Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Trollied Tuesday II: The drunk's thinking man

It was part of the Jeffrey Bernard legend that his weekly column would sometimes fail to appear, with readers greeted by a terse, euphemistic "Jeffrey Bernard is unwell".

Most irresponsible of him, really. If your sole selling point is that you are a professional drunk, the least you can do is be professional enough make sure you are able to tell people about your drunken exploits. Otherwise people might suspect you are bunking off to have a cup a tea in the vicarage when you should be picking a fight with the man standing next to you at the bar in the Coach and Horses.

No wonder many an idle, dissolute hack (and maybe blogger too) reveres the man. If you can become a legend for writing about drinking, and don't even have to do the writing part if you're too drunk, well, what's not to admire?

However, there is some dim recess of my soul which wonders whether becoming celebrated for consuming enough booze to put a lion to sleep, and being able to churn out witty, erudite and sharp copy about a range of topics. Such a man is Christopher Hitchens.

You can say what you like about the man – even that he is a drink-sodden, former Trotskyist popinjay, if you are an utter scoundrel with an undoubted rhetorical talent – but he does the business when it comes to the actual writing stuff that is worth reading.

He doesn't seem to write about drink much, preferring an impressive stream of articles on history, politics, religion, art and other ephemera. Still, he is always entertaining with it. Here's an interview with the great man in this month's Prospect, which sheds some light upon his exemplary balance between booze and verbosity.

There is little art on the walls, few travel mementos; just bookshelves, a spacious living room, a modest kitchen and an annex for the alcohol. The aesthetic is not so much utilitarian as uncluttered of anything that would distract from the essentials of his life: reading, meeting people, drinking, laughing, arguing, writing.

A fine sense of priorities. Drink is not everything, after all. Merely the glue for much of its finest things. There's also a reference to his amusing habit when eating at his favourite restaurants in DC of holding up his glass and shouting "Xerox" when he wants a refill.

But the thing that really struck me is this comment about religion, but which could equally be applied to drink.

In God Is Not Great, he declares himself a "Protestant" atheist.

It's the work ethic, see, and the Protestant drunk has that sense of higher purpose for which drinking, thinking and talking are the holy trinity guiding and directing him. Here's an earlier interview even if you don't want to read it, click on for the picture) in which he discusses, along with a lot of other things, the relationship between drink and writing.

Articles get written at any time of day or night, with extraordinary speed and fluency—however much he has drunk. He turns out a couple of pieces in the intervals while I'm taking a breather from merely talking.

Hitchens frequently says that he believes he's won an argument whenever his opponent brings up his drinking; he regards it as a sign they can't counter his ideas. That may well be so, but the drink is certainly part of what makes him what he is.

His views and methods are another. They might be completely unrelated to his drinking, but the interview does suggest to me that without the drinking Mr Hitchens might well be insufferable, or at the very least more like his brother.



Blogger Glamourpuss said...

I don't think I've ever met a real, live popinjay...

And I'm sorry, I can't bear that Hitchens man.


11:52 am  

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