Magazine article The Spectator

The Hitch Comes Home

Magazine article The Spectator

The Hitch Comes Home

Article excerpt

Matthew Adams joins the charming, generous, bibulous Christopher Hitchens for a rare tour of his native countryside and a splendid lunch

I met up with Christopher Hitchens in the smaller hours of a warm morning in May, at Heathrow airport. (This was Christopher's idea.

'See you at Heathrow, ' he had told me. ) From Heathrow we were to drive together to Bath, where he had a speaking engagement that evening to promote his new (and great) memoir, Hitch-22 . When Christopher trudged into view he looked as I knew he would look: the Hitchens-style suit; that dolphin-like face; that dirty-grey fringe. And as he stood alone in the queasy light of Arrivals he gave the impression of a raffish (and impressively bibulous) don.

Christopher? 'Ah, my dear chap. How good of you to come. Now, I must have some tea.

Do you know somewhere?' We made our way to the on-site pub. I ordered a gin and tonic. Christopher addressed himself to a Bloody Mary ('not bad') and a bacon sandwich ('obscene').

Once settled in the car, I asked Christopher about the reception his memoir had received in the UK. 'Yeah, I know.

I mean here it's absolutely extraordinary.

You can actually apply to a literary editor saying, "Look, you probably know I have a vendetta against this person - could I be the reviewer of their book?" And the editor will say "Sure! That's fine!" It's amazing.

I mean, this guy Tibor Fischer. Now what qualifies him to be the reviewer of my memoir? I just don't - I don't - understand it. The magazine has to know that Tibor Fischer is a very, very declared and venomous enemy who, as far as I know, knows nothing about me. Or the subjects I write about. I was actually, I have to say , just very slightly shocked by that.'

We had not been moving for long before Christopher leant towards me and asked, with an air of mild conspiracy, whether I would care for a smoke. In an instant he had commenced formal negotiations with our driver. 'I have a stupid question to ask you, sir. What would be your attitude to my having a cigarette?' Silence. 'Err. Ummm.'

'You must say no if it's no.' 'Well, it's not that, it's just that it's completely against company policy.' 'Yes!' agreed Christopher.

'But I'm quite happy to pull over at the service station for you.' 'We might do that, then, when the next chance affords. Thank you.'

'No problem. We try to grant you every wish we can.' 'Absolutely!' Christopher now bore the aspect of a charming and triumphant porpoise.

Upon returning to the car after the cigarette break, I asked about his writing. When did he abandon any notion of writing fiction? 'Oh, God, around the time I went to the New Statesman . But in a way these things are decided for you. You don't really decide to repudiate it. What you notice is, you're not doing it. So that's a pretty final verdict.

There are people who, strangely, have told me that they think I will and/or should, but I just don't think I am going to.'

Christopher looked out of the window for several minutes. 'There's a rather fine-looking old pub.' We drove on: meadows, sheep, an old gatehouse, a medieval church. 'You know, this is nice for me. I always, w hen I come to England, I almost never get out of London.' That full, resonant voice now seemed somehow lighter, lifted, perhaps, by a gentle breath of nostalgia. He must miss the English countryside. …

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