21 NOVEMBER 1992, Page 71


Dear Mary. .

Q. I wonder if you can solve a predicament which occurred during a recent interlude abroad? A lady hotel guest asked if I was on holiday. I replied that I was, but that it was a business trip for my boyfriend who was with me. As his and my combined ages reach over a century, he found this embar- rassing and said I could have used a differ- ent way to describe him. Neither of us could think of anything suitable. Lover might have implied I frequently went abroad with sundry men; partner could have referred to a business relationship, and our sharing a room might have indicat- ed the business was doing badly; and hus- band was out of the question because we talked to each other throughout dinner. Can you give him a suitable title? I would be grateful.

E B., London A. I recently looked into this subject in some depth, examining all the descriptive Possibilities for 'boyfriends'. I concluded that almost all the options were unaccept- able, particularly the word 'partner'. One can joke to friends that one is now 'roman- tically linked, as they say in the tabloids', but in the scenario you mention you might have described your elderly boyfriend to the lady hotel guest as 'my unofficial fiancé'. A conspiratorial wink enacted as you said these words would have ensured that she did not ask him any embarrassing questions about wedding dates.

Q. May I pass on a solution to you readers? I was recently pressed to make a decision about a certain social invitation by a certain time of day and agreed that I would do so, but when that time came round I was not ready to give my answer. Basically I was bet-hedging and trying to decide which of two invitations I had for the night in ques- tion would be the better one. Meanwhile the call was about to come through and I knew I had to say yes or no. So what did I do? Speaking in a high-pitched and unnatu- ral voice, I recorded the following message into my answerphone: 'Sorry. All lines to the Carmarthen exchange are temporarily out of service. Please try later.' With the aid of a tape-recorder, I was able to make this message come continuously out of the out- going message tape. It worked a treat. Nei- ther hostess suspected a thing and I was able to make the (correct) decision at leisure.

Anon A. Thank you very much for taking the trouble to pass this tip on to other Spectator readers.

Mary Killen

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