29 Dec 2014

Jigsaws (pt 2)

For the fourth year in a row we and some friends have dedicated an evening in between Christmas and New Year to eat, drink and complete a jigsaw. You know - for fun. I'm not a natural jigsawer and aside from the wooden toddler puzzles that typically co-exist in a house with small children, we've not had jigsaws in the house since I was a kid myself.

A few years ago we inherited a whole room full of toys from some friends whose house we rented while they were overseas. Among the treasures in the converted double garage / playroom was a 500 piece Map of the World jigsaw. It remained in its box for almost 2 years before launching the Eat, Drink and Jigsaw tradition that began the following Christmas holiday.

It turns out the world is a big place. There are lots and lots of oceans. It took hours to complete. In the end the kids went to bed, everyone who didn't live in the house went home, and Keith and me sat up to three in the morning until we finished it -  all bar a single piece of Turukhansky District in Northern Russia which was missing. Anyway, we glued the almost finished thing to a rectangle of cardboard and ManChild had it above his bed for a couple of years (in 4 different bedrooms in 2 different houses). (Another story).

The following Christmas holiday we turned our attention to a second hand 500 piece jigsaw of some trees and a lake purchased at the school Christmas fayre. As already proven, second hand jigsaws can be a bit of a risk, but we knew this one was complete as it was already finished and cling-filmed to a piece of cardboard. It didn't have a box, but we could see what the thing was supposed to look like. We took a photo of the puzzle, printed off an A4 copy of what we were aiming for, then crumbled the puzzle back into its component parts.

But we used a flash to take the picture. And the layer of cling film came out better than the detail underneath. So the only copy of the finished picture was not that helpful. The rebuilding effort lasted several futile hours, during which time such little progress was made that everyone lost interest and the project was called off (although the eating and drinking continued so the evening wasn't wasted).

Christmas 2013: Fire works at Tower Bridge (500 pieces)
OK - this puzzle was technically similar to all previous attempts, but as 90% of the thing was either black sky or black Thames river, the overall percentage of one colour was higher than 71% blue ocean of the whole world with a missing bit of Turukhansky. Worse in fact - because the oceans at least had latitude and longitudinal lines on them. Black was just black. This took ages to complete- although spurred on with additional help from more mates and the older children among us, it was completed within the evening.

The last few pieces were a bit of a challenge as previous misplaced pieces meant what was left wouldn't fit into the remaining space. We ended up reversing the whole thing and using the pattern of the manufacturer's logo on the back to correct the mistakes. No one could go through all that again and remain of sound mind, so this jigsaw was glued down onto cardboard too. (Then spray painted white and made into a birthday present for a mate a few months later).

Christmas 2014: The Wild Wild West with Where's Wally (1000 pieces)
We upped the stakes this year with this one, but this was counterbalanced by the detail that exists in Where's Wally. Despite doubling the puzzle pieces it took only an evening and an hour of the following day to complete. Yay! It's still on our kitchen table right now because no one has the heart to crumble it back into the box and Jackson doesn't want it glued down and sprayed white or any other colour. The Wild Wild West was completed by 6 adults and no children (who were Minecrafting, devising an intruder alarm with technics lego and playing mums and dads with Build-a-Bears)- which was fine because progress was quicker without them. Crucially, progress was also much quicker when in possession of the box lid.

There's just too much going on in Where's Wally to guess at what goes where without it. With a sea of characters and at least a dozen of them wearing blue trousers or a white waistcoat or a brown stetson, any suggestion of just one of these things could potentially belong in over 30 places. Without the finished image for reference, a piece of wooden paneling could be a wardrobe, a wagon, a goldmine entrance or part of the town jail house. And without seeing the image in the first place you don't know these things even exist and are part of the picture anyway.

With the box, everything changes. The basic structure of the frame is easier to form. A strategy can be formed and pieces grouped. Whole areas can be delegated for efficiency or put to the side temporarily to clear the work space until they are needed. With the box lid in your hand or looking over the shoulder of the one who has it, you could select a bit of jigsaw at random, scan the lid for 30 seconds or so, and pretty much identify exactly where it went and (in the later stages) click it right into place.

With the box, the confusion that exists within one little puzzle piece is given context and it makes sense. It belongs.

I've always thought there are huge correlations between jigsaws and faith. I've just googled it now and lots of other people have also drawn parallels, so the concept is not original. It's effective though. How else might you describe the idea of believing what you know to be true while trusting what you don't yet understand?

• Building and grouping and clicking pieces together in the belief that the finished picture will make sense when it's complete.
• Trusting that none of the bits are missing.
• Trusting the advice of the people around you who have also seen the lid of the box.
• Having the stamina to continue building when nothing has clicked into place for a while.
• Trusting the manufacturer of the puzzle when you don't have the box lid yourself.
• Removing / adjusting an individual piece placed in error in order to keep the overall picture correct (and not getting arsey if someone else on your team notices the mistake first).
• Not abandoning the whole project when the pieces don't make up the picture you were expecting.

(The random lake and some trees from 2 Christmas puzzles ago was dull beyond belief anyway- the one you're making now will be much better. Honest. And... Hey - THERE'S WALLY!!!)

20 Dec 2014


I am now the parent of an employed person. ManChild has a paper round.

He's had paid work before, but it was from us so doesn't count - especially the times we've paid him in chocolate. This job was sourced and secured by himself without us getting involved at all - even to verify his age of 14 years (which as he's 6' tall, the newsagent didn't query).

I am working out what this means in parenting terms and tweaking my schedule accordingly:

Day 1: Up at 6.30am to ensure ManChild was up. K was leaving the house early anyway, so gave him a lift to the newsagents. Deliveries completed on way to school, which I verified by text.

Day 2: Up at 6.30am to ensure ManChild was up. Established he was then went back to sleep until my usual alarm.

Day 3: Texted ManChild from my bed at 6.30am when alarm went off. Received a reply within 10 seconds. Fell asleep again immediately.

Day 4: Vague memory of ManChild coming into our room to say goodbye before he left the house. Woke up to usual alarm. And a text from him to say round done.

Day 5: ManChild off school for training day, but had to be up for paper round anyway. Feeling bad for him plus I need the exercise, so got up and did the round with him. Went back to the newsagents afterwards and waited outside while he collected his first pay. Took him for coffee to celebrate before walking home together.

Week One complete.

I'm such a grown up.

12 Dec 2014

Man Flu

I used to joke about man flu. Like many women, I considered it to be a simple cold or similar virus with symptoms exacerbated by the imagination and the desire to be pampered. I was wrong.


04.00 (ish): Woken by poorly child coming into our bed. This was kind of expected. Yesterday when he got in from school he complained of a headache and being cold, then took himself off to bed before tea and fell asleep immediately. He informs me he still has a headache. I had a headache yesterday too but repressed it all day with paracetamol, working, cutting the grass, making pancakes with the kids and generally pretending I was fine. I apply 4head to both him and me and and we snuggle down and sleep.

07.45: Woken by well child who needs cheese grating for her packed lunch. Keith gets up to do sandwich and school run. Thankyouiloveyou.

08.00: Eldest child enters bedroom to say goodbye. I'm not always dressed when he leaves the house but I am usually vertical. Ah well. Good bye mate- have a good day. Snuggle back down with poorly child.

10.15: I have now been in bed for 13 hours straight. This has not happened since the summer of 2007 when the boys were on holiday with their grandparents and Madi had chickenpox and slept 18 hours  a day. I still have a headache. Annoying. Also, I normally don't have to think about regulating body temperature- it just happens, but this has suddenly and curiously become problematic. Get up for paracetamol, 4head and a cup of tea which I drink half of. Do some work on lap top, then read Harry Potter to poorly child while he soaks in the bath. I would love a bath but the naked bits either side of the soaking part would be too much hassle with a dodgy thermostat.

12.00: Have a lie down on couch. Poorly child watching pop junior. I am half working, half fantasising about returning to bed. But I'm in denial. This is a mere cold. I am fine. Besides we have 2 extra children to look after this afternoon so I'll just have to be functional.

14.00: Take more paracetamol. This can't be good. I am clock watching in order to take tablets. I am one step away from those little medication dispensers with days and times on to stop the elderly and confused overdosing.

15.30: Keith returns home with well child and another 2 borrowed ones whose mum is working today. They are told to help themselves to snacks and drinks. They refuse both and disappear upstairs to play.

16.30: I really want to go to bed. I lie on couch with poorly child and hot water bag instead and pretend to work.

17.00: Borrowed children go home. Eldest child has made tea (reheated leftovers, pasta & garlic bread) for himself and well child. No one else is hungry.

18.00: I tidy up the kitchen as my token act of motherly love for the whole of today. Then I make Madi and Jackson hot chocolate as I'm on a bit of a roll. Hmm, maybe not. I brush my teeth and go to bed because I'm freezing cold. I've clearly overdone the mothering thing.

18.45: Keith leaves house with Ethan for a carol service rehearsal at church. Poorly child and well child come into my room for more Harry Potter. Poorly child has been in jammies all day. Well child gets ready for bed while I'm reading to them.

19.00: After final story and prayers I put well child and poorly child to bed. Poorly child still feels poorly. We've run out of Calpol and he refuses tablets so I apply more 4head instead. I refill hot water bag, take paracetamol, apply 4head and return to bed. I am very tired but can't get warm. Then I am too warm. Then I'm having a hot flush so I discard hot water bottle completely. Within 5 minutes I retrieve it from the floor because I am cold again.

21.00: I am dozing when eldest child enters room to say he is home. Can he have supper? Yes. Then I'll have a shower, ok? Thank you mate- yes go ahead. I love you. Night night.

23.50: And that's the time now as I type this. I still haven't managed to sleep, my headache hasn't shifted all day and I can feel my pulse pounding behind my ears after the slightest exertion- like getting up for a pee or even reaching over for a drink. And I'm freezing. No wait- now I'm too warm. Uncomfortably hot actually. So let's just move the duvet a teeny bit and... Oops too far, too far- now I'm cold again. Move it up to HERE that's kind of half way between where it was before and when it all went wrong.... and... Yes I believe we have equilibrium Houston!

I am grateful for a functioning hypothalamus and wish to repent of the many times I have taken this for granted. I am also deeply sorry for my previous refusal to acknowledge the existence of man flu and wish to apologise to all the men in my life I have ever ridiculed for claiming to have suffered from it.

I'm a believer now. Thank you. (You may leave).

2 Dec 2014

Trains, Pigs and Autocorrect

My Bible in a year thing is kind of going to plan. In that the plan is still there. And with a month left to go, I am just under a month behind- so I should be finished by the end of February next year. Except by then I'll need to start again and repeat the exercise and actually concentrate on the minor prophets this time as they've all been a bit of a blur. And the Kings. Aside from David (good) and Ahab (bad) I'm having trouble remembering who's who and what side they were on.

Anyway. I am loving the Psalms. They are so raw and intense and full of honesty. There's celebration, tears, laughter and complaining, the whole spectrum of human emotion- sometimes even within the one Psalm. Read this a while ago (this whole thing has been stuck in a draft for ages- but at that point I was less than half the year in and The Plan had a far higher chance of going awry)...

Psalm 25
Show me your ways, Lord,
teach me your paths.
Guide me in your truth and teach me,
for you are God my Saviour,
and my hope is in you all day long.

Teach me your paths (vs 4)
Isn't that cool? God's plans are multiple and varied and there's almost always more than one way of doing things. And actually, even if we screw up, God remains God and can autocorrect as we go, making sense of chaos and tweaking a million different background details so the trajectory of our lives remains within the parameters of his will and the ultimate destination is still reached. We just get to where we're going a different way with a different assortment (or greater volume) of baggage. Like Gwytheth Paltrow in Sliding Doors - if we ignore the haircut and the minor detail that she ends up dead in one universe and not in the other and instead focus on the way that she ends up with John Hannah whichever train she catches.

So... if a cosmic-wide autocorrect is in progress, then one day life will make sense. If God's working through the mess and chaos of the planet, compensating for and redeeming bad choices (some made before we even got here) in a million seen and unseen ways- then this should relieve the burden on us a little bit.

• Perhaps the years between cradle and grave will ultimately be quantified in some other way, rather than the sum of our achievements
• Maybe it's more about how and why we do what we do rather than what
• More about our conduct within a situation rather than the situation itself
• More about motivation than action
• More about how we deal with success and loss rather than what we did to get the success in the first place - and what we would compromise on in order to keep it
• More about stewarding than owning

Either that or the Hokey Cokey really IS what it's all about.
In which case we are all screwed.
But I doubt this very much.
Just consider the lilies of the fields, the birds of the air or bacon.