Stephanie Smith was born in Hammersmith, lived in Archway as a teenager – and then moved back as an adult. Her working life has spanned selling helium-filled balloons on Westminster Bridge, trading at Camden Market, teaching voice skills and singing in pubs. She set up the weekly Archway Market eight years ago, and last year applied for a council regeneration grant to create the ArchWay With Words literary festival, which starts its second outing this Saturday.
Where would you like to live?
I’m very happy in my council flat in Archway. It’s a huge privilege to be a Londoner with a secure tenancy; I feel lucky every time I unlock my door.
What’s been your best experience in the area?
Back in the early eighties Camden was a fantastic place to hang out, with live music everywhere. And you could get ‘vintage’ for next to nothing – crepe frock coats, lovely old cotton shirts, gorgeous brocade. I wish I’d bought a trunkload.
In my twenties I lived in a series of bedsits (they couldn’t be called studio flats). In one I had a particularly gruesome neighbour who would make zombie noises through the wall, scratch at my door and pretend to talk to people on the shared phone in the hallway.
What do you hate and why?
Sirens. They are an epic earsore, and especially troublesome because of course it’s really unkind to hate the critically ill. If I were in an ambulance I’m sure I’d scream “crank it up”! But they do seem excessively, unnecessarily loud to me. For a while I experimented with singing notes that vaguely harmonized, but it looked too weird, so now I just jam my fingers in my ears and cower.
What is your favourite sound?
I want to say laughter, but it’s funny how the laughter of a loved one is such a joyous thing, but the relentless guffaw of a pissed fool is so supremely irritating.
What simple thing would improve the quality of your life?
I’d like to be able to stop cringing and gnashing about this thing or that thing I did wrong or said wrong; regretting missed opportunities. Some of my older friends tell me you get to a point where you don’t give a damn anymore. That sounds appealing. It’d be nice to get there without the ageing part.
What is your favourite dish and why?
I love vegetables – a crunchy, colourful salad is a thing of beauty to me. Kentish Town Road store Phoenicia’s bounteous offerings draw me at least once a week. Unfortunately or course, one of the things that goes really well with salad is a lovely hot salty chip.
Where do you hang out?
I love the garden at the back of the Mosaic restaurant in Junction Road: ten paces from cars there’s a fountain and palm trees. I’m loving the new Gate Cafe on Archway Island, spacious and delicious with a great place to take a laptop, as is the Spoke. These days I’m more inclined to do visiting with friends than go to pubs, but I’m a regular theatre goer – Lion and Unicorn, The Park, Almeida. And spend a lot of time with my friends who run the London Bookbarge on Regent’s Canal: it really is possible to find beauty and peace away from traffic.
What is your greatest life achievement?
That some of my experiences make stories that my nieces find entertaining.
What is the most important lesson life has taught you?
You have to fear death enough to ensure you don’t squander life, but not so much that you waste energy in fear.
Describe yourself as an animal.
Stingrays glide along peacefully, but are venomous if provoked. I actively enjoy standing up to bullies of various kinds, sometimes to the point of being careless with my safety, as my barbs are only vocal.
What is your most unappealing habit?
Choosing to wade into trouble.
What do you most dislike about your appearance?
As if I would draw attention to my many flaws.
What is your guilty pleasure?
I watch X Factor. I do feel guilty though. But Andrea Faustini? What a find!
What did you do today?
Right now I’m working 24 hours a day, even dreaming about all my ArchWay With Words preparation tasks. Today I’ve been putting publicists in touch with Owl Bookshop to order copies for signing at the events, taking care of some venue technology logistics, contacting schools and universities, tweeting and sorting numerous author requests.
Tell us a secret.
When market traders get a customer who fires questions for thirty minutes and then pays 87p: we smile, but our teeth are grinding.