Authors: John Farndon
Think again …
Well, it’s been quite a ride, hasn’t it? We’ve been probing inside the mind of a snail, falling through the centre of the earth, voyaging on Noah’s ark, delving into the nuances of girl scouting, and strutting the stage with Shakespeare, and so many other places! I hope you’ve found it stimulating. I know I have. These questions really make you think, don’t they? I’m sure that no one will agree with my answers. If I look back at them I know I would myself answer things differently second time round. But I hope they will at least have got you thinking.
There is a genuine excitement in really thinking, in exercising one’s intellect, that too often gets forgotten after student days. We enjoy challenging ideas, playing games with them, and, if we are honest, showing off just how clever we are – briefly illuminating the dreariness of the world with our flashes of intellectual mastery …
Cleverness can be captivating, both for those who dole it out and those who witness it. Sometimes a dazzling display of erudition and wit can be as entertaining and uplifting as a great piece of music. And maybe some of you who read these questions will be spurred to such heights. Maybe you even imagine yourself confronting those probing Oxbridge admissions tutors and slaying them with the sheer brilliance of your answer.
But of course, if you’re not careful, you might just get up people’s noses. As Samuel Johnson said, ‘There is nothing that exasperates people more than a display of superior ability or brilliance in conversation. They seem pleased at the time, but their envy makes them curse the conversationalist in their heart.’
And with his normal scintillating accuracy, Oscar Wilde homed in on an even greater danger. In
A Woman of No Importance
, Lady Hunstanton neatly puts the brilliant Mrs Allonby in her place: ‘How clever you are, my dear. You never mean a single word you say!’
Maybe you came up with wonderful clever answers to some of these questions. Maybe you were provoked to come up with some important new ways of thinking on serious issues. Or maybe you were just provoked. Or simply befuddled. If so, there’s no better recipe than that of W.C. Fields, who asserted: ‘If you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bull.’