Two episodes of the series have now been transmitted and from the latest figures it looks as if some 2 million people have been getting into Iraq each week. And yesterday was the first night of my stage tour, From North Korea Into Iraq. Friendly audience at the Arts Depot in North Finchley for a mixture of photos, reminiscences, and some of the most memorable clips from the series.
I head for Colchester on Saturday to start my short round Britain tour at the Charter Hall. It’s so good to be back again live. I have a rough script that can be changed and tweaked according to the audience reaction, so no two shows are ever the same. It’s good fun, and for a 79-year old better than any stay-younger pill.
The interest in war-battered Iraq is really pleasing. I feel people are interested in how countries get through tough times. Not that I really needed to leave our shores.
To those of you who’ve bought tickets I really look forward to seeing you, and to all those who’ve bought the book or e-book or listened to my reading on Audible huge thanks. Let’s hear it for Iraq!
Buy the book: Into Iraq by Michael Palin
Find out more: Into Iraq
Very sad news of the Queen’s death. She was a pivotal figure in my lifetime, quietly and consistently holding things together in often bewildering times.
She had a strong sense of humour and could tell a story well. My wife and I were very fortunate to have been entertained at Windsor Castle. Her Majesty, very relaxed, indicated the impressive carpet we were standing on and how it had replaced another, damaged when a strand got caught in a vacuum cleaner and with the maid totally oblivious, the carpet slowly unwound behind her. Far from being angry at the loss of a good carpet, the Queen told the story with fully mimed actions and much laughter. Lovely to have a monarch who liked slapstick.
I’m really sorry it’s been so long since my last post, and for all those of you who still find time to read this stuff I should follow my apology with an explanation. The first couple of months of the year were spent in the great waiting room of life whilst the possibility of another travel series was being debated. In the meantime I spent thirty hours in a basement studio in Clerkenwell trying to stop my tummy rumbling as I recorded the unabridged version of my first volume of Diaries, The Python Years.
Then suddenly, in the appropriately mad month of March, things sprang to life. Our idea of filming a series in Iraq was green-lit by Channel 5 and ITN, and before I knew it I was re-united with my North Korea crew in the baggage hall at Heathrow.
By the end of March we were back from battle-hardened Iraq having travelled for almost three weeks and seen things, people and places the like of which I’d never seen before in all my travels. The scenes weren’t always happy. Many of them reflected the violence of the past few decades when Iraq was disfigured by war and the threat of war. But we met some souls who’d been through it all and whose resilience was an inspiration.
And at least there is peace there now. Peace, with its own set of problems.
Back home in April and down to my Clerkenwell basement again. This time to record the fat 656 pages of Halfway To Hollywood - my diaries of the 1980’s. As day succeeded day I cursed myself for writing so much about my life, and promised myself I’d cut down. But I’ve already failed, as you can see.
In May, as my 79th birthday rolled by, despite my trying to ignore it, I worked through my Iraq diaries and voice recordings whilst they were still fresh in my mind and within a month had put together a book of the journey.
Into Iraq is the working title of book and three-part series. Both are now in the oven and should be nicely ready by September, but I’ll let you know.
If there’s anyone still out there, that is.
Ken Branagh's film Belfast is an overwhelming and moving experience. It reminds us that the human spirit is resilient. That there is a flame of goodness and decency and compassion in all of us that can flicker and fade but will never be blown out.
Because of the events that Branagh deals with, the vicious sectarian violence and the heavy handed military response which followed, Belfast became a city to avoid. A city synonymous with grief and anger, with lives and hopes cut short.
In 1981, when I was asked to put on a one-man show at the Arts Theatre Belfast during the Festival, I readily agreed. Friends were guarded about my decision. There were bombs going off, and killings and reprisal killings were still a regular feature of life in the city. But the rationale for my travels has always been see it for yourself. If you want to know what people think you first have to meet them.
This was the first time I'd ever done a one-man show, and I'd loaded myself with a paraphernalia of costume and prop changes which I knew had to be done fast otherwise I'd lose my audience. So well-rehearsed was I that I ran out of material after 35 minutes. I threw myself on the audience, announcing an early interval (' Drink as much as you like') and a whole second half of Q and A.
The response was fantastic, including a suggestion I try and break the Arts Theatre record for running from the stage, round the auditorium and back onto the stage again which I was told had been set by Sir John Gielgud at 19.5 seconds. ( I beat it by three seconds !) I learnt a valuable lesson in Belfast that night. Listen to the audience. Hear what they say about where they live.
I returned to the Festival two years later with a show called More Than Thirty Five Minutes with Michael Palin. I went back there throughout the 80's. Though I was offered the Grand Opera House I always preferred the shabby intimacy of the Arts Theatre. It was twenty years before I ever felt the need to do my one-man show anywhere else.
Thank you Belfast.
For me, one of the most impressive sights in Premier League football is the ability of Marcelo Bielsa, the Leeds United manager, to squat for long periods of the game. Whilst most managers pace up and down, or throw water bottles, Bielsa will be down on his haunches, watching his team from about three foot off the ground. Leaving aside the question of whether or not this is a good vantage point to follow the game, he does display an almost nonchalant talent for a position most of us couldn’t easily hold for more than a minute.
The sad truth is that we in the West have lost the art of squatting, which must have come as a sixth sense to our forefathers, and which still comes naturally to much of the rest of the world. I blame the chair. In The Complete And Utter History of Britain series Terry Jones wrote a sketch in which a man goes to the patent office with the very first chair. When asked what it’s for he replies that ‘it’s for sitting down, higher up’.
And once you can sit down higher up, you can look down on those below you and chairs become thrones and pretty soon you’re bossing people about and getting them to kneel. Squatting is not just an egalitarian activity, it’s also proven to be a much better position for emptying your bowels. Lavatories offer a greater control of waste disposal but a much less effective way of waste expulsion.
On my travels, especially in what we rather patronisingly call the less industrialized countries, I found that squatting is for many the default position not just for defecation but for conversation too. It requires no paraphernalia other than strong quads and pliable hamstrings. And it does away with ticket touts.
I think we could learn a thing or two from Marcelo Bielsa.