19 AUGUST 1995, Page 47


Dear Mary. . .

Q. We have a frequent visitor who stays for several weeks a year. Our problem is that he arrives equipped with a portable com- puter and printer, fax machine and modem, telephone and answering machine. He then connects them to our electricity supply to use them and to recharge the batteries. We really cannot afford to go on paying the bill for his business overheads. Please can you suggest a way of resolving this situation without offending our friend?

S. W., Dulverton, Somerset A. Next time your friend arrives for a visit, greet him with more than usual enthusiasm. Say you are feeling particularly perky as a local bookkeeper has come into your lives and quite revolutionised them. Say, 'It's just so wonderful now. None of our papers are in a muddle. Everything is clipped into neat little folders ready for the accountant, and every single penny we spend can be accounted for. It means we're going to save a fortune by being able to set legitimate expenses against tax which we were previ- ously too lazy to compute.' Trill on inno- cently, 'She's so efficient that she's even going to be able to compute roughly what you spend on phone and electricity while you're here. She's going to make out a bill for you on our headed paper, and she says you'll be able to send it to your accountant and set it against your own tax as a legiti- mate expense! Isn't it kind of her? She doesn't even know you, she just likes help- ing people!'

Q. Our next-door neighbour writes a week- ly diary for a national newspaper. This excellent column turns the spotlight on the daily lives of her family and neighbours. We live in fear: will the follies and foibles of our comfortable South London lives be exposed to a national audience? What secrets, transmitted through the paper-thin walls of our Victorian terrace, will be broadcast to the nation by our remorseless neighbour? Can you suggest any pre-emp- tive action?

L.M., London SW4 A. Why not bamboozle your neighbour by feeding her false information about your family and its activities so that any portray- al of you which eventually appears in print will be unrecognisable? You might even allow her to think that both you and your husband have become amateur actors and are rehearsing at home a lot. You will thereby undermine her confidence in reporting dialogue she has overheard through the paper-thin walls. Was it script- ed or genuine?' she will ask herself, before deciding it would probably be more authen- tic to write about one of her other neigh- bours.

Mary Killen

If you have a problem, write to Dear Mary, clo The Spectator, 56 Doughty Street, Lon- don WC1N 2LL.