Richard Herring: My holiday picking up the pieces
Wednesday 17 Sep 2014
Last week I was on holiday in Barbados. The sun was shining, there were cocktails to drink and all kinds of wild nightlife. But I spent a significant proportion of my stay doing a jigsaw.
I was walking through the hotel lounge when I spotted the partly completed puzzle. ‘Ha!’ I thought to myself, ‘what kind of sad idiot would do a jigsaw on holiday?’ But
I went to have a look. Maybe I could add in a couple of pieces as an ironic satire of whoever had started it.
All the easy bits had been done and it was a real challenge. So when I fitted in a palm tree frond in the right spot I felt a genuine sense of achievement. I’d just do one more piece and then I’d go back outside to look at some actual palm trees. Maybe two more pieces.
Finally, I walked away chuckling. Yet every time I walked past the table I would spend a few more minutes adding to the picture. It felt good. Ridiculously good. Like the best thing that had ever happened in my life.
Soon I was going out of my way to get to the jigsaw. I was up against the clock. This holiday wouldn’t last forever. What if one of the other guests sneaked in and finished it? Admittedly none of them seemed to be interested, preferring to drink beer and make friends. But that could all have been a ruse to lull me into a false sense of security.
The barman saw me at work and told me that the jigsaw had been started weeks ago by a woman who, despite her best efforts, had only really got the edges in. The jigsaw-idiot. Like a jigsaw-John the Baptist, she predicted that one would come who would finish her work. I was the man from the prophecies. I am not saying I am the jigsaw-Jesus. That is for other people to say.
My wife lounged by the pool doing nothing at all but I put in the hours and completed the conundrum with hours to spare. Annoyingly, one piece was missing. I bet the woman who’d started it had taken it out of spite. If she couldn’t have the satisfaction of completion, no one would. It took the shine off the achievement. And yes, it is an achievement, not a monumental waste of holidaying time.
The barman saw what I had done, high-fived me and treated me with genuine respect, something I have never experienced before. If only I had known that jigsaws were the key.
Another guest said: ‘I can’t believe it. You finished the jigsaw!’ I was a legend in the hotel. They were clearly all talking about the mysterious Jigsaw Man, who kept himself to himself but had an almost supernatural ability to complete complicated jigsaws slightly more quickly than you’d think was possible.
I didn’t do the jigsaw for the fame or the acclaim. I just did it because I like doing jigsaws. If my success gives people pleasure and inspiration then that makes my struggle worthwhile. I assumed the completed jigsaw would be placed in a glass case for future generations.
But within hours another holidaymaker was at the table dismantling my work. He knew I was the Jigsaw Man but had no respect, coveting the acclaim. He took the jigsaw box to his room. Which is against all the laws of holiday jigsawing.
The next morning he was found dead, having choked on a single jigsaw piece. The authorities turned a blind eye. He had got what he deserved.