• SPOILER ALERT – if anyone is still in the middle of completing The Northern Echo’s giant crossword, please don’t read on.

THE coronavirus pandemic has thrown up lots of difficulties and I don’t, for a second, wish to belittle the seriousness of the situation.

However, trying to help my 88-year-old Mum complete a giant crossword over the phone is one of the hardest challenges I’ve faced so far.

She’s living in isolation at home and is taking a typically stoical approach: “Hitler didn’t get me so I don’t see why this should,” she said.

She’s always loved doing puzzles, and the lockdown has made them even more important to her. “You’ve got to keep your mind active,” she says.

Mind you, she’s been getting plenty of help. Our daughter, Hannah, living down in London, and her boyfriend, Jamie, had spent an hour and a half on Skype the previous evening, helping her with some of the crossword clues she hadn’t been able to crack.

How nice is that? You hope your children will grow up to be kind, caring human beings, and it’s lovely to see them making time for their Grandma, even though they’re hundreds of miles away.

That said, Hannah and Jamie had failed to complete the job, giving up on five or six uncracked clues, so my Mum rang me.

“I’m stuck. What’s the answer to this clue?” she asked. “A unit when measuring temperature – six letters, starting with T, something G, something E, something. Hannah and Jamie couldn’t get it.”

“Are you sure it’s not ‘Degree’?” I suggested with my wife’s help.

“No, it definitely begins with T because ‘Practice Session’ is two three-letter words, so it’s got to be ‘Try Out’. I got that one myself,” she replied. “Mind you, the E’s definitely right because seven down is Elvis Presley – that was another one of mine.”

To cut a very long, complicated story short, ‘Practice Session’ wasn’t ‘Try Out’. It was ‘Dry Run’ which, mercifully, enabled ‘Degree’ to be slotted in.

This, however, was only the beginning of the torture. For the next three hours, she was on the phone every 10 minutes, and it quickly transpired that we were facing an uphill task because of the number of answers she’d already got wrong.

For example, we were stumped for ages on the answer to ‘Never’ – three letters, followed by six letters. “I know the first word is definitely ‘Not’ and the second word is F, something R, something I, something,” she said.

After much gnashing of teeth, it turned out to be ‘God Forbid’ – and, quite frankly, it struck me as the ideal phrase should my mother ever ask me again to help her with a giant crossword.

If you consider the added complication that she has tinnitus – a ringing in the ears – you can see why cracking the Enigma code during World War Two was easy compared to the mission facing me.

“What about ‘Behave like a yob – something O, something U, something, something, something?” she asked in the next call.

“Are you sure it’s not ‘Loutish’? I suggested.


“No, Mum – that’s not a word – LOUTISH!”

“Oh, yes, – I had the ‘U’ in the wrong place. It fits now.”

I confess to being on the verge of behaving like a yob and uttering a four-letter word or two. But these are hard times, so I took lots of deep breaths, and stuck to the task, until the final clue was solved.

“That’s it!” she declared. “I’ve done it – clever, aren’t I?”

Yes, Mum. Brilliant.


Ian, a fellow Grandad who lives in our village, was telling his four-year-old granddaughter, Chloe, about the importance of washing her hands.

“Is it because of the bugs, Grandad?” she asked.

“Yes, Chloe, we all need to stop spreading the bugs, don’t we?” he explained, reassuringly.

Chloe thought for a moment and then said: “Is it because they’re big buggers, Grandad?”

OUR own granddaughter, also called Chloe, told me the other day: “Grandad, you want to play crazy when my coronavirus has gone?”