Stephen McGinty meets Lorna McKie, wife of the compiler of The

Herald's Wee Stinker crossword, and finds that she hasn't really got a

clue about what makes him tick

WHEN you talk to Lorna McKie about the life of the wife of a crossword

compiler you needn't fill in the blanks. It's all there: the

frustrations and fears, the love and laughs, printed out with all i's

dotted, t's neatly crossed.

Her husband John McKie is The Big Cheese behind The Wee Stinker and

the clues which leave The Herald crumpled in frustration. Ponder for a

minute if you will just what is the solution to GGAG -- two words, five

letters and eight?

The garden path on Glasgow's south side which leads up to where John

works to lead so many down is gravelly and ends at an imposing door from

behind which dogs bark in answer to the doorbell. Lorna McKie, a small

lady in checked skirt and red polo neck, ushers us into the hall where

John, a towering willowy figure, says hello.

He is a man of few words, his wife having pinched the rest. ''I don't

know why you're here,'' she starts before seldom stopping. ''I've

nothing of interest to say, the only reason I'm talking is both my boys

are journalists and I know how hard they try to get people to talk to

them, that's the only reason. Oh, don't turn that thing on, then I'll

not be able deny I said it. Oh, all right then. But only if you promise

to edit out any bad language.''

Her husband returns only once to the living room, which is packed with

books and bric-a-brac, then disappears to his study, the giant Christmas

crossword is due in a week with scarcely a one across or a two down

done. Lorna laughs and talks about loathing this time of year. She loves

it when it's done, it's waiting while he does it that's difficult.

''I'll tell you one thing that drives me crazy, he can't do it unless

he has a gun to his head. . . or he will not do it. If we are away in

Arran where there is nothing to do I'll tell him to do it. But he won't.

That's him just starting. . . it'll never be ready. I'm much calmer now

but I used to worry he was going to die as he never went to bed. I would

get up in the middle of the night and scream -- 'I'm going to be a widow

by the time I'm 40'.''

Each New Year Lorna receives a letter from a lady in Aberdeenshire who

describes how her Christmas was spent struggling over crossword clues,

her family life lying around her like tattered wrapping paper. Last year

Lorna wrote back and explained how lucky she was. Things could be worse.

''He will walk into the room and say; 'Miss Otis regrets' and stop and

we are all supposed to say, 'she is unable to lunch today'. Then he'll

come back and say 'are you sure it's lunch and not dine'. Of course the

minute somebody puts doubt in your mind you think, is it lunch or dine?

and for the next 48 hours all the family is talking about Miss Otis and

whether she is going to lunch or dine.''

John was born in the first year of the war and Lorna in the last. The

pair matched while he taught her Sunday School at Knightswood

Congregational Church. Both now teach at Hutchesons' Grammar where as a

boy his passion for crossword puzzles flared during dull classics

classes. Classes which he now teaches.

In comparison Lorna educates infants, a task that captures her

conversation more than crosswords ever can. ''When you take them at four

years old and six months later they can actually read. It never fails to

amaze me.'' And every year she writes and produces a stage play with the

parts tailored for each child.

The partnership of a brilliant eccentric uninterested in small talk

and a vivacious television addict puzzles most who are clueless to its

success. ''I knew he was off his head but that was part of the

attraction, anyone who reads Greek for pleasure on their honeymoom is

not your Mr Average.'' The couple now have five grown-up children and

have celebrated their silver wedding anniversary.

There is a see-saw element to the McKie's collective fame, fellow

teachers who snare Stinker t-shirts will wear them under shirts and

flash like Superman, while dinner party's can be a drag. ''Last Saturday

a guy suddenly leaned forward to John and said -- you're not the wee

stinker are you? I hate you!''

But what the public hate more than a tough clue is an error. A missing

line will receive more faxes, letters and phone calls than any

controversial column. A fortnight ago the Saturday prize crossword had a

missing clue; number 23 down had disappeared. When The Herald phoned the

house they were told. ''The stupid bugger missed it out, why don't you

fire him and give us all some peace!''

On other occasions Lorna is more supportive. ''The phone will ring and

they'll say we've no crossword for Saturday and that's when I say he's

just stepped out. Then I turn and ask what he's at. And he'll say, 1


But despite having loved the man with the corkscrew mind for over 25

years she remains unable to complete The Wee Stinker and its cluster of

enigmatic clues.

''I have a friend who is a pianist and John asked for her number -- so

I listened in, naturally, that's what wives do. I heard him ask what key

you would play Happy Birthday in. She said if it was for a child it

would be G. The clue in the wee stinker was GGAG and the answer was

Happy Birthday. Now there were idiots all over Glasgow who actually got