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Egotism, n: Doing the New York Times crossword with a pen.

 Ambrose Bierce

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Themes and clueing style

History

 

I was born in Lancashire, and I tell people that I kept moving South (showing either persistence or lack of imagination) until I reached the Channel and had to stop—which made a lot more sense when I lived on my boat in Brighton Marina, so I really did live in the Channel.

 

I spent most of my childhood in the Midlands, and went to an old-fashioned grammar school, where the masters still wore gowns and we called the headmaster The Beak. I was interested first in science, then music, then maths, then the classics, then back to science. I could always learn languages easily, but didn’t get the point of English until much later. Then it was physics at Merton College (since you asked) followed by an MSC in operational research.

 

I’ve lived in London and Brighton, and now (my family having outgrown the boating way of life) I live on the other side of the Downs, in Keymer, next to the creative village of Ditchling, with my artist wife, one daughter, a lazy greyhound and several neglected fish.

 

I’m a reluctant commuter, and spend workdays in London. Look out for me on the Brighton line in the evening, though, and you may find me in my own world, happily compiling.

Compiling

 

It was as little as 15 years ago that my wife (to be, at the time) introduced me to Araucaria’s work, when tackling the Guardian Saturday puzzles became an important part of our weekend routine.

 

I was stunned by the depth of wit and meaning that Araucaria could get into something as simple as a crossword puzzle, and I started to play with the idea of compiling for myself.

 

My first puzzle was a Christmas present for Mrs B in 1999; it was about her dog. Pieces for 1 Across followed in 2001, then seven years of support from Tom Johnson and persistent flattery of Hugh Stephenson (I may have been learning a few things, as well) persuaded Hugh to try me in the Guardian.

Memories

 

I don’t remember being precociously wordy as a child, though I do remember playing word games with my parents and looking at the Saturday Telegraph crossword in the back of their car during tedious hours of shopping.

 

I used to get two or three clues, I think, and then give up – one stuck in my mind: “In favour of agricultural equipment used for angling (11)”, the solution being PROTRACTORS … not a world-beating clue by today’s standards, perhaps, but it must have impressed me at the time.

 

I remember the first of Araucaria’s alphabetical jigsaws that I tackled with Mrs B. There were two intersecting six-letter solutions for the letter “I”, which shared the same clue: “Home whither holy people maybe fly”. The solution was both INSECT and ISRAEL: it doesn’t get much better than that.

Is that me?

 

Ooh look, there I am at Araucaria’s 90th birthday lunch at King’s College, Cambridge, caught by Jane Teather, aka Mrs Enigmatist and a renowned crossword blogger in her own right.

Solving

 

I’m not a particularly good solver, but we make a good team, Mrs B and I—she spots solutions from two letters without looking at the clues, and I figure out the wordplay.

What else do I do?

 

During the day, I indulge an annoyingly tempting ability to make a living from financial analysis, and in my free time I may be found cycling with the Sussex Nomads or playing music. I play something approximating jazz piano, and have been called “the Jarvis Cocker of the accordion world”. I’m still trying to work that one out.

 

At one time, I was writing odd little pop songs for the fun of trying to compress meaning into a formal structure. I wasn’t particularly good at it, but I see parallels now between crosswords and music – disorder within order, that sort of thing.

 

In our village, I’m known as the person who devises the oddly entertaining quizzes at the biennial fundraising fair, and I’ve served (this must be the humblest tier of elected office) as a parish councillor.

Boatman’s boat

 

Though I don’t own her now, this was the boat that gave rise to my identity as a setter: a 100 foot Dutch barge, which I spent 10 years converting from a working vessel into a floating home.

© copyright

Jane Teather

2011

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