Eric Idle OnlineMy Life

Around The Town in Eighty Days.

By , August 6, 2013 11:58 pm

Chapter One:   The Reform Club.

I had been living in London in agreeable circumstances for some years and was beginning to tire of the sedentary life.  I was becoming listless, moody, what one might call “middle aged.” One night over dinner (a veal cutlet with just a hint of mint) a casual friend observed that with the state of London traffic nowadays you would be lucky to even get around the town in 80 days. This was just the challenge I needed.

Two days later I kissed my wife goodbye and set out on the first stage of my journey: to find the Reform Club.  I knew from extensive research, that all such journeys began with a wager at the Reform club, and a man in the pub bet me I couldn’t even find it.   This, again, was just the challenge I needed.  How difficult could it be?   To simplify matters I took a taxi.

There is no better way to go broke than riding around in a London taxi with a cheerful cabbie giving you the benefit of his prejudices.  I stepped into that cab with as much confidence as Jules Verne himself must have felt stepping into a hansom to take his manuscript to the publishers.   The Cabbie did not let me down.  He was an amusing fellow with lots of cheerful opinions about hanging anybody who disagreed with him, and I soon shut his window and settled down to sleep.   I realised that on this gruelling journey I should need plenty of rest, and that if I was to pass through such places as South London, I would require all the mental and physical strength I could muster.

My wife had confused me by yelling Passport, through the window as I left, but as I mused on her strange lack of knowledge of South London (a passport is not required in this country until I believe you get to Yorkshire) I became more and more convinced that she was referring to Passepartout, the resourceful French servant of the indefatigable Phineas Fogg.

Now it is not such an easy thing to pick up French servants in London.   The French do not take easily to servitude, and on the whole are rude and unhelpful, with the exception of the odd waiter, and the more I thought about it the less I wished to be accompanied on my journey by an odd waiter.   The thought occurred to me that some sultry French poule from a maison de luxe would be an agreeable companion on a long trip, perhaps in a nice starched maids costume, or tight fitting waspie, and so I wasted some time in Soho attempting to find such a person to fit the bill.   In the end it was the bill that squashed the idea.  Most of the young ladies I approached wanted thirty quid an hour.  At their current rate for eighty days that would cost me fifty seven and a half thousand pounds.    No French serving girl could be worth that much.   Let alone girls called Doris and Tracey.  My slender budget would never run to it, and my wife would kill me.   So I reluctantly abandoned the idea of the French maid and continued my quest to find the Reform Club alone.

London is an agreeable place in the Spring, providing you carry an umbrella, and as I strolled through St. James’ Park admiring the guardsmen I realised just how much was going on all around me in this throbbing city. I knew that the Reform Club could not be far away and as I approached one or two civil servants who seemed to be playing in the bushes, to ask directions I soon discovered that servants they might well be but civil never.

When did the Englishman change from the polite gentleman of fiction into the resentful and envious burk of today?  One expects a certain yobbish element in North London at the weekends, but this was a Royal park in broad daylight. My polite enquiries were met by cynically raised eyebrows, two plain “Fuck offs” and a request to furl my umbrella where hitherto only family doctors wearing gloves had feared to tread.

I must confess to being somewhat shaken by this first experience with the natives, and resolved to avoid the bowler hat brigade in future.  What is it about this ridiculous headgear that confers on them the right to hurl abuse at strangers who are not similarly attired in the hat department?  Perhaps it constricts the flow of blood to the brain.

I was musing on this thorny problem when I was struck by a Japanese tourist.  Picking myself up I began to apologise as one does when one is knocked over by a stranger out of the blue.

“No poblem.  Don’t aporogise. No harm done” said the smiling Oriental, taking my picture.

“Where is Abbey Load?

“What?”

“Abbey Load clossing, home of Beatles”.

My heart skipped a beat.  Abbey Road.  That was very close to my own beautiful home.   Every day it pulsated with Japanese tourists who had come twelve thousand miles so they could photograph each other just like on the Beatles album cover.  Should I give in to my impulses now I was so close to my goal?   The thought of my wife and my own comfy chair was too much to resist.   Tomorrow I could find the Reform Club.   I hailed a cab, and pausing only to shove Mr Yakitori through the door, was soon back amongst the familiar purlieus of St. Johns Wood.

 

 

 

 

Unfinished Business

By , July 8, 2013 2:03 am

I always say there is no such thing as bad work, only unfinished work.

I’m not sure if that’s true but I came across this lyric from the unfinished play Death The Musical, which caught my eye and made me smile.

It has a beautiful melody by John Du Prez, which probably deserves a less ironic lyric.

In my usual way I have given the lyrics a polish.   Is it still unfinished?

In the play we had a character called Diva attending the funeral of a close friend and here she imagines her own death…

 

On The Day A Diva Dies

 

The whole world holds its breath tonight

Around the planet news is flying

Hold the front page, hush the stage

Diva’s dying!

We interrupt your world tonight

The sad word is just coming through

Apparently it’s really true

She’s left us, she’s bereft us

Whatever will we do?

 

On the day a Diva dies

The birds fall silent in the trees

Journalists fall to their knees

Everybody grieves

Nobody believes

A Diva can just die.

 

Can it be even true the evening news man said

The world can go on turning now that Diva’s dead?

The Broadway lights will all shut down

A silence falls in New York town

All Government suspended

A Diva’s life has ended.

 

Three days my body lies in State

While the beautiful and great

Around the block all stand and wait

To see me lying there.

Oprah will officiate

While Deepak Choprah mourns my fate

And tells us to appreciate

The gifts I came to share.

 

On the day a Diva dies

The skies will rain quite magically

And people will look tragically

As off in her coffin she slowly trundles by.

Sir Elton John will sing along

A brand new Paul McCartney song

And of course our own dear Cher

Will wear some brand new hair.

 

And there is me at center stage

Not even looking half my age

All peaceful while emotions rage,

But who will sing my final prayer?

Not Madonna I don’t want her there,

Joni is too bony and Barbara won’t dare

And what in heaven’s name,

Am I going to wear?

Maybe Tom Ford, Prada,

Surely something white?

Valentino’s good, but Chanel is best at night

And hell I’ll need some make up

I don’t want to look a fright.

 

And then what sort of casket?

It must be something cute,

One doesn’t want to look

Just like a basket of old fruit.

Metallic coffins are quite in

Perhaps bronze or even tin?

Or maybe, this could be a first,

There’s plenty of room in ‘em,

Have something in aluminum

Designed by Damien Hirst.

 

Which Funeral Director will they pick?

Scorsese perhaps or Coppola

They might do the trick.

Mike Nichols is too busy

Spielberg’s far too slow

Tarantino is too dizzy

Maybe Clint Eastwood

Would be very good

For this particular show

 

On the day a Diva dies

A pale white horse with empty boots

Awaits the final gun salutes

In Arlington I’m underground

Where only the finest of

Dead people can be found.

 

They’ll carve a marble statuette

So everybody can regret

And fans and pilgrims can give thanks

And make donations from their banks

For the life I led.

They’ll sell my albums and CD’s

And glossy new biographies

And boxes of my DVD’s

So they’ll remember me.

And though I never went to Mass

They’ll paint my portrait in stained glass

And maybe, though it may seem quaint,

One can but hope, perhaps the Pope will make me a Saint.

 

Too far?  Perhaps, considering the naughty life I led.

But thank heavens Fred

It’s only you, not me, who’s lying dead.

 

 

c) Eric Idle July 2013

We will always have Paris

By , July 1, 2013 11:53 pm

Tomorrow I’m going to watch The Tour de France.

I shall be one of those idiots jumping up and down at the side of the road.  I can’t decide to whether to wear the gorilla costume or my old Lance Armstrong shirt.

I became addicted to this extraordinary event in 2001 when my pal Robin Williams flew me to Paris to celebrate his birthday.   It was the final day.  The sun was shining and the tree-lined boulevard of the Champs Elysee was filled eight deep with an enormous crowd of fifty thousand on bleachers.  At the end of June Paris was at its most glorious.  Blue skies, tiny streets, big wide boulevards.  Ah oui, ca c’est la vie.  Another glass of champagne? Sure, I guess I could….

On the final day of the Tour, the hundreds of riders, who have just cycled 3,000 kilometers around France in lycra, ride slowly into the center of Paris, sipping champagne and waving to the crowd.  Traditionally they complete the final stage of the race by circling the Champs Elysees eight times on a two mile course that takes them in front of the Louvre.  It’s more of a parade than a race but a few riders are out to impress and grab a final Stage victory.

Michael J. Fox is there with his family. Robin is, as usual, being irrepressibly hilarious as we give an interview for OLN. We say we are not interested in who has won the Yellow Jersey.  We are concerned only about the Pink Jersey, awarded to the rider with the best butt…. well, you know Robin, half an hour later we are still demonstrating effete pedal pushing… swish, swish and bitching about what kind of pedal pushers to wear….

The Tour is down to its last two laps when we are invited to ride in one of the lead cars.  We climb over the barriers and jump into a small red Renault, which appears out of nowhere and pulls out on to the Champs Elysees itself.   Now we are on the actual race course!   We drive slowly up the cobble stoned hill towards the Arc de Triomphe, and pause, the vast crowd on either side of us, listening to their portable radios, awaiting the arrival of the Pelloton, a hundred and fifty cyclists pedaling in unison, and as I look behind me I can already see the bright headlights and flashing sirens of the approaching gendarmes, heralding the arrival of the race.

 “Excuse me,” I say to the driver “You’d better watch it.  I think they are coming.”

The driver gives a Gallic shrug of immense proportions. I am clearly an English idiot who knows nothing, and so we sit by the curb as this huge flotilla rapidly approaches from behind.  I am getting very anxious now.  We are definitely in the way,  when suddenly four blue police cars flash past us and there, quite clearly, is a wide line of cyclists approaching like a cavalry charge.   At the very last moment our driver guns the car and we pull out directly in front of them!

Oh. My. God.

The leading riders are now fifteen feet from us pedaling furiously.  We can practically touch them. The realization sinks in:  we are leading the riders around the final laps of the Tour de France,  a privilege normally reserved for French Presidents.   The television cameramen, standing up on their motorbikes, laugh at our astonishment.  We are over the moon at this unbelievable view of a major sporting event.   Imagine being just ahead of the horses in the final stretch of the Kentucky Derby. This is unbelievable!   We are screaming with excitement as we tear up the Champs Elysees, wheel around in front of the Arc de Triomphe and head back down the hill pursued by a bunch of brightly colored cyclists.  A loud squealing tire noise as we slide round a  tight bend, past the enormous Ferris wheel, and then a stomach lurching dive into a sudden underpass  Behind us we watch the breathtaking sight of a hundred and fifty peddlers streaming downhill after us.

“It’s like a dream” says Michael, “a dream where you are being pursued by a hundred bikes.”

And now as we come sprinting past Le Crillon Hotel we can clearly hear the bell.  We are on the final lap of the Tour de France.  Later on TV, we are so close that you can see us in the same shot as the leaders!   They are on their final sprint and our driver has to accelerate sharply to prevent them running in to us.  We are kneeling backwards on our seats, looking through the rear window of the red Renault, cheering, and screaming at the top of our lungs.  We are like three kids in our unabashed joy at this unbelievable view of this unbelievable ride.   Two leaders have broken from the pack and are dueling it out behind us, their bikes shifting furiously from side to side as they stand up on their pedals.  They angle dangerously round the corners, skim the curbs and slide perilously over the cobblestones racing for the finish.  It’s the final stretch and we lead the entire Tour under the finishing line and then pull in.  There is a pause.  We are all three utterly shocked, our minds completely blown by what we have just experienced.

“Well,” says Michael, “We will always have Paris!” 

 

Adapted from The Greedy Bastard Diary.

Ich bin ein Berliner

By , June 27, 2013 12:48 am

Fifty years ago today John F. Kennedy made one of the most memorable and important speeches in US Presidential History.   In Berlin.

And, dear reader, I was there.

Odd, true, quaint, ridiculous, but my 20 year old self just happened to be in West Berlin when he made that historic address.

I watched his cavalcade go by,  with Konrad Adenauer the West German Chancellor and Willy Brandt, the florid faced legendary mayor of West Germany, followed finally by the smiling JFK.

How should I happen to be there?   Well it happened after this wise:

I was at the end of my first year at Cambridge and my old school friend Alan Sinfield and I were hitch hiking around Germany for the second year running.

The previous year’s adventure had almost ended in disaster when, just outside Stuttgart we were offered a ride by a flash geezer and his girlfriend in a fast Mercedes.  Where were we going?   Munich.   Happy to take you there, climb in boys, this is my girlfriend Berthe.  A tubby cheeked smiling Fraulein.  Hello, how are you, throw your rucksacks in the trunk of the car and away we go, rollicking along the autobahn at high speed nach Munchen.

Half way there we stopped for lunch and he paid for everything.  He offered to show us the famous Hoffbrauhaus in Munich and take us to dinner there.  Better yet he would put us all up at a Pensione and next day we would set off for Vienna.   Were we up for that?   Were we ever.  Wow.  This was the best lift in the world.

We checked into a delicious little Pensione, two adjacent double rooms, one for him and his girlfriend and one for us.   If we wouldn’t mind waiting with his girlfriend while he popped out to make a dinner reservation and gas the car?   Of course not. Happy to.

After about an hour when he hadn’t returned we began to worry.   Had something terrible happened?   Was he ok?   After two hours we were very concerned.  Our rucksacks were in the back of his car, passports, travelers checks, sleeping bags, clothing, everything we owned in the world.   We questioned his girlfriend.  Where was he?  She crumbled into tears.  She wasn’t really his girlfriend.  She too had only just met him.  He had picked her up in Pforzheim just before us in Stuttgart.  He had promised her the world and now done a runner.   With all our stuff.  Oh shit.  It was a Friday evening.  We had no money.  We had no passports.  The British Embassy was closed.  It wouldn’t open until Monday.  The Munich Police took a list of everything that was in the rucksacks.  They weren’t interested in us but they were quite interested in him. Turned out he was a known North German criminal from Hamburg on the run, fleeing southwards to Italy.

Broke and hungry we spent the weekend sleeping in the Munich train station before being issued with temporary passports and enough cash for us to hitch hike home.

Amazingly,  eventually, the rucksacks were returned by the Munich police.   Ah that German efficiency…

The second year (1963) we were better organized.  Mark had turned up a distant relative in Berlin.   We would hitch hike through Belgium and into Germany and see if we could get to Berlin.  We slept rough, sometimes in fields,  often in unfinished building sites which offered us shelter from the elements.  But hey it was June, the sun shone and we saw Heidelberg and visited a Schloss on the Rhine where we saw Charles Vth’s signature, the autograph of a Holy Roman  Emperor.  Nuremburg was quaint and the medieval city, which had been almost totally destroyed by the Allied Air forces, had been completely rebuilt.  We visited the Albrecht Durer museum and of course stood on the spot where Hitler had given his largest rally.

In Nuremburg we learned that we would be forced to take a bus to Berlin.  Berlin was an island, between us and it was East Germany.  And hence the importance of the Kennedy visit.  The East Germans had just built the wall separating East from West Berlin.   As they said, to keep the fascists out, but really, as everyone knew to keep their people in.

In 1948 Stalin had closed all borders into Berlin, and America and Britain had come to the rescue of the starving two million citizens with the Berlin Air Lift, an incredible exercise in supplying everything needed to stay alive by air for 18 months before the Russians gave in and re-opened the road and rail links to the West.

Now Kennedy was coming to pay his respects to the City which had stood for freedom against the Stalinist iron curtain.

And we were heading directly for it, without a clue.  We had no idea.   We had been hitch hiking for about ten days.   No newspapers.  No TV.  No radio.  We were free and on the road across Europe like Laurie Lee tra la la, tra la lee.

So, in total ignorance, we bought tickets for a bus ride from Nuremburg to Berlin.  We were the only foreigners on the coach.  Two young English boys.   At the Border Control into East Germany armed guards pulled us off the bus.  What?  Where were we going?  Why?   Menacing men with red ribboned caps grilled us.  Our fellow passengers stared mutely at us through the windows of the coach.  There was a great deal of barbed wire.  Would they let us in?   Would they let us out?   Surely we knew.  What?  Herr Ulbricht the great leader of East Germany was visiting East Berlin.   Oh.  And also Kennedy was visiting West Berlin.   Oh.

I suppose we convinced them that two English spies would not be so dumb as to claim they didn’t even know about these events making headlines round the world, for, finally, they let us back on the bus and we travelled the barbed wire fenced AutoRoute through the Democratic Socialist Republic of East Germany into the glittering city of Berlin.  Which was en fete.   Everyone was happy and excited. The great Kennedy was coming to visit.  He would see for himself the Berlin wall.

Mark’s distant relatives turned out to be a charming couple with young children in a nice house in a pleasant leafy suburb of Berlin.  We were comfortable, fed and welcomed.   Next day we joined the throngs heading for the center of town.   And there we waited for a long time with a patient crowd with little German flags and little American flags until finally a huge cavalcade of cars came into view along the linden tree lined street.  Big Cadillac’s, buses packed with Press Corps, big wigs stared at us.  Not since the Nazis had there been a parade this size.  And then finally in an open necked car, the President himself, JFK, larger than life, with that huge head of hair and that glowing healthy color of wealthy men who spend time on Yachts.

Kennedy smiled the Kennedy smile and the crowd went wild and he waved at us and suddenly they were gone and we all went home happily to watch the rest of the show on TV.

“Ich bin ein Berliner.”

Eddie Izzard is wrong when he repeats the gaffe that it means “I am a Doughnut” in German.   It’s a good joke.   But it’s not true.   It’s perfectly good German.

The real point is that within half an hour the Berlin streets were filled with merchandise and glossy handouts of a smiling Kennedy with the legendary words underneath.   Somebody knew this was coming.

Next day we went through the Berlin wall via Checkpoint Charlie into the cheerless world of the workers’ paradise.  But that’s another story.

On the way back we were once again pulled off the bus by East German guards and heavily grilled.  They went through our stuff and confiscated every single picture of The Wall.  Really?  You think in the West we don’t know it’s there?   Finally they let us go.  Cheerio then.

But still, isn’t it odd to think that I was there fifty years ago today, for a single moment in history in just the right place at just the right time.