It was an interesting experience at the Cheltenham Literature Festival, where the highlight of my talk — I was chucked a bit of a hospital pass by the organisers: “Cricket, the perfect sport for a spot of philosophy” — was being interrupted by a bumptious Yorkshireman (is there any other sort?), who, shortly after I’d told the not especially philosophical tale of getting my foreskin trapped in my box by Dean Headley when I was 16 years old, barked: “What’s your best cricket story? You tell me yours and I’ll tell you mine…”
On the upside, I went to (my writing hero) Martin Amis’s Q&A in the main tent: The Times Forum. He was talking about his new Auschwitz novel, The Zone of Interest, telling several hundred guests that “the black hole in Hitler Studies was his sexuality” and speculating that he was “probably a pervert rather than asexual. Maybe a coprophile”. I was due to ask the next question from the floor when the session was ended — good job, probably, as my heart felt like I was just coming up on a steroid overdose.
An hour later, having told my colleagues from the Waitrose / Nightwatchman stand what my question would have been, while guzzling the complementary wine a bit too unselfconsciously, Amis walked into the writers’ hospitality lounge (out of my line of sight) and was momentarily stood alone. “Go and ask Martin Amis your question, Scott” said the editor, Matt. After a moment’s thought (about the same length of time I used to take at school when persuaded, or goaded, into doing the sort of idiotic though entertaining stunts that regularly got me put on daily report), I shot back, “alright then”.
“Hi Martin. So, I was going to ask you the next question when your session was wound up earlier.”
“Yeah, I was fascinated by what you were saying about the War being lost from 1941 and Hitler essentially spending the rest of it punishing the German people for their shortcomings. I once heard a definition of fascism as ‘a manic attack by the body politic against itself, in the name of its own salvation’. Does that chime with your knowledge of Nazi Germany? And, if so, was the average German complicit in that self-destructive delirium?”
He took a couple of steps away from me and put down his glass of wine. My ‘crew’ thought he was abandoning the conversation — and you couldn’t really have blamed him — but he then pivoted back and, after a beat, said: “Well, that definition might take some time for me to absorb, but there was definitely a lustful frisson [immaculately pronounced] in their administration of petty cruelties. They knew what they were up to, alright”. Then someone much more important and much less earnest than me caught his attention, and he was off air-kissing some Camilla or Priscilla in a Chanel suit.
I returned to the table, and received a small and un-ironic round of applause. “Did you take a photo of that, Matt?” “I didn’t, mate. I was too much in awe”. “No worries”, I said, secretly crestfallen. “But I’ve got to say, your body language was strong: hands in pockets, relaxed shoulders…”
Then Dame Judy Dench walked in. Heads turned. I had nothing for her, so went and got some more wine.