I hear a cold snap is coming. So the first thing that springs to mind when contemplating shiver inducing weather is soup. Warming; an injection of vegetables and a hit of nostalgia. Not that soup featured heavily in my childhood. More that it was the first thing I ‘cooked’ in Home Ec lessons. A classic winter vegetable soup. The smell of swede, onions, celery and carrot sweating away takes me back to 1991 in a snap.
Anyway, you don’t want to hear about my homely memories of wearing a kilt and stirring root vegetables! Not when I haven’t told you yet about my work experience at Vogue. Want to know more? I have dirt to dish.
So, I was not the most likely candidate for work experience at Vogue. I better tell you how it came about; I entered a Vogue Young Writers competition in the Autumn of 1999 when I was a fresher at Liverpool university and got down to the final ten. Now I only entered the comp as the article about it was the sole thing I found even vaguely interesting in the first and only copy of Vogue I have ever bought. This bit of information is important. Me and fashion, well, I like my clothes, but Vogue is not my spiritual home.
We were all invited to Vogue House for lunch with the Editor (Alexandra Shulman), Nick Hornby (or High Fidelity and About a Boy fame) and journo Miranda Sawyer. So off I trotted. I remember what I wore with great, painful detail. Mainly because it was so wrong on so many levels. I wore what a slightly overweight teenager thought people in London who luncheon at Vogue House might wear. A pair of beige pedal pushers, a beige lacy vest top with a strapless bra straining to hold my rather large bosom in, a beige pashmina and a pair of very high, perviously unworn, blister inducing heels. Oh and a crappy plastic handbag moonlighting as leather, but failing miserably.
I got ready the night before my big Vogue lunch at my parents house. I’d travelled down from Liverpool to my hometown of Leicester and in the calm of my monochrome childhood bedroom decided that London women would be tanned. So I applied some 5 year old free-with-a-magazine tanning lotion to my legs. But it didn’t look dark enough so I added some more. And some more. I didn’t wash my hands either. You know what’s coming next. Yes, I caught the train to London early the next morning with streaky orange legs and grubby orange palms. I looked like a mistake. I felt like a mistake. I was nervous and out of my depth.
All the other runners up with waiting in reception at Vogue House. They were all slim and nervous looking. One was a Doctor I seem to recall. I remember wondering why anyone with such an amazing, important job might want to write for Vogue. The prize for the winner was in those days, I seem to recall, a months paid internship. What if she won? She must be plagued with worry at having to give up saving lives for writing about sequins for a month. I myself was plagued with worry and all I was going to miss out on was the Pilgrim’s Progress. (For those who are not familiar with the text, may I recommend you give it a miss. After extensive studying, in my humble opinion, there are other, more fruitful ways to spend your time).
We were led upstairs. The office was a mess. Lots of tired looking skinny women turned to look at us as we made our way into the boardroom. The door closed, we took our seats and if memory serves me correctly lots of very attractive waiters served starters. I am ashamed to say I have no recollection of what food was served other than noting that everyone else picked at their food and I didn’t. I think a tomato salad may have been involved. I can’t be sure.There was definitely champagne.
The Editor explained we would all have a chance to sit and talk to each of the judges (her, Miranda and Nick). I’ll be honest that I didn’t give a damn what she thought or Miranda for that matter which in hindsight is shockingly arrogant. I did care what Nick Horby thought as he was a proper author who wrote fiction and I respected that very much as most English Lit students do.
First up I was sat next to Miranda. She talked a lot about writing and reviews and was really lovely but I felt, given my lack of experience that there was nothing I could say that would add to the conversation. So I asked a lot of questions and looked keen. (This is a trick that stood me in good stead in my advertising years when clients started to talk about ‘return on investment’ and ‘cut through’ and other sleep inducing things. But being enthusiastic and asking the intelligent questions is very calming and attractive in a world where many clients fear for their jobs).
Next I sat next to Nick Hornby. He was wonderful! We talked about both being near obsessed with reading. Reading anything – the back of sauce bottles, graffiti, takeaway menus, high literature, low literature, newspapers (not Vogue amusingly); just to get our hit. Our little reading injection of joy. He told me he never leaves the house without a book, so that any spare time is useful. I think this is great advice for life. Nick was a pleasure to chat with.
As for Alexandra. I don’t remember talking to her. That’s not meant to sound insulting. I am the wrong side of 35 now and I have forgotten some events in my life. Time has softened memories and weeded out the unnecessary stuff. I do recall feeling absolutely hideous for the whole day. Fat and unfashionable and just plain wrong. I was in the wrong place with streaky legs and blistered feet. It wasn’t their fault mind. I had arrived way too early. Years early, rather than hours.
I didn’t win, so I didn’t get to spend a year hating myself and being paid for the privilege. I did get offered two weeks unpaid work experience in the Vogue offices though. It took me over 6 months to follow it up. More on that (and why I lasted just 2 days) next time. There’s a pea soup recipe below which I wish I’d eaten more of in anticipation of visiting Vogue House, rather than gargantuan portions of macaroni cheese in the halls cafeteria. Still. You live and learn.
Lots of great recipes like this in my books, Recipes from a Normal Mum, (available on Amazon, at The Works, Waterstones, WHSmith, The Book Depository and many smaller outlets) and The Power of Frozen (available second hand through Amazon).
One year ago: Weaning flapjack and White chocolate mousse eggs and Easter chocolate nests with biscuit chicks and Lamb, pea and mint pie with rough puff pastry and Homemade Snickers and Spinach, ricotta and sweet potato lasagne and Mother’s Day afternoon tea and Chocolate chip cookies and Lemon and raspberry trifle
Pea & ham soup
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 20g butter
- 65g frozen diced onion
- 500g frozen petit pois
- 1 litre hot vegetable stock (homemade or using a veg stock cube)
- 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 110g cooked ham, chopped/shredded
Heat the oil and butter in a saucepan over a medium heat. Add the onions and sweat for 5 minutes. Add the peas and stock and simmer for 15 minutes until the peas and tender and cooked through. Add the pepper and blend with a stick blender until smooth. Add the ham, stir through and serve.
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