Magazine article The Spectator

The Importance of Bunbury

Magazine article The Spectator

The Importance of Bunbury

Article excerpt

The other night I was imbibing over at a friend's house when her telephone rang. After a brief conversation she returned with a frown, disturbing the usually battersmooth cake-like cast of her features. The call had come from so and so -- so and so being that lady's present crise de coeur and plenty of crises there were, too.

`Do you know what he just said?' she asked me. `He said he can't have dinner with me tomorrow because he has to talk to his mother about the war!' I was sure she had misheard. Surely he meant the car? That he had to talk to his mother about her car? Or perhaps he said the Bar? Yes that must have been it. His mother was thinking of going to law school.

It turned out, though, that so and so had definitely, absolutely, said the war. His mother was terribly upset about the death of some of the Kosovan refugees and he felt obliged to offer comfort and explain Nato's stance to her in greater detail. His mother was half-Albanian, you see, and was taking the whole thing rather badly.

Hmm. The more we thought about this the more we decided that this really was an excellent piece of Bunburying. Quite classic, in fact. Its possible veracity was beside the question. The point about Bunburying or neo-Bunburying is that it needn't even be untrue. It merely has to sound final, irrefutable and pseudo-humanitarian -- in other words, politically perfect.

For instance, a good contemporary Bunburyism - for a man -- might be: 'I have to go to my partner's ante-natal class.' Though of course this may be even better for a lesbian: 'I have to go to my partner's - well, have you got anything against gay marriage? - ante-natal class.' There is nothing you can say to that without breaking every contemporary social convention and risking having to shell out thousands in compensation. Tory bitch ruined my baby's and my mental health by preventing me from doing birthing exercises with partner.

But this war one was really very good indeed. After that night I heard it several times, in its different variations. The first: a dinner party given by an elderly couple in west London. Over coffee, the husband addressed the wife thus: `Darling, I'm sure you wouldn't mind leaving us men behind in the dining-room for 15 minutes so we can talk about the war? …

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