Friday 15 December 2017

Deeply erudite, surprisingly humble, and with most unusual hands

John-Paul McCarthy recalls a dinner party spent sitting next to the huge intellect that was Christopher Hitchens

Christopher Hitchens

I was once on the periphery of a dinner at the Randolph Hotel in Oxford, flanking Christopher Hitchens, who died on Thursday.

I remember a polite, if intermittently demanding dinner companion, ever-alert to ideological slackness around the table.

Dinner, like life, was just another forum for confrontation. He was very much as I expected: self-regarding, well read, amusing, fluent. I was surprised, though, to find that he had a sublimated streak of humility when I told him how moved I was by his essay, The Ballad of Route 66, a road trip essay he penned while at the wheel of a red Corvette. Hitchens bowed gently when I quoted my favourite line back to him, the line describing how a modest bathroom in a Memphis motel was altogether "too small for the King's heartbreaking needs". This King, of course, was the bloated Elvis edging towards oblivion in 1976.

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