When it comes to word games, Take a Puzzle is about my level. That "Kumquats up a gum tree, we hear (7, 5)" stuff means nothing to me. And broadsheets don't have Take a Puzzle's surrealist sense of humour. For instance, this month's jaunts include the "Find Che" competition, in which you have to find a picture of the Cuban revolutionary concealed in the magazine. (I used to be a whiz at finding Baby Moonbeam in Pippin in Playland, so quickly spotted Che on page 57, next to Graeme Garden.) Another puzzle asks you to find the connection between Fyodor Dostoevsky and footballer Paul Merson. Did Dostoevsky play midfield for Villa? Did Merson spend years in a Siberian prison camp? I can't tell you the answer, of course, as that would reduce my chances of winning pounds 2,000 of Thomas Cook vouchers.
I attacked on other fronts. I put myself in for Littlewoods' prize draw; I replied to a Toronto-based company called New Motor Car Grants, who assured me a brand new BMW was as good as mine if I returned the coupon; with a leaflet I got from a screening of Waking Ned, I went to Ladbrokes in Lewisham and bet on the Irish lottery.
I had mixed results. I was one number from winning pounds 442 on the Lotto. Peter Austin of New Motor Car Grants failed to reply. Littlewoods' "guaranteed cash award" turned out to be pounds 1. Every little helps, I suppose.
"Try an Internet competition," said a colleague. "I won a camcorder last year because only six people entered." I went straight to the BBC website and found my way into the Doctor Who competition section. The Master, it seemed, was draining the Artron energy from my lateral balance cones, and in that wily way that maniacally evil renegade Time Lords have, had set me ten questions to determine whether or not I got pureed in the space/time vortex. And these weren't just posers of the easy-peasy what-does-Tardis-stand-for? variety. This was Gallifreyan black belt material, but when it comes to naming the race of multicoloured amphibians who dig the Tinclavic mines of Raaga, I'm your Terileptil.
So I was quietly satisfied to see my name on the site two weeks later, attached to the news that I'd bagged a video of The Keys of Marinus - a 1964 adventure distinguished by several spectacular line-fluffs by William Hartnell. Unfortunately, I'd already given into temptation and bought the thing at WH Smith. So I posted it to my friend Geggsy, who'd been laid up in bed for a month with an extreme allergic reaction to cheese, and was therefore in need of entertainment.
"So," purred my editor. "How did it go?"
"Well, Littlewoods sent me a cheque for a quid, there's a car waiting for me somewhere in Canada, and Dostoevsky may yet secure me the holiday of a lifetime. And I won six episodes of Doctor Who. But I gave them away." I've seen him happier, but at least he didn't make me eat nappies