Mary Killen

Your Problems Solved | 15 March 2003

Etiquette advice from The Spectator's Miss Manners

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Dear Mary...

At a recent literary prize-giving, after three short and elegant speeches covering the shortlist and the award, the winner - for the first time in his life, it seemed - had the microphone. And did he not enjoy it! The assembled company of around 150 guests looked at one another in horror as the speech went on and on and on; those near the door began to slip away, the chairman hovered - looking as though he might grab the microphone - but no, we had to wait a full 20 minutes before the torture ended. It is not the first time I have experienced an overlong speech that totally stripped a party of its lively atmosphere and momentum. Had you been there, Mary, could we have counted on you to come up with a way of stifling the man's excesses?

Name withheld, London W1

In the past I have dealt with this problem in the following manner. By quiet (and impromptu) arrangement, one guest telephones another's mobile and allows it to ring in 'ascending volume' mode. Once the entire company, including the speaker, has been distracted, Bateman-cartoon-style, by the racket, the second guest answers the telephone, then gesticulates wildly at the speaker while pointing at this mobile. He appears to be mouthing, 'It's for you!' Disconcerted, the speaker will be bound to hesitate, at which point any chairman with a titter of wit will grab the opportunity to seize the microphone and round off the proceedings. The mobile- owner will then wade towards the speaker, still waving his mobile. 'I don't understand. Did you say that call was for me?' the speaker will ask. 'Oh no,' the volunteer can reply pleasantly. 'I was mouthing,