Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Nice work

“Sunday, December 31st [1978] …I listen to the car radio and hear tales of horror from all over the UK. Edinburgh is almost cut off from the rest of Scotland (a fact which the weather only confirms!)”

Michael Palin, Diaries 1969-1979 – The Python Years, p. 519.

Yes, I have been busy. The Dr bought me this for Valentine’s Day (naw) and to read on the plane out to Gallifrey. Which I did, and got something like halfway though. And then mutchwurk stopped me getting much further.

More than a month later, with bits snatched on trains and in toilets, the end is almost in sight. It’s a great brick of a book, with perhaps too much on the weather and what the author was eating, so perhaps this is the best way to read it.

The diaries cover the period from the first filming on Flying Circus to the furore that met Life of Brian. Palin’s a sharp-eyed observer, and even the briefest entries contain telling detail.

In large part, it documents the progress of his work – the late nights, the famous people, the many meetings and compromises, the flights on Concorde that are not half as glamorous as might have been hoped for. With my own current schedule it’s been good to see someone else barely outrunning the snowball. And it’s weird to think of Palin, that funny old man off the telly, being my age when he wrote all this stuff.

But it’s not just the hard graft of the writer that’s of interest. It’s a fun and engaging historical document. As well as definitively telling us what day Brian was first thought of, he notes the world as it changes around him:

“Pre-lunch cocktails with the two neighbours and their three daughters, who bring with them a game called Twister, which involves participants in a grapple on the floor and, in the immortal words of Eric’s joke salesman, ‘Breaks the ice at parties’.”


Palin is, as his later travel documentaries have shown, a sharp and witty commentator, and his remarks on politics and life in Hampstead are often warm as well as comedic. But there’s also more insight into his own life and feelings than I think we’ve ever been prey to. There’s the slow decline of his dad and a fair amount on his poor teeth.

I’ve seen some reviews mutter that it’s not more salacious, that Palin is too nice about everyone. Yes, that’s apparently a bad thing.

Anyway, he can be quite tetchy and is especially impatient with anyone who makes life more difficult. That reminded me of the last of his 80 days round-worlding, when his temper is beginning to fray.

(On this very point, he told Saga Magazine how he can “fly off the handle ... Usually at the most stupid things.”)

But it’s to Palin’s credit that he was seen as a mediator by the Pythons and others he worked with. It’s because he was the one that everyone talked to that his history is so comprehensive.

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