27 June 2009

I should probably have gone home at the point where I decided to walk across the table in the Chinese restaurant, but the night was still young, even if I'm not that young myself any more. Instead of taking this as my cue to grab an early night, I went back to the five-star hotel where I'd recently earned my First Great Hangover of 2009.
The Sydney Writers' Festival was still raging - in so far as these events do - and I saw a lot of people I knew, who weren't as drunk as I was.
The hotel bar stays open until the last guest goes to bed. This presents a problem for literalists like me, who wait until last drinks to buy their last drinks.
My friend Benjamin Gilmour was in the bar with his publicist, Kate. About 2am, I found myself trying to teach Kate the finer points of the sweet science of boxing when she inadvertently demonstrated that she was already familiar with them by accidentally punching me in the face.
I immediately developed a black eye, which Kate delightedly photographed. It was a classic among black eyes, not a blue bruise or a light kohl-ing, but what we in the trade call "the full panda". If I had stumbled into a zoo, they would have tried to get me to mate in captivity.
If I didn't know better, I might have thought it was a publicity stunt gone horribly wrong, a misguided attempt to get me to mention Benjamin's book Warrior Poets, which you wouldn't think anyone would buy because there's no sex in it and it's set in the North-West Frontier Province of Pakistan. However, it's a useful book for holding in front of your face if you see his publicist coming at you with a right cross.
I got home a little after 3am. My girlfriend, Claire, was awake and wondering what had happened to me. When she saw I had a black eye, she was completely unmoved. It wasn't the first time I had come home with a black eye. It wasn't even the first time this year.
Normally, it wouldn't matter that I was disfigured because all I do is sit in my study and type random thoughts into my computer. This week, however, I had two more sessions to deliver at the Writers' Festival, one of them as the presenter. It was difficult (although not impossible) to feel sorry for myself at the first panel discussion, since I was seated next to the mountaineer Lincoln Hall, a man who doesn't appear to have any fingers.
But I was full of self-pity when I found out that my last session was to be filmed by the ABC, thus ensuring my black eye would remain forever in public memory, and the footage endlessly dredged up in low-budget documentaries about the history of hubris in the 21st century.
The most heartening result of the whole affair was the outpouring of public sympathy for my injury. For instance, when I phoned my boxing buddy Chris Sheedy to say I had a black eye, his response was, "Finally!"
He was obviously deeply distressed, although he said, "I love the fact that the day after you got your black eye, you had to appear on television, because that's exactly what you did to me. But at least I was hit by a man. I always thought it should come from me because it would've been the most honourable thing for both of us, but I love the fact that it was a 23-year-old publicist. And a book publicist as well - they're the softest kind."
It's times like these when you find out who your real mates are, and I haven't got any.