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The Needy Bastard Diary.  Episode 26

By , March 27, 2016 1:35 pm

On the road again.
There should be a special corner of hell reserved for those who leave hotel room alarms set to go off at 6 a.m. Yes I know I don’t believe in hell, but I am prepared to make an exception for one or two people.

I seem to be in Wellington, at the South of the North Island watching the ferry leave for the North of the South Island. Must get confusing. Couldn’t they just call them A and B. Or 1 and 2. The sun eventually shines through and I find I am in a deserted downtown on a Bank Holiday. Nothing much to do today except packing and preparing for our final show. The hotel has given me a little chocolate Easter egg and a rubber duckie. I’m not even going to speculate.

The great news is I climbed Mount Cleese. Took us a little time to find it because we went to the wrong dump, no not Palmerston North, but their Central Transfer Station. There they gave us instructions for the Civic Dump and there indeed we found the legendary sign for Mount Cleese, in the quite pleasant surroundings of a recycling centre. And there of course the joke became clearer. The sign was put up by the legendary New Zealand comedian Fred Dagg, whose hometown this was. Now even I had heard of Fred Dagg because of my Australian wife and mother in law. He is famous throughout the antipodes and beyond. I don’t think John knows this, and I shall tell him tonight on stage when I surprise him with the video of me climbing Mount Cleese. It’s all really rather perfect and the mystery is solved, and if I was really Michael Palin instead of only an occasional travel writer I should devote an entire episode to it. As it is I can’t wait to play this joke on John, and I shall refrain from posting the picture on Twitter until after the show, as he might see it. He does do Twitter, but he doesn’t read this diary and so I feel fairly safe posting this. I’m going to plant a question in the Q and A about Palmerston North and encourage him to talk about it, before surprising him with the Video. It’s our last Q and A and I must say that I am mortified reading the questions night after night to find that more women want to have sex with John than me. Way more. Is it because he has spent so much money on wives? It’s like when I found out that online Graham Chapman is far and away the most popular of the Pythons despite being dead for 27 years. Or maybe because of it. Well I guess I don’t really mind. It’s too late to do anything about it and I’m looking forward to not being a legend and going back to being a husband, which as you know ranks somewhere below the dogs. We used to be babe magnets, but now we’re just fridge magnets, and I suppose we should be grateful that even any woman cares, even if it is only the wife. And with any luck I meet my lovely wife in an airport tomorrow somewhere en route to Tahiti. She’s been having far too much fun in Brisbane and Sydney, and sent me a picture of my son and her holding a large koala bear which she captioned “Your new Grandson.” A funny woman.

She would probably have enjoyed yesterday’s scenery, though it was a long day’s drive, about six and a half hours, and my chauffeuse Sev, the wonderful Sue Everett, stuck to her task womanfully. She drives a lot of comedians around New Zealand, which is somehow funny in itself, and next week she has Dawn French, but I hope one day she drives her namesake Bridgett Everett. Of course our expedition to Palmerston North took us out of our way but it was worth every moment in tracking down this legendary site.

Sulphurous steam was rising around our hotel as we left Lake Taupo, and it was a lovely drive around the Lake, but then we took the Desert Road and all vegetation disappeared except for low scrub and tank tracks. A longish upland region this, of harsh landscape and we were happy to descend into Taihape, whose town insignia is a Gum Boot. I kid you not. There are large Gum Boots everywhere and we were saddened to see a sign which said we had just missed Gum Boot Day, on March 1st. Book early next year. Another town specialised in large corrugated iron animals. There were huge Nissen hut sized sheep and a museum of corrugated iron creatures. There is a gentle irony at work in these towns which is rather wonderful and as you will see the Dump sign is a perfect example.

The quest for Mount Cleese took us through the centre of Palmerston North which was disappointingly pleasant, around a perfectly sweet square and off into the suburbs where we got lost. John must have been in a very bad mood to call it “the suicide capital of New Zealand”, though I think it was Gary his then assistant who actually wrote that insult and put it on line. “Can be kind of bleak in winter though” Sev pointed out, as she once worked here. Amazingly she had “borrowed” one of John’s bits (Word Association Football) and won an Award for it from a Commercial she wrote. She felt so ashamed to be then driving John that she confessed, and he of course immediately said that plagiarism is the highest form of flattery. Or perhaps flattery is the highest form of plagiarism. I forget which. I shall miss travelling with him. He is the most decent company. We give each other lots of room and we are planning another expedition. It’s not for a while yet, but it sounds like it could be fun.

Anyway Sev and I were thrilled to finally find our quest.  The legendary sign was above us, and she held the camera while I posed like Sir Edmund Hilary, the great New Zealander who first climbed Mount Everest.  I agree this was only 45 metres high, but still we all have to start somewhere and I am the first of the Pythons ever to have visited this spot and conquered this dump.  Michael Palin who has been to many dumps cannot claim this one.   I think it deserves a special plaque alongside it commemorating this achievement.   So how about that Fred Dagg?    

Pictures tomorrow on Twitter for now I have to go and shave. This travel beard is to come off. The wife prefers me unshaven and so tonight I shall say goodbye with a clean chin and a bare upper lip. Some tears, but no regrets. I might manage a final Episode but it may take a while. Thanks for being with me all this way. Chin up, eyes forward and bon appetit.

The Needy Bastard Diary.  Episode 25

By , March 26, 2016 11:35 pm

On the road.
We have had enough already with the airlines. Business class is torture for John. He can neither stretch his back nor his arms and suffers uncomfortably for hours in a stress position Dickhead Cheney would be proud of. When he leaves New Zealand next week he is flying to Amsterdam via Dubai on Etihad, a very long way to go, just so he can finally get a bed to stretch out in.

So we have decided to finish with a two day road trip, a very pleasant drive through beautiful countryside all the way down the North Island to Wellington. At last a chance to see the beauties of New Zealand and it is indeed beautiful, lovely green hillsides with dairy cows everywhere as we leave Auckland. Sev, my driver, regales me with stories of other comedians on the road. How Russell Brand fled from Hamilton, offering large sums of money to anyone who could get him out of there in a hurry. She points out a large hillside hotel where Leo Sayer stayed instead of having to stay in Hamilton and she pointedly makes a large detour around Hamilton itself so I don’t even have to set eyes on this dread place. Eddie Izzard insisted on visiting Hobbiton, which is the place where Peter Jackson shot much of the Hobbit, and Bill Bailey had a personal tour of his Wellington studios and a preview screening.

We stop for lunch at Cambridge, a pleasant little town with bookshops and antique shops. The Corner Deli is very nice so we eat outside and watch the people. It’s a lovely warm Easter Saturday and folks are out enjoying themselves. I am amused by a sign which offers The Oxford Store at Cambridge, and there are pleasant signs saying things like Shakespeare Street. “Ah but he doesn’t live there” says Sev ironically in those flat dry New Zealand tones.

I am very excited to be driven into the mountains as the road mounts and the timberland starts. We have left behind the green rolling hills and are following the course of the river Waikato, a magnificent stretch of waterway. Magnificent sunlight lights the mountains as we climb into huge forests of pine, and we could be in Scotland. The river breaks up into cascades and then amazingly on both sides steam rises straight out of the ground. We’re close to a very hot spot in the earth with hot muds, and mineral springs and baths. There are still quirky New Zealand things like a large sign saying Prawn Farm, where people are busy fishing for Prawns, but soon we enter a fairly large town and there before us is a magnificent lake, Lake Taupo. On first glance it is a little like Lake Tahoe, and indeed ahead of us three huge volcanoes are shrouded in cloud. Luckily by sunset the cloud has cleared and we can see them far away across this huge lake, the largest in the Southern Hemisphere, caused by an enormous explosion of what was once the largest volcano, eighteen hundred years ago. The plume of smoke it sent up was so huge it was seen in the Northern Hemisphere, and we’re talking Romans here. Now only the lake remains of the caldera, no one knows how deep it is, but there are hot spots of warm water in it, so it’s clearly coming up from beneath. People go swimming in these warm patches as the rest is ice melt. They ski here in the winter too, so the Tahoe resemblance is not that far out.

Lake Taupo looks to be a pleasant little holiday town, and is packed for the Easter weekend. We make our way to The Hilton, which is low rise and wooden faced and has magnificent views of the Lake, and of the mountains behind and was once The Terrace Hotel when this place was still really remote.

We are having a crew farewell dinner, as after the show Monday they’ll be breaking everything down and packing everything up to fly away to who knows where. This dinner starts at 6 with cocktails and I’m happy to say goes on till about 11.30. The crew is enormous and numbers over two people. Three with Simon. Conveniently one of the other two is an Australian also called Simon, but the third is alas not called Simon, but is also Australian, so he is called Surfer. Actually he is originally from the UK but has lived in Sydney long enough to complain about how the City is being spoiled by the new drinking laws, which do not permit you to have a single malt whiskey in any bar after midnight. It has to be diluted with a Coke or large amounts of water. These laws are spreading up to Queensland and is an attempt to control the alcoholic violence which is rife amongst young people. There were puzzling posters everywhere in Oz against the Coward Punch, which is apparently not a Rum Drink favoured by Noel Coward, but an extremely violent habit of some yahoos to cold cock people in bars without quarrel or warning.

No such problems in New Zealand it seems, although we have found the wine here very good. We assemble in the bar and everyone is in a good mood. John is smiling, and happily looking forward to the crucket, which is how they say it here. New Zealand are playing tonight so he is reasonably certain it will be on telly. But first, what to drink?

Wonderfully, Fawlty is on the wine list. There are several quotes from great people about wine in the wine menu book: Churchill, Napoleon, Playwrights and Philosophers but surprisingly also Basil Fawlty.

“I can certainly see you know your wine. Most of the guests who stay here wouldn’t know the difference between Bordeaux and Claret.”

John is clearly rather chuffed by this. So far his experience of New Zealand is that apart from losing his virginity here in 1964, he only has a rubbish tip named after him. True that. Mount Cleese has a large sign on the Palmerston North Town Dump because an assistant of his posted a comment that “it was the suicide capital of the world.” They took umbrage and tomorrow I am headed off to see just how big a dump it is. I intend to surprise him on the last night of the show in Wellington with a photograph of me climbing Mount Cleese.

Fawlty is very popular here and a staggering major comes across to John, his eyes somewhat glazed and asks if he is in Fawlty Towers?

“No sir, you are in New Zealand” I said, but irony was lost on him.

The Barman almost passes out when he finally recognises John who escapes to his room to check everything an extremely confident hotel employee has informed him about the World Cup T20 with times when games are played, and even that they have been played. When he returns to the table he reports rather puzzled that almost every single piece of information is incorrect.

Anyway we select lots of fine wines and have an extremely fine dinner before John heads off to watch the crucket and we end up in the bar discussing the tour. There are offers to continue the Cleese Idle Tour and I have some ideas on how to improve it. It changes all the time and gets better and better says Simon. So yes you may speculate, and no I shall not reveal anything at all as we have no deal as yet. Tomorrow I’m setting off early in search of Mount Cleese, to become the first Python ever to climb it.

The Needy Bastard Diary.  Episode 24

By , March 24, 2016 3:06 pm

Good Friday everybody. 

There’s a definite end of term air about the place now. Suddenly two nights in Auckland have flown by in the rather beautiful Civic Centre and it even seems to have stopped raining. I have spent quite a lot of time just recovering from the recent spate of shows and the travel and huge picture windows afford me a view of Auckland Harbour, which looks about as close as I am likely to get on this peg leg. Also as it is Good Friday, or maybe as it is New Zealand, everything is shut. Locked down as tight as a nun’s nasty, as the Aussies say. They’ve all buggered off on a four day weekend, since they get the Bank Holiday on Monday as well. I’d like to report it’s because they are extremely religious, but I fancy it is more to do with stretching long weekends into even longer, and I can hardly blame them since I so frequently rant about the Yanks not taking any time off. However, even Simon, our token Canadian, and tour master extraordinaire, has been quite surprised at how hard it is to get people to work at weekends in Australia. They don’t even answer the phone. “Oh look mate I was at the beach…”

Here in New Zealand the clamp came down when they stopped serving drinks at the hotel bar at 11.30, explaining that they all had to be out of there by midnight. Some thirsty revellers tipped us off to a joint round the corner called The Glass Goose or something like that, and it was all happening, girls dancing, disco, and a large open air bar busy splashing out drinks. So when it came time to order another I was amazed to find that it too closed on the first stroke of midnight. Were all the waitresses Cinderellas who had to run home to hovels before their glass goose turned into a mouse? What the hell? “But it’s New Zealand” they say in that oddly flattened vowel, “ and it’s Good Friday.” When we pointed out that Jesus himself was fond of a good drink, holding large suppers and turning water into wine we got that slight smile New Zealanders use to both apologise and explain. So there we are, nowhere for the Needy Bastard to quench his thirst after a long show. Worst of it was I’d slept all day, completely knackered from my travails. So there was nothing to do but say goodbye to my old friends Jeff Lyons and Robin, and go to bed. As it was I slept fitfully and woke at dawn to begin packing for the end of tour, when all I do is take my little budgie smugglers off to Tahiti. No, I don’t wear Speedos, not any more, but I am headed off to meet the wife in Tahiti. She’s up in Brisbane holding Koalas, having achieved her goal of finally finding bats. All the flying foxes have been cleaned out of Sydney, and she likes to watch them by day, hanging upside down in the trees. She’s nuts for animals. Hey if you live with me you need some relief.

Outside my huge hotel window is what appears to be the lower stages of an atlas rocket in cement, but if you crane your neck you can see it is just the tower of one of those revolving restaurant things, where people hurl themselves off the edge on bungee cords. I guess the food’s that bad. Though I must say I have eaten rather nicely. We had so much fun the other night at Gusto that we invited the waiters to the show, and they came too. Not sure if the Qantas crew that John invited showed up or not. Anyway to our relief we were full again last night, and the Civic has a star field ceiling. I could spot Orion as it’s in my hemisphere but my plaintive cries of where the fuck is the Southern Cross fell on deaf ears. Perhaps because it’s Good Friday. On the show we pointed out that not many people in the audience had been crucified, but we had. For three days. Slightly chilling to turn up for work to find a cross with your name on it, even though there were bicycle saddles to relieve some of the effects of hanging up there all day. The worst was that fifty or so of us were up there singing “Always Look on the Bright Side” at the end of the Life of Brian and they only had three ladders, so there were plaintive cries from people desperate to be taken down for a pee.   Still it concentrates the mind wonderfully to have the experience of being executed in that fashion. One of the things the Romans ever have done for us I guess. Not that mankind has lacked for imaginative ways to torture and kill those whom it dislikes. It’s one of our great accomplishments.

I tried out a new song in Auckland and it went down very well. I was tired of doing too many filthy songs so I wrote one based on our Tour experience. Fuck Selfies, it’s called. And goes on to abuse the incessant selfie taker that takes up so much time. John and I are rather bad at stopping for autographs and shit. “Michael Palin would have come out” someone bleated on Twitter. Precisely.

Today came the good news that the Beeb are going to do the Show I have been working on for so long. They had been in that state of chaos when executives are changed and you get lost in the process, and I had begun to despair that it was all going pear shaped. But no. The ice is slowly melting and the glacier is drifting downhill again. I’m not going to tell you what it is, but here’s a clue: we stuck Professor Brian Cox in the show after the Galaxy Song, in a clip from O2 where he is run over by Stephen Hawking. It goes very well, as indeed it did at O2. But that’s all I’m going to tell you for now. It’s cheered me up no end on a day when we are trapped in a hotel with nowhere to go. Now at least I have some work to do.

So Happy Eater to you all.

The Needy Bastard Diary.  Episode 23

By , March 20, 2016 5:17 pm

A fond farewell to Australia.

The sun is shining on the brooding black Cathedral when I open my curtains on our last day in Australia. The black stone gives a sinister tone to the familiar classic arched and buttressed Gothic shape, with its spires and gargoyles. It evinces fear and threat rather than hope and enlightenment. Yesterday, though, the choir resplendent in red and white marched round the ground parading a rather modernistic Palm with red and white streamers. Ah Palm Sunday of course.

Last night I told the final Melbourne audience that as Tania and I came back from dinner on St. Patrick’s Day a whole convocation of very piddled prelates, priests and Catholic churchmen poured out of our hotel, seizing our taxi. And boy they were lit. Oddly I noticed that in the lobby of the same hotel there was a convention for the Boy Scouts. “Perhaps they are party favours” I said to Tania.

I’m not much of a Church man you can tell. In our Q and A we often get asked about our views on the Church and I try and be as gentle as I can. I say I prefer Science as it can be verified, and not only that but I think that the discovery of the many hundreds of Gods there have been on the planet was the Ape evolving and growing a moral dimension and an understanding of our place in the Universe and where we came from, and where it came from. In other words intelligence and morality and Science, and it is vital that Science is tested and not subject to clerical restraints. This discrete and reasonably modest opinion always results in a round of applause.

Of course I understand the need for people to believe in something, but I find my own sense of awe and wonder in our amazing and extraordinary Universe of which we have learned so much in the last half century, and which we continue to learn more about daily, and which is far more odd than God, and which makes a deity seem not only tiny but petty. We do go on existing after death, but only our atoms and our carbon atoms in particular which have already been through ancient star systems where they were created. We are quite literally star dust. More learning and less superstition please.

It shocks me just how backward America is in religion and their In God We Trust form of Exceptionalism. No love, God did not choose America to be better than anyone else and as to Happiness well you seem to have replaced that with the Pursuit of Fame and Fortune. Both worthless substitutes. Australians are far happier. They have a wonderful country and they take weekends off and decent holidays and travel and exercise and don’t feel the need to be armed to the gills. However, no society is perfect and sadly at the moment they are trying to repeal laws against bullying because they fear it is encouraging homosexuality….

When will the Right get over their homophobia? As The Reverend Whoopsie says in What About Dick, “Our Lord himself had twelve little male friends, all sailors, and nobody said a word…”

Anyway enough preaching. I’m sad to be leaving Australia which I have enjoyed tremendously. Even the fact that we just finished six shows in seven days has left us fairly buoyant. Melbourne spoiled us yesterday with an invitation to lunch for John, me and Tania on the 89th Floor of the Eureka Tower which not only offered us extraordinary views of the whole area but a nice view of the Formula One Grand Prix due to start later.

We were entertained by the close formation flying of six red and white jets spinning and swooping low over the race track and then a single solo grey jet spun and twisted and rolled and climbed and fell backwards in a flying ballet of great daring and beauty. I only just realised it was in fact a Flying Circus! We were also well above the many helicopters that flew into and around the Race circuit of Albert Park.

I hadn’t realised that lunch was to be a full seven course Degustation Tasting Menu with matching wines, and I was able to refrain from drinking for about two thirds of the meal, but in the third hour alas my restraint gave way to discreetly moderate imbibing. In the end we couldn’t stay for dessert as we had another sell out show to perform but it was a fabulous place to have Sunday lunch and it’s open at night for dinner and I can honestly say the food was exquisite. So thank you Christina Rich and if you want to see what the world looks like 90 floors up while wining and dining superbly then is the place to start.

I watched the Grand Prix on TV while emailing my pal Martin, who was
desperately trying to stay awake at five in the morning in France. John suggested not entirely seriously that all time zones should be done away with and some people just have to get used to living at night…. 

He is off today to introduce his Fawlty Cast to the Press, while I have to say farewell to the wife for a few days as she goes North to visit my son on the Sunshine Coast where it is apparently pouring.

So on to New Zealand, where I have only ever performed once in Not The Messiah with the Auckland Symphony Orchestra and Choir in 2007 and where I am optimistic that if I can insult the right people someone will name a sewage plant after me…..(because he is full of shit.) John so offended the good people of Palmerston North by suggesting it was the suicide capital of the world that they named their rubbish dump after him. I believe it is called Mount Cleese. I desperately wish to join this movement to rename rubbish dumps and trash heaps after Pythons. What greater honour could there be for comics? We have asteroids named after us, but a rubbish tip! That’s better than an airport. Those in authority please take note and let me know in whose general direction I should fart…