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19 December 2013

If wine makes you clever, take me to the fount of all knowledge (aka Majestic)

I try to manage the finances so that I can remain as clever as possible over the Christmas period.

By Nicholas Lezard

I have been trying to work out lately whether I am clever or stupid. On the one hand, I have been brooding for some time now over Boris Johnson’s remarks to the effect that clever people are rich and stupid people are poor, by which reasoning it would follow that I am not very clever at all. I am, if you ignore such expenses as child support and so on, cleverer than most teachers and all nurses and far cleverer than many writers, whose average annual earnings are, I learned this week, £5,000; but I am not as clever as any doctor, most lawyers and certainly not nearly as clever as Boris Johnson, who, as I never tire of reminding people, considers the £250,000 he earns for his piss-poor column of atrociously written personal propaganda in the Telegraph to be “chicken feed”.

Then again, when Borisconi (as Suzanne Moore recently dubbed him; the name deserves to stick) was asked some relatively simple IQ-proving questions on a radio programme to show how clever he was, he got them wrong and I got them right; I have also been going through a very strange and disorienting phase in which I have been able to complete about three-quarters of the Guardian prize cryptic crossword every Saturday. I never finish it (I once did, some years ago, about a week after the deadline – it was an Araucaria, too – but no one believes me; I’m beginning to doubt I ever did; the only thing that makes me confident I did is the recollection of the feeling of despair and futility I experienced when I filled in the last clue) but I have been getting enough clues to feel as though the mind isn’t too far gone yet.

It’s not firing on all cylinders, though. The other day, I introduced the writer Robert Hanks to someone as “Tom”, a faux pas that gave me insomnia that evening and had me softly keening the word “Robert!” in the still watches of the night. It was almost as bad as the evening, many years ago but still horribly vivid in the memory, when I kept calling the powerful and classy literary agent Peter Straus “Richard”, which I suspect is one reason he has never gone enthusiastically into competition to have me on his books. The only encouragement I can draw from these dismal examples is that this is something I have always done and not something I have started doing.

However, I also learned last week, from an article on the New Statesman website, that a team of Finnish researchers had come up with the conclusion that if you drink lots, then you’re cleverer than someone who doesn’t drink at all. I give you the gist but isn’t it nice to know that the excellent joke in Andy Riley’s book Great Lies to Tell Small Kids – “Wine makes mummy clever” – isn’t a lie at all? This is very encouraging news and would tend to suggest that I am very clever, indeed. I am not, of course, as clever as the late George Best, or the late Jeffrey Bernard, or even the late Christopher Hitchens and the late Hunter S Thompson – but I’m up there. It would certainly explain why I got those IQ questions right and Borisconi didn’t, although I wouldn’t put it past him to have been merely applying some low political cunning and simply pretending to fluff the answers, in order to try to reclaim some of his reputation as the politician that blokes and blokettes (to use the kind of baby language B J would) can relate to. A doomed enterprise, perhaps, but not without some savvy, although I am glad to see how everyone is beginning to realise that without his humour, he is a rather repulsive little man, seemingly driven above all by nothing more than his insecurities.

But enough about him. The main thing to do is to try to manage the finances so that I can remain as clever as possible over the Christmas period. Majestic currently has on offer a brain juice going for £6.39 a bottle that is not only drinkable but pleasantly so. The problem here is the one I have become acutely familiar with over the years: I drink up all the stocks, the offer closes and I am obliged to try various kinds of mouthwash until I can find something within my price bracket again.

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What gives me heart this time around is the knowledge that it is in a higher cause: that of the intellect. For only by maintaining a high standard of cleverness can I keep churning out the stuff that keeps my children in shoes and buys them small but heartfelt Christmas presents year after year. I may also become clever enough to finish the Guardian prize crossword one day and – who knows? – finally become about a fifth as clever as Boris Johnson.