It’s not like me to be star-struck. Really, it isn’t. Celebrity is something that never interested me, and on those rare occasions when I’ve been in the company of famous people I’ve never gone into ‘please let me be seen with you’ mode.And I don’t know where there that attitude comes from. I mean, as an example; there used to be a quiz programme on BBC2 called Catchword, hosted by Paul Coia, and I appeared in its 10th and final series some time in the 1990s, winning several rounds and almost winning the grand final. Paul is married to former Miss Great Britain Debbie Greenwood and I remember she turned up during one of the shows, joining Paul and the rest of us in the green room. Instead of drooling I just said ‘Hello’ and got back to the buffet. Whatever a person’s celebrity status it’s evident that I regard him/her as a person and no more than that. Remember another quiz show called Chain Letters? Yeah, I was on that too, and I don’t even remember the name of the presenter.
I met Araucaria twice. Once at the wedding reception of John Henderson and Jane Teather, and similarly when John Halpern and Taline were married. Over those two occasions we exchanged perhaps a few dozen words of polite chat. And I was in awe, which is a strange thing for a number of reasons.
1) I was never a fan of John Graham’s clue-writing style; for me it often took the libertarian approach a little too far, and I found his clues often lacked convincing surface. In fairness that only grated (too strong a word perhaps) because, in my own work, surface is everything.
2) He and I were individuals doing the same thing day in day out, writing clues. Neither competitors nor equals. Just blokes working at the same job.
3) John never made any attempt to come across as an awe-inspiring person. It was as if he had absolutely no idea of his own brilliance.
Yet on those two occasions when I met him my head was full of “My god, I’m actually in the company of Araucaria”. That was the power of the man – I don’t believe he was aware of it, and I know for certain he never promoted it.
The world of cryptics now features a huge void once occupied by a humble man who just loved producing crosswords. The end was expected but, as the days pass, it feels increasingly hard to believe that we live in a world without Araucaria. We will never see his like again.