So tell me this; if capitalism is the only way of doing business, how come collaborative crossword solving gets such good results?
It’s generally agreed that competition is the engine of growth, which I’m sure is generally true, although so much of British business – the utilities, transport and privatised firms doing public-sector tasks, – are not really subject to free-market disciplines because they’re cartels, which is to say a device for fleecing the public, and they’ve got, as their one customer, the state, which, according to enthusiasts for naked capitalism, is a sump of ineptitude, so why do they think out-sourcing is the answer to our problems?
But let that lie and let’s get back to collaborative crosswords. These are things I’ve done all my life –well, since sixth form, when me and my tearaway mates formed the Daily Telegraph Crossword Crew, mainly because the Daily Telegraph was delivered free to the school.
The rock-hard Telegraph Crew had to spend hours and hours trying to finish crosswords because we were only 17 or 18 and cryptic crossword-solving is one of the very few skills which, like afternoon naps, get easier the older you are.
And after that, I established crossword-solving relationships with all sorts of people. It’s a bit, I should think, like ballroom dancing – you can do it competitively but really it’s better done as a conspiracy to make all the dancers, including yourself, look better than they are. Paintballing sessions, I’m told, sometimes end up as conspiracies too, in which decent, collaborative people turn on unpleasant competitive types who take daft team-building exercises seriously.
Every year, on some Saturday in spring, I return to a marvellous house in north Wales where there’s an annual all-day – and most of the night – garden party for an extended network of very old friends and their children and their children’s children.
On party day, we always have two or three copies of the Guardian prize crossword laid out across the garden tables, because many of us are Guardian types, which is to say we like being mildly left-wing and drinking alcohol.
Our main activities are idle chat and solving the crossword in a rather slack manner.
Nobody wants to be the top crossword-solver – in fact having a top crossword solver, who could do the puzzle in 10 minutes, would spoil all our fun.
It’s like when I used to play badminton with my children.
We are not a sportingly-gifted family, so rather than allowing players to slam the shuttlecock down and leave opponents feeling humiliatingly defeated and cursed by a life-sapping inferiority complex, we made it the object of the game to keep the shuttlecock in the air for as long as possible by collaborating not to fire fierce shots which can’t be returned.
This did a lot (though actually not enough) for the family’s levels of hand-eye coordination and healthy exercise because the non-competitive form of badminton can last for hours and hours.
There was a time when almost every day there was a story in the popular press about some loony left-wing school abolishing competitive sports days.
I think competitive athletes should compete to the highest levels; the rest of us should just find a level we’re comfortable with.
It would improve the mental and physical health of the nation no end if everybody didn’t have to be a winner.