Meet the WTS Board - Jim Coulson, and Anobium

The Wood Technology Society
7 Aug 2019

“Learn something of interest about your WTS Board Members, plus a favourite snippet of wood science.”

Jim Coulson – a long standing Board member of the Wood Technology Society and former President of the Institute of Wood Science - was asked why he sets the monthly Materials World Crossword under the pseudonym of “Anobium”.

The short answer is that most Crossword Setters publish their work under a pseudonym: and Jim wanted to use one which seemed appropriate to his work as a consultant Wood Scientist and a WTS Board Member - Anobium.

The longer answer is that, Anobium,  is actually the Genus of a group of wood-eating insects: the most well-known of which in the UK is Anobium punctatum – aka the “woodworm” (more properly, the Common Furniture Beetle).  As larvae, they bore into wood and use the wood as a source of food.  Anobium attacks the sapwood of both deciduous and coniferous woods.  Although damage by Anobium is often associated with older drier timbers, attack may also originate in freshly seasoned wood.  The life cycle from egg to insect is usually three or more years, and therefore infestation may pass unnoticed until a number of generations have emerged.

On pupation the adults then break through the surface of the wood, creating very fine “saw dust like” deposits.  This is normally the first sign of evidence of Anobium.  By the way, treatment against Anobium is readily available at good DIY stores or via specialist treatment companies.

So, Anobium is not unlike a crossword setter, with the answer to the clue well and truly hidden, though eventually the answer can be seen!

(Adult insect "Anobium."  Image courtesy of J Creffield.)

Jim is no newcomer to crosswords: he has been setting high-level (ie, “difficult”) puzzles for more than 40 years: primarily in the Times Listener series (which originally started in the BBC magazine The Listener: and after that folded in the 1990’s, the “Listener Crossword” was re-homed in the Times, where it can be seen – and maybe attempted – every Saturday).  Jim’s pseudonym which he adopted for his Listener puzzles is “Jago” – and this follows the “Spanish Inquisition” tradition, begun by the early masters of the Thematic Puzzle, such as Torquemada and Ximenes. The Christian name Jago (or “Diego” in the alternative Spanish dialect) was the name of another Cardinal of the Inquisition, Diego Deza: whose name has been reincarnated – but in reverse – as “Azed” of the Observer.

Jim also sets other “Thematic”-type puzzles for the Sunday Telegraph’s “Enigmatic Variations” series (as X-Type), as well as setting occasional weekday puzzles – anonymously – in the Daily Telegraph.

As it happens, “Anobium” has another, scientific, connection with the WTS – or rather, its predecessor, the Institute of Wood Science – in that a Past President of the IWSc, Jean Taylor, published a learned research article about the prevention of Anobium attack in Birch plywood, in 1968, when she worked as a wood scientist at the then Forest Products Research Laboratory.

Jean Taylor was the only woman to become President of the Institute of Wood Science: but quite soon, the Wood Technology Society will be getting its first female Chair, Morwenna Spear, (also a wood scientist), of Bangor University: who will take up Office in 2022.

A radiograph of Jean's, dating from 1968, showing Anobium after 18 months.