As in Halfway to Hollywood and The Python Years, Travelling to Work contains a decade's worth of unedited, unabridged diary entries from multi-talented funnyman Michael Palin. In this volume, the last Palin has agreed to publish, the former Python documents his experience hosting a series of BBC travel documentaries even as he continues to develop new dimensions as a writer and actor.
Python faithful will love Palin's candid comments and wry wit even as they are awed by his dogged work ethic and myriad accomplishments. From his work for the BBC to his dramatic portrayal of the headmaster on Alan Bleasdale's award-winning drama GBH, to his success as screenwriter, playwright and novelist, these pages display a true modern-day Renaissance Man. Included as well are behind the scenes stories from the making of Fierce Creatures, the tumultuous follow-up to A Fish Called Wanda, along with Palin's reflections on dealings with his manager, editors and publishers--enough insider information to please any show business enthusiast.
In short, Travelling to Work is a roller-coaster ride driven by the Palin hallmarks curiosity, a sense of adventure and unflappable cool demonstrating he is truly, in his own words, 'someone grounded and safe who can be tempted into almost anything.'
About the Author
MICHAEL PALIN is a scriptwriter, comedian, novelist, television presenter, actor and playwright. He established his reputation with Monty Python's Flying Circus and Ripping Yarns. His work also includes several films with Monty Python, as well as The Missionary, A Private Function, A Fish Called Wanda, American Friends and Fierce Creatures. His television credits include two films for the BBC's Great Railway Journeys, the plays East of Ipswich and Number 27, and Alan Bleasdale's GBH.
In 2006 the first volume of his diaries, 1969-1979: The Python Years, became an international bestseller. He has also written books to accompany his seven very successful travel series, Around the World in 80 Days, Pole to Pole, Full Circle, Hemingway Adventure, Sahara, Himalaya and New Europe. He is the author of a number of children's stories, the play The Weekend and the novel Hemingway's Chair.
MICHAEL PALIN is a comedian, novelist, actor, playwright, and founding member of Monty Python. He is the author of the novel Hemingway's Chair as well as several books on the history of Monty Python, including The Pythons, and numerous travel guides, including Brazil and Sahara. He also happens to be one of the funniest people on the planet. He lives in London, England.
Read an Excerpt
Michael Palin Diaries 1988-1998
Travelling to Work
By Michael Palin
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2014 Michael Palin
All rights reserved.
Wednesday, September 28th: Aboard Espresso Egitto on the Adriatic
I've just got up, washed two pairs of socks and pants and considered what to wear for the day. As we have shots that are continuity with last night, I have to settle for the trousers I've worn since leaving London on Sunday morning and my second shirt of the voyage.
The sea is calm, my cabin, which is one of the more comfortable, has two beds alongside each other and a shower and loo. A porthole looks onto the deck and a lifeboat hangs above.
The journey has been fast and furious until now. Yesterday we were up and filming at first light in Venice – we left the city yesterday evening.
I still find the nights a problem. Last night I slept six hours, but that was with the help of a pill which I took in a panic about two. I swear not to take them again except in extremis. They do so little anyway.
Occasionally the realisation that this whole project is supported on my shoulders and demands not just my survival but my wit, energy, exuberance and enthusiasm quite terrifies me. It is going to be a supreme test, and now, only onto my fourth day and feeling low on all levels, I just can't contemplate the same continuing for two and a half more months.
But I'm determined to pull this off. Failure is unthinkable.
Thursday, September 29th: Espresso Egitto
It's nearly one o'clock and clear skies outside over the Saronian Gulf. We've just completed the quite dramatic navigational feat of the passage of the Corinth Canal – a man-made gorge it took us an hour to pass through.
Feel in good spirits today after a long sleep.
Phone Helen after breakfast and, despite the crew crouching and filming every word, it is one of our better phone calls and Helen sounds clear and very pleased to hear me – and surprised too. I don't think she'd expected a call from the ship.
These boat journeys will, I think, be a necessary interlude between periods of intense rush and activity.
The crew of the boat are treating us nobly, though I suspect they could turn ugly if they're not enjoying themselves. Today I got up in my Adriatica T-shirt, which pleased them – I was promptly given a sailor's hat.
It's hot outside now – the scrub-covered mountains of Greece are all around. Glad of the air-conditioning on the Egitto.
Friday, September 30th: Espresso Egitto
This boat trip has been restorative. I'm eager and receptive to places – especially glad I stirred myself from bed this morning to run into Heraklion. I don't suffer, as yet, from seasickness or homesickness.
Fears about my adequacy for the journey persist. I don't think now that I shan't make it, as I did that gloomy first morning on the Egitto – my worries now are what I shall make out of it.
My style is friendly, humorous and laid-back. It isn't best suited for revealing things about people – whose right to privacy I respect, as I would want them to respect mine. How much of the time should I be acting?
Saturday, October 1st: Espresso Egitto
Slept fitfully until finally rising at 6.20 to watch us approach Alexandria.
A thorough break with Europe, which I suppose could have been disturbing, but which I find exhilarating and energising. So the day dazzles and everything, all the hard work and the rushing around from location to location and city to city, encourages and stimulates me.
All we need at the end of our first week is sleep. We've filmed well and interestingly on the whole – though it is hard to get people on camera to be as easygoing and informative and anecdotal as they are off.
Sunday, October 2nd: Cairo
Sour taste of tourism at the Pyramids, and back to film two interviews in the bar of the Windsor (where many stars of Egyptian theatre and opera gather!). Conscious of asking easy questions, not probing enough, being almost too respectful. Always after the interview I think of the one question I should have asked.
Monday, October 3rd: Suez
Seven o'clock at the Red Sea Hotel – the silence outside on the straight, empty avenues is quite a shock after Cairo. So is the hot water, even though it's only a shower – no bath since Venice. The room is quite characterless and depressing, as is Suez. Can't wait to get on a boat tomorrow and get moving.
This morning we completed various shots in and around the hotel and I didn't have to go out. As in New York City, one has to be fit and strong to go out into the streets of Cairo, and a two-hour lay-off in the morning to write cards and ring the office was much needed and appreciated. Wanda is over 50 million in the States now. [The film A Fish Called Wanda had been released in the USA on July 15th.] Terry J starts Erik the Viking in Malta on the 19th.
The journey by taxi to Suez was pretty grim. The heat, dust, traffic and fumes of Cairo for the first half-hour were as uncomfortable as anything I've experienced so far on the trip. Once out of Cairo we were in desert – relics of war, barracks and endless rubbish tips.
The hotel is dry and we're all meeting at 7.30 to seek out a place for beer.
Wednesday, October 5th: Aboard the Saudi Moon 2, on the Red Sea
As of today the journey has become quite an adventure. Information reaching us from Jeddah indicates that all our options must be reconsidered. I might have to drive across Arabia – but our visas, we think, confine us to Jeddah. I may be dropped from a container boat to go ashore at Muscat, or we may be in Jeddah for four or five days, losing precious time.
The Arab world was always to be the most difficult, Clem Vallance had warned. Even he is now lost for answers. So we move on a rolling sea towards Jeddah and uncertainty on a considerable scale. It will be very hot, we shall have our patience tested to the limits, and we shall have to work a hard and long day.
What's more, we have been eleven travelling and filming days in succession and a day off would be an orgasmic pleasure. None beckons. Add to this poor food on the boat and a delicate situation in my stomach. Still, thanks to Allah – Insh-Allah! – it'll be the longest time I've been without alcohol for decades!
Out on deck as I write (10 p.m.) are sleeping, like corpses, hundreds of Egyptian workers, many of whom are leaving everything behind for a year or more.
Friday, October 7th: Red Sea Palace Hotel, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
Day 13, country number 9. Outside my fourth-floor windows to the left it is a modern cityscape that looks back at me, dual carriageways, roundabouts, traffic moving in plenty of space, tall, featureless concrete high-rise clusters. Move a little to my left, say, to pick up an apple from the complimentary basket, and I look down on a beleaguered, ill-kempt quarter of older houses, four storeys at most with balconies of wood and screens and carved details about the windows.
First thing to be said about Jeddah is that it has been a rest and renewal stop. Our arrival on an uncluttered dockside, even our efficient clearance through customs, thanks to Ahmed and the presence of young Nick from the embassy in Riyadh, was much less of a strain than doing anything in Egypt.
The hotel – affluent, international, but really conforming to American standards of comfort and service – may be nothing to do with the real Saudi Arabia, but it has provided hot water and a bath and space and service and laundry and room to move and gather wits.
Sunday, October 9th: Riyadh
It's 8.30, dazzlingly bright outside and two weeks since I left home on a grey, London autumn morning. Ironically, here in the middle of the Arabian desert, I find myself in surroundings as familiar, comfortable and un-foreign as I've known in those two weeks. English businessmen and English voices downstairs in the lobby of the Al-Khozama, and in the breakfast room croissants and coffee almost as good as any I might have been sharing with Rachel two or three weeks ago.
Perhaps that's why I woke with an unspecifically dissatisfied feeling. Not about the travel, which I'm thoroughly enjoying and responding to, but about this sort of place – it's like America. In my Arabian Nights-led imagination it's an exotic, romantic location on the map, but the reality is depressing. Neon bursting out everywhere, buildings everywhere. Commerce and no culture, except the Islamic culture which the West doesn't really seem to want to know about. Cairo was grottier, but it moved me, made me think.
Tuesday, October 11th: InterContinental Hotel, Dubai Midway through our second day in Dubai. Very hot this morning as we filmed at the dhow-builders – 110 in the sun – sweat poured off us. I took the opportunity for a run this morning, half an hour from 7.45, along the waterfront, past dhows loading, past the small, wood-hulled boats ferrying people to work across the creek, past ancient, wafer-thin old gentlemen in white robes who remind me of my mother.
A pleasant, cosmopolitan scene – Indian, Pakistani faces and Iranians and Syrians, African faces and Semitic faces, fat noses and long, beaky noses. Dull eyes, frightened eyes and calculating eyes.
I've now run three times since we left and would like to have done more, but feel in good shape still and fit for tomorrow's real adventure – the dhow trip.
From tomorrow we have a week in another world, one much simpler and more rugged than our own. Instead of bending them to us (as places like the InterContinental Hotel do), we shall have to bend to them.
Wednesday, October 19th: Taj Hotel, Bombay
It's late – 11.45. Later, by several hours, than I've been to bed for the last seven days. I feel a slight tiredness in the eyes, an ache, otherwise well. Have eaten today for the first time since my stomach turned on Sunday night. My bags are open and airing, laundry is being done, I'm spread out and reordering my life in this disorderly city after seven days and nights on the dhow.
The experience was unique. Never have I been in a situation where, for so long, I depended upon a group of people quite different from me in wealth, class, race, religion and circumstance. All of us unequivocal in our appreciation of the crew from Gujarat.
How I shall sleep without the stars and the sea remains to be seen.
Thursday, October 20th: Bombay
The end of my first night in Bombay. Post-dhow euphoria dissipated.
I realise in the unblinking light of the morning sunshine that I have days ahead as hard, in their way, as any dhow journey. There's not a day off as we record Bombay, the overnight train and Madras.
I must rise to it all. There's no way one can retreat from the demands of India, no way one can do it on the defensive. Unshaven, unrested and uncomfortable, I must up and face the day and hope I shall pull through. The next five or six days are the most testing of the whole journey.
Friday, October 21st: Bombay
Bombay is the most difficult place to film yet. The people who stare at camera, the dripping humidity, the extraordinary locations – today in amongst grinding poverty watching a mongoose driven to draw blood from a snake. It is wearing us all down. Roger [Mills, one of our two directors] drives us gently, considerately, but persistently on.
Monday, October 24th: Connemara Hotel, Madras
Thirty days have gone. We've been through twelve countries, spent two nights on trains, 13 nights on boats, including seven on an open dhow, and I've slept in 13 different beds since we left London. We've recorded our progress daily, on film, tape and in notebooks. Though there are still 50 days available, I think, on paper, the worst is over. Only six more countries to pass through, and 28 days and nights will be spent at sea.
Hopefully we have more than half of the series already shot. My contribution, I think, will not be precision, analysis and revelation, but honesty, directness, openness and enthusiasm. I hope I reflect the fact that anything can happen on a journey if you allow it to.
Is this enough? I think of seeing all this through Jonathan Miller's and Alan Bennett's and Terry Gilliam's eyes and how much sharper and more original it might all be. But the fact is I have the easy, untroubled character that will, I hope, make me an interesting victim rather than a cool observer.
As of midday on Day 30, at the Connemara in Madras, in my room which was once in the summer palace of the Nawabs of Wallajah, I feel I've achieved something.
Sunday, October 30th: Aboard Susak, Bay of Bengal
It's a Sunday and Sundays seem to be the days most susceptible to the stirrings of homesickness. And today aboard the Susak I have time on my hands. We've filmed most of our sequences over the last three days of the voyage, so, at the time of writing – 9.20 in the morning – I'm on my bed in the sickroom with the indistinct but mountainous skyline of Great Nicobar Island on the port horizon, nearly a thousand miles from Madras and with two and a half more days' sailing down the busy shipping lanes of the Malacca Strait until we reach Singapore. So, plenty of time to think.
It was a Sunday, too, when I last saw the family, five weeks ago. Five weeks doesn't sound much to me now. Can all that we've done and seen and recorded thus far have taken less than half our scheduled time? All this to go through again and still not be home?
Allied to these thoughts comes the image of Rachel following my progress, pinning up another of my postcards and, I realise, with a guilty and inadequate feeling, that it's Rachel I miss most, because, in a sense, I'm sure she misses me most. All of this quite unfair on Helen, but then she's been through it before and she has such a well-organised support system of friends and activities.
What I do know, and what keeps me from ever feeling desperately sorry for myself, is that the journey is, at every stage, remarkable and memorable. I shall never travel like this again, I shall never see so much so quickly, and when I am home and with the family again, I shall miss moments like this, in the hospital bay of a Yugoslav container boat, crossing the Bay of Bengal with the coast of Great Nicobar Island coming closer, and I shall feel sick for travel – as potently as I ever feel sick for home.
Tuesday, November 1st: Susak
It's just after nine in the morning. I sit on deck writing at the table at which we enjoyed the great barbecue party on Sunday. Today the weather is markedly different. Skies are grey and the air is sticky, warm and humid.
Last night was my sixth night in the hospital with Nigel and it was a night of doubts and broken sleep.
Should I be doing this programme? Am I the right man for the job? Should I not be extending my acting and writing skills? Have I not taken a journey round the world as a convenient way of avoiding other career decisions?
As we move slowly by sea, I have plenty of time to think. I'm better when we're on the move, working fast. But I have to face a lot more of this slack-paced travel in the next few weeks and maybe good will come of it ... insights will be revealed.
Thursday, November 3rd: Aboard the Neptune Diamond, South China Sea, Singapore to Hong Kong
Forty days out of London: quite a landmark. We're currently in 'moderate swell' for the first time since the English Channel, but the wind has grown over the last 24 hours to a Force 7, heading almost straight at us, out of the north, so outside my yellow-carpeted suite with its all-plastic bathroom and yellow flower-pattern chair cover with plaid/gathered fringes, there is a spectacular seascape.
All of a sudden the sea that has been for so long our firm, friendly, cosseting and encompassing supporter is agitated with ridges of water flying before the wind and smashing against the side of the ship, sending columns of spray high into the sky and waves upturning themselves against the wall and somersaulting backwards to crash back on the next wave, propelling a boiling white wash a hundred yards out to sea.
Sunday, November 6th: Peninsula Hotel, Hong Kong
Yesterday my bag strap broke as I stepped off the Neptune Diamond gangplank. Now it's mended, thanks to the Peninsula's expertise. This morning the task I have to set them is to try and plug the holes in my trousers which a parrot made in an unprovoked attack on yesterday's visit to the Bird Market. Well, all right, I had asked the parrot if he knew John Cleese.
Friday, November 11th: Aboard the Jian Zhen between Shanghai and Yokohama
We're four and a half hours out of Shanghai at the mouth of the Yangtze River. The whirlwind week in Hong Kong and China is over, tiredness overcome by the fascination with what I was seeing. A sore throat has been threatening for two or three days.
In my cabin, and sipping the first of my three-day course of Chinese reinvigoration medicine – bought at the shop in Shanghai.
Clem has declared tomorrow a day off.
Excerpted from Michael Palin Diaries 1988-1998 by Michael Palin. Copyright © 2014 Michael Palin. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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Table of Contents
List of Illustrations,
Who's Who in the Diaries,
Extracts from Michael Palin's Diaries, 1999,
About the Author,
Praise for Travelling to Work,