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Following a pattern familiar at such festivals, an interviewer has been appointed to tease out the theses of my book. Except that from the unremittingly hostile introduction and first question onwards it is clear that this interviewer (ex-BBC and Independent) has decided his role should be to expose me publicly. He is so unrelentingly negative that at various points I, and some members of the audience, laugh aloud. Notwithstanding his efforts plenty of books are sold, but I leave for my B&B slightly sadder. Not because I’ve had a difficult time (once I realised the encounter was to be hand-to-hand conflict I engaged happily) but because I felt the audience had been cheated. The night before, with questions from a young and open-minded audience, I and everyone else had been generous with their ideas and thoughts. A day later, thanks to a bit of dreary old-school hackery, an interviewer managed to create an event that was ungenerous and unenjoyable.


Back in London I slip into the audience at the Hammersmith Apollo — normally a venue for comedians and rock stars. On this occasion it is for a discussion with the atheist writers Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins. It is an extraordinary thing on a weekend evening to see a venue (with more than 3,000 seats) packed out with eager and largely young punters. The discussion gets most interesting on points of divergence. For instance, while Harris concedes that the problem of meaning in life remains a major challenge for non-religious people, Dawkins takes a contrary view: that there is a life of nobility and purpose to be had in staring out at this hurricane and saying, “Yes, this is my situation.” I would love to hear a public discussion with religious and non-religious thinkers which started from this point. There is clearly a huge appetite for it.


I round off with a Sunday morning discussion with Bernard-Henri Lévy in front of a live audience in London. It is such a pleasure talking with someone with whom you have about 90 per cent of views in common. As ever, Bernard makes one feel buttoned-up, not to mention untravelled. In the previous week alone he had been in Ukraine and Kurdistan. I then have to dash to the Wimbledon Literary Festival, where a Marxist is lined up to oppose me on a panel. The heart sinks again. These people seem to turn up ready to slay a dragon. I turn up in the hope of having an interesting and frank discussion. I fear audiences at such events must end up feeling they have viewed a slightly bored non-dragon. But Marxism would appear to be in the air again, so it should probably be resisted.

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