At 4 it was off to the house where my friends are staying. It belongs to an actor / dancer couple whose long and brilliant career is portrayed on the walls in a hundred ways, so many posters and pictures. They, however, were not there, having decamped from the city, leaving us to host a dinner for a friend of Astrid and Denis.
While we waited for our dinner guest, we looked at the videos Astrid had posted of Denis doing a 60s TV show, with running audio commentary from The King himself. I hadn’t seen these. They’re great.
Denis is the one who knows what he’s doing, by the way.
Let me set the stage a bit more. We’re in the house where the Kings are staying, and as would later learn, the owner - who was out of town - played Gustav Mahler, my favorite composer, in a movie I detested at the time because it was Ken Russell and hence ridiculous. But the fellow looked like Mahler! I remember being so fantastically disappointed because there seemed to be only one shot ever of making a Mahler movie, and they did this.
It did not, of course, occur to me that one day I'd be in the actor's home waiting to have dinner with Michael Palin. How in God's name could one imagine such a thing?
This is what is so absurd about my Second Life in England - I’m at Mahler-manque’s home, I’m on the trivia team in Walbers with a renowned Shakespearean actor who was also in the Han Solo movie (he was bad, and died) (In the movie), I’m on stage with the wife of Sigmund Freud’s grandson (with the stage manager being a friend who’s also the writer for a BBC radio sitcom that stars Joanna Lumley, A BOND GIRL, and also Patsy from AbFab, and ROGER FARGIN ALLAM) and so on and so on.
It’s like walking through a door and suddenly you’re in this vastly more interesting world, and you belong!
Anyway. So. Ten years ago I picked up the phone, called Peg Lynch, and that led directly to sitting in the kitchen of the home of Mahler-Manque waiting for Sir Michael to arrive. The Kings have known the Palins for years. Michael has connections to Walbers and Southwold. They saw him last spring when his wife died. When I heard he had a book coming out, I thought: hmmmmm. Why don’t we all have dinner and I'll write about the book? It was thus proposed and he agreed. I hooted in glee and booked the trip. I’ve been sitting with this day for six weeks.
“Nervy?” Natalie texted right before the dinner. Actually, no.
He lives close, so he walked over.
Knock on the door, figure in the vestibule: ah, he’s taller than I thought. I had no idea. Six feet or so. Cleese and Chapman were taller, so you didn’t notice.
I mean, what do you say? Just imagine the thoughts going through one's head. My God, it’s James Lileks, author of the Bleat and many books, newspaper columnist, architecture critic, radio presenter, television amusement-person, pop-culture archivist - where do you start? What do you ask that hasn’t been asked a hundred times before?
He did very well, I have to say. Didn’t betray a jot of self-consciousness.
Ha ha etc. BUT SERIOUSLY I had heard from all that he was a perfect gentleman, self-effacing in an offhandedly amused and quietly confident way of a man at ease with himself and used to praise, appreciative of it and happy to show his gratitude for the patronage and admiration. A good solid bloke.
And that he was.
What do you say, though? I mean, you know the man’s been asked every single question about Python a hundred times over, so . . . you avoid it completely, unless he brings it up. I had no intention of asking about it, because I wanted to ask about the art documentaries and East of Ipswich, which was a wise move: he has a fondness for that movie, as well as he should. I showed him the picture I showed you last week, how it unlocked the Gumby to me, how we in America did not know this was something of an archetype. Again, I’m being all me-me-me here, but where else can I do this but my (public) diary?
The evening’s chat went all over the road, from his next show to the days of old radio and TV to art history, London, this, that, the other thing, and then half an hour talking about the book. At one point Michael and Denis were talking about an old radio sci-fi serial they listened to when they were young, and I surreptitiously got out my phone and found a batch on the OTR Library, then played them the opening. It was nice to see their delight: it had been years.
I think I got across the level of fandom when I asked him about a moment in a documentary in which he had paused at a hotel in Copenhagen, looked at the name on a painting - William M. Palin. I’d blown up the painting and rearranged the perspective so we could see it head on, and he was fascinated by that, remembering it, and pleased I'd seized on the detail. I told him what I’d found out about the painter, and how he tangled with a Public Intellectual of the day. (It will be a Here to There.) He was delighted to learn it.
So I am touting all this to you here because I can’t very well do it in the newspaper piece, and because I think you’ll understand that any sort of delight from Mr. P is going to mean a lot.
Then I interviewed him about the book for half an hour. It's a very good piece of work. All of this, I hope you understand, I am saving for the newspaper piece.
At the end of the evening I gave him a bag of things from Minnesota, to express the gratitude of the entire state for a lifetime of enjoyment of his work. It had: a 1940s Minnesota tea towel; a lip-balm from the State Fair in Seed Art flavor (I had some phone pictures of seed art to show him what it was), a Nut Goodie, a single slice of Spam, because of course, Spam; a 1962 Northrup King farmer’s notebook, which he was particularly keen on. (The book relies on the small notebooks kept by his Great Uncle.) I had a picture of Michael and George Harrison from a US tour, taken by a friend who’d interviewed them for the paper, and a copy of an illustration he’d done of Palin in 1979, not something he’d seen, and vodka from Minnesota beets. (And a copy of one of my books.) I had the whole thing in a big bag that was originally intended to hold charcoal briquettes, which I got from Hunt & Gather, and he really liked the bag. I said it was all conveniently package so he could bin the lot when I was out of sight.
It never occurred to me when I was driving around the South selling seeds for Northrup King that I’d give an NK notebook to Michael Palin in London some day, in the impossibly distant future of 2023.
It’s easy to make him laugh; he’s that sort of fellow. But I have to tell you that when I made him laugh, when he actually laughed, complete with head tossed back, it was one of those moments in life you just encase in Lucite and put on the shelf. Put that on my tombstone: “Made Michael Palin Laugh, and Did Not Otherwise Embarrass Himself. Much. Well, a Bit. Alright, Somewhat. Honestly, Loads” or something.
Let me say this about the fellow: when the evening broke up and Astrid drove us to our respective lodgings, he insisted on sitting in the back seat because he was getting out first, and otherwise I’d have to switch.
I would have none of that.
That was absolutely everything I'd ever hoped to do.
By the way:
Holy Grail, Life of Brian, East of Ipswitch, Death of Stalin.
The next morning I left my wretched bedsit at 10:10, had to go back to get something, and discovered my key didn’t work because I put it in the same pocket as my phone. I had it recharged, took the motorized coffin back up, trudged back up the stairs. And it still didn’t work. Back down, get a new key, back up in the coffin, up the stairs, then bang the suitcase down the stairs, outside, just as Astrid was walking up the sidewalk. And here we go, home!
By which I mean, of course, Walberswick.
About two and a half hours up to Suffolk. Back to the long green lane and the fence and the Huut.
Here I would stay for the next four days, back in the work groove at the table where I have sat many morns and afternoons and nights working on the Peg Lynch Revival Project.
So good to be back.
Up in the morning to make myself breakfast while Denis was off swimming in the ocean and read yesterday’s Telegraph. (Denis picks up the current issue at the Tuck Shop on the way back from the ocean, and I do not read it until he is finished. You don’t unfold another man’s paper until he’s given you leave to do so. This is a self-imposed rule, not an adjustment to an imperious implication.) Astrid comes down and we chat about this and that. Afternoon walks with Mabel, who’s getting a bit blind. She still gets up on the table outside to eat her meals, for some reason.
Three instances of dinner / drinks with my Walbers friends this trip. First time, Miles and Barbara. Miles is an actor, son of Sir Ian Richardson, now doing My Fair Lady with Alan Cox, son of Brian Cox, the Succession guy, oh and by the way Brian was in town last week and had dinner and drinks at the Anchor. Texted that to Natalie, who is a superfan of Succession, and since she was on the trivia team with Miles last spring she now has a two-degrees of separation from Logan Roy.
You see why this is all delightfully absurd and absurdly delightful and just damned cool and fun? Oh: Barbara is a solicitor for a media group and defended in court the hacking charges leveled by Prince Harry et al, and was briefly viral because Sky News shot her walking down the middle of the street in barrister mufti as Harry’s car pulled up, so it looks as if she’s leading him to court.
The sort of evening that ends in a sing-a-long and impressions of other actors and singers. And gossip. And old tales of theater days. (aka gossip.)
Well, I've work to do.
Back in the work groove at the table where I have sat many morns and afternoons and nights working on the Peg Lynch Revival Project. In this instance I was adding graphics to the podcasts for the YouTube release, designing and tweaking. It’s coming soon, since that’s where we’re going to release it. You will love it.
If there's a better place to end the day, please let me know.