Stephie journal – Day 16

You may remember, if you are a careful observer of this diary, me saying yesterday that this particular issue of the magazine was finished and that it was a particularly successful process as so much good material was able to be included. Well. At three o’clock in the morning I was woken by a telephone call. It was Simon-from-the-office telling me that something had gone wrong with the printing press company and that there was a danger that we wouldn’t meet our subscription deadline.

I dressed and hailed a rather startled cab unused to seeing a woman at that time of night – something he proceeded to remind me of for the entire journey.

When I arrived at the press they were starting to get moving again and print was being struck left and even to a certain extent right. There was, however, one rather fatal flaw in the proceedings from my point of view, it wasn’t my magazine that was being printed.

“Hoi, Hoi!” I shouted.
“Excuse me madam,” the foreman said, rather a lot of madams this week, I thought, but he wasn’t to know that was he? “What seems to be the problem?” he said.
“I want to know why my magazine isn’t being printed now?”
“Well,” he said, “earlier the press experienced a rather serious fault which stopped it from being able to print, and while it’s now operational your magazine has missed its slot.”
“No it hasn’t.”
“Yes,” he said looking at the timetable on his piece of paper, “it has.”
“The magazine hasn’t missed its slot, you have missed my magazine’s slot, we are the customer here not you.”
“Late magazines do not get priority madam, then every other magazine would be late.”
“I appreciate and understand that, I know the policy, that’s why we always submit on time. But your machinery failing does not constitute me being late.”
“Same principle I’m afraid madam, this way fewer magazines are late.”
I blessed him for using fewer rather than less as seems to be the emerging trend but I had to let him know my mind regardless.
“I’m sorry,” I said, “but my magazine is more important than this one to me and to this press. If you are unsure about that then I shall wait while you consult your manager.”
“My manager will be in at Nine o’clock, I suggest you wait at home.”
“You will be consulting him now,” I said.
“But madam it’s four o’clock in the morning.”
“If you don’t want to wake him then you might want to consult his manager.”
“He doesn’t have a manager, his manager is the proprietor and you don’t want to me to disturb her, she’s a real dragon.”
“Is she… Really?”
“I’d ask for a penny for your thoughts, but I think that penny may have just dropped.”
“Apologies madam, we’ll get this sorted for you immediately.”

After he’d scuttled off to fix things I noticed Simon-from-the-office who had been skulking in the corner observing the whole thing.
“Too harsh,” I asked?
“No,” he replied, “It’s good when you get cross, they know it’s serious when it’s you getting cross.”
“Time to go home?”
“You go home,” he said, “thank you for coming out, they weren’t listening to me, I’ll make sure they don’t forget your wishes.”
He looked at his watch, “it’s going to be tight as it is.”

I went home and back to bed, a glint in my eye. I liked the action of moments like this.


Stephie journal – Day 15

A chance for an actual lunch break today. When the magazine is going to press I make sure I don’t make lunch appointments that might need to be cancelled at the last minute. The magazine is actually done now, and so I have a chance for some time to myself. I’m due to buy an engagement present for Alison and, unsurprisingly perhaps, I find myself in Greystone’s the diamond merchants near the office.

I’m unsure what to buy and the merchant rather hit upon the problem when he asked me what she liked. I’m afraid to say that I went off into a small trance where I considered her opinions, imagined in my mind, about Anthony and Roger until the shopkeeper rather gently brought me back to the matter at hand.

“Would she like a broach perhaps?”
“No, no, she wouldn’t want a broach for an engagement present. I mean she may be indecisive but she isn’t gauche.”
“Well then Madam,” don’t think I didn’t notice the madam, “what do you think she would like?”
“Something tasteful but extravagant, something that shows, but not something that says I’ve lost all sense of taste and reason.”
“Quite the balancing act you are after.”
“Yes,” I said.
“Would she perhaps be interested in one of these collectable spoons?”
“She’s not a 7 year old boy”
“Well then madam, I am out of ideas.”
“Can you show me some of your diamond earrings? I believe you are famed for them?”
“Certainly madam.”

He came back with a selection on a tray. There was a particular pair that would have been absolutely perfect. I asked to look at them.

“An excellent choice madam,” he said. Of course the choice was excellent, in his eyes, they were the most expensive on the tray, but they were well priced.

I had spent the entire run up to this issue of the magazine being published wanting to reward myself by making this trip to buy something for Alison that she would love. I hadn’t really reassessed the trip in light of new developments. Forget the engagement being on the rocks, I’m not supposed to know about that as such, or rather she still would expect a present despite that. My concern as I looked at these rather beautiful earrings, which glinted and flashed colour as I rolled them on the felt, was that this present would amount to tacit approval of the pairing in the first place.

I might be confused about my place in the potential destruction of the relationship, but one thing I was pretty confident about was that I wasn’t keen on the pairing in the first place. At first I thought I was voicing this by buying a present only for her, but now I wondered, if buying anything at all was a mistake.

“Madam, would you like to purchase those at all?”
“No, thank you, I would not.”

I walked out, went to the cake shop. I may not have been able to enjoy that reward but I was’t going to go unrewarded. At the cake shop I purchased a jam doughnut and scoffed it on the way back while trying not to lick my lips. I had to lick my lips twice and then I had to reapply my lipstick before I made it back to the office. A good lunch break it seemed.



It’s fair to say that my mother dying when I was fourteen was a bit of a blow. Some people, I imagine, fear becoming their mother, but there’s no chance of that for me, we were so different, she was only 6 years older than I am now when she died, and I, for one, am very much hoping that the whole death thing is a bit less on the cards for me than it was for her. My fear isn’t becoming like my mother as a person, my fear is running out of time.

Time and my mother play a part in this week’s simple recipe of scrambled eggs. My mother was an excellent cook so it seems a shame that I never spent enough time in the kitchen with her, and that all she taught me from her enormous repertoire was scrambled eggs on toast and for some reason venison stew.

Mother used a wooden trident when she scrambled, and a large brass timer. I have the timer still but make do with a wooden spoon. I don’t use the timer either of late, as I have realised that Frankie Lymon and the teenager’s Why do fools fall in love at 2 minutes and 20 seconds is exactly the required length for scrambling so I put it on and scramble away until they stop warbling on.

So, get the toast in the toaster and the oil up to temperature in a pan with sides, crack the egg, drop it in from as high as you can, quick squish with the spoon, heat down, get the record on, another stir, get the butter ready for when the toast pops, butter the toast and when the music stops scoop the egg onto the toast.

Quite the simplest thing you can cook. Just don’t do as I did and find yourself warbling along to the record, using the spoon as a microphone and forget to stir. Claude burst in screaming as the smoke filled the hallway and quite ruined the potentially award winning performance.


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.”