The Rewilding of JCC

In A Tale of Two Cities, when, in 1789, the world was going to hell in a hand cart – or a tumbril – Lucy Manette’s father grew distractible, turned his back on the world, and returned to his cobbler’s last.  Having just finished David Attenborough’s sobering A Life on Our Planet (Witness Books, 2020), simultaneous with Ian McEwan’s dystopian novella The Cockroach (Jonathan Cape, 2019) a barely disguised critique of the current Westminster government cast as a Kafkaesque Die Verwandlung in reverse, I fear we are once again living in interesting times, and feel inclined to turn to my own version of the cobbler’s last, crosswords.  I am like King Lear, unable to perceive or prevent an impending tragedy, saying to Cordelia,

So we’ll live,

And pray, and sing, and tell old tales, and laugh

At gilded butterflies, and hear poor rogues

Talk of court news, and we’ll talk with them too –

Who loses and who wins, who’s in, who’s out…

I will be like a prisoner in a concentration camp who gives up bartering to survive, and starts to smoke his own cigarettes. 

Atop Ben Gullipen, on a day of great stillness, the Trossachs were radiant in their golden autumn livery.  I said to my companion, Harpoonata Venture (not her real name), from New York, “Let me pose you a ‘found’ clue.”

“What is a ‘found’ clue?”

“It is a clue that is discovered rather than invented.  Normally the cruciverbalist has the solution and composes a clue.  In the case of a ‘found’ clue, the clue already exists, and the cruciverbalist, like the puzzle solver, must seek the solution to it.”

“I’m not sure I follow, but go ahead.”

“Short back and sides, and a little off the top (8).”



“Crew cut.”

“Not enough letters.  Incidentally, the crew cut was what wrecked Elvis’ career.  The draft was Delilah to his Samson.  By the time he touched down at Prestwick, on his way back from Germany, Beatlemania was just round the corner, and he was yesterday’s man.”     


“Not semi-crew.  You won’t remember the ‘semi crew and friction’.  You came out of the barber’s looking as if you’d seen a ghost, or suffered an electric shock.”


“Mullet is the antithesis to a short back and sides.”


“Get off the hair-do theme and think laterally.”

“’Hair-do’?  Is that what you have when you get a new ‘outfit’?  I give in.”



“Pinnacle.  You see, ‘top’ is the definition.  ‘Short back’ is pin.  A short is a dram, or a nip.  Nip back is pin.  NACL is ‘sides’.”


“Sides as in teams.  National Australian Cricket League.”

“Oh, come on!”

“Oh yes.  The Big Bash League.  The Adelaide Strikers, Brisbane Heat, Hobart Hurricanes, Melbourne Renegades, Perth Scorchers, Sydney Sixers…”

“These household names.”

“And to finish, ‘a little off the’ is e.  Ergo, Pinnacle.”

“That’s really terrible.  Your pinnacle is inaccessible.  Do you lie awake at night dreaming this stuff up?”

“Better than contemplating the fact that Homo sapiens is systematically exterminating every other species on the planet.”


“I think the word was ‘systematically’.  Mr Johnson and Monsieur Barnier carry on squabbling – or worse, have given up squabbling – about fish, while the fish are suffocating under a trillion tonnes of plastic.  Talk about rearranging the deckchairs.  I saw Greta on the telly the other night.  She looked really tired.  She said, ‘I should be at school.  I shouldn’t have to be doing this stuff.’  If Greta gives up, we’re all doomed.”

“If Greta gives up, and starts doing crossword puzzles like you?  I don’t think Sir David has given up.  I seem to recall the subtitle to his books is, ‘My witness statement and a vision for the future.’”

“True.  He thinks biodiversity is key.  We must rewild the planet.”

“There you go.  Get rewilding.  Take heart.  After all, Jacinda has just won a landslide.  Aren’t the colors (sic) of the Fall stunning?” 

Autumn is the most poignant of the seasons.  It makes me think of Kurt Weill singing “Sing low”, accompanying himself on the piano.  Everything ends, too soon!  Or his September Song.  September… November…  Or of Eva Cassidy singing Autumn Leaves.  There is a vulnerability in her voice which seems – albeit with hindsight – to be an intimation of mortality.  Feuilles Mortes.  Debussy’s second prelude from the second book.  Or Robert Donat reciting Keats’ Ode to Autumn.  That note of wistfulness in his voice –

And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.                 

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