Simone de Beauvoir, Margaret Atwood, Madeline Albright, Christopher Hitchens, Henry Rollins, Billy Bragg, Janet Frame, Martin Amis, and Etta James would all be attendance at my dream dinner party.
And despite the vagaries of time and geography, I have been lucky enough to spend time in the same room as a few of my heroes: Billy Bragg played at Sammy's nightclub in the early 90s, Grandad Harry worked for many years, at Seacliff Hospital and we once visited the building after it had closed. Janet Frame would perhaps have walked through the same halls during her sad stay at the asylum during the 1940s when she was wrongly diagnosed schizophrenic. I met Margaret Atwood at a lunch in Wellington where she signed my copy of The Blind Assassin. Her piercing blue eyes were mesmerising. A few birthdays ago I had breakfast at the Lanesborough Hotel and Madeline Albright was sitting at the next table - she was doing the Guardian crossword, natch. In a few weeks we will be in the company of Henry Rollins when he brings his angry, wise, hotness to London.
On Wednesday evening Martin Amis spoke via satellite to the Royal Festival Hall on the Southbank where a gathering of friends came to celebrate the life of Christopher Hitchens. The Hitch was meant to be in London in conversation with Stephen Fry but was too sick to travel. Amis, Salman Rushdie, James Fenton, Richard Dawkins and Sean Penn all rocked up to either the London or New York studio to share anecdotes about his life.
Hitch is a wrangler of words and a master polemicist. He constructs beautifully reasoned arguments to bring down figures such as Kissinger, Clinton, and Mother Teresa (whom he rightly called a 'fraudulent fanatic' saying 'She was a friend of poverty. She said that suffering was a gift from God. She spent her life opposing the only known cure for poverty, which is the empowerment of women and the emancipation of them from a livestock version of compulsory reproduction'). Against the tide of the left, he made an unapologetic and compelling argument in favour of the Iraq War and his edited collection of essays 'The Portable Atheist' continues to be a reference for my own metaphysical questioning.
I think he is one of the greatest living intellectuals we have. That he has drank and smoked and shagged his way into his 60s, fills me with hope! Of his illness he said: ‘there are people who say that this [esophagus cancer] is god’s curse on me – that I should have it near my throat – because that was the organ of blasphemy which I used. Well I have used many other organs to blaspheme as well’.
Postscript: Christopher Hitchens died 15 December 2011. His long time friend mentions how uplifting Hitch found the Southbank event.
Hello, I'm Sas Petherick. I'm a self-doubt researcher, coach and podcaster who helps thinking humans transcend self-doubt. If you'd like to receive these posts in your inbox please subscribe here (with bonus info and first notice of opportunities to work with me). PS: I totally ♥ Instagram - join me there?