The Diary; Sometimes I'd prefer to be short-sighted

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The Independent Online
Most of my time last week was spent poking myself in the eye, since after 20 short-sighted years I have succumbed to contact lenses. My reason for avoiding them until now was that I didn't want to grow dependent on any visual aids. I have grown used to life in soft focus and can get around pretty well, but increasingly I've found it harder to recognise people across a crowded room. In general this can be no bad thing, but for a magazine editor it is not always helpful.

So far this clear sightedness is something of a mixed blessing since the main result of spending much of the day hunched over a sink, eyes streaming, is to be able to see how much older I look than I realised.

My first social occasion with good sight was this week's Spectator party. Some of the most important events in my life have been initiated at the Spectator party - one boyfriend, one husband, one job - so I thought it might be interesting to see what happened if I could see clearly.

I'm not sure it's necessarily helpful to be able to see the assembled company at any party. I've always thought that successful parties need to be held in more than one room so that you always have the possibility of discovery - there's nothing more dispiriting than seeing at a glance that there's no one you're interested in. For this reason myopia was also a good option. I was interested in a lot of people at the Spectator party but I did miss the element of surprise offered by a person drifting slowly into your field of vision rather than spotting them 30 feet across a very crowded garden. I don't think that party has changed my life this year but sometimes you don't realise these things until later. Or maybe it's a side effect of being able to see too clearly at the time.


THE TRAFFIC in the city over the past couple of weeks has been horrendous. I don't know what's happening but town seems to be at gridlock. "Summer - that's the problem," volunteered a cab driver the other day. I wasn't sure what summer per se had to do with traffic, but according to him lots of posers come into town just to drive around. As a result of spending so much time in traffic jams I've had a lot of long conversations with taxi and mini cab drivers recently.

One driver was an ex-prison officer who filled me in on the situation at Wormwood Scrubs. Unsurprisingly he thought that the accusations of unnecessary violence that had been lodged against the prison officers were ridiculous. "Unless you've been a prison officer, you can't understand. You can't work in prisons and not be allowed to use restraint. We used to all just pile in," he said with feeling. Another driver had just returned from his annual trip home to Kashmir. His view of the tinderbox relationship between India and Pakistan was that it was all our fault: "Every country the British leave, they leave a problem."

Quite often the day's most interesting information comes from unexpected sources. It's well known at Vogue House that the people who know the most about what's going on are the two Peters who man the reception desk downstairs. The news of any key employee's departure is always relayed up from them hours before you hear it from an official source.

The other day I had lunch with a big retailer in London who had just received rather gloomy stock market figures. They were informed of this by the normally silent company doorman. "Bad day for us isn't it?" was his early morning greeting. "But don't you worry, they're not saying it's our fault, they're blaming it on the Far East."


NOBODY LOVES London more than I do, and few people are as dubious about the countryside as I am, so it has come as a surprise to my friends that I am contemplating renting a place in Wiltshire. I am in the odd position of defending myself against all the arguments I would normally be the first to pitch.

Last weekend I visited some friends who live in an idyllic small house at the foot of a castle ruin. They are leaving the country until April and want someone to take over their let. On a blazing Saturday afternoon in June, glass of Pimms in hand, nothing could have seemed more appealing. Despite my reservations about rural living it seemed a tempting idea as I envisaged my four-year-old son bonding with nature (at present he has a fit if he sees a fly) while I serenely baked bread.

Immediately I got on the phone to canvass opinion. "How often would you go?", "You won't want to drive all that way", "Why do you want to be in the country in the winter?", "What will you do in the country?", "Think what else you could spend the money on", "Are you mad?" were the first comments from almost everybody I asked, including some people who themselves travel to a country home every weekend.

Then came the financial implications. I was told I'd need a cleaner; I'd spend a fortune on food and wine; I'd need to buy a freezer, I'd need to work out the petrol costs, and what about the wear-and-tear on the car? "The rent's only the beginning," predicted one Cassandra. "Take that and double it."

This concerted opposition has only made me determined to go ahead. Apart from anything else, I reckon it's worth any price to have a bolt hole for the night of 31 December 1999.

Alexandra Shulman is editor of `Vogue'.