Christopher Hitchens in pictures
When our friends are dying, we know what we think we will remember of them.
I had meant to have a lengthy obituary of Christopher Hitchens ready here to post when the thunderously advancing news of his death finally arrived. And, if I had done so, it would have contained many of the accolades that are crowding down today.
It might have also offered items from what an anthologising publisher once called ‘The Quotable Hitchens’. Something on Kissinger, ‘that rare and foul beast’, or Princess Diana, ‘like a dog being washed’, or himself. ‘I am, I hope, never offensive by accident’.
Or perhaps the passage from September 2010 where he conceded that ‘more than once in my time have I woken up feeling like death’ but that ‘nothing prepared me for the early morning last June when I came to consciousness feeling as if I were actually shackled to my own corpse’.
But the bits and pieces, the brightly earned words of praise, don’t quite do it this morning.
There are random pictures that do more:
* the first evening that I ever saw him, in 1970 at the Oxford Union when he led the shouting of ‘murderer’ and the hanging of a noose in the face of a Labour Foreign Secretary deemed over fond of the war in Vietnam.
* the day at the White House when he quoted from what is the very little surviving of his poetry.
I Am the King of China,
I’m A Patron of the Prize-Ring.
And Every Time My Man’s On Top
I Can Feel My Boxer Rising.
* the afternoon in a tent when he explained how the Boxer poem, composed to strict Oxford rules of versification, and the Vietnam War, fought at the same time to laxer rules, were nonetheless connected — via George Steiner and a rhyme sequence that does not seem appropriate to quote today. Readers of Hitch 22 can find it for themselves.
* the New Year in Palm Springs when Gerald Ford died and Saddam Hussein was hanged, when it seemed easier and more pleasant to sit together in a bar and deplore the faraway cell-phone footage, but somehow more necessary to drive to the airport and see Airforce One and a dead president’s coffin for ourselves.
Well, it was more necessary for him. From Bosnia to Belfast to Baghdad (he had an alphabet of places scarred by religious bigots and those were just the Bs) he never missed a chance to get close. The rest of us went for the ride. There was a misunderstanding about cars and car parks. It was still good to have gone.
* the night in Hay on Wye when we sat together before what seemed to me a stadium of his admirers, with me tasked with ensuring that the talk was about his life, about his new autobiography, and not about god, Clinton, Iraq or Mother Theresa. He played his greatest hits anyway. He was a rock star writer and he never disappointed, certainly not on the last show he did here before the news of cancer came.
* the nights with him and Carol and Laura Antonia in Washington DC, the party when we first arrived in George Bush Senior’s time, the party when we left, the warmth and depth of hospitality over so long, the love of his friends, the anxiety of friends and the admiration of millions in the months now over. Those pictures are the sharpest today of all.