12 APRIL 1997, Page 9


NICHOLAS COLERIDGE CLet me ask you all something round this table: what are you personally doing to help win this election for the Conservatives?' This rather emotive question was put to a group of us at lunch. The fact was, nobody was doing anything much. My canvassing has so far been confined to asking my office driv- er whether we can rely on his vote on 1 May. ('Only if they bring back Lady Thatcher,' was his reply.) As far as Vogue House is con- cerned, it isn't any of my business how my colleagues intend to vote, though I'd guess that the staff of Vogue and GQ will come out pretty solidly for Labour, House & Garden and Tatler will go Tory, while the World of Interiors is preoccupied with loftier things and probably hasn't registered. I couldn't say Which way the Brides vote will swing, except that it's strongly in favour of marriage and family values. Our forthcoming magazine Conde Nast Traveller is less of a factor, since most of the editorial team will be out of the country on polling day, reviewing safaris and Caribbean hotels. It occurred to me that, With the April payroll, I could instruct our accounts department to deduct 60 per cent tax at source, to remind everyone what a socialist regime would mean in practice. But there's no need to panic yet. One measure of electoral prejudice that hasn't been properly considered is the Prime Ministerial Fancia- bilfty Factor. At dinner last week, I ques- tioned eight intelligent women — not all Conservative diehards — on which of the party leaders they'd rather sleep with. Seven Chose Major, only one chose Blair. There were no votes at all for Ashdown, though there was some hankering (or hanky-panker- nig) after Sir James Goldsmith. There was a strong conviction that, between the sheets, Tony Blair might fail to sustain the hydraulics for the required time, whereas John Major could be depended upon for a good, old-fashioned, non-deviant tumble. Until MORI start including questions of this sophistication in their opinion polls, we should treat their pronouncements with scepticism.

For five or six years I've had almost no sense of smell. I've no idea why it suddenly Went, though it is probably sinus-related. Apart from the fact that I can't really taste food, it is no real disadvantage, and I've never bothered to do anything about it. Inell has never struck me as nearly such an unportant sense as sight, touch or hearing. Last week, however, my sense of smell returned with a vengeance, in an entirely uriexpected way. We had been invited to dinner at the home of a travel writer and, 90 arrival, were hit by the most evil stench ,Irnaginable, somewhat like raw sewage. It ?lasted like mustard gas through my blocked tubes, making me retch. For the first time this decade, I could smell properly. It transpired that our hosts were giving us durian pudding: large, green, thorny fruit from South-East Asia, which smells so strong that in Bangkok it is illegal to eat them in public places. Durian have recently become available in London, notably at a Thai super- market called Tawana in Chepstow Road, and are becoming a bit of a cult among the well-travelled. Much of their appeal lies in their rarity and in the difficulty of transport- ing them home and storing them: bus con- ductors have thrown people off between stops for having durian in their shopping. Our hosts had kept the fruit outside on the windowsill until the last possible moment, but it still stank out the flat in seconds. All round the table, guests were turning green and covering their faces with napkins. Those who were actually brave enough to try the durian pronounced it delicious, confirming Anthony Burgess's assessment that 'it is like eating custard in a public lavatory'. The trav- el expert, who acquired a taste for it while living in Bangkok, claims that South-East Asian men give ripe durian to their sweet- hearts as tokens of love. In Westbourne Grove, they cost £16.77 each: an eccentric and expensive price for a piece of fruit, though a lot cheaper than having surgery on your nasal passage.

When I drew up outside the Ivy on Wednesday evening, the handle of my car was seized by the liveried doorman, who opened it with the words, 'Nice to see you again, Sir Nicholas.' Much of dinner was spent laughing and speculating on why he imagined I had been knighted, considering we couldn't think of a single sufficiently time-serving thing that I've done in my life to merit the honour. We concluded that he must have temporarily confused me with Sir Nicholas Lloyd, who was also eating in the restaurant that night. On the way out, how- ever, the doorman was again at his post. 'Do hope you enjoyed your dinner, Sir Nicholas.' Perhaps I am to be included in John Major's retirement honours list, for my sly spin-doc- toring in the first item of this Spectator Diary. There again, perhaps it is a new strategy by the Ivy to butter up their customers.

This week I finally achieved an ambition of 25 years: I have had built a walk-in drinks cupboard. Although not much bigger than a stall in a cloakroom, it has a proper door, beautifully designed wooden wine racks from floor to ceiling, a little fridge, glass shelves for tumblers and wine glasses, an ice-making machine, a chopping-board for lemons and several other crucial refinements. I can remember the exact moment that I first craved a room like this. I was 16 and had been invited to lunch at Testboume, the Hampshire house of my then hero, Sir Joce- lyn Stevens. His daughter led me into a cup- board, similar to but larger than my own, where I was asked to make a jug of bloody Mary. There was an immense display of Britvic tomato juice bottles, ranged along a shelf like a coconut-shy, plus dozens of reserve bottles of Smirnoff, Worcester sauce etc. It struck me as the absolute epitome of sophistication and tycoonery to have a room reserved for drinks that you could escape into and close the door. Having installed my own version, however, I realised that we didn't have nearly enough booze to fill it. Most of the shelves stood empty like a Rus- sian shop. My wife is virtually teetotal, apart from cider, and I drink much less myself than I did. Nevertheless, the fantasy required full shelves. I spent a morning at Oddbins, pur- chasing enough booze with attractive labels and miniature bottles of tomato juice to last our lifetime.

After ten solid months of occupation, the builders have finally left our new house. Their bills, I need hardly say, bear little resemblance to the estimates we approved so painstakingly all that time ago. Why is it that builders, and nobody else, can charge so much extra, having agreed a price? If authors operated as they do, we would hand in our manuscripts with an invoice for additional work: 'No way could I have pre- dicted, guv'nor, what a job it would be, not when I submitted that synopsis.' And later: 'You want footnotes? That alters the whole spec.' And finally, to your editor: 'If you need me to tackle that snag list, miss, that'll be a whole separate estimate.'

The author is managing director of the Conde Nast magazines.