I’m given to understand that some people like doing jigsaws. They find it both soothing and absorbing to rifle through an enormous pile of hundreds, sometimes thousands of irregular shaped cardboard bits with minuscule pieces of the overall picture on them and then spend hours/days/weeks working out how they fit together. At the end of all this time and patience and effort they are able to look at the same picture that they could have admired on the front of the box right from the beginning.
I have NEVER finished a jigsaw – and, to be fair I can barely claim to have started any either. After less than a minute of trying to work out which of these tiny, twiddly, fiddly bits might comprise what I can feel a sensation of hopeless futility washing over me and I start contemplating whether it’s worth continuing to breathe or not. If I’m doing really well I might have found two bits that fit together – which I’ve managed once, meaning this success comprises 33% of my total attempts.
Imagine my absolute delight then when one day I wheeled into the Occupational Therapy room – oh, hang on – I probably need to explain ‘Occupational Therapy’ because it’s a terrible name. It sounds either like therapy which keeps you occupied or, more misleadingly, like therapy you need to undertake for your occupation. ‘Today, Tara, we’re going to train you to be a postman. Here – you must master driving this red van whilst wearing shorts in the middle of winter. We’ll time you.’
Sadly, it isn’t the latter. Occupational therapy is all about trying to improve hand function in tetraplegics like me. After larger brains, opposable thumbs are the second reason homo sapiens is the most successful and dominant species on the planet so not having any is somewhat of a tedious bore. The simplest tasks of everyday life are beyond those of us with little hand function – even if you weren’t at all paralysed, imagine trying to go through life with no hands. How would you dress? Clean your teeth? Turn the shower on? Pick anything up? Scratch an itch? I count myself extremely fortunate that one of my hands is relatively functional. I’m less fortunate that it’s my left hand when I was very much right handed before the accident – apparently it is quite common that your more dominant side can be worse affected by a spinal cord injury. I can now sign a signature with my left hand but note that I say ‘a’ signature not ‘my’ signature. Not only is the scrawl I produce illegible but it also looks like it’s been done by a four year old and is completely inconsistent. It is a good thing that the 21st century is so cavalier with written confirmation of identity as I would have been arrested multiple times by now if not. People regularly go – when I hand back an official document that looks like two different, drunken spiders have dipped their feet in ink and wandered aimlessly across the page – ‘Oh, never mind. That’ll do fine!’ In addition, since I can’t hold a biro in my right hand tight enough to actually get ink to come out, I write, when I have to, in felt tip colouring pens. The ones I like come in packs with one sensible black pen and one sensible blue pen. Invariably, I lose these ten minutes after they arrive and spend the rest of several months signing things in orange or purple. I think I even signed my will in an almost invisible yellow, which is probably not advised.
Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, Occupational therapy – known as OT. One day I wheeled into the OT room to be greeted by John, who regularly ran my sessions. Not very long after meeting he had christened me Lady Tara (can’t imagine why) and every session began with him bowing low as I entered the room. ‘Good afternoon, Lady Tara’ he said as he tugged his imaginary forelock ‘Today, you will be pleased to know that we are going to do a jigsaw.’
‘I’m not pleased about it at all’ I replied ‘I hate jigsaws. Can’t I do something else more enjoyable – like stick pins in my eyes or set fire to my socks?’
‘Ah,’ he replied ‘ We have a special type of jigsaw specifically for hand therapy for your level – they are 3D ones.’
I stared at him, my brain struggling to compute this terrible news, given the complete lack of spatial awareness I have alongside my jigsaw antipathy. ‘3D ones??’ I asked ‘What fresh hell is this?’
John laughed – yet another person who thought I was joking when I was, in fact, deadly serious. ‘I think you’ll actually enjoy it’ he told me, crossing over to a shelf and taking down a large box. He carried it over and placed it on the table and I looked at the picture on the front – it was a large ocean liner with four distinctive, white funnels with black tops. I looked back at John ‘I think’ I replied ‘that the same thing was promised to the passengers on this and, like them, I suspect that the experience will, in fact, be deeply unpleasant for all concerned.’
Undeterred, John emptied out onto the table the multiple foam pieces that comprised the fiendish puzzle. “Don’t be silly’ he said. ‘You are not getting out of it and you’ll be fine – it’s really quite a simple one. Now, make a start and no more complaining.’ and, with that, he left me to it and went to help someone else. I regarded the pile of pieces genuinely at a complete loss as to where the hell to start. My jigsaw know-how comprises, in its entirety, ‘get the corners done first’ and this didn’t even have any corners. (According to the picture on the front it didn’t appear to have any lifeboats either so that was a nice nod towards verisimilitude). Sighing I picked up a piece with a space/hole/gap (not sure of the correct jigsaw terminology) in two sides and then I picked up another piece with a sticky out bit. I attempted to place the sticky out bit in one of the gaps in the other piece. It didn’t quite fit so I tried it in the other gap. That didn’t quite fit either so, taking advantage of the sponginess of the foam, I hit it hard with my fist and after that it fitted much better. I moved on to another piece and happily employed my newfound methodology. I thoroughly recommend it should you find yourself forced to complete a 3D foam jigsaw against your will.
I continued on in this manner for about five minutes before the thudding noise of my fist hitting the pieces to make them fit each other, irrespective of design, attracted John’s attention. By then I was preoccupied with trying to get a piece of the deck to fit the top of one of the funnels which, in a piece of ingenious and original design by yours truly, now also had a porthole in the middle of it.
‘What the…’ he started ‘What are you doing?!?’
‘I’m doing the jigsaw, as instructed’ I replied, mashing a bit with an anchor on into a bit with sea on it.
“That’s not as instructed!!’
I stopped and stared at him. Then I looked at my masterpiece, lying, listing badly, on the table. Then I got the giggles and cackled for several minutes until tears were literally running down my face. Wordlessly, John crossed the room and removed the box, pieces and nowhere near finished ocean liner out of my reach. “I think’ he said ‘that we might need to find another way of doing your hand therapy’. I wiped tears from my eyes. “Yes.’ I agreed “Can I go now?’