Infinite tangents

So, a very happy new year to you all.

Spot the cryptic crossword setter among these names:

John Smith, Bruno Wizard, Paul Bringloe.

Paul Bringloe, aka Neo of the the Financial Times, is an old pal with whom I have just shared a couple of pleasant hours at The Amex stadium, Brighton – and a pint of John Smith’s.

But you’d think of the three names Bruno Wizard could only be a crossword setter… or perhaps a punk legend.

Last week I was fortunate to spend some time with Mr Wizard, as he enters his seventh decade. The former front man with punk band The Rejects, he tells me he is shortly to wed to a 22-year old. He also has a ‘condition’ called synesthesia, which means he can ‘taste’ colours. And he informed me that a circle is comprised of infinite tangents. I think I know what he means. I think.

And while I may have an alias as Punk, Bruno has more inspiring things to do than simply torture cruciverbophiles – I may just have made that word up, by the way – as he represents an organisation called Skylight.

Let me elucidate.

My wife Taline and have been privileged this holiday season to spend two gorgeous days as volunteers for Crisis at Christmas in London.

Our remit was to provide some recreational fun within a warm and safe environment, in which guests could get access to much-needed services such as dentistry, and to medical care.

We decided we would talk puzzles. Thank you so much to Puzzler Media Ltd for kindly donating to the centre a large quantity of varied and entertaining puzzle-based magazines.

Those guests at the Crisis centre who were already into their puzzles were delighted to have access to their favourite and rather marvellous escapist world, while other rookie solvers found themselves gaining confidence by solving their first sudoku completely, or perhaps by learning new vocabulary via a quick crossword.

One gentleman, a dab hand at killer sudoku, had been so encouraged by his solving ability, and ability to teach us all further solving tricks, that before leaving once more for his cold and unwelcoming unfixed abode he pasted the following message onto the Crisis ‘Dream Board’ – ‘this time next year I will be a maths teacher’.

Puzzles can make a real difference to people’s confidence. Sharing a conversation with the guy who had just completed his first sudoku, through the process he realised that he’d got into the habit of getting things started, but not finishing them.

This had been a real breakthrough, to get the job done. He promised us he would persevere more in 2012.We could see in his eyes that he meant it.

Bruno Wizard may not have been a crossword setter, but as a volunteer for Skylight, a fantastic organisation providing free services such as language skills classes, skills training and medical care for the homeless and those recovering from drug and alcohol-dependent lifestyles, he makes more of a difference than a humble cruciverbalist like me can ever do.

And at Crisis we met so many intelligent, extraordinary, talented and delightful people who’ve just had a bad break or two. It could happen to all of us. Do let your friends know about Skylight. And support them. Oh, and perhaps you’d like to volunteer for Crisis next Christmas. We might just see you there.

Once again, happy new year! I’ll be talking crosswords again next week.

Love and respect,

John (Paul)


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