Sunday, I read in the Writer's Tent at the Newtown Festival. The event, Voices in the Park, has been going for a few years now, organised by the owners of King Street bookshop, Better Read Than Dead. My appearance there was a consequence of an earlier appearance at the Montanas in Wellington in July, where one of the owners, Derek, heard me speak and decided to issue the invite. There were three of us up there among the flies and the heat for the session, which was called Writing a Life : the Chair, Stephanie Green, a publisher at the National Library of Australia, myself, and Richard Glover, a well-known Sydney Morning Herald journalist, ABC radio host and author of nine books, mostly humorous. I asked to go before Richard, because of his higher profile and also because I was likely to come across as more literary. I read a section from Chronicle of the Unsung, about a job I once had writing pornography in New York. For some reason I was more nervous than I usually am before these events, so decided to speak my intro and outro from notes: always a mistake, I find, it's far better to work out in your head what you want to say and then just say it. However. After I'd finished my bit, an older man came out of the crowd and asked for my microphone so he could say something. I was a bit slow, I didn't immediately see the plastic cup of white wine he had in his hand, didn't straight away catch the whiff of alcohol on his breath. The mike was fixed and, anyway, there was another roving mike for the floor. Suggested he use that. There was a kind of tension in the tent now, no-one wanted some drunken idiot to crash the show; but Derek gave him the roving mike and he took his place in front of the crowd of about fifty people. He said he had something to get off his chest. He'd been in the British SAS, the anti-terrorism unit, and he wanted us all to know that they did fuck-all to prevent terrorism, then and now ... said he was 63 years old and ... dried ... I saw a woman over at the side of the tent, next to one of the open flaps, catch his eye and beckon him away. Someone in the crowd was smart enough to start clapping, everybody joined in and he took his bow and wandered off. He came back after Richard - who was very amusing - read and delivered essentially the same rap then lurched off again just like before. When the hour was over we waited round to sign books and I met Derek's wife, Maggie, who turned out to have known both my parents in Wellington in the 1970s. One of my mother's anthology pieces, Latter Day Lysistrata, was inspired by a production of Aristophane's Lysistrata Maggie directed at Bats Theatre in Courtenay Place. I didn't know that, and she didn't know how succesful the poem became. As for my father, she'd got to know him while working in the Education Department, where he had a desk job in the Curriculum Unit after a series of nervous breakdowns and his alcoholism had forced his retirement from active teaching and school administration. So that was all well and good. A friend had come to the reading, we went off to Kelly's Irish Bar for a beer and then, later, walked back through the fair to our respective cars. As we were going up some stairs into the park I saw the SAS man and his companion staggering along Lennox Street, very much the worse for wear. He waited, swaying, while she, who had seemed so together before, went towards an overflowing rubbish bin with their empties and stood there, also swaying, clearly unable to work out how to deposit them within - given that there was no within within. There's little point in expatiating further on the image, two sad drunks, it's familiar enough, however poignant/absurd/distressing it may also be. I just can't forget it. Don't know why. Something to do with righting a life perhaps.

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