The habit of saying the right thing at the right time tends to get relegated to the category of the pert riposte. But the put-down, the swift comeback, when quoted, gives a false sense of finality. So-and-so, as quick as a flash, said so-and-so – and that seems to be the end of it. Christopher’s most memorable rejoinders, I have found, linger, and reverberate, and eventually combine, as chess moves combine. One evening, close to 40 years ago, I said: “I know you despise all sports – but how about a game of chess?” Looking mildly puzzled and amused, he joined me over the 64 squares. Two things soon emerged. First, he showed no combative will, he offered no resistance (because this was play, you see, and earnest is all that really matters). Second, he showed an endearing disregard for common sense. This prompts a paradoxical thought.
There are many excellent commentators, in the US and the UK, who deploy far more rudimentary gumption than Christopher ever bothers with (we have a deservedly knighted columnist in London whom I always think of, with admiration, as Sir Common Sense). But it is hard to love common sense. And the salient fact about Christopher is that he is loved. What we love is fertile instability; what we love is the agitation of the unexpected. And Christopher always comes, as they say, from left field. He is not a plain speaker. He is not, I repeat, a plain man.