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Posted by Ben on Saturday, October 14, 2006 | Permalink

(This was also posted at Back Off, Man.)

So. One of your heroes has, to your eternal joy, quoted some of your online mutterings in his latest book. You've discovered that he's doing a reading in a city a short train ride away, and procured tickets. You intend to get the book signed, and introduce yourself as the quotee. The question is this: how the hell do you do that last bit without embarrassing yourself? Whether we were on the train, wandering round Birmingham hoping to stumble across the Library Theatre, or having a quick peri-peri chicken wrap (plus can of drink only 2.95), the thought of what I was going to say was always bouncing around my skull.

"I write for Religion is Bullshit, you quoted me in The God Delusion," - clumsy.

"I'm the eloquent blogger" - complete arsehole.

"My dad reckons you owe me some money!" - I had to tell Anna that if I gave even the slightest impression of being likely to say this then she was to kick me in the plums, take the book from my hand as I lay weeping, and get it signed for me.

At one point during the reading, I was so lost in my own head trying to formulate an opening sentence that was short, witty, intelligent and likely to earn the reply "Ah, of course! Grab a chair and we'll sign them together, being co-authors and all," that Dawkins' voice receded to a distant whisper. Fortunately, the lady sat behind me had a mobile phone that beeped every five minutes and its perky tone dragged me back into reality (this one lucky occurence may have saved her life, for the mobile was otherwise extremely annoying). Good job it did, too, because Dawkins and Lalla Ward are both excellent public speakers - unsurprising in the case of Ward, of course - and the reading was hugely enjoyable, not only for getting a taste of the bits of The God Delusion that I've not yet read (I keep getting stuck on page 134) but also for the experience of hearing it out loud. There's a sentence at the start of chapter 2 describing the God of the Old Testament as "a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully." I read it in my copy and didn't really give it much thought, but when Dawkins said it on Wednesday night he got a thunderous round of applause, and rightly so - heard aloud you can appreciate the building rhythm in that line; it's almost poetic. It must be a bugger to say, too, so it's additionally impressive.

After the reading there were some questions, and then the signing.

"Do you know what you're going to say yet?" asked Anna.

"Haven't a fucking clue," I said, then, noticing she'd got pointy shoes on, quickly added "not the money thing though." I was very nervous, and it wasn't all testicle anxiety - how the buggering hell was I going to do this without looking like a complete buffoon? To make things worse, Dawkins was a book-signing machine, and the queue was moving at an alarming pace. Soon there were only a couple of people in front of me, one of whom started on about queuing being the English religion (it had the strong whiff of a rehearsed line and he muffed it somewhat, which finally convinced me to wing it).

My turn, then. Up I stepped, and he took my book. As he was signing it, I struck:

"I just wanted to say thanks, as you quoted me in The God Delusion." This was said in the manner of Squeaky-voiced Teen from the Simpsons.

"Oh?" Slight air of puzzlement

"Yeah, my name's Ben, I write for a website called Religion is Bullshit." The air of puzzlement grows. Think man, think. He's quoted hundreds of people in that book, how's he going to remember some obscure blogger? Aaargh, he's frowning slightly! The article, mention the article! "I wrote a comment on an article about Intelligent Design by you and Jerry Coyne, it was in The Guardian?"

"Oh, right!" This, at least, rings a bell. Phew. However I'm now feverishly aware of one hundred people behind me waiting to get their book signed, and it's been such a shambolic performance that Anna will probably strike me in the nuts regardless, so I wrap it up.

"Yes, and I just wanted to say that it was a huge thrill, and thanks."

"No problem," he says, smiling, and hands back my book. I thank him again and scuttle away, and we all toddle off for a beer before the last train.

Whether or not it was the actual quote he remembered or just the article, I dunno. I describe the reaction to others as "very politely drawing a blank". Still, it was a huge thrill, and it was great to meet the bloke that inspired me to study biology. So thanks, Richard.

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