I fear my long downhill march to senility has started with a non-existent pair of brogues

Months of isolation have reduced my brains to mush. 

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I wonder whether this is not only driving us all mad, but also making us stupider. A friend filled her car with petrol instead of diesel and ended up broken down, and she’d forgotten to take her phone with her. She’s not normally the kind of person who’d do this. If I still had a car, this would be exactly the kind of thing I’d be doing. 

The other day, or rather the other night, I saw a “sponsored” advert on a certain social medium, which told me that Loake Shoemakers was having a factory clearance sale, and that I could pick up a pair of black Oxfords for £26 plus £8 shipping. That is a good deal, I thought, considering they usually cost around £100 more than that, and, without thinking much more about it, clicked through and paid up. It seemed legit: people aren’t wearing out their shoes so much, and I imagined a huge pile of high-quality footwear forming at the end of Loake’s production line, the managers tearing out their hair and saying, “How can we get rid of these shoes?”

The advert reappeared the next day, and this time I noticed the angry face emojis and looked at some of the comments. One of them remarked that at one point the offer had not even spelled the name of the brand correctly; and others made me realise that I had fallen victim to a scam. There are a couple of issues arising here, the first being whether Mr Zuckerberg thinks it is acceptable business practice to allow fraudsters to advertise on his company’s pages; well, clearly he does, and I somehow doubt that anyone is going to be receiving any reparation, least of all from Mr Zuckerberg himself, even though, Lord knows, he’s not short of a few bob.

But the second issue is: what happened to my too-good-to-be-true filter? The last time I got scammed I was on the street, about eight years ago, and since then I have been as cynical at every seemingly good offer as a hard-bitten cop in the roughest part of town.

“Are you seriously telling me this Wolf Blass Cabernet Sauvignon is really down from £8.50 to £7?” I snarl at the trembling check-out guy in the Co-op. “You must think I came down in the last shower.” “Three for two on cooked prawns? Pull the other one, that one’s got bells on it.” And so on. But months of isolation have reduced my brains to mush and here I am, throwing away £26 plus £8 shipping on a deal so ludicrous that a child could have seen through it.

But maybe it wasn’t ludicrous. We can be easily fooled by things we want to believe: you know, like there won’t be a second wave, or that a no-deal Brexit will cause only the mildest ruffle in the economic weather system. I am impressed that whoever was behind this scam seemed to know my mind to some degree, for although I do not go around googling “Loake’s implausible bargains” – in fact have never done so – they seem to know that I have a certain affection for the brand, which is clever of them, because I haven’t mentioned it for ages.

The other promotions that pop up on my screen are a bit more hit and miss. I’m getting plenty, these days, for whisky, and you don’t have to be the smartest algorithm in the box to work out that I like a drop; but these are for fancy whiskies, distilled from the tears of mermaids who live on a Hebridean island that only rises above the water once every 100 years, and so are a little out of my price range. The other adverts I see are for fishing lures, and where they’re getting that from I have no idea, as I have not tried fishing for anything other than compliments since the beginning of the second Wilson administration.

But otherwise I have been sensible about my late-night purchases. Drunk-buying a non-existent pair of shoes is an aberration. I recently went crackers and bought a police notebook from Ryman for £2.99 plus postage, and a book about motherhood by the excellent writer Antonella Gambotto-Burke because we’ve become friends (it’s actually very good, but what practical good it will do me I am not, in the cold, sober light of day, very sure). The gimp suit I ordered one particularly debauched night didn’t fit, and the company concerned were very understanding and refunded me in full. (I didn’t really order a gimp suit.)

But I fear I am growing stupider and stupider, and that this business with the shoes marks the point in my life when it is all rapidly down from here. Years of drinking and months of looking morosely for new cat videos on the web are taking their toll. At what point do you stop realising you’re losing your mind? I have an Iris Murdoch novel on the go but with each passing day I am terrified that I will suddenly find it incomprehensible. Send shoes. They’re all I understand these days. I'm a size eight. 

Nicholas Lezard is a literary critic for the Guardian and also writes for the Independent. He writes the Down and Out in London column for the New Statesman.

This article appears in the 26 June 2020 issue of the New Statesman, Political football

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