Friday 20 March 2009

So far for growing up

The latest post of Mr. Gorilla Bananas sent me right back to reminiscing my 20th birthday. It was the nineteenth of May, the year 2004, when the great Richard Dawkins came down to the Netherlands to give the first Tinbergen Memorial Lecture at the Pieterskerk in my home town Leiden. My joy was great, for as a student in Philosophy I could not imagine a better way to celebrate my growing up than by attending this reading.
The irony, that such a reading should be held in a church! The first thing he remarked, was a praise for priests, who had learned how to give sermons under the current acoustic circumstances. I'll spare you all the details of the rest of his lecture, for I assume you've already read all the important books in life, and if not, I urge you to get to work without further ado.
After the reading, Mr. Dawkins sold and signed copies of The Blind Watchmaker, but being the poor student I was (and still am) I could not afford to line up. Instead, I waited with my tattered copy of The Selfish Gene until he was about to leave the cathedral. When I finally dared to approach him, I stumbled over the inscriptions of the graves we were walking on. Still blushing and trembling, I asked the surprised scientist if he would be so kind as to put his autograph in my book.
“Of course,” he said. “What's your name?”
“Deborah,” I said. And then, out of the blue: “Could you tell me, what's your favourite passage?”
He leafed through the book and saw how much I had underlined and read some of my notes.
“That would be the bit about the lumbering robots,” he said, “because that's the most creative part.”
“Could you write in front which page that is?” I asked. I had never thought of asking these questions, but standing there at that moment, I felt like I had to ask him just a little bit more than his autograph. And unfortunately, I couldn't think of anything intelligent to say.
“Certainly.” He took his pen and started to write. He had no table, so he just held the book in his other hand, and wrote sort of in the air. I stood by and felt very awkward.
“Today's a very special day for me,” I said. “It's my birthday.”
“Congratulations,” he said, “I hope you enjoyed the lecture. Have a good evening.” He gave me back my book, shook my hand and left the church. And left me trembling, blushing, contemplating what a fool I had made out of myself in front of my idol. I felt like a bloody Backstreet Boys fan. So far for growing up!


  1. Hi Deborah - thanks for visiting my blog and taking the time to comment. I'm afraid I don't share your admiration for Mr Dawkins, but that was a nice story. Meeting's one idol is, I would imagine, a highlight of one's life? I hope you're having a good time over here in the UK?

    Take care :-)

  2. Oh yes, I'm having a lovely time in your country!
    Felt just as childish when I asked Tibor Fischer and Fay Weldon to sign my copy of their books, too ^_^

  3. I'm sure Dicky didn't think you were a fool. He must have been very impressed at the way you underlined key passages of his book. That showed you were interested in his ideas, rather than treating the book as a holy relic to be preserved in its pristine state. Dicky is a great biologist, for sure, but I'm not that impressed with his forays into social anthropology.

  4. ... which is probably why you can maintain such an intimate friendship with him, right? Worship is not a suitable soil for friendship, I suppose...

  5. From what you said you weren't a fool at all!

    I really admire the guy, just for having the guts to say what he thinks and provoking people to think for themselves. What a great person to meet in a church! He sounds like a decent chap.

  6. I don't think it is possible to be calm and collected in front of your idols no matter how much we might wish we could be. I met Eddie Izzard and was a babbling fool. You sounded sweet and adorable, not just adoring. How could he not have been charmed.