I wasn't aware until now of the long-running feud between Christopher Hitchens and his brother, Peter, a rather more traditionally conservative commentator. They went four years without speaking, the reason being (I'm not making this up) a joke Christopher told that either suggested or did not suggest pro-Soviet leanings, and which Peter either did or did not misrepresent publicly. They were brought together to discuss this and other matters a couple of days ago at the Hay book festival in Wales; The Guardian published both an edited transcript of the encounter, which is intermittently amusing, and an extended transcript, which is, well, a bit like being trapped in a room with a petulant drunk whose other main drug of choice is lingering resentment:
Ian Katz (Guardian features editor): I want to start by asking you Christopher to just tell me what this row was about.
CH: You want to know what the joke was as well?
IK: We have to have the joke.
CH: When I was at Oxford I had a friend called Fran Hazelton who was an actress at the time, and she was also, which was quite rare in those days, a member of the Communist party, which would have meant she was one of the most rightwing people at the university at that point (I'm talking about mid-1968), a party whose politics were almost too reactionary to bother with. I should mention, and I'll mention it now, that Fran Hazelton went on to found a thing called the Campaign Against Repression of Democratic Rights in Iraq, which is a communist organisation saying the right things about Saddam Hussein, good girl... But, when the party split over the invasion of Czechoslovakia in August 1968, she told me she'd had a row with her father - her father who'd served in the Communist party said one should never criticise the party. And she'd said her father had said, 'Prague, I don't care about Prague. I won't be happy till I see the Red Army watering its horses in the Thames. In Hendon I think he said, or somewhere like that. I thought it was quite funny, and must have told it in the hearing of Peter, and I think my sister-in-law too, because a week after September 11 when I'm up to here with fuckwits in the United States who are saying Chomskyian things - the kind of crap you get in the Guardian all the time, from Seamus Milne and Jonathan Steele and Richard Gott and all those other wankers and fascist sympathisers, a disgrace to journalism I might add - up to here with their American cousins... and what I don't need, is to get [in] the Spectator my brother recalling, 'I don't see why Christopher has become so pro-American; I can remember when he said he wouldn't be happy until he saw the Red Army watering its horses in the Thames.' And I thought, well what I thought was 'Fuck you'. I don't need this, I don't need from a brother who might be assumed to know. It shouldn't really have been a question of his word versus mine, because I submit to you ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, comrades and friends, I've been banging on in print about politics more or less every day now for about 40 years, if those were my opinions of the Soviet Union it would have become known somehow....
Yikes -- and that's just Question #1. (And there's more to the answer.) Peter's less of a bloviator, though he says very nice things about intelligent design, the twit. If I grew up in this house, I think I'd drink, too.