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I OFTEN find that when there's a lull in a topical conversation I cannot think of anything to say that will make me seem either intelligent or well-informed in front of my fellow men and women.

So I have asked my research team (in fact, a gaggle of unemployed arts graduates) to come up with a list of intelligent-sounding questions based on the week's news, which we can all drop lightly into the conversational pool when necessary.

Here are 20 of them:

1. If Lord Archer leaves the Conservative Party, will he ask for all the money he has collected on their behalf to be paid back to him?

2. How on earth can the British Government expect the French ban on beef to be lifted if they can't justify lifting a ban on beef-on-the-bone in their own country?

3. Why is it that all the candidates for the position of mayor of London have to be provided by the three main political parties?

4. Wouldn't it be better to get someone who can really run things properly?

5. And not a politician?

6. When does a homosexual stop being a homosexual? When does a heterosexual sail into non-sexual waters? To put it another way, when Philip Hensher recently wrote a piece in The Independent attacking Quentin Crisp fiercely for not pulling his weight in the gay community (with exquisitely bad timing, as Quentin Crisp died two days later), in what sense was Quentin Crisp at the age of 90 still a homosexual? He had abandoned all sex life many years before, and lived a life that in very few ways could be called "gay". What was homosexual about him any more?

7. Similarly, George Melly told an interviewer not very long ago that he seemed to have lost his sex drive. (When the interviewer asked what this felt like, Melly said: "It's like being unchained from a lunatic", which I think gives us all hope).

But is Melly now an ex-heterosexual? If he is, he is also by his own admission an ex-homosexual, and has been for many years.

8. And why does no one ever refer to the "heterosexual community"?

9. To put it another way, why when heterosexuals behave very badly - the name of Jeffrey Archer comes to mind - does nobody ever accuse them of letting down the straight community?

10. And when public sympathy turns against straights for caddish behaviour - the names of James Hewitt and Will Carling spring to mind - why is it never seen as a betrayal of all that the straight community stands for?

11. How many people present can name the Liberal Democrat candidate for mayor of London?

12. What does it tell us about democracy that we all know the names of the people who have failed dismally to become Labour and Tory mayoral candidates, but most of us can't remember the name of the one candidate to whom no odium attaches?

13. If anti-Semitism is the name for general dislike of Jews (which no one admits to today), what name should we use for general dislike of the way Israel behaves today (from which no one is exempt, not even Jews)?

14. What sort of skeletons do you think Max Clifford has got in his cupboard? And who would handle him if he had?

15. Why on earth does the British Government interpret Brussels regulations more fiercely than anyone else, including Brussels?

16. If the future Blair baby had been conceived in France, what regulations would have been breached by its importation into Britain?

17. Why can no supermarket ever explain why lambs go down and down in price in the market but never go down in the supermarket?

18. Why did it need the arrival of American coffee firms such as Starbucks to wake the British up to the fact that instant coffee tastes foul?

19. Why do we call period plays "costume drama", when surely all plays are played in costume? Isn't the opposite of costume drama "drama in the nude"?

20. Now that Cliff Richard has set The Lord's Prayer to the tune of Auld Lang Syne, how long will it be before people start forming a big circle, crossing hands with each other and singing "Our Father which art in Heaven", lustily and drunkenly at midnight?

Good luck!