It’s time to fess up about a really peculiar habit of mine. As most of my friends and family know, I travel a bit and I’ve been to a few different places around the world. While I travel, I also try to do a variety of different things and so amongst other things, I have driven a Russian tank, flown a Cessna 172 and dived with Manta Rays. All well and good.
What most people don’t know is that I also go to places around the world where Mr. Michael Palin has been and then take silly photos in the same locations he’s been. Not vague or random ones either – I bring screenshots of scenes from his travel shows, line up shots with the camera exactly as on my example and stand where He stood when He was here. Nerdy, huh? Yes, I am a digital Michael Palin stalker.
There, I’ve said it now. The cat’s out of the bag. It feels good, actually. Just waiting for the ambulance and/or police officials to come and put me away.
OK, so “peculiar habit” is maybe not the right phrase when describing my special habit (as I’m sure my long-suffering wife will happily attest to, since she takes most of the photos for me). “Fanatical obsession” is probably more accurate. Perhaps “idiotic infatuation” could be even better.
The fault lies entirely with my mate Jonas. The two of us were driving around in Scotland one day (as you do) and I wondered how difficult it would be to find the cave where Monty Python had filmed the Killer Rabbit scene in the classic film The Holy Grail. Actually, finding the cave was a piece of cake, but then posing in the right way and making it really obvious that it was the right cave in comparison to the original footage we had brought along on my laptop wasn’t so easy. Short of reenacting the ill-fated battle scene of the K-niggits, it was a special thing to be connected by simply standing in the very same place as our heroes as they cowered before the white, fluffy rabbit shitting their pants.
After that, it all went downhill. I started thinking about other things that I could hunt down and it occurred to me that the whole reason why I had started travelling to different countries in the first place was because Michael Palin had set such a great example of how to do it in his brilliant travel series.
And so it started.
First, I made a list of places the P-Man had been to – not a short list, that’s for sure. Then I made screenshots from the travel series that he’d made for the BBC and loaded every episode onto my iPod, a handy, mobile point of reference in any situation.
And so I travelled around the world, and every now and then my path crossed with the line that was drawn on my map and I’d get out my screenshots and start hunting for exact locations.
The first few locations were in London, one of my favourite places in the world, as a lot of the opening scenes of the famous Around the World in 80 Days were shot there. I first saw this show in 1989 and I’ve been watching it ever since. I sought out Victoria Station for the start of the Orient Express train journey. I wandered around in the Royal Geographical Society building and The Reform Club and I snuck into Lloyd’s bank. The first line of the book from the 80 Days series is: “The compulsive urge to travel is a recognised physical condition. It has its own word, “dromomania”, and I’m glad to say I suffer from it.” Well, it seems that this condition is highly contagious and can be transmitted via terrestrial television and internet.
It quickly became clear to me, that not only was I going to very interesting places that I might not have otherwise seen or known about, but there was also an element of risk involved.
Being Michael Palin obviously helps to open doors, but being yours truly doesn’t. And so a touch of deviancy, cunning, and a few white lies were often in order when the occasion called for it. When I was at Lloyd’s bank, I queue-barged a line of 10,000 people wanting to view the thing for London’s annual open day. The line was all the way around the entire block, but because my time was limited, I hopped straight through security with a stern, I’m-meant-to-be-here look on my face and I was inside in under 30 seconds. I’ve pretended to be an art dealer to get into galleries, feigned total surprise at the news that I wasn’t supposed to be in the lobby of the most expensive hotels in the world, and it simply didn’t register in my head that I may not have been allowed into really restricted areas to get my photos. I’ve baffled hotel staff, annoyed security personnel and pissed off more people than is healthy in my quest to get my snaps. But, it all fairness, being an insane fanatic kept me on the streets and gave my otherwise really dull existence a purpose. As for the actual man himself – I met him once at a book signing in Melbourne and I saw Monty Python live in London last year, and I’m about to see The Palin live up close in Carlisle later this year when he does his one-man show there. For me, it’s more about the silly act of it than anything else, I’m sure the man has seen it all and I’m not the only strange idiot out there doing what he does.
Yes, many a person had already been inconvenienced by my Palining activities, none more so than my very patient (not to mention super sexy) wife who has had to put up with more shit than anyone else in my quest to imitate The Palin. Very often the question “are there any Palins to do here” comes up in conversation on route somewhere new during our travels. The facial expression changes when I grin manically and whip out a prepared page of screenshots and there is usually a sharp intake of breath. Oh boy, here we go again.
So why do I do it? Not sure actually, except that I’ve seen some pretty cool stuff and met some very interesting people just because of my peculiar habit. I’ve met people from the actual travel shows, some of whom had never seen the original footage of themselves with the Palin until I showed it to them. This happened in Cuba, where the person in question didn’t have access to the English TV. She was still working in the same place over a decade later and it was highly amusing to recognise a person that I’d never met before. I’ve also gone to places that I might not have considered going to before and that can’t be a bad thing. Michael Palin doesn’t exactly go to the top ten tourist sights in the guide book whenever he visits, so using him as a guide can lead to unexpected results. Another very interesting effect is that I can directly compare the places he visited many years to how they look now. Particularly in China did I notice how quickly the world can change in only a few years, the city of Dubai is another example of this rapid change.
Palin made a whole bunch of different series, and I’m glad to say that I’ve been to quite a few of the places that feature therein. I’ve been around South America, to various places in North America, and have travelled extensively in Asia. Living in the centre of Europe allows me to visit other countries over a weekend if I feel like it, and I often do.
And what next? Well, more travel, of course! Those who know me well will know that this will never stop and wherever I go, chances are that Michael Palin has been there before me and that silly photos will be taken in his honour. So it shall be done.