Sunday, 20 November 2011

Three Down






The Araucaria crossword clue, below, is F for Faro, of course, not Fado. Surprised none of you spotted it. Or perhaps you just wanted me to get it wrong so as to give yourselves more chance of winning the Guardian's A Clue to our Lives book, surely the feeblest prize in crossword competitioning, although I notice for the first time this week that they are also throwing in copies of Guardian Style, as, presumably, the entries have dwindled. The old dictionary prize was worth struggling over the last clues for, but this seems barely worth the stamp. I feel sorry for Araucaria that his effort is valued so low.

A layclerk at Wells Cathedral was once sacked for doing a crossword during a service. I thought of this on Tuesday, St Cecilia's Day, for the special Evensong at Southwark Cathedral to launch the Choirbook for the Queen, a collection of 45 anthems by as many different composers written during the first decade of the 21st century to celebrate Elizabeth's Diamond Jubilee, a companion, it is hoped to the Eton Choirbook of 500 years earlier. Complete sets (40 or so copies) have been sent out to almost every cathedral in the land, thanks to the 60 Diamond Subscribers who have paid the £700 on their behalf. Tony Blair looked after Westminster Cathedral, Sir David Willcocks forked out for Westminster Abbey, the descendants of Sir Charles Groves did St Paul's, Raymond Gubbay grabbed King's Cambridge and so on. The nave was packed and there were drinks and canapes afterwards in the south transept. The service was let down by the last hymn which nobody knew, but the premiere of Sir Peter Maxwell Davies' anthem Advent Calendar, the principal new composition in the Choirbook, was movingly performed by the Southwark Choir. Max has set autumnal words by the Archbishop of Canterbury - 'He will come....one morning when the shrinking earth opens on mist' etc - to music of dark, reedy warmth with plenty of dissonant word-painting and old-fashioned, meaningful minor chords. The Revd Lucy Winkett preached poetically, alliterating 'prayer and protest' in a dig at the grubby St Paul's camp-site which she daily has to pick her way through and speaking from the heart in her observation that 'once you learn to love this [ie church] music, it will not let you go'. 

Sunday 20th November Three Down 
Araucaria is without doubt the greatest name in crossword-setting. His witty clues are not hidebound by convention and he once invented a whole new form in the Alphabetical Jigsaw, one of which appears as the Guardian’s prize puzzle this weekend. I report this to the singing cellist excitedly as I have previously apprised her of his genius. Quite superfluously, I tell her, he even makes poetry of the clues, rhyming them in pairs and scanning them to fit iambic pentameter.

I google him and discover that he is 90 years old and a Church of England priest, the Reverend John Graham. He took up crossword compiling in 1958 after his divorce robbed him of his living. The church allowed him back after his estranged wife died, which warps the logic.

The singing cellist has been diagnosed with anorexia nervosa and is in hospital. Distractions cheer her up like crosswords and sudoku, with which she challenges the nurses and beats them. Her illness is the reason I have not written this blog for a month as I have been attending group family therapy sessions, visiting the hospital daily and haven’t had the heart to write about it here until now.

Araucaria, of whom there is a photo among the monkey puzzle trees on Google image, has removed the blockage. The current puzzle includes a music clue (F for Fado) which justifies inclusion here. Warmed by the winter sun, the singing cellist, Mrs Jones and I sit out on the lawn beside the ward and peruse the clues. The patient and I gave a concert in North London last weekend and though she played the cello in the Dowland songs blemishlessly and sang Purcell’s Evening Hymn movingly, the effort cost her a kilo and the Greek consultant said she must stay in from now on. She is watched constantly by one young nurse or another who sits at the door of her cell like a prison guard. She feels ‘like a test rat in a cage’ she wrote in a poem on Saturday, ‘at all of thirteen years of age’. I am encouraging her to feel the rhythm of iambic pentameter. With Araucaria's help.