In January this year, while studying for an HND in Radio at Adam Smith College in Glenrothes, I was one of three lucky recipients of an Ian Rankin Creative Writing Scholarship. In 2012, I had also been been shortlisted with an edited version of my Smiths piece, Back To The Old House – The Smiths’ Scottish Tour 1985. Re-titled as It’s Time The Tale Were Told and trimmed to 1000 words, as per the entry requirements, I missed out on one of the three prizes.
Here’s my winning entry from this year:
OH, WHAT A CONUNDRUM!
“Consonant, please, Carol”
The Good Lady Wife had drummed it in to me to say “please”. Thankfully the show’s production assistants had confirmed that I only needed to say it once. Good job too. I had enough to worry about, what with the lights, moving cameras and a dozen rows of assorted pensioners and students, as well as the close proximity of both broadcasting legend Des Lynam and Susie Dent – the lexicographer of love – not to mention the prospect of that morning’s full English breakfast making a rapid reappearance any minute now. Last thing I needed was to worry about my Ps and Qs.
My stomach is churning. I think I might be sick. I may be the first person to actually vomit on Countdown. It occurs to me that projectile is 10 letters and vomiting is only 8. Unfortunately “Mr Countdown” Richard Whitely isn’t here. If I threw up on one of the garish ties he famously wore I doubt anyone would notice. Hell, it may even be an improvement. Sadly I don’t have that in-case-of-emergency fallback as Richard, god rest his gaudy neckwear, is no longer with us. Dapper Des, “The Guv’nor”, is here now. Right, focus! So far, so good. Hopefully I can avoid the J or K. Or Z. And the Q.
Oh. With the right companions the C can be a good friend or a bad enemy. At this moment I’m cursing the little c…onsonant. It’s as much use to me as a cat flap on a submarine. An E would make CENTS/sense and a decent foundation to work on. Change of tack required.
Urgh. There’s the safety net for the Q, even though I’d rather not see it thank Q very much.
Always handy for pluralisation(s) as any Scrabbler – I might have just made that word up – would tell you.
“And a vowel, please”
Des: “And the time starts now…”
It’s a promising selection, the sort that seasoned Countdowners would no doubt be salivating at home as they dunk their proprietary brand of Rich Tea into their late afternoon cuppa. But now that I’ve written them down I can’t seem to focus. The letters are all morphing into one big inky spider scrawl. Morphing, that’s an 8. Come on, concentrate! Cents? Check. Census? Good, that’s a six and a reasonable platform to build on but a 7 would be better. What else is there? SANCT…no. ENTER…nah, no Rs. Although I can feel my Rs. Flapping away, it is.
Why the hell am I here? Why am I putting myself through this ritual humiliation? It’s not as if it’s for a car or a holiday or, as Blackadder so succinctly put it, “flipping great wadges of cash”. Even the (in)famous Bullseye speedboat is looking desirable. It’s because I’m addicted. Hooked on the buzz of television and I just can’t shake it. It’s William G Stewart’s fault. Yeah, it’s all his fault. He let me try “Fifteen to One” for nothing once, then I dabbled in it on bank holidays and sick days, then it was every weekday afternoon and before I knew it I was hooked on the stuff. It didn’t end there though. Soon I was watching evening quizzes and sometimes taping daytime shows. Before long I was even watching “Lucky Ladders”. Don’t do game shows kids, they really screw you up.
CENTAURS? Damn, there’s still no R no matter how long I look at the letters. What about suffixes?
At times like this I begin to question my own sanity. I’ve waited two years to get on to the game show that is quite rightly regarded as the premier show for lovers of word games, crosswords and puzzles. As soon as I found out I had an audition I went into “training” – TV execs would probably call it a ‘boot camp’ these days – and joined like-minded fools in a room in the Ramada Mount Royal Hotel in Edinburgh. Why? The chance to win a bloody teapot and some Tetley Kudos! If I can just keep it together, stay calm and learn to breathe I might just be able to salvage something from this situation. Admittedly, it’s a situation of my own making.
Right, let me see, there’s a T, a C, a U, an A and an E left, but word blindness is striking me again. Wait there…is that an 8? Oh, maybe, but is it a word? Of course it’s a word. But it doesn’t look like a word. Oh, wait a minute, is that a 9?
For those of us who had no pretensions of becoming Countdown series champions, let alone winning a single show, there was always the fleeting glory of pulling out a 9-letter word. While the ‘maximum’ was in no way a guarantee of success and a return visit to the Yorkshire studios, its bonus of a double points score of 18 would go a long way to getting one hand on TV’s most famous gaudy teapot. Like a footballer unexpectedly finding himself with a too-good-to-be-true gaping open goal in front of him, I was faced with a similar prospect in the shape of a possible 9-letter word.
It looked like a proper word. It even sounded like a proper word, but the occasion was bringing on doubts I hadn’t experienced since walking down the aisle. (Only joking, dear.) I needed a plan.
But I couldn’t remember if it was my turn to go first or Tony’s. I thought that if I got the nod I would just ‘go for it’ – faint heart and all that. But if Tony went first it would depend what score he declared. If he went for an 8, I’d have to go for the dodgy 9. I just needed some time to think…
“…doo-doo doo-doo doodle-a doo…boo”
Des: “Yes, Tony?”
A big thanks to Catriona Vernal for editorial assistance and expertise.