Watch Colin Thubron on South Bank talking about why he travels. Though he’s very serious and intense, I like what he says about the urge to travel. It’s not escape, it’s more about enhancement of your life. Widening horizons, physically and mentally.
Travelling To Work
In the last entry of the last published volume of my diaries I was in my bed at home trying to salvage what sleep I could before leaving for nearly twelve weeks away on the most ambitious project I had ever got myself into. It might well have been a dream then, the semi-wakeful fantasy of a would-be traveller who had reached his mid-forties with no great adventures to show for it.
By the time this third volume of Diaries begins, it is no dream. In my first entry I’m just out of bed, washing my smalls, no longer in the comfort of my own home, but in a ship’s cabin halfway down the Adriatic Sea. I’m a full four days into a very big adventure which will shape my working life for the next twenty-five years.
Read extracts from the latest volume of Michael’s Diaries, 1988 to 1998 below. (New entries added regularly.)
Friday, May 31st, 1991
Earlier this evening Alan (Bleasdale) and Robert were on Wogan. Asked about me, Alan said that I hated, above all else, being called nice … ‘but he is so nice!’ he went on and told the story of the only time in the whole of GBH when he’d seen me in a sulk, which was when I’d asked for an Independent and been delivered a Guardian!
Thursday, October 25th, 1990
Plunged into a silliness over Python’s reaction to Thatcher’s recital of the ‘Parrot Sketch’. (She had likened the Liberal Democrats to a dead parrot, only to find two weeks’ later the Liberal Democrat candidate had overturned a big Conservative majority at Eastbourne). ‘The Parrot has Twitched’ said Paddy Ashdown after Eastbourne and in a sense the by-election slap round the face has made Thatcher look very silly and the Parrot indeed will not be mentioned by her again…
TJ is the only one who still wants to sue her. Anne has come up with a press release reflecting Eric and JC’s wish not to sue but to issue a silly statement about Thatcher being ‘tired and shagged out after a long squawk’. Too late to sue anyway. Impact lost now I feel. But I have to ring TJ and tell him this. He doesn’t push his view and we make amicable arrangements to meet next week.
Tuesday, September 11th, 1990, Ulverston
Shoot the car chase sequence in our rotten old Volkswagen Variant. Most of the morning taken up with stunt driving. Andy Bradford, who fell down a mountain as Ashby in Switzerland, now risks his life as Jim Nelson on the back roads of Cumbria.
The commissioning editor for C4 and his assistant are visiting. Alan has to entertain them. A long, very noisy meal.
Remark of Dan’s makes me laugh longer and more helplessly than I remember for months. I say that I can control the dog quite easily and it will obey whichever command I give it … ‘Come!’ or ‘Kneel!’ … ‘Oh, kneel, surely,’ says Dan with anxious distaste. For some reason we all collapse.
To bed at one o’clock. Two and a half hours later than I meant to be.
Sunday, June 17th, 1990
A delicious prospect of a day when I need feel no guilt at not working, when I can legitimately ease off and give my system a chance to recover. And it’s warm and there’s some sunshine outside.
Bleasdale rings – they start shooting GBH tomorrow. Like us, they’re starting in on the emotional hard centre – with Michael Murray, Barbara and Murray’s mum. Try to think of myself as part of them, but it’s too remote.
Work in the garden, watch World Cup football and enjoy pork roast for dinner – all of which makes me feel very content.
Friday, October 27th, 1989, London–Stocks House, Hertfordshire
Clem calls with the best news of the 80 Days transmission thus far – the viewing figures actually built, on the second episode, to 8.6 million.
Back home and into a hectic hour of packing for JC’s 50th birthday party. JC’s present, a 1939 bottled Armagnac arrives, as well as his Margaret Thatcher plate. Neat timing in view of Lawson’s resignation.*
Leave for Stocks at 7.15, arrive at the house less than an hour later. We’ve been given a room with a waterbed. Already guests gathering in the hall with their obligatory funny hats on.
Jeremy’s sheep on my head is easily the biggest and silliest and most inventive. David Hatch later says it’s a hat which grew more silly as the evening went on.** Every time he looked up and saw me talking earnestly or toying with white wine and smoked salmon, the sheep on my head, wobbling and nodding, gave him more and more pleasure.
The ‘entertainment’ works extremely well. All my props, especially the parrots and the spangly jacket I found at the last moment, are greatly appreciated, and I read the This Is Your Life joke intro smoothly, despite this being the first time I’ve worn my specs in public. David Frost, John Lloyd, David Hatch (very, very funny in a deadpan BBC way), Stephen Fry (‘Some men are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness faxed through to them’) and Peter Cook – not as good on his feet as he is at table – make the awards, and Shamberg shows some video tributes, including one from Jamie who is seen at home greedily apportioning her Wanda money – ‘house’, ‘education’, ‘divorce’.
It’s all a great success and it’s a quarter to two before Helen and I climb aboard the waterbed, bringing on distinct memories of the dhow.
*Nigel Lawson, Chancellor of the Exchequer in Margaret Thatcher’s government since 1983, resigned over the role played by Sir Alan Walters, the Prime Minister’s economic adviser.
** David Hatch was an ex-Cambridge Footlight and close friend of John’s who rose to become Head of Radio at the BBC. He died in 2007. The upturned sheep on my head was made for me by my nephew Jeremy Herbert.
Sunday, October 8th, 1989
Tom’s 21st birthday.
Rachel makes a 1968–1989 poster and Will does some very silly things on the photocopier with Tom’s head and other bodies.
Show some early film of Tom which is riotously received. It’s almost uncannily appropriate, too, that one of the Super 8 films shot in the very first days of Python shows Tom as a baby at Remenham climbing over a sleeping, supine Cleese and Connie whilst Graham does handstands in the background, and wanders across frame smoking his pipe!
Sunday, January 1st, 1989
Mrs B [our cleaner] comes in for a drink and we talk about what Oak Village used to be like. Mrs B bought a pram from a lady who lived here. About that time our house was a ‘sort of club’ and Mrs B hadn’t liked to ask further about it.
Also a wonderful story about the war. There was an air raid shelter in Lismore Circus and one night a lady came in to find a friend of hers… unfortunately the friend’s name was Cass. She couldn’t get any response so shouted the length of the shelter for her. ‘Cass! Cass!’ Mrs B says she never saw such a panic. Half-cooked food went flying as everyone scrambled for their masks.