Remembering breakfast with Christopher Hitchens

Friday, 16 December, 2011

On 17 June 2007, Rainy Day shared breakfast in Dublin with the late, great Christopher Hitchens. The occasion was a debate about religion that was promoted under the banner of “God Is Not Great?” between Hitchens and John Waters of the Irish Times. It was a gladiatorial contest so the metaphor we picked to set the scene was that of boxing. Here goes:

On the eve of a great fight, Pierce Egan (1772-1849), the Alexander Pope of the sweet science, would call upon the champion in his quarters to compile an accurate picture of what would later become the printed account of the encounter and its atmospherics. A.J. Liebling, the great New Yorker essayist, continued this tradition, and an essential read for lovers of good writing is his report of going up to Harlem in 1951 to visit Sugar Ray Robinson before the fighter left his bar and headed out to the Polo Grounds where he defeated the English idol Randy Turpin in a sensational bout in front of 60,000 fans.

In keeping with this tradition, Rainy Day visited Christopher Hitchens this morning in his rather comfortable lodgings and found him dining on porridge. Breakfast of champions! To demonstrate that he was in fighting form, he then proceeded to sing the rambunctious Whiskey in the Jar and followed up in a pleasing baritone with the poignant Carrickfergus.

When it came to the great debate this evening, he emerged swinging, not singing, and proved too powerful for the local hero, John Waters. Now, John Waters is a decent and thoughtful person, but he is not the kind of opponent for someone like Hitchens, a superb debater with a cyclopean memory and a sabre wit. The organizers of the event made a grievous error in not selecting David Quinn, who so memorably made mincemeat of atheist-in-chief Richard Dawkins last year.

The lack of challenge almost allowed a claque in the audience, no doubt planted by the Irish “anti-war movement”, to hijack the proceedings. “What about your friend George?” and other inanities about the liberation of Iraq were shouted up by these rough and tiresome types. Hitchens was forced to silence this kind of nonsense with a resounding couplet in which one of the words was “off” and the other began with “f”.

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