Tag Archives: United Kingdom

The distinctive markings of British emergency vehicles

A lot of young boys want to become policemen, firefighters, or paramedics when they grow up. I, too, was fascinated by emergency vehicles. There was something about their bright markings, flashing lights, and sirens. As an adult, I realise that the work done by emergency services can be far from glamorous, but emergency vehicles do make for fun and attractive LEGO models. So, I have built models of vehicles from Tokyo, New York and the Netherlands. For years I’ve also had a collection of vehicles from the UK. In the last few weeks, I had a go at building a few newer ones to replace models of vehicles that are no longer in service. They are a long-wheelbase Ford Transit van, as used by the London metropolitan police, and a Mercedes Sprinter ambulance used by the London ambulance service.

For most builders, myself included, painting LEGO is not an option. I do use stickers, but I build most of the color scheme into the model. Because of this, it can become integral to the model’s construction, and I very much enjoy figuring out how to include a particular pattern. Given their colorful liveries, this applies to models of emergency vehicles in particular. Nowadays, most British emergency vehicles use a distinctive checkered pattern, known as “battenberg” markings, after battenberg cake. On the ambulance, I built its blocks using green and lime green parts. This was not easy. The vertical boundaries between them have to line up with features of the vehicle. Furthermore, the blocks on the side of the van body all have the same length. Due to the scale of my model, I couldn’t recreate them using the straightforward studs-up building. So, I had to get creative. I ended up building most of the blocks sideways, to make them just a plate narrower.

The London metropolitan police switched to yellow and blue battenberg markings in 2012. Older vehicles still use a livery called a “jam sandwich” though. This, too is very distinctive: it’s a gold-colored stripe with orange and blue stripes above and below it. This was a lot easier to build. Frustratingly though, I did have to contend with variations in the gold color of the various elements, including multiples that came from the same set.

A high-visibility pattern of yellow and orange chevrons covers (part of) the rear of both vehicles. As I did with most of the lettering, using stickers for those would have given me a cleaner look. However, I do like the LEGO-like look I get by building them using bricks and plates. My vehicles are unmistakably LEGO models. Yet, almost anybody who knows what the real ones look like will recognise them.

I can’t imagine that Transit vans like mine will remain in service for much longer, but that is just the excuse I will need to build a newer vehicle in a couple of years’ time.

Fight the power! Protest tyranny! Remember the fallen.

Two hundred years ago on August 16, 1819, eighteen persons lost their lives when British yeomanry hacked through a crowd of protesters with their sabers. The event was named the Peterloo Massacre, which Dan Harris has built in lovely LEGO form for our edification on its 200th anniversary. The crowd had gathered to protest the Corn Laws, tariffs on agricultural products that helped powerful British landowners by keeping prices high but hurt common British folks who bought food by…keeping prices high. As an American, I appreciate the sign that says “Taxation without representation is unjust and tyrannical,” as that sentiment was instrumental in our own protest movement against the Crown several decades prior. But unlike the British subjects in the American colonies, the poor folks of Manchester (where the protest happened) did not get to see an increase in liberty; ironically, the massacre of innocent civilians by out-of-line cavalry resulted in more crackdowns on reform (until 1832, when reform laws were passed that finally gave them representation in parliament).

The Peterloo Massacre

Nothing needs to be changed in Dan’s build, however. The most striking thing about it is the excellent minifigure posing, coupled with an abundance of angry and scared flesh-toned faces. The layering of the figures and the angle of the shot give the impression of a large crowd as well as the panic engendered by a charge of horses and sabers against unarmed civilians. The man laying down in the middle of the front of the build seems to be breaking the fourth wall and entreating the viewer for help, too. As far as the LEGO build goes, the buildings in the back look great with their cheese slope roofs and nicely textured walls. The best part, though? That has to be the Star Wars helmets used backwards for the women’s bonnets; it looks perfect, almost as though it was designed for that purpose rather than for an Imperial pilot. It is perhaps slightly ironic that the women wearing the Imperial helmets are the ones being attacked by uniformed soldiers of the Empire, a reminder to all of us to stand up to those in power in defense of what is right and just.