To the best of my knowledge I’ve been punched in the face twice in my life. The first time was by Andrew Passolini when I was in standard three (year 5 in the modern parlance), who put fist to face after a brief squabble over who was ‘it’ in a game of off-ground touch.

The second time was by a chap called Desmond during my time as an exchange student in the USA, who took umbrage at my mocking his patchy knowledge of Roy of the Rovers late one night after a session on the Sam Adams at the Mews Tavern.

Desmond and I had been on a collision course for a while; I found his frequent inaccuracies in pop-culture references irritating, something neatly counter-balanced by his willingness to use violence as a means of communication. In fact, on our second day in the US, he actually said so himself.

“I really like you, Gareth,” he said – which was nice. “But I think there are going to be times when I’m going to want to punch you in the face,” he added, which was not.

Luckily, as much as he seemed to enjoy the thought of a scrap, he wasn’t all that good at it. Admittedly better than me, but then, I set a pretty low benchmark.

Let’s be fair, we were students on an arts and humanities course, not exactly an environment noted as a breeding ground for brawlers.

The punch was not a great one, Desmond seemingly losing enthusiasm mid-swing resulting in a limp wrist dab on the upper cheek.

“Didn’t hurt,” I said, although, to be honest, it did.

“I’m going to bed,” said Desmond.

And that was the end of the fight.

We were sort of like Donald Sinden and Windsor Davies in Never the Twain, bitter enemies who kind of got on rather well in between arguing.

We spent the best part of a year together, among a small collection of displaced Brits across the pond. At the end of the year four of us – Desmond included, hit the road and explored the states. Mostly it was wonderful, occasionally (approximately once a day) there’d be a little flare up.

It just added to the fun.

He hailed from Coventry and spoke in a very measured way and always seemed to be on the look-out for his next battle.

As the goal-keeper in our football team Des got red-carded in the quarter final of the campus 5-a-side tournament for running the length of the pitch to punch one of our opponents in a match we were winning 9-2 with only seconds remaining, rendering him suspended for the semis.

He also got hit across the back with a guitar on a night out in Memphis. I would like to be able to elaborate but I wasn’t with him at the time as he decided to wander off on his own along Beale St rather than pay the $1 entry into the bar the remaining three of us were entering.

Desmond walked to the beat of his own drum. He was that guy who worked out exactly what everyone spent while we waited for the bill, the guy who argued with a homeless man in Washington DC, explaining to him, with some vigour, why Elvis was rubbish and that said homeless man would do better if he stopped singing Hound Dog and learned the words to That’s Entertainment.

The guy who, when asked what he thought of a film would pause, put finger to chin and say:

“I’ll think on it and get back to you.”

Desmond is not his real name.



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