CHATEAU NAPOLEON 13th APRIL 2002
I'm afraid I'm not much of a speech maker but, as you can see, I've made some notes and, if I can hold the paper steady, I¹ll endeavour to read them.First of all, I must thank Jeremy Morse, Don Manley and Roy Dean for organising the lunch - it's greatly appreciated, and then to thank you all for coming. It's good to meet some of you again and to meet others who, for several years, have been familiar names on stamped addressed envelopes.
I¹m very pleased that Mrs Macnutt is here today. The last time we met Mary very kindly presented me with the book in which Ximenes entered every First Prize winning clue of his competitions. The book was posted to each winner who then returned it. Although Colin Dexter and those who later became his Inspector Morse and his Sergeant Lewis received and returned the book many, many times, I've brought it along today so that all of you can see what must be one of the most travelled books in existence and which is now a treasured possession. I've also brought along XIM's No. 1 Cup which passed from winner to winner. It was given to me by David Tompsett who was the last to receive the Cup for his Printer's Devilry clue to REBATO - 'The Lord had a thought; Ask for Moses'. An excellent clue which requires all solvers to break into THOUGHT.
As regards crosswords, my greatest regret is that Ximenes set 919 crosswords before I succeeded in solving one. I took THE OBSERVER newspaper each week but, when I looked at the crossword, I could make nothing of it. Then one Sunday, a small notice was written alongside the puzzle stating that Ximenes had written a book about crosswords and when we were on holiday in Bournemouth, I happened to see the book when we were shopping. Unfortunately, I wasn¹t quite sure how you pronounced his name, so I said to the assistant - 'Could I have a copy of that book up there please?' She looked up to where I was pointing and said 'Well, which one?' - 'The one on the left', I replied. 'Oh' she said, 'You mean XIMENES ON THE ART OF THE CROSSWORD?' 'That's the one', I said. It was the paperback edition and I reckon that was the best fifteen shillings I ever spent.
I read the book and it fascinated me. It was like a conjuror giving all his tricks away and I discovered for the first time that a Ximenes crossword was governed by principles and, if you got to know what these were, you could work out each clue and solve the puzzle. After writing about diagram construction and explaining in detail the various types of clues used in setting a crossword, Ximenes ended one chapter with - 'Why not have a try yourself?' And 'Why not?', I thought, 'I now know all the tricks, so what¹s to stop me?'
After some thought, I decided that the best one to start with would be a RIGHT AND LEFT puzzle where two clues were linked together as there would only be 18 clues to write instead of the usual 36. I soon realised my mistake, but I persevered and eventually accomplished what I had set out to do. But having set the crossword, I didn¹t know anyone who would be able to solve it, 'Ah well', I thought, 'I'll send it to Ximenes. It will let him know that someone has bought and read his book and learned a lot from it'.
So I wrote a letter, enclosed it with the puzzle, addressed the envelope to XIMENES, THE OBSERVER, LONDON as I imagined him having an office in THE OBSERVER building where he sat at his desk composing his crosswords, planning his competitions and dealing with his correspondence.
So I was quite surprised when three days later I received a letter with a Horsham postmark. The envelope was addressed to E.CHALKLEY, ESQUIRE and on opening it I found it was from Ximenes. It was a very nice letter. He thanked me for sending him the puzzle which he had solved with some difficulty which he thought was my fault rather than his and I learned that, according to to his principles, most of my clues were unsound and he pointed out what was wrong with them which, I thought, was very good of him. But I also saw the funny side of it, for Ximenes had gone to the trouble of writing a book to stamp out all this unsoundness in clue -writing and I had read the book and practically learned it by heart and then produced a puzzle with unsound clues. So I wrote and thanked him for solving the puzzle and ended it with - 'If I ever set another crossword would you care to solve it?' And he replied - 'By all means send it because, if I can't solve it I can always give up'. And that is how I began to ape Ximenes and how I, eventually, became APEX.
In those days, I hadn¹t got a typewriter, I used a double sheet of plain foolscap paper and drew the diagram and wrote the clues with pen and ink. I would send the puzzle to Ximenes and, when solving it, he would write his comments alongside each clue. He also marked the clues he liked best - one tick - good, two ticks - very good, three ticks - excellent and a great big cross if it was wrong. He would return the puzzle to me. I studied his comments and, as he was a very good teacher, I gradually improved.
I had a go at setting more of his specialised crosswords and then one day I had the luck to hit the jackpot. I set a Misprints puzzle and, when he returned it, Ximenes enclosed a four page letter. He wrote that, although he had invented the Misprints puzzle years ago, this was the first chance he'd had of solving one and he'd thoroughly enjoyed it. Took him eight hours to solve it but he only faulted three of the clues and, after that he would always end his letters with - looking forward to your next puzzle.
After a while, it occurred to me that Ximenes might enjoy entering a clue-writing competition himself. So, whenever I set a crossword I made a competition of it. I had copies printed and circulated them among Ximenes and a few of his regular solvers. I chose the word to be clued and, although I offered no prize, everyone responded and enjoyed judging the clues without any names attached to them. So instead of a competition determined by one judge, we had one determined by several which proved to be much more fun.
Ximenes always enjoyed entering the competitions and came near to winning one. On another occasion, he absentmindedly awarded three points to his own clue which caused a bit of embarrassment, and that was why I began blacking out the appropriate clue number, and it never happened again. During a period of about five years I had an enormous amount of fun with Ximenes. We were kindred spirits and all my memories of him are happy ones. When he died, it broke my heart and I sat down and wept. His competitions came to a sudden end, but his crosswords continued to appear until his stock was used up.
So, when Christmas came and Ximeneans had been six months without a competition I wondered if they would be interested in one of mine. So, I set a SPOT THE THEME crossword and, as postage wasn't very expensive, I circulated them among twenty distinguished Ximeneans and all of them responded. They solved the puzzle, entered a clue to JACK-A-LENT, enclosed a stamped addressed envelope and then took part in judging the clues without names attached to them. Everyone seemed to enjoy the exercise so, the following Christmas, I circulated another crossword, it then went from strength to strength until I had to limit membership to about forty so that I could print all the clues and explanatory notes onto one sheet of A4 paper. It became like a family gathering at Christmas which everyone looked forward to, and family members enjoyed competing against each other. We had a father and son - Jeremy and Richard Morse. A mother and son - Margaret and Chris Butler We did have a mother and daughter but unfortunately Norah Jarman, who was one of the best of the Ximeneans, was taken from us, but her daughter, Anne Boyes is still a member and, in my final competition, her clue to ROBERT BROWNING was judged to be the best submitted, a success which gave her a great deal of pleasure.
When I started the series I didn¹t think I was sentencing myself to thirty-one years of pleasure, but that's what it's been and I thank you all for helping to make it a long running success. One man I must thank for all the help he has freely given me is Derek Harrison. Over the years, his sketches have greatly brightened up the puzzles and, in recent years, he has printed the Christmas crossword for me. He has also established an APEX web site on the Internet so that my crosswords now get a much wider circulation and where my most recent effort, which commemorated something that occurred on Good Friday, has been very well received.
But, in time, everything (even this speech) must come to an end. I was 53 years of age when I started the series and was able to take everything in my stride. But, I've now reached the age when it's so easy to make stupid mistakes and so difficult to spot and correct them. In my final competition, I tried hard to record everything correctly and learned that I had failed. So, I think I have now made the correct decision in calling it a day.
But next Christmas, Paul Henderson, who has youth on his side, plans to start a new series. I have been able to give him 40 stamped addressed envelopes so he has a ready-made group all eagerly waiting to be entertained. I wish the New Series every success and hope that Paul will derive as much pleasure from his series as I have from mine.
One final thought. As you know, members of my group are scattered far and wide. For today, some had other commitments, others are too far away to make the journey. But I¹m sure all of them would have enjoyed being here today. So I would like to end by asking you to join me in drinking a toast to all absent members. Thank you.