Blame Baby Sis… it was she who insisted that we made a visit (a last ever visit?) to the Pembroke Bookshop: all stock reduced, shop closing down and the bookseller retiring after 33 years.  It was the week before Christmas and already the shelves were looking sorely depleted.  We browsed, methodically moving around all sections; we chatted; we accumulated a pile of books and paid for them.

As we left the shop there was a backward glance – would it be the last time ever in that wonderful haven of books – and there on the top shelf opposite the door were two boxes, two last boxes of a local scenes jigsaw. “Do you want one?” asked the Captain. Sentiment prevailed, an additional purchase was made.

Christmas and New Year came and went.

Then, mid January the first icy snap arrived. Time for forbearance – and patience.

Ah, good time for a jigsaw – it was, after all, hibernation season. Out came the board used in the past for larger than usual jigsaws. Out came a measuring tape. Shock, horror, this jigsaw (50 x 38cm) was not going to fit!  While the winds howled outside and the world shivered Boatwif paced the house. Then, in an inspirational moment she eyed up the breadth of the dining table, pulled out the extension leaf and set to work…

Readers, what is your method in such situations? Are you an edge-gatherer, aiming to assemble the outer frame first? Or are you (and Cheshire Mum is one of these) an assembler by colour and pattern?  This is a 520 piece puzzle, comprising four old black and white photographs, the colours being black, white and grey with just a little bit of cream banding. The strategy deployed in this instance was to identify edge pieces first and then to separate out the hundreds (for so it seemed) of plain white pieces…

Slowly, slowly the puzzle frame took shape. Some pieces were stubborn, tricking you into placing them next to unintended neighbours. Ice covered the paths and pavements outside. Onward…  still slowly the internal framing pieces were put together.

A week passed and gradually bits were identified for the bottom left picture: Tenby in 1890.

The bathing machines and their wheels would be easy to identify, wouldn’t they? Not so. Hours it seemed were spent searching for elusive bits of wheel and fragments of the letters written on the machines. Decades ago, as a young child, mother, sisters and I had spent hours on that very beach searching, searching among the crowds for another family, that of our mother’s school friend, an arrangement that resembled a needle hunt in a haystack. I had longed just to make our beach pitch, tear off my T-shirt and shorts and race in bathing costume down to the sea. Bathing costumes… and another memory surfaced, that of the discovery of an Edwardian bathing dress, a sort of family heirloom, fine red and white stripes it had, with rubber buttons, a drawstring waist and a short over- skirt, wore it once to a fancy dress party… Attention swung back to the beach by St Catherine’s Rock and a struggle to work out which grey pieces were part of the Rock photo and which part of the photo alongside.  Most recent walk along this beach?  Well, it was almost six years ago, nearing the end of our north to south Pembrokeshire Coast Path walk. That was a hot day – and the wheeled machines on the sands in 2007 belonged to the life guards.

January moved into February – still the jigsaw in its incompleteness occupied the end of the dining table. Pembroke Main Street shouldn’t be too difficult, should it? Grew up on that street, heard that town clock strike on the hour all through the night right throughout childhood and teenage years, used to play inside the Lion Hotel (bottom right corner), learned bell-ringing in the church tower, rode bike down the street on the way to school each day…  The property frontages had some definition; at least the horse and cart could be placed fairly centrally… as with the beach section vast areas of white sky remained untackled, undone.

 The Captain took a passing interest in the project; of course he had to get technical about it. Holding up a jigsaw bit he pronounced on the number of its male and female parts. He sat and gazed at the jigsaw, but made a contribution, seeing a wrongly placed piece he removed it and found the correct one (just one). Other eyes looked upon the slowly emerging picture: a friend born and brought up in Alaska and her British husband took a look. Then Elderly Neighbour spied it and aided by her third mug of tea of the afternoon sat and fiddled and fiddled, managing to locate five new pieces into the top right hand corner.

Meanwhile the hard slog of working on the Castle Hill picture was under way. For little legs it was always a hard slog up this hill. Now the castle walls on the right are in a finer state of repair, and visitors exclaim with glee as they walk the battlements between the Gatehouse, the Henry VII Tower and Westgate Tower.  Down that hill sixty years ago I was hurried with my father and older sister; it was June, grey but a special day. From the bottom of the hill was heard the firing of the salute from the nearby Barracks Hill marking the Queen’s Coronation. Other memories: free-wheeling on a Raleigh bike fast down the hill, only just in control, hands hovering over the handlebar brakes; as a new driver hoping that the car wouldn’t have to be held long on the clutch on awful Westgate corner…

How faint were the details of the Tenby Harbour picture. The ship on the left shaped up quickly and the small rowing boats too. Then all came to a stop… still there were piles of grey puzzle pieces: were they castle walls? the Castle Hill cottages? St Catherine’s Rock? the harbour walls?  Around the puzzle and on a tray still lurked numerous pieces. A breakthrough came in lining up three pieces together seemingly linked by a mid-grey band, but where did it belong…? They were too long for the fort on St Catherine’s Rock; they could be in several positions on the Castle Hill picture; then it clicked, the idea and the pieces, they slotted into the Harbour picture, they formed the sea wall behind North Beach.

The boats in the harbour came next, there was barely time to remember those Boxing Day charity swims on North Beach, the lifeboat in attendance, the mayor in full regalia, the town band playing Christmas carols around the bonfire and the 11.30am mad dash of hundreds of folk into the sea – yes, we all did it, the Captain and Boatwif, Cal Son and the Cheshire Mum, all then much younger selves.

The jigsaw struggle continued as by now the third icy spell was chilling the outside world. Six pieces of the Castle Hill cottages were locked together though they swam about for several days unattached to any other pieces. Effort continued over all the grey rock lookalike pieces. St Catherine’s Rock was first completed. Then single bit by single bit the pictures organically grew. Try finding a particular piece of grey road or white sky… twenty seven possible pieces were tried to fill in a slot on the castle rock face. Days came and went; a ten minute fiddle now, a half-hour later. Then, at last only plain white pieces remained, about forty of them.  The Captain regained interest.  He sorted shapes and made speeches and fumblingly filled in the rest of the Castle Hill. Meanwhile the gaps in the sky above Tenby Harbour were being filled, though occasionally corrections had to be made. Then, early evening it was done, the last four white pieces were slotted in above Main Street – and it was finished!

520 pieces – and had a score been kept maybe  there were 520 hours spent  fiddling and struggling to complete this task…

Ding! Techno Son-in-law had sent on a photo via the computer. “Don’t the Welsh get everywhere?” was the caption. Far away, on New Zealand’s South Island, Techno’s Dad had pitched up on Cleddau Street. Time now to put nostalgia away and to think of some boating. So, a toast to nb Cleddau* and the season ahead!

Cleddau inspection planned for the weekend of 22nd February, with maybe a sleepaboard and perhaps a little cruise…

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