Jigsaw Junkie

I’m a grown-up, and I love jigsaws! I think I may be addicted.

Like most people, when I was a kid, I used to do jigsaws every now and then. Not many, and I wasn’t really that interested in them to be honest, but I didn’t dislike doing them and they passed the time. All these years later, and I can’t recall any of the pictures I recreated.

Jigsaws are usually regarded as that thing that kids do on their own, or with their parents, or that frail pensioners do in the communal area of an old folks’ home. Something to do when it’s raining and there’s nothing on the telly.

You’d be forgiven for thinking that in today’s interconnected, multi-platform, digital landscape, jigsaws are things for which people don’t have any time or patience. Why would you want to sit down to wrangle 1000 pieces of coloured board in order to recreate a picture on a box, when you could be watching Netflix, or posting things on Twitter and Facebook, or playing with the latest phone app?

Why indeed! And yet….jigsaws are incredibly popular.

This Daily Telegraph article from 2013, quotes market research which said that while the toys and games market had fallen 1% in the previous year, the market for “grown-up jigsaws” had increased by 11%!

My own, “grown-up” jigsaw itch, started to manifest itself a few years ago via (of all things), Doctor Who!

Following the return of the TV series in 2005, the official Doctor Who website began including all sorts of fun and games, based on the characters and episodes. Amongst the numerous quizzes, spot-the-difference puzzles, action and other games, were also….some jigsaws!

For most of the jigsaws, when one was completed, the answer to a question or a line of dialogue, or episode fact, would be revealed as a reward.

However what I really liked about these virtual jigsaws, was the way in which the 50 or so pieces were mixed up at the start, meaning that you had to put effort into sorting the pieces first, just like a real jigsaw. The difficulty level of some of the puzzles could be quite high too. It took time. It was absorbing. Unlike with a physical jigsaw though, if you placed a virtual piece in the correct place, it would shimmer and there’d be a satisfying ‘click’ noise…

I realised that I was spending a lot of time doing these virtual jigsaws and even sought out other ones elsewhere online. So, naturally, I began to think about getting a real jigsaw puzzle to do. However, I worried about practicalities such as: Where would I keep it? Do I really have the time to spare? What if there are missing pieces? What would I do with it once it’s done?

But the itch wouldn’t go away….

I have a full time job and I’m married but we don’t have kids or pets, so I have more free time to myself than I might otherwise. I am of course interested in other things too, for instance, I read a lot; I listen to music, podcasts and audiobooks; I run; I draw; I cycle; I watch a lot of TV – but, there are other times when I crave something else in which I can just absorb myself but also be doing something.

It got to the point where I’d be in a charity shop or at a bric-a-brac stall and notice the jigsaws for sale. Many’s the time I’ve come very close to buying jigsaws of railway scenes or flower displays. But I resisted.

Then… one day… I scratched my itch.

About a year ago, I ordered my first 1000 piece jigsaw via Amazon. Pretty much at random, I selected a jigsaw from a company called Jumbo which has a brand called “Wasgij” (“jigsaw” backwards if you hadn’t realised). It was only once it had arrived that I realised that the picture I was creating, wasn’t the one on the box lid. Instead, the picture on the box (for a puzzle called “Bake Off”), was a cartoon of some people reacting in horror to something unseen. The point of the puzzle (and part of the “Wasgij” brand USP), was to create the reverse angle, and reveal what it was the characters were seeing! There are clues on the box to help but part of the fun of this type of puzzle is to really use your imagination as you guess at what each fragment of the picture could represent – is it part of someone’s face? Could it be part of an animal, if so, which one? Gradually (and literally), piece by piece, the scene takes shape before you.

I laid out the pieces on our dining room table and, over the course of some evenings and time at weekends, I completed it. Once finished, I immediately ordered another jigsaw. And then another….and another…

I’ve now completed 8 of them (picture doesn’t include the one I’ve just finished)!

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Along the way I bought a jigsaw mat, which has guide lines to match the size of the puzzle, so you know where to place the edge pieces. It also has the practical advantage of allowing you to roll up an unfinished puzzle and move it securely out of the way (which, since I was using the dining room table, meant we could sometimes.. you know… actually use it for having dinner!)

I also bought some sorting trays.

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I’m not sure they were really necessary but it did mean I no longer had to forage in our kitchen cupboards to find enough plastic tubs!

I’ve now developed something of a sorting routine:

  • I carefully empty the bag of pieces into the middle of the mat
  • I separate out the edge pieces and create a loose pile of them on the table
  • pieces with words/parts of words, go into a sorting tray compartment
  • pieces with eyes, mouths, hands etc., or clothing, get sorted into another compartment
  • pieces of mainly one colour (e.g: blue) get sorted separately.
  • pieces that don’t fit into any of the above, get sorted separately.
  • Once the pieces are sorted, I start putting the edge together.

I’m sure seasoned jigsaw puzzlers (and that, apparently, includes Her Majesty the Queen), have their own ways of sorting, and probably even have rules about how to go about it properly but, for now, my approach seems to work for me.

Sorting the pieces is, in itself, an absorbing activity, though every now and again I get a pang of impatience because I just want to get the sorting done and start DOING the puzzle!

When I do, finally, get going properly on the puzzle, it becomes a peaceful, absorbing activity. I do most of my jigsaw activities at weekends and I usually listen to audiobooks or podcasts while I figure out what pieces to put where. Also, at weekends, I often munch my breakfast/lunch at the jigsaw table and, in between mouthfuls, I’ll scour the pieces and place them in situ.

There are frustrations of course, for instance:

  • Realising I haven’t found all the edge pieces the first time round (so I have to sort through everything else again to find the missing piece(s))
  • Realising a piece which seemed to fit perfectly fine – is actually in completely the wrong place.
  • Discovering there is an actual missing piece(s)

So far, I’ve twice had missing pieces. The first time, the puzzle was found to have 6 missing pieces on completion. Jumbo don’t supply missing pieces so I had to complain to Amazon (which felt a bit unfair since it was a manufacturing fault). They refunded my money (which I used to buy another puzzle…natch!). The second time was with the latest puzzle I’ve just completed. It has three missing pieces, however this time, I also had three DUPLICATE pieces!! So that was new. I can’t be bothered to complain to Amazon again though.

So far, 2 out of the 8 puzzles I’ve completed have had missing pieces – that’s basically one quarter of the ones I’ve done.

Obviously, I ordered another puzzle on completion of no. 8. So, no. 9 has just arrived! We shall see how that one progresses!

Just as “grown-up” colouring books are all the rage for helping people focus and forget life’s troubles and stress, so it is with jigsaws.

Jigsaws are not just for kids and old people. They’re for everyone!

Make some time for jigsaws in your life. There are no deadlines. It’s not a competition. It takes however much time you can give it, but that time is your time and, during it, you’re focusing on creating something and using your imagination. You’re creating order from chaos!

GIVE IT A GO!!

 

 

 

Race for Life – 2015

Hi,

Sorry I’ve not been around for a while, but I wanted to let you know that I’m running this year’s Race For Life in aid of Cancer Research UK on Sunday, 19th July.

I have  a JustGiving page:

https://www.justgiving.com/FionaJames-running/

You can also donate via  text message as I have a unique text code that can be used:

You can text FIBJ72 to 70070 with your preferred donation amount.

Please give whatever you can.

Thanks!

Malta Holiday. Day 1: 27/8/2014

Our alarm went off at bleary ‘o clock (aka 4.15am) in our Gatwick hotel room. We were up and out of the place by just gone 5am, and headed for the North Terminal (via train shuttle). Having already checked in online, all we had to do was take our bags to the EasyJet bag drop – sounds quick? – it wasn’t. We joined a snaking queue that zig-zagged its way round those bungee cord fences, the sort you get in big post offices. We’d arrived at 5.30, half an hour before our bag drop closure and more than an hour before our flight. There were only 3 bag drop desks open…..

A man in an orange high-viz was wandering up and down offering help and sometimes yelling out to ask if anyone was heading for a certain destination: “Brussels? Marrakech?” Anyone answering in the affirmative was whisked to the front of the queue while the rest of us continued to shuffle along and wait our turn.

As we got close to the front of the queue, we saw a young woman by the customer service desk, talking to another high-viz jacketed man, and she wasn’t happy. We were close enough to hear some of the conversation and it transpired that she’d missed her flight. She hadn’t been able to check in online (for which she blamed the airline’s website), and felt that she hadn’t been informed that she needed to turn up to the airport about 2hrs before her flight. The airline rep stood and listened and let the tide of anger wash over him. I couldn’t hear what he was saying but whatever it was, it wasn’t exactly helping. The woman’s voice went from firm but controlled, to agitated, to angry (but not shouting), and ending up at full-on angry sobbing. The high-viz jacketed man had walked off, presumably as there was nothing more he could do, and left the woman crying with her head on the customer service desk. When eventually we dropped off our bags and headed for the departure lounge, we saw her, sitting on the floor, with her back to the desk, crying into a mobile.

Meanwhile, we had our own problem, as we realised we had roughly 5 mins to clear security and get to our departure gate before its scheduled closure time! Bang went our plan to get some breakfast and instead, at approximately 6.10am, we found ourselves sprinting – SPRINTING – through the departure lounge (with me hoping my jeans wouldn’t fall down as I hadn’t had a chance to put my belt back on after security). Suddenly I had visions of me crying by a customer service desk….

We skidded to a halt by the departure gate and breathlessly presented our boarding passes and passports to a young woman who re-assured us “don’t worry, you’re not the latest we’ve ever had.” At that point we allowed ourselves to relax as we were waved onto a shuttle bus and passengers – whom we’d hurtled past on the escalator moments before, while all the while hurriedly saying “Sorry! Sorry! Our flight’s boarding, sorry!!!” – calmly board the bus behind us.

Initiate “idiot mode”!

The flight itself was 2 and a half hours – 15 mins shorter than scheduled, thanks to good weather. At one stage, the Captain pointed out that we were passing Mount Etna, which had smoke coming off it and, a short distance away, was another volcano spewing ash. Sensibly, the Captain said he would be “steering well clear” of that area!

On the approach to Malta itself, I was aware that behind me was a young man who obviously knew Malta very well, and was providing a running commentary of Maltese facts to his travelling companion – one of which was that Malta is 1/3 of the size of the Isle of Wight! As we flew over the island, I noted the seemingly uniform sandy and white colours of the buildings, which gave the appearance of clusters of barnacles on the back of a partially submerged sea creature.

We’d left the UK under cloudy grey and rainy skies. On exiting the plane, we instantly felt the heat of the Med’s sun and clear blue skies on us but, thankfully, the humidity level was such that we didn’t instantly break out in a sweat.

Our pre-booked cab took us on a 20min trip to our hotel – The Palace – in Sliema. The Palace is a 5 star hotel, situated a short distance from the sea front and, although surrounded by buildings, our 8th floor room still had views of the sea.

We arrived just after 11am local time and, even though the hotel’s usual check-in time was 3pm, our room was being made ready and would (we were told), be available in an hour. In the meantime, we were welcome to use the hotel’s facilities. We were given a welcome drink – a small glass each of the Maltese soft drink, Kinnie. To me it tasted like iced tea and was very pleasant. After a long journey, and in such hot temperatures, it was also very refreshing.

To kill some time, D and I made our way to the hotel’s open air pool, which is on the 9th floor (aka the roof). There were plenty of spaces to sit in the shade and we made use of the free hotel wifi (very speedy), to share photos and message home. The pool wasn’t busy. It’s only surrounded on 3 sides – the 4th side has pool water spilling over into a reservoir below and makes it look as though it’s possible to swim off the edge of the building!

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It took 1 and a half hours for our (superior) room to be ready and eventually we were shown up to it with our bags. A modern room, plain walls with dark wood furniture and a huge double bed:

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A massive unit dominates the room that contains wardrobe and drawer space, the television and (around the side), the fridge/minibar, safe and coffee and tea making facilities:

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A sliding glass door opens onto a small, 2 person balcony, with the as advertised sea view.

There’s a sliding door into the bathroom which has a bath/shower and separate toilet room. The room is air conditioned (controls by the door).

D looked through the bits and pieces of info he’d been given on check-in. He noticed a bit that mentioned a special price offer on the hotel’s flexi-dining option (we’d already pre-paid for this and yet the offer was for a far cheaper rate). D decided to take it up at reception. The lady receptionist, who was very nice, eventually explained that we’d booked via “an agent” and the offer only applied if you booked direct with the hotel. D explained that we’d booked online via the hotel website and that at no point was it clear an agent was being used (the agent’s web page carries the same branding as the hotel) and there’s no other way to book online. D carefully demonstrated the issue on his iPad and, after some confusion and phone calls, the hotel accepted the point.

As we’d not eaten a proper meal since before leaving the UK, we were both really hungry and, as it was approaching lunchtime, we headed off to find somewhere to eat. Having checked on TripAdvisor, we knew that L’aroma was a well reviewed local restaurant. We got slightly lost since the TripAdvisor map had L’aroma labelled in the wrong place. It’s on the sea front and has a menu of pasta and grilled meats, (e.g: I had a very nice grilled fillet of chicken with peppercorn sauce, fries and salad from the salad bar), and local delicacies (so if you like rabbit, this is the place to come!) Our meal, (D had pasta), plus drinks (1/2 bottle of local white wine, 1/2 pint of local beer and glass of diet Kinnie), came to just over 30 Euros. Very good value. Given that it wasn’t at all busy though, the waitress took a while to take our order, in fact I noticed that a man by the bar (who had all the signs of being the owner), seemed to notice us waiting with our menus closed and got her to hurry up!

It was mid-afternoon by the time we had “lunch” and we were conscious of leaving room for dinner. I was really very tired after the journey and so, once we got back to the room, I fell asleep for an hour or so.

When we got back to the room, we saw that a bowl of fruit, a bottle of local (Maltese Knight) red wine and a bottle of mineral water had been left for us with the hotel’s compliments. We weren’t sure if this was in response to our fuss over the dining offer or whether we’d have got it anyway [note: I learned since that all new guests get given this], but it was nevertheless very unexpected and generous.

D eventually took himself off to the pool area while I continued to laze about in the room and figure out how things like the tv and shower worked (not quite as straightforward as you might think).

Our flexi-dining option allowed us to eat dinner at the hotel for 3 evenings during our stay. I decided that I didn’t want to head out again and that we should spend our 1st night eating at the hotel. We took advantage of the free bottle of red we’d been given and had a pre-dinner drink in our room. Due to our late lunch we had a reduced appetite so left it later to get dinner. Dinner was in The Tabloid restaurant (which doubles as the breakfast venue), and is a buffet arrangement. There was a great deal of choice (roast duck, pork, soup, mushroom risotto, anti-pasta meats and vegetables and some lovely looking desserts – none of which I had). It was a shame I wasn’t more hungry but I managed a starter plate of smoked salmon and couscous, roasted veg and chicken salad, before having a small helping of the mushroom risotto (with pumpkin sauce).

Just as we’d accosted a waitress to order drinks, a manager came over and gave us closure on “offer gate”. He explained that our flexi-dining option included a bottle of local wine and water with each meal (the hotel’s own special offer didn’t and they hadn’t realised the difference) and he gave us 3 vouchers to ensure that was clear. Although our dining option is usually confined to the Tabloid restaurant, the management had told us that, by way of a goodwill gesture, we could have one of our meals (and use one of the vouchers) at the Asian restaurant upstairs without having to pay the 15 Euro per person supplement. This was very nice of them and D & I shook hands with the manager and expressed our appreciation. The wine and water arrived and both were very nice (the wine being my choice of the house bottle of a local variety).

Back to the room and, after an unsuccessful attempt to get our Chromecast working on the room’s tv (with much swearing from D), we went to sleep in our enormous bed.

(Side note: rather than use the minibar, we purchased a bottle of local white wine, x2 bottles of local beer, and cartons of semi-skimmed and UHT milk for 6 Euros from the supermarket a few metres down the road from the hotel!)

Old Year/New Year

OLD YEAR

Work life:

2013 was a bit of a rollercoaster ride on the work front. It began pretty much as usual, but very quickly changes took place which challenged me professionally: I changed line manager, a long serving member of my team left, and I had to go through the recruitment process to replace her. Meanwhile, on top of all that, I took over responsibility for a project which brought its own stresses and strains. However, despite it all, the end of the year felt much stronger than the beginning. My new manager is amazingly supportive, my newly shaped team is one I continue to feel proud to manage and, along the way, my own skills have been challenged and developed. I even appeared in a marketing video for the product I helped launch! :

Personal life:

Well, if you’ve been reading this blog you’ll know that, early on in the year, I took up running. I began losing weight in 2012 and, although I had an exercise regime, I decided it wouldn’t hurt to add something else to the arsenal. My husband is a keen runner and, after he joked about the idea of getting me a pair of running shoes for my birthday, I let the thought fester and grow until, eventually, I decided it was actually a good idea and we headed for the running shop. Up until that point, running was something I just didn’t contemplate doing and didn’t feel the need to do. I broke in my new shoes by plodding round and round the local rec. Eventually, I felt good enough to take part in the local Parkrun and in the summer I ran the Race for Life. I’ve still no intention of entering “proper” races though….

In June 2012 I was 12 stone 2. In May 2013 (just before our holiday to Cyprus), I reached my goal of 9 stone and I’ve managed to maintain it since (even with the re-introduction of chocolate!) I’ve not been this weight for well over a decade and I’ve no intention of going back to the way I was! 2013 was the year I truly transformed myself and it’s been funny to see the reactions of people I’ve not seen for a while!! 🙂

2013 was also the year that I began to blog a lot more – mainly about my fitness and weight loss journey – however I’ll say more about that shortly…

As you may also know, I’m a bit of a Doctor Who fan and, of course, 2013 was a landmark year in the show’s history. 50 years of being in existence – the world’s longest running science fiction show! Going to the Doctor Who Prom, the Doctor Who Experience in Cardiff (visiting the real TARDIS set!), and attending a screening of the anniversary episode in a cinema full of like minded fans, were all wonderful experiences. Also great fun was taking part in two new projects with the Doctor Who Fan Orchestra (see my previous blog post to watch the latest release). I’ve made so many friends as part of the DWFO – some I’ve met, and some I only know online – but it’s always fun to play the pieces and later have fun putting a video together 😉

So, I finish 2013 as a much fitter, healthier and happier individual, with far more confidence and contentment that I’ve had in a very long time about the way I look!

NEW YEAR

Work life:

Well, first thing’s first – I’m hoping for a MUCH quieter year in 2014! Hopefully, there should be a new project in the offing, as well as continued work on existing ones. Other than that, I’m looking forward to seeing my team develop further and hoping that I too, can improve my own skills.

Personal life:

Now that my weight loss journey is over, I need to maintain where I’ve got to and justify all the hard work. As I said earlier, I started running in 2013 however, in 2014, I’d not only like to do more running (I’ve already entered the 2014 Race for Life), but would like to learn to truly enjoy it! I’ve really got a lot of work to do on my psychological relationship with running but I’m certainly not planning on binning the running shoes!!

2014 will also see my re-acquaintance with horse riding! My husband bought me some riding lessons for Christmas. I learnt to ride at secondary school but it’s been over a decade since I was last on a horse – mostly because I became too heavy (I now fit into my old jodhpurs)!! Meanwhile, I got a new Wii cardio fitness programme for Christmas which I’m looking forward to using, and some resistance bands which I’m also hoping will help me tone and build up my fitness even further.

Other than that, I’m looking forward to being involved in more DWFO projects and enjoying the first series of Doctor Who with Peter Capaldi!

Most of all I’m hoping to be able to blog more. I’m conscious of not having blogged regularly for a few months (for which I apologise), but I’m hoping I’ll find more things to say on a regular basis!!

Wherever you are and whatever you’re doing, I hope you all have a VERY HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Happy 50th Birthday Doctor Who!!

Hi,

It’s been quite a while since I’ve blogged. Sorry about that. Just got out of the habit and ran out of interesting things to blog about. I’ll try and be better about that in 2014. Promise!!

For now, as most of you have probably gathered, I’m a fan of the TV series “Doctor Who”. This year it celebrated its 50th anniversary! 

Also, as some of you know (because I’ve mentioned it here before), I’m part of an online group called the “Doctor Who Fan Orchestra” and last week saw the release of our latest project which honours Doctor Who’s 50th anniversary.

It’s a celebration of Murray Gold’s music from the series since it came back in 2005 and this time, we managed bag ourselves a very special guest star in the video (hint: if you’ve seen the Doctor Who Prom, or know about the music for “Doctor Who” and “Torchwood”, you may well recognise him…). 

Oh, and this video is special because I got to take my flute on board *the* TARDIS (you’ll see me waving)! 🙂

Please have a watch and, if you enjoy it, feel free to share it around!

 

Happy Christmas!!

The Complete Guide to Calories

Some fairly basic but nevertheless useful information.

Strong-Fit-Beautiful

We all know that calories play a big part in the fitness – and not just in losing, gaining or maintaining your weight. It can be a delicate balance; both too much and too little can cause your body to hang on to extra fat (your body can only burn off so much – but at the same time, too few will send you into “starvation mode.”)

I came across this great overview, and wanted to pass it along:

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You can check out the original here.

View original post

Run, Sun, Doctor Who Fun…. and a Plea for Help

Sorry I’ve not blogged in a while – too much going on! Here’s a quick update…..

Last weekend, I went on the local Parkrun. It was my 4th run but this time there was a big difference…..the heat. Summer’s finally arrived in the UK and last Saturday morning the temperature was already in the low 20s. 

The weather brought a lot of people to the park for the run. There were far more kids running this time and more spectators. 

Knowing it would be warm, I took my water bottle. I needed it! It was a really hard run and I had to battle the strong urge to stop and walk more than ever before. But, I managed the distance and I didn’t stop!

Later on, when the official times came in, I found out, to my utter surprise, that I’d beaten my last PB!! I ran the course in 30:55 – in that heat!!

For the rest of the day, I sat in the shade, watching the England cricket team on the TV slogging it out for the Ashes 1st test 🙂

The next day, we headed to London for the second of this year’s “Doctor Who” Prom concerts at the Royal Albert Hall. However, this was also an excuse for a meet up with some of us who participate in the Doctor Who Fan Orchestra – this time including some people who’d flown over especially from some far flung corners of the world!

The concert itself was amazing. We had seats above the stage and the choir. The music was wonderful. I cried twice! There were monsters, Doctors (old and new) and music (old and new) – including a tribute to the Radiophonic Workshop who provided the music for the “classic” series. This is Doctor Who’s 50th anniversary year, so the stops were pulled out for a proper celebration.

Afterwards, a large group of us DWFO members, met up and headed for lunch at a very lovely pub local to the Royal Albert Hall (the Queen’s Arms). Not long after we’d been there, Ben Foster (the current orchestrator and conductor of all the music on the Doctor Who series), came into the pub for a well earned drink after conducting the concert (which, for him, included with being accused of “overacting” by a Dalek!) Once we spotted him, we gave him a spontaneous round of applause. He smiled and acknowledged it. After that, we left him alone and got on with chatting and eating our lunch.

Then……after we’d eaten…. Ben Foster, wandered over to our table, sat down and chatted to us for a few minutes!

Thing is, he knows about the Doctor Who Fan Orchestra and, once he’d worked out who we were, was happy to come over and socialise. Lovely man and a wonderful highlight!

London was sweltering. It was also very busy on the public transport system. 

On the way to the RAH, we’d encountered lots of women on the tube, who were dressed in pink and headed for Hyde Park to run the Race For Life. I sympathised with them having to run in that heat, however, it also made me happy to see such smiling faces travelling to do something wonderful. 

…and that leads me to the plea for help……

Thing is, this coming Sunday (21st) – I’ll be doing my local Race For Life. It’s also going to be very warm. If you’ve been reading my blog, you’ll know about my running journey and, although I don’t intend on doing proper “races”, doing a charity run is fine by me and this one will test my current endurance.

So, if you follow this blog and have enjoyed reading my entries, please consider supporting me and donating via my Race For Life charity page: http://www.raceforlifesponsorme.org/dalekwidow2013

Every penny helps and goes towards Cancer Research UK. 

Thank you!

…and if you’re in the UK, watch out for the Doctor Who Prom on the TV later in the year!