More Random Thoughts

A super colleague on The Guardian, aka Tramp, recently did an Only Fools and Horses puzzle – or was it Enigmatist? Or was it Birds of a Feather? I evidently don’t recall.

But a thought came into my head yesterday that the character Uncle Arthur was, cryptically, Unclear Thur, or ‘foggy day’. But then I realised that it was Uncle Albert in the every-popular sitcom, not Uncle Arthur.

And I had only been buying lemons in the supermarket.

At least I hadn’t got my lemons confused with my melons. Still, in my head sometimes I am both off my shopping trolley and a basket-case at the same time.

I like supermarkets, if not for the shopping. Much amusement to be had, though it wouldn’t have you rolling in the aisles (boom boom).

Now let’s see, what have I bought today?

Tuna  – a nut backwards, or ‘aunt’ (anag)


Bananas (more nuts)

Coffee -the checkout girl coughed on me, which makes her the cougher, and me the coughee, might you say?

Skimmed milk (or ‘ilk’)

Rosemary (two girls in one)

Dill, which makes many sick.

And then there’s the supermarket. Aldi, hidden in ‘venereal disease’. Did they think this through?

Time to check out.

Best wishes,

John (Paul)


Hippo Bathdays

You can tell who you are by the quality of your friends.

Or by the birthday cards you receive. Today’s my birthday.

First card opened: a face with lolling tongue, vacant stare and a petunia growing from deep within his skull. Second card, a man whose private parts are being struck by lightning.

There are very few more cards to mention – I am forty-five, and aunties tire of the thankless rounds of card-sending.

Instead there is Face Book. And greetings from names I can barely recall, but greetings for which I’m thankful.

And, courtesy of my lovely wife’s kindness,  I’m off to Bruges. Or Brugge, as I prefer it anagramatically.

So I shall be in Belgium. I shall take crosswords, just in case.

We are cruel about ‘I be glum (anag)’. And aside from Brugge, ‘Belgian’ is an anagram of ‘Bengali’, which is neat; ‘Ostend’ of ‘Doesn’t’. A lot going for it, Belgium.

And Magritte, nicely set up with GRIT in MATE. And Tintin translating, arguably, as Cancan.

And I never quite know if Van Damme is the Muscles from Brussels – or the Mussels…

And then of course there’s Audrey Hepburn, born in Belgium.

A lot going for it, Belgium. If only for Audrey.

And if I don’t like it, I can always Bugger off (6)

Clues for things Belgian invited!

Best wishes,

John (Paul)



Crossword Themes

So, what shall I write about today?

a. Wombles?

b. Rivers of Siberia?

c. Men with whom Tracey Emin has shared an art installation?

Nope. They’ve all been done. Especially c.

So what next? Ah, fish.

Fish’s bottom (4); Cold fish (5); Fish – or beef? (4); Fish stank (5).

Been done.


Yellow bird (7); Bird in another nest (4); Bird – or beef? (6); Bird nuts (6)


Hmmm. I’m stuck.

I once asked Araucaria if he ever had experienced writer’s block. His answer, a matter-of-fact ‘no’.

Much like Ms Emin, I get it often.

A friend and published author once told me if I don’t know what to write, just write anything, in order to get moving. ‘Vomit some words onto the page’, he gushed kaleidoscopically.

In my youth, while a member of an ‘anarchic’ band by the name of Xerox, we would contrive acne’d lyrical banalities by selecting random words from a dictionary, blindfold.

‘Clarion mortice fortitude cream lozenge

Walnut endangers plywood whisk hozenge.’

OK, so we may have had to engineer the rhymes somewhat. But it seemed to work, as no-one ever complained. That said, no-one ever listened.

So perhaps I shall write a puzzle based upon a random selection. Here goes:

Dybbuk junk impudent guilder general cassowary

Literae humaniores soprano ethyl acetate massowary.

OK, so where did I put that list of fishes….?

Best fishes,

John (Paul)

South Polish Judaism

Sometimes we must focus, rather than glance.

‘600,000 of what are to be found on Antarctica?’ It is perhaps the simplest of the quiz questions from last Sunday’s newspaper supplement.

At the bottom of the page the answer that caught my wife’s eye was to question 14, not question 12. And yet somehow she had probably been searching for an animal, for she inadvertently inserted an extra letter.

‘Chief rabbits?’, she queried.

I had not heard of this species of bunny, nor did I believe rabbits abounded on this inhospitable wilderness – and for a moment  our eyes met in silent confusion.

Glancing a little further down the page, we were to find ‘Emperor penguins’ as the correct answer. But I preferred hers.

This week the Times setting team was treated to the annual Times Crossword Lunch, this year on the executives’ top floor at News International, Wapping. Right posh it were. I even placed a napkin/serviette on my lap and resolved not to filch chips/frites from my neighbour’s plate.

As ever, James Harding, The Times’ editor, was charming and charismatic as host. Joyce Cansfield, former World Champion Scrabbler, and long-time Times setter was presented with flowers and gifts on her retirement. We shall miss her, but we do need more women setting for us. There are now none on The Times’ staff, though crossword editor Richard Browne is working on it.

Why no women? Personally, I think crossword setting lends itself to the fragile male ego. Your thoughts would be appreciated.

Have a great week.

Best wishes,

John (Paul)

Why Are We Here – Perhaps Because We’re Not All There?

We are building an extension on our house.

The tension is not ex, but very current.

There are holes, and there is talk of pipes and plastering  – and, worse still, ownership of fences. I nod, and shuffle, and look anxious, as the unexplainable is explained.

Today, I spent two hours adjusting a plane, in order to shave slivers from the underside of a door. This is not my purpose.

I am not a man of God. However, I do believe we have a path to tread, and an ultimate goal. My path and goal do not involve slivers from the underside of a door.

In the same way that some have found God, I have found crosswords. The holy spirit-level is not for me. I worship at the Araucarian altar. I never once have – hang on, perhaps there was the one time, though I was very sozzled – knelt to pray before a chisel.

The tools of my trade are a trusty dictionary and a thesaurus.

Mine is the crossword puzzle. Thine is the jigsaw.

For ever and ever.


Best wishes,

John (Paul)

Art to Your Heart’s Desiree

I trod on a chip yesterday. This got me thinking – which perhaps is worrying.

For a moment I considered taking a photo of the begrooved and besplattered spudulous would-be masterpiece, and sending it to an art historian friend, with the intention of suggesting we construct an art installation around it. Entering this for the 2013 Turner Prize would surely inspire a generation of neo-Mashionists of which King Edward himself would have been proud. Chip Footprint. Far less worthy concepts have walked away with the spoils at the Tater Modern.

But then I took another pill, and thought again.

So what is art? Art? So what?

I write cryptic crosswords for a living. Is this art? Perhaps it depends who’s creating the puzzle. Perhaps all it needs is for someone to declare it art.

So I asked some passers-by whether they considered my squashed Maris piper a work of merit. And here are the results:

No comment/walk on by giving me a wide berth: 15

Sneer: 3

No: 8

Yes: 1.

The ‘yes’ was asked why he considered it art. The reply? Because you told me it was.

So I tried again, taking a different line, it being all about the set-up.

‘Sir/madam, I am from the Evening Argus and wondered if you have a moment to give us your views on this piece of artwork from acclaimed potato sculptor Duchesse Fritz’.

Results as follows:

Not really: 12

Sorry, I’m in a rush: 6

Go away* 3

*or less wholesome snub.

So there you have it. Make of this what you will.

All I know is that the word ‘potato’ comprises the word TAT inside the word POO. The crossword defines art, though art never may define the crossword.

Whatever that means.

Best wishes,

John (Paul)



Natural Born Killers

So not all our thoughts are pure.

Front row seats in the gallery at a nose-bleed-inducing height above the stalls of Brighton’s Theatre Royal, we take our seats.

There are latecomers. I recognise one. She is our local MP, Caroline Lucas, leader of the Green Party and local celebrity.

And for a moment, she occupies the narrow space between myself and a heart-stopping drop . In a flash of madness I picture her untimely demise, clinging momentarily to the rail, legs flailing, the image of knickers of emerald hues filling wide-eyed stares of the scattering, horrified hordes below.

Do not let this worry your noble self, Caroline, should you be reading this. I am not that way inclined – and in apologising for disturbing me from my seat, you are perfectly delightful. So you shall live.

The history of Environmentalist versus Mentalist conflict reads blankly. Few Friends of the Earth have bitten the dust for their views on composting and biofuels.

And crossword setters and solvers alike are pretty benign  so you’d think.

Although in Venezuela this week, a setter has been questioned over covert messages suggesting a major political figure was about to be erased.

Though, perhaps disappointingly, I have yet to be arrested for my nefarious cruciverbalism.

‘Bin Laden’ provided a solution in a puzzle of mine the week before 9/11. And Shed is known to have penned a clue for ‘Indira Gandhi’, published a couple of days subsequent to her assassination. Furthermore, it was me who once did give Bob Hope a mention around the time of his demise, albeit at the age of 162.

It all means nothing, of course. Conspiracy theorists please go home, and get informed.

We are harmless fools, sailing pacific waters, in the ship of jollity under warming azure skies.

Until we get nasty, that is.

Best wishes,

John (Paul)