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Monty Python – A night at the circus

July 8, 2014



I saw Monty Python at the weekend. This is something I never thought I would do – years ago because the chances of them reforming seemed remote, and much more recently because the idea of a Python reunion at this stage, with the remaining five at 70 and unconvincingly trying to rustle up some of the old verve on Graham Norton’s sofa, seemed a doddering folly.

That I was wrong, and that I enjoyed the show, isn’t really what I want to write about, although they’re both true. It’s the way I enjoyed the show that I’d like to catch, if I can, and hold up to the light. This is an essentially personal response, although I can’t help thinking it has also has something to do with age, and the drab tendency to let joy ebb out of things. I find it hard to describe myself as a “fan” of anything anymore, in as much as I don’t feel carried off by excitement at the thought of hearing, seeing, or doing things in the same way I once did.

I need to interrupt myself before things get any more Notes From Underground to say that seeing Python was a jolting reminder of things I used to love, and more than that, of the act of loving things, and throwing yourself into that love in order to belong and to make sense of everything. And it really was a jolt – I had forgotten. I’d forgotten not just that I know the words to everything, as became clear during the opening Four Yorkshiremen sketch, but that I know the rhythms and variations of the old Drury Lane, Hollywood Bowl and Secret Policeman’s Ball performances that I used to fall asleep listening to during what was quite obviously an utterly sexless adolescence.

So in the beginning I was laughing. I laughed partly out of relief that the Pythons were actually sharp and lively, partly out of a warm sense of familiarity, and partly because the Four Yorkshireman sketch is really funny. A little later when Idle sang the final line of The Universe Song – a wry rhyming favourite that always catches me half off-guard – I wiped away a tear of something else. And then, at a point I can’t remember, tears were sort of leaking from my face in a constant stream I couldn’t explain, even though I tried, both to myself at the time and then later in conversation with my wife, as the tears continued to stream on the underground as we travelled away from the O2.

What played a part was certainly that vertiginous rush of remembering how integral these people were to my earliest conceptions of myself, to the humour and skepticism that still lights my way dimly through the world. And there is an incoherent swirl of sensitive things best marked simply as “the past” which were also involved, along with that occasional, cascading sense of how completely in our possession and also completely lost to us the past is.

But mostly – and this is hopefully the point at which this becomes not just about some things I felt – it was being struck by the joy of enjoying. I’m not sure there is a sweeping exit to rescue these paragraphs of self-indulgence, but I do feel that cynicism is easy, and I have reached a point through work and life where never being disappointed often seems worth the cost of never getting excited. It was nice to be reminded that I don’t really believe that.

Also, fucking hell but I love Michael Palin.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. justposted permalink
    July 13, 2014 1:05 pm

    Thanks. That was lovely. Sometimes it’s nice to read something from the heart.

  2. hilltop permalink
    July 14, 2014 1:17 pm

    Adam Smith’s Sunday Papers over at provided me the link and I’m deeply grateful he did. Although your post is undeniably personal there is something of the universal about it.

    I’m glad you wrote this.


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