Well Readhead: Hitchen’ my wagon to the Prat Pack
In his new memoir Hitch-22, the public intellectual Christopher Hitchens writes that he now drinks ‘relatively carefully’. By that, he means only a glass of scotch and half a bottle of wine at lunch, followed by the same at dinner and occasionally a nightcap.
Hitchens’ drinking is the stuff of legend. In fact, according to family folklore, his first fully-formed sentence was ‘Let’s all go and have a drink at the club.’
A 2006 profile in The New Yorker (which among other things notes that ‘Hitchens only recently gave up smoking in the shower’) describes Hitchens as ‘drinking like a Hemingway character: continually and to no apparent effect.’
I pass no judgment on Hitchens’ drinking other than to note it’s an interesting snippet about somebody I find fascinating and complicated, if somewhat intimidating.
Hitchens is a regular guest on Lateline and recently appeared with Tony Jones to discuss Hitch-22.
Some reviewers have given the memoir a tepid reception but it’s one of my favourite reads of 2010 so far.
Much of Hitchens’ drinking seems to take place at long, hilarious dinners that go late into the night. In Hitch-22, the author recounts regular lunches with his dazzling Prat Pack (my words, not his) including Martin Amis, Clive James, James Fenton, Ian McEwan and Salman Rushdie.
A chief goal at these gatherings seems to be outwitting and outsmarting each other with wordplay. The group once held a competition to see who could come up with the best paragraph parodying Graham Greene: Greene himself entered under a pseudonym and placed third.
Some of the games were less erudite that you might imagine. One of the favourites was replacing a word in a famous book or film title with something crass.
For example, substitute the word ‘dick’ for ‘heart’: ‘I Left my Dick in San Francisco’, ‘The Dick is a Lonely Hunter’, ‘Dickbreak Hotel’.
Limericks were another favourite pastime, of which the British historian, Robert Conquest, apparently had no peer. This is his effort when asked to condense ‘The Seven Ages of Man’ from Shakespeare’s ‘As You Like It’:
Seven Ages: first puking and mewling
Then very pissed-off with your schooling
Then fucks, and then fights
Next judging chaps’ rights
Then sitting in slippers: then drooling.
The game that most tickled me was a competition to come up with new equivalents for the old phrase ‘cruising for a bruising’.
Amis came up with ‘angling for a mangling’. Hitchens offered ‘aiming for a maiming’. Other efforts included ‘strolling for a rolling’ and ‘thirsting for a worsting’. (If I may be so bold as to add my own: how about ‘bleating for a beating’ or ‘plumping for a thumping’?)
This fortnight’s list of ten things to read, watch or listen to has a bias towards Hitchens and his posse:
1. This New Yorker article about Christopher Hitchens is one of the best profiles I’ve ever read. A great subject and a brilliant execution.
3. Ian McEwan’s essay on the power of love in the aftermath of September 11 was very fine work indeed if you missed it at the time.
4. It’s worth checking out the twitter page of Martin Amis for a master class in how to be profound, witty and/or offensive in 140 characters or fewer. Among many memorable lines is this one about feminist Natasha Walter: ‘Natasha Walter – I’d give her one. It’s the way her mouth says “misogynist objectification”. It’s a soft, wide rosebud, wanton yet yielding.’
5. Peter is a man who likes to sew. He writes about it on his blog Male Pattern Boldness and he sometimes makes swinging dresses for his ‘cousin’ Cathy. Watch his Doris Day impersonation – he’s rather adorable if you ask me.
6. Paul Toohey has written a cracker of a yarn for The Daily Telegraph about digging for the bones of Peter Falconio with a psychic.
7. I recently came across the band Pomplamoose on You Tube. Their career is almost entirely conducted online. They are really fantastic – check out this cover of Beyonce’ Single Ladies . This version of Nature Boy is also excellent.
8. It’s worth reading Tony Martin’s regular column on Scriveners’ Fancy this week solely for the anecdote about his encounter with George Lucas at Barney’s in New York.
9. If you’re interested in US politics, check out this New York magazine article about the money-making machine that is Sarah Palin. It explains her huge appeal to the American public and why she is still a fixture on the political scene.
10. This week, it was Memorial Day in the United States (their equivalent of Anzac Day). This blog posted 100 of the greatest military photos ever taken.
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