learn that Meccano continues to flourish around the planet. There’s an International Society of Meccanomen. And South Africa is thoroughly involved: Graham Shepherd of Grahamstown built possibly the biggest model ever, a gigantic mechanical excavator weighing more than a ton. He probably did it in less time than I took with Meccanoid, too.

Finally, while I’m on the subject of learning through play, here’s one lesson I learnt: when you are putting together a robot consisting of more than a thousand parts, including impossibly small nuts, a five-year-old’s fingers may be the perfect size, but her attention span is simply too short.

Fortunately, I myself am well above the Meccanoid kit’s recommended minimum age threshold of 10 years. In physical age, if not mental.