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Date: 20/08/16

The Arduous Conquest Of Mount Titlis

Following my successes in Rome and on a round-Britain tour, it was time to put my stamina to the test by tackling the Swiss Alps.

I'd never heard of Mount Titlis before, and had to look it up in the usual place in order to discover that it's a peak right in the centre of Switzerland. What I had already discovered is that - in my case, at least - it comprised 700 pieces. What I had also come to know was that - having been kept in a carrier bag which had once also housed Christmas decorations - the box contained not only the pieces but also a dusting of odd-looking tiny short thread-like things, which may have been the remains of a natural festive adornment of some sort.

What also became apparent as I set to it by my usual method of sorting out the edge-pieces first was that there were more than 700 pieces in the bag, as one edge-piece was clearly not from this jigsaw at all (being the wrong colour and size), but had clearly immigrated from somewhere else. This might have caused anxiety in any onlooking Swiss bearing in mind their referendum vote a couple of years ago (Feeling lucky, Brexiteers?), but no Swiss were onlooking to the best of my knowledge (or else they had their Alphörner set to 'silent'), so on I put the infiltrator safely to one side and ploughed on.

Having also separated the sky pieces out (and this puzzle, like the Forum one, seemed to have an inordinate amount of sky), I started to put the edges together. It was here where I got an inkling of the difficulty of the project. There wasn't a great deal of distinctiveness between the pieces depicting the nice little meadow in the foreground, and even less so between those containing the substantial forest of evergreens on the right-hand side. What gradations of colour there were between these latter pieces were extremely difficult to distinguish, a point not helped by the rather low-resolution picture on the box (which also managed to put some of its text in a most inconvenient place).

Having finally managed to get the edges in order, I decided to get together all the pieces which looked like they were part of the forest, but - after sweating and swearing over it for a few hours over a couple of days - admitted defeat and went looking for more easily recognisable bits instead, like the water feature in the lower right. This didn't take all that long, but then finding all the pieces for the outlines of the mountains turned into a bit of a hunt. The more autumnal part of the stand of trees in the foreground proved comparatively straightforward (passers-by would have heard me murmur, "where's another piece with an orangey bit in it?" several times an hour), but the taller trees to the left of these was far more confusing, as the branches shown on them could be going either upwards or sideways, necessitating an awful lot of rotating of pieces by trial and error in order to discover which.

I was then left with the alpine forest and - with one or two exceptions - this had to be left in its entirety to the trial-and-error process, as the colour differentiations on the individual pieces were nowhere near as apparent as they might seem from the picture below. The light at the kitchen table - whether through open or closed curtains in the daytime, or by incandescent bulb at night - was a fair hindrance as well.

(I was also hampered throughout by an unfortunate handicap: I once had a manager who wore glasses as a matter of course, and I would always snigger when I saw him having to push them up onto his forehead to read a printout. I now find, of course, that I too now have to take my glasses off to see any close detail. I have a pair of reading glasses, but switching between the two would be cumbersome enough even without allowing for the fact that I keep them upstairs for bedtime use - I'm working my way through the late Quentin Crisp's wonderful autobiographies at the moment, by the way).

Finally - and with a sense far more of dread than anticipation - I had to tackle the sky. Here, as with the forest, the shades of colour were nowhere near distinct enough to make identification straightforward without an awful lot of squinting. Only here the gradations were from near-white via grey to small patches of pale blue. There also appeared to be the commission of a cardinal sin of jigsaw making: one or two pieces seemed to be interchangeable, which is not particularly user-friendly.

I couldn't get to sleep last night (which was only partly down to the bloke next door having a couple of friends over for a game of 'we're all in our thirties, but let's pretend we're seventeen again'), so 0100 hours found me sitting at the kitchen table naked from the waist down (a fact which I regretted when I tried to get off the varnished wooden chair I had been sitting on) trying to fit the last pieces of sky together. I gave up after an hour, and then made the mistake of counting how many gaps there were to fill and how many pieces I had left:

There is a well-established psychological phenomenon called the Zeigarnik Effect, which describes how incomplete tasks can lodge in your mind and humbug you forever afterwards. This was in my head as I trudged seething back upstairs sometime around 2am (to the accompaniment of loud talk, raucous laughter and impertinent 'music' still coming through the walls) and tried - largely without success - to get to sleep.

Having finally got up for the second time this morning around 1130 (having risen around eight to take my medications and have my by-now-obligatory toast), and having had my lunch of chicken soup (the old Hebrew peniciliin always hits the spot, I find) I whiled away the afternoon trying in a desultory (if not derisory) manner to at least finish off what I could by just taking each piece I had left and trying it every which way in every empty space.

Finally, I had them all, and I could see that the missing piece was one of the more unusually shaped ones, having one 'prong' and three 'gaps' (I apologise for resorting to technical jargon here). I had had the hopelessly optimistic thought that, just as two pieces (I'd found another one, too small for a 700-piece puzzle) had invaded from elsewhere, perhaps this missing piece was in one of the other jigsaws which had been in the same carrier bag. So I opened up the other boxes and found that, even if it were in one of them, they were all bagged up so that I would have had to have emptied them out in order to find it. This - after nearly of week of climbing the Alps - I was not willing to do, so I just got my camera out to take a picture of the incomplete scene and went back into the kitchen.

As I stood by the table, I happened to glance down and saw a small, odd-shaped something on the floor. Can you guess what it was, boys and girls?

Yes, it was the missing piece of sky! Callooh! Callay! It had landed upside down and - the card being the same shade of dirty grey as my floor - had by such cunning camouflage evaded previous detection. With a cry of triumph not to be drowned out by any stray Alpenhorn or gratuitous passing yodel, I slotted it into place and took the following picture of the victorious outcome (with that final piece circled upper left):

Photo of a completed jigsaw of a Swiss Alp

I am now celebrating with a pint of Bulmer's Original (my pharmaceutical intake doesn't completely forbid alcohol, I'm glad to say), and tomorrow will consider starting on another puzzle sent to me by my friend and colleague Siân which looks - at least from the illustration - to hold fewer perils to my eyesight and sanity.