CHRISTOPHER Hitchens is dying of cancer.
Doctors have told the 61-year-old English-born all-round provocateur and confirmed atheist that his advanced cancer of the oesophagus - the canal that links the throat to the
stomach - means he has only six months to live.
Even so, and with death rapping loudly at the door of his elegant Washington apartment, this pesky pursuer of truth and commonsense has refused to countenance that any Jehovah is on his side.
His international 2007 bestseller God Is Not Great is a bit of a clue.
Hitchens wrote in GING that should heaven exist, the need to appease God by constantly coping with His ramped-up demands for flattery and endless praise, ("you're magnificent, we're not worthy'' etc etc), plus the perpetual threat of being condemned to hell for those who displease Him, would see cloud-dwelling angels inhabiting "a celestial North Korea''.
Hitchens reckoned: "What we have to face as an enemy is not any particular religion, but the slavish, credulous mentality upon which all religious and superstitious movements feed.''
Diagnosed with cancer in June last year while promoting his book Hitch-22, Hitchens once sent this columnist a letter in defence of the right to smoke "anywhere and everywhere''.
The snail mail followed a column your (then) cigar-puffing correspondent had written for the late, and much lamented, 1970s-era Tasmanian Mail (remember the page three girls?),
in which we bored it up nanny-state finger-waggers and all the usual moral guardians following a whisper that authorities planned to ban smoking in hotels.
Heaven (perhaps) forfend!
A citizen of three decades ago would never have imagined a future when hotels would be forced to upset the blokey pub atmosphere, knocking back a brace of 10-ounce lagers while
wielding a pool cue, by banning smokes.
The general feeling among the drinking classes was that "next thing you know they'll be bannin' beer in pubs''.
Hitchens has been an unashamed smoker who flaunts his habit.
"A smoker is something you are, not something you do,'' Hitchens wrote to yours etc.
"The person who smells cigarette smoke and wrinkles his nose before batting the air like a loon is now in the same position as the peeping Tom neighbour who climbs precariously atop a fridge, binoculars clutched in leprous palm, in order to report the vile bedroom antics of the couple next door,'' he thundered.
You can tell how far we've come since then with smoking bans not only in hostelries, and almost everywhere where citizens gather socially, but something that would have truly
boggled mid-20th century man - even in some Launceston streets.
Goodness, next thing you know they will be banning junk food television adverts for fear of influencing children and rendering them obese.
Now a compendium of Hitchens's quotations, The Quotable Hitchens (Scribo, $24.99), compiled by Windsor Mann, has just been released.
Subtitled From Alcohol To Zionism, Hitchens's quotes are designed to offend just about everybody.
And Hitchens offers no apology for a life fully lived.
"There are some things more important than a fabled 'healthy' lifestyle,'' Hitchens writes.
To which the critic may very well reply: "Such as what?'' and Hitchens respond of one of his loves: "Alcohol and I have a master-servant relationship - I leave you to work out
which is which.''
"There's nothing amiss that a solid martini, followed by a thick sirloin and some crusty bread - washed down with some fine, old bloodstained burgundy wouldn't cure.''
Oh yes, your columnist still has that Hitchens envelope and letter postmarked "Washington'' and railing against crusaders and moralists.
I fancy the pages still whiff of fine wine and expensive cigars ...
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