What a tremendous and unforgettable day it was. To mark the occasion, crossword uber-star John Henderson (Enigmatist, Elgar, Nimrod, Io) provided a delightful themed puzzle, a framed copy of which was presented to me by himself and my daughter Xana. And Sarah Hayes (Arachne in the Guardian) under her Anarche pseudonym produced a stunning crossword published as the day’s prize puzzle in the Independent. Both of these are now treasured, framed memories of the event.
This was something I attempted to explain during a presentation break in my band’s performance – not very well, as public speaking is not my thing. So I’ll try again here. We all have different measures of what constitutes being ‘successful’. The yardstick I use is simply this; if my working week is filled with producing crosswords for publication, leaving little time for anything else, then in that light you could say that I’m a successful crossword setter. But success is not fame or celebrity, and as far as I’m concerned I am and always will be a completely normal bloke who just happens to have crosswords published in newspapers. No-one (thank heavens) will ever recognise me in the street. The day to day events of my non-crosswording life are of no interest to anyone but my family and close friends – exactly how it should be.
So when this happens – a setter of John’s status takes the time to produce a puzzle just for me; another much loved setter produces a crossword which… now, get this; a crossword which celebrates MY 50TH BIRTHDAY(!!!), published as a prize crossword in a major national newspaper – I have to stand back for a moment and allow what has happened to fully sink in. In truth, it doesn’t. It’s just too big to fit these little shoes. I really can’t emphasise enough how unbelievably special those two crosswords are, and there are not sufficient words in the language for me to express my gratitude. That’s on behalf of my daughter as well; she is just 13, and she can print off Sarah’s crossword and show her school friends where her name has been deliberately placed in the grid. How many kids could ever do that, have that claim to fame?
It was great to meet again with many crossword friends. There’s no need to go through a roll call, but it was a real pleasure to meet up for the first time with Times for The Times blogging stalwart Dave Perry and DIY COW regular (also a fine upcoming setter) Donk – plus the father of my cryptic crossword career Roger Squires, Independent crossword editor Mike ‘Eimi’ Hutchinson, and the ferociously talented Neil Walker (Tramp in the Guardian, Jambazi in the Independent) who took several magnificent shots of the band, featured below.
On a personal note, the ‘gang’ was also in full attendance. By the gang I mean the group of five of us who grew up together as teenagers and enjoyed many (occasionally questionable) teenage larks; and this gathering of the gang included my brother Kev who flew in from Canada just to be there.
My mum did pretty much all of the organising, including the commissioning of a quite stunning birthday cake, and of course the secretly arranged appearance of Kev.
And to top it all off, my beautiful and beautifully talented daughter Xana presented me with a framed poem she had written for my birthday. It was a fantastic moment, not least because I’m always banging on about how wonderful she is, and had dreamed of an opportunity to show her off and prove it in front of others! This was the perfect opportunity and it made me tremendously proud.
So, here are some pics from the bash itself. Lots of people were taking lots of photographs – with their permission I’ll either add them to this thread as they appear online or are emailed to me, or will post links to their online galleries.
My heartfelt thanks to everyone who was there. It was a day I’ll never forget.
Incidentally I’m waiting for photos taken at the Stamford Arms. The ones ‘we’ took on the day were sparse – better, I think, to have a fuller set.