Michael Palin entertains capacity attendance at Literary Festival
IN my mind's eye, I was looking at Ken, sitting at a table chewing a fish called Wanda while having chips stuffed up his nose by Kevin Kline.
But now, here was Michael Palin, elegant, elderly and eloquent. He was leaning on his elbow at the mike reading from his diaries, removing and replacing his specs like a college professor.
Palin was visiting the West Cork Literary Festival last Thursday evening in Bantry to promote the diaries, his latest book, 'Halfway to Hollywood.' The tickets had been snapped up within days of going on sale and the capacity audience filled the largest function room in the Maritime Hotel.
Michael Palin, comedian, author, scriptwriter, and intrepid traveller, has now added another string to his bow, that of diarist.
He started keeping a diary when he gave up smoking in 1969, in the months before his first incarnation in 'Monty Python.' He continues this practice every morning, recording the events of the previous day.
The diaries, edited of the more sensitive material, chronicle his thoughts and observations down through the years: his son beginning secondary school; watching his ageing mother who was having tea with him; visiting the chiropodist with his veruca; self-inserting an enema not knowing exactly how it should work.
The entries are short, witty and pithy, devoid of naval gazing or any meandering on the meaning of life. They are written with humour, honesty and compassion.
After reading each excerpt Palin entertained by explaining or elaborating on it. He engaged his audience with his relaxed, easy style, as if he were chatting to friends over a pint. The room was rocking with laughter for much of the time.
When he was in Tibet he and his team arranged an audience with the Dali Lama. The famous religious leader solemnly shook hands with each member of the team and to the amusement of Palin greeted him with "I know you; I see you on the BBC." It transpired that, like Palin, the Dali Lama had been fascinated with maps and travel since childhood.
Palin was pleased to discover that his great grandfather, an Oxford Don, also kept a diary. Oxford Dons were required to be celibate in those days and he ruefully recorded in his diary a meeting with an attractive young lady he had met. She was chaperoned by an American woman who was taking her on a tour of Europe and he was obviously smitten.
To Palin's delight, he had made a later entry on the same page, "We were married in Paris in 1865. She has made me the happiest of men". Breda, the lady in question, was Irish, having emigrated to America during the famine. Perhaps that goes some way in explaining Michael Palin's passion for storytelling and writing.
When the allotted time was up, the floor was open to questions. There was no shortage of interesting topics. Where did he get his inspiration? ("Sitting in front of our teachers for hours on end"). What was his funniest sketch? ("Doing a mock folk dance which involved slapping John Cleese on the cheeks with two fish").
Festival director, Denyse Woods, brought the evening to a close. As I was leaving, a long line had formed for book signing. People clutched copies of 'Halfway to Hollywood,' as well as 'Around the World in 80 Days' and others of his earlier books.
There was a buzz of excitement as people waited to have their personal moment with our latterday Phileas Fogg. It would be a late night for Michael Palin
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