Monthly Archives: May 2016

Stephie’s Uncle Fred

The door opens and in he bounds, bald on top with tufts of hair above the ears. We’d all been hearing about him for weeks and now he was here, the American uncle, Uncle Fred.

He talks funny and fast and I knew he was my sort straight away. I don’t know why because he wasn’t like anything I’d ever experienced from a grownup and even then I was dead set against things not being done properly and wasn’t this like “being a grown up” not being done properly? Somehow I decided it was ok because he was doing being a grown up properly for an American.

It took me a while to even notice that he was carrying a guitar, but after he’d been introduced to everyone he asked if we kids would like to listen to a tune. No grown up had ever really asked our opinion on anything really. So this was all a bit of a shock. We listened as he played and I must have absentmindedly started sucking my thumb, I must have been around 4 or 5 at the time.

He said, “you there, what’s your name?”
I replied, “It’s Stephie, Uncle Fred.”
“Well Stephie, do you know how I became bald like this?”
“No,” I replied.
“I never did want to give up sucking my thumb.”

I immediately popped my thumb out and never sucked it again.

“Now, Stephie come over here and lets see if we can’t use that thumb, and the rest of your fingers to play some music.”

I moved towards him and he showed me how to hold the guitar and helped me to play three chords.

“That’s just swell Stephie, really really good.”

I don’t think anyone had ever been that positive before, or even said, “well done.” It was intoxicating. He must have got so bored of me mooning around after him on that trip, but he never showed it to me. He was always positive and made the time.

I was totally in love.

When it was time for him to go he had bought me a present. We opened it on the morning he was leaving. It was a small clock and some screwdrivers. He showed me how to take it apart and put it back together. He showed me what all of the bits were for and how the whole thing worked. I didn’t want to risk taking it apart when he wasn’t there, I told him, in case I couldn’t put it back together without him. He took it apart then and there, and told me he expected me to get it back together before he was back next.

He went and found some writing paper and stamps and gave me his address. “Tell me how you’re doing with the clock and write me if you get stuck or need any help.”

“With the clock,” I asked?
“With anything,” he said.


Stephie as a child

Hi everyone it’s Alex here. I haven’t wanted to intervene while we are going through this process, but I wanted to briefly talk about what’s been happening while Stephie has been leaping onto the page. There have been some writing exercises about different aspects of character development which I haven’t included if they haven’t been explicitly about Stephie as they often point the way towards development for her which I don’t want to reveal yet. I may well publish them after this process gets to its end.

However one exercise from this week crossed a line a bit in that it was an interesting piece of character development but it was also specifically about Stephie. The task was to describe “The physical body of Stephie as a child”. And unlike previous tasks Karen has set us, she informed us that we must do this from the third person perspective so I had to leave Stephie’s persona and talk about her in the third person for the first time. It was an exceedingly odd and useful experience for me but I felt I better explain what was going on in terms of the change of perspective and age. So here goes, the first thing about her with my byline.

The Physical body of Stephie as a child

Scraggy brown hair with a hint of red, never quite neat enough. Always seemed to be wearing two jumpers because she was too cold. Skinny thing, all straight up and down. Tall but not tall enough to be a bean pole. She was tall before the others caught up and then they called her “has bean”. She has a chicken pox scar in her right eyebrow at the nose end which no-one can ever see unless she particularly calls it out. She, however, notices it each morning in the mirror.

She has blue/grey eyes and a rather pleasingly perfect nose. She’s pretty but she doesn’t particularly know it. She’s got a bit of a wirey sense about her in that she’s strong and determined, but not muscley.

She would quite often go around with bruises after knocking into things. Not quite clumsy as commonly reported, she has balance and wouldn’t drop anything but she might not notice exactly where the door frame was as she was in her own little world wondering along.

Toes susceptible to chilblains and her poor circulation and pale tone of skin meant she often looked more blue than she probably should have.

In her youth people would ask her “are you well”, but from about 10 onward she seemed to overcome this and started to look more radiant and was suddenly described as pretty and beautiful. Something she didn’t really understand or appreciate.

She spent her youth always smiling or scowling – never neutral.

Stephie journal – Day 14

It’s a time of furious action at the magazine as we prepare to go to the presses. Despite all the swirling nonsense of life, or maybe because of it, it’s somewhat pleasant to be forced to concentrate on something – and work may as well be it.

Decisions must be made, text reviewed and rejected. I’ve had to be a bit unpopular this issue as I’m in the gloriously lucky position of rejecting stuff that’s excellent because we have so much good material. It’s especially tough on the rejectees though. I encourage them back for the next issue when I’m bound to be about a quarter short.

It always seems to go that way feast or famine. Occasionally I wonder if it’s my fault, do I subconsciously lower the bar sometimes just to make my life easier – but I know the truth. I do move the bar sometimes just to fill an issue but I always do it consciously and always immediately regret it. Those poor pieces haunt me still and I know which issues they lie within.

No such fear today this issue is a succulent peach even the advertising, which thankfully doesn’t contain anything as dull as Gosports fixings, is bright and interesting.

Hard good work, quite satisfying.


Stephie journal – Day 13

So you might have noticed that I didn’t talk about the lunch I had with Alison.

I also noticed, not pleased with what’s happened there, and clearly I’ve not been willing to talk about it. She’s very confused with what’s happening to her, and she’s now convinced herself that she’s unsure about Anthony. She’s not convinced about Roger either, as it happens, but Roger has opened her eyes about some of Anthony’s shortcomings.

I don’t know what to do. I’m supposed to be jumping into a waiting Cessna with bunting flowing out of the back declaring that her decision to question her relationship with Anthony is the greatest thing since the ability to slice bread was selected in preference to gnawing on lumps of loaf.

I was so sure that he was a bad influence, but now I wonder if I was acting in her best interest or mine? Simon-from-the-office would know but I’m not prepared to bring it up.

I want her to be happy, that’s clear in my mind. Surely one of the key principles of being happy is the element of self determination, and my meddling is messing with that. Sometimes there are special circs though, and I decided that this was one. We’re not talking rational decision making, we’re asking if, at 26, it’s a bit early to be settling.

I went to work, sulked and mithered.


Stephie journal – Day 12

They say that Sunday is a day of rest, and it was for me. After weeks of not being satisfied with merely burning the candle at both ends, but rather popping the whole thing in the oven to get it good and melted as fast as possible it all came back to roost (the birds that is, not the candle).

I slept until mid-day. Had breakfast in bed instead of lunch. Read my book on the chaise in the afternoon and only dressed for dinner. Claude had made me soup with croutons for dinner, which I ate and then I went almost immediately back to bed. Perfect.


Stephie journal – Day 11

I wake on Saturday morning and surprisingly my first thought is towards work. It’s really started to hit me that Barbara has left now. There’s a new girl in her place, Joanna, but it isn’t the same. Barbara was my rock, and this new one isn’t even a pebble. I’m sure over time she may make her way up the geological scale a tad, but she’ll never out Barbara Barbara.

Barbara was my assistant when I joined so I suppose I learned as much from her as she did from me. I’m sure that would have happened with anyone who was in the post, but we gelled as friends and soon enough we had a little gang at the centre of things who could get everything done. Shame to see it break up, but such is life I suppose, she had the most incredible offer and I couldn’t stand in her way.

I hate being reasonable sometimes.


Stephie journal – Day 10

Beautiful day today. Could it be that Spring got drunk, had a quick kip in Norway, or wherever, and has finally stumbled into late May looking for coffee and a fry up and wondering why nobody else is in the kitchen?

Simon-from-the-office was annoyingly cheerful this morning. I swear the man looked fit to burst forth whistling. Luckily for his personal safety he kept himself away from the tuneless blowing I hate so much.

“So Stephanie,” he said. I’m Stephie to everyone except Simon-from-the-office and angry Aunts.
“Yes,” I replied. For my side I try very hard not to utter his name to him. He’s Simon-from-the-office in my mind and it’s how I refer to him to all, even in his earshot. But I figure it’s probably a bit off to call him it to his face.
“You seem,” he continued unaware that he was interrupting my inner monologue, “to have got yourself into a bit of a pickle with Alison.”
“Well blasted Roger has duffed up the whole arrangement. What he was thinking is beyond me.”
“Not sure quite what the current posish is,” I said.
“No, hadn’t we better arrange a meeting with Alison? Might not she be best placed?”
“Yes yes. I lunch with her tomorrow, I’ve got to meet with the Gosports this afternoon and I’m going to need all my strength. You know they fell asleep at dinner?”
“You did mention.”
“Well I hope it’s all worth it in the end,” I said.
“I think if you can find a way to mention that your readers are obsessed with cabinet fixings I’m sure that will make things easier.”
“Won’t he see me terribly transparent?”
“I doubt it. He’ll merely imagine the entire circulation rapt in attention to his droning which, I imagine, will loosen the purse strings.”
“I’ll give it a belt, you know I will.”
“Excellent, and I’ll arrange the luncheon.”


Stephie journal – Day 9

Now not sure what I’ve done letting Roger loose on Alison. At least he seems to be enjoying himself. Shame about everyone else.

I’ve had ancient relatives rising up kraken like to ask what’s occurring with my acquaintance Alison and wondering I might consider knocking some sense into her.

Truth is I don’t even know what Roger has done which alerted the relics to his presence. I thought he was going to subtly persuade Alison that there is more to life than Anthony, not barge in being a danger to shipping.

With all that personal chaos going on it was handy that at work the new girl, Joanna, has arrived. Hope she cuts it.


Stephie journal – Day 8

I woke on the Wednesday and got ready to go in early. I have a routine, such as it is, and I always stick to it – except when I don’t. What I mean is that the actively getting ready portion takes about the exact same time every day. I do sometimes shift things around by either determining to go in early, or late, or just by finishing my book before heading in. I feel like I can justify this as having a widely read editor is crucial for, said editor, to be proficient in cancelling your best work.

Now I don’t mind moving my start time around if need be, but I do not take kindly to having my start time moved for me. This morning the cab was delayed when a man, quite crazed, was running in the middle of the road. The cars and cabs had to stop just to avoid running him down (although my driver was keener to run him down and be done with it – I was a steadying hand).

When I eventually arrived at the office my meeting had started without me. I spent the whole day being physically 5 minutes late to everything but feeling about 10 minutes late. Not helpful at all.

The day had gone so badly I decided to leave early. As my grandfather said, “you should never be late twice in the same day”.


What’s in my fridge

The magazine was short of a feature this week so they asked me to contribute with my answers to the following questions: What’s in my fridge, What’s in my freezer, What’s my favourite meal, and what’s a food I hate.

What’s in my fridge?

Gave Claude a bit of a shock today when I suggested I wanted to see what was going on in the fridge. He started to feel upset that I was suggesting he couldn’t anticipate my every need, but he started to calm down when he realised that it was for your benefit not his. So here it is: 3 bottles dom perignon, 1 jar caviar, salted and unsalted butter ready to be put out. Salmon (smoked), ham ready to be carved, leftover beef from Sunday, some salad leaves and some radishes. Milk, for guests, can’t abide it myself and a selection of cheeses from Fortenhams which need eating by the smell. A half dozen eggs sit on the top shelf next to some home made raspberry jam from when I got carried away last year.

Not sure we have a freezer.

My favourite meal

My favourite meal is actually scrambled eggs on toast. I get to go out to so many lavish wonderful meals, each lovely in its way, but I don’t want to eat much and it makes me feel guilty to waste it. Much nicer to come home of an evening and have something simple. Scrambled egg on toast fits, bit of pepper. Maybe, just maybe, some cress.

A food I hate

Never have been a particular fan of bacon. Not sure why, just never have been. Actually that’s a lie, I know exactly why. Once when I was a girl I was called with an aunt to the vets as one of her dogs needed an operation. They needed to cauterise the wound and the smell of that burning dog reminded me of bacon. I can eat it, can eat anything if decorum finds it necessary but I’m not a fan.