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A Daredevil Dissectologist

Author: Danielle Shields

Many of us became dissectologists during lockdown, though most probably don’t know it. No, this is not your boss who cut off their finger when making a bookcase for their Zoom background; rather, a dissectologist is someone who enjoys assembling jigsaws.

I was a dissectologist before the pandemic. My way of relaxing during Fifth Year exam hell was assembling wonky pieces into a serene, sunny landscape. Hence, it made sense that when a raging pandemic came along, I found comfort sifting through thousands of curved-sided shapes for straight-edged pieces. During lockdown I’ve completed roughly fifteen jigsaws, and I’m now the proud owner of the Leaning Tower of Jigsaw Boxes. I’ve spent entire weekends knelt on the carpet, hunched over the living room table, switching on many lamps when darkness comes, their unnatural lights turning the pieces shiny and unviewable. I manoeuvre said lamps to dull the shininess, failing that I resort to craning my neck in weird angles in the hope to see anything. Eventually I’ll walk like a frog to bed (à la kneeling) and wake up with a stiff neck that last for days (à la neck craning). Yes, my jigsaw endurance levels are SAS worthy. That’s when it hit me. Could this be my special talent to finally enter the Guinness World Records?

Alas, this is not the story of how I went on to become the Longest Time Assembling Jigsaws In A Single Sitting record holder (on further consideration, I would need to attempt this record in Iceland, in the summer, on an elevated table, or risk becoming a crooked-necked frog forever). However, as I’ve learned this year, there are many celebrations to be had as a dissectologist, especially during a pandemic.

First, trying to get your hands on a jigsaw during lockdown was no easy feat. They were the new loo roll, hand sanitiser generation 2.0 – essentially, the pinnacle first world problem that could arise in a pandemic. Now, I was in dire need of jigsaws; I find no pleasure in redoing old ones. But their prices had soared online – 15 quid for a jigsaw? – and no way was I going to be a victim of inhumane humans ripping off dissectologists! I’ll head to the essential shops, I decided, slamming my laptop shut. They’ll have cheaper ones there, and they’ll have heaps because obviously it makes logical business sense for shops to jump on the jigsaw bandwagon.

Obviously, I don’t have a business brain because most didn’t stock any. The ones that did would have them stacked on the other side of the shop floor, like milk, but what businesses don’t understand is dissectologists aren’t susceptible to diversion tactics when they are on a jigsaw-hunting mission. Other dissectologists must have had the same idea as me, though, because these shelves were empty. I resorted to buying online, but I found a website with cheaper jigsaws – hurrah! – and got free postage because I’d bought so many jigsaws – double hurrah!

After completing my batch of Christmas jigsaw presents, I knew jigsaws and I had to go on a break. I had to spend my free time doing more productive things, like learning Italian or mastering macramé. Then Nicola gave us the news non-essential shops would be opening again. How many non-dissectologists would be wanting to dispose their Christmas jigsaws presents? It’ll be wise to stock some in for the winter, I told myself.

I waited a few days, allowing time for boxes of joy to be delivered and quarantined, before venturing out to the charity shops with my large bags. An hour later, my bags were still empty. Other dissectologists must have beaten me, I thought, deflated, and went to buy mundane messages. On my way home, I passed another charity shop. Might as well have a look, right? I’m glad I did. There were three jigsaws – one still in its plastic seal. I grabbed them without even looking at their pictures, like a crazed Black Friday shopper, afraid the other two shoppers would use their two-metre-long arms to snatch them. Returning home, I looked at my purchases: one had unusual wonky edges and the plastic-sealed one didn’t show the image the jigsaw would form. Neat. I balanced them on the Leaning Tower of Jigsaw Puzzles. Now, I won’t touch these until winter returns, I told myself.

The wonky-edged one was more difficult than anticipated, the mystery-picture one was rather fun, and the other had a missing piece.

Most are proud of themselves when they complete a jigsaw. They stand back, admire their work, snap a photo and send it to their family WhatsApp group. Once I’ve put in the last piece, I don’t even look at the jigsaw; it lies there a few days, gathering dust, until I decide I better take a photo of it before storing it away. Maybe that’s the impact of doing too many jigsaws. Or maybe it’s because, for me, assembling jigsaws is more about the journey than the destination. Yes, jigsaws can be philosophical.

What I am proud of, though, is successfully transferring a jigsaw from my table to my, abnormally heavy, jigsaw case. Especially the ones where you raise a corner piece and it lamely snaps off, meaning you have to practically transfer the jigsaw piece by piece. And, as already stated, I don’t like redoing jigsaws. This is when I become a daredevil dissectologist. I balance something large and thin but sturdy (like a piece of cardboard) by the edge of the table, and attempt to slide the jigsaw onto it. There are, quite frankly, jigsaw death-deifying moments. My hand holding the cardboard can dip, meaning the jigsaw starts falling in on itself. And, chest hammering, I must simultaneously raise the cardboard and rewind the jigsaw back onto the table before resuming. When it’s successfully transferred, I can breathe again, knowing all that’s left is sliding it into the case.

Okay, it’s not a Guinness World Record, but these are achievements I can celebrate for now.