Late last night I listened to the fourth and final part of Michael Palin’s diaries. I had started listening to them a few days ago, and had been happily dipping in and out of the four hour-long recordings ever since. In the last part, Palin tells of the rise of Python, the writing of The Life of Brian and the reception it got once it was made. I found it rather fascinating, and it made me want to get my as-yet-unopened copy of the book off the bookshelf. You can argue that Python played quite an important role in British cultural history, clearing the way for so much that followed. Without Python, would we have had Blackadder, the fast show, or so many other things which were clearly influenced by messres Cleese, Chapman, Palin, Jones, Idle and Gilliam?
I also found Palin’s diary entries rather poignant; there is a sort of dramatic irony to them. Reading or listening to them these days is somewhat bittersweet, as we know now what was to follow. For instance, Palin regularly notes, especially towards the end, Graham Chapman’s failing health and slow drift into alcoholism, unaware of the tragedy which that heralded. On the other hand, he also speculates about what was ahead: he mentions travelling once or twice, which I found quite amusing. I also liked hearing him wonder about ‘the death of Python’, noting how he thought that it was time to put an end to that period of his life, not knowing that Python wouldn’t die (if indeed it has) until 20 July, 2014.
Thus one gets pleasure from knowing more than the writer, but that is surely the irony of reading any diary, journal, or indeed blog. You know the next part of the story, so you both pity their naivite and envy their innocence. Most of all, though, you find pleasure in being afforded a glimpse of another person’s life, and to glimpse a life as interesting as Palin’s is a treat indeed.