A Reversal of Fortune

Tis time for one of my favorite festivals, folks. TWELFTH NIGHT! Therefore, Rob and I have had a little fun and, as is traditional on this day, switched jobs. Don’t be too hard on us. We have been humbled by the task put before us.

What do I get my Mum for Christmas?

It was Christmas Eve, 1991. I was working as a freelance animator’s assistant, a sort of “pencil for hire” around the small London animation studios. I’d got a nice little gig at Animus Studios in Camden, working with a team of eight jolly souls on a couple of TV commercials for an American insurance company.

Pencil for Hire 2 001 (579x800)

Animus Studios was situated in a couple of rented rooms in a classic London mews, owned by the Monty Python team. It was where they had all their publicity people, lawyers and accountants. I guess you could call it Monty Python HQ. A hub of insanity basically!

So, Christmas Eve. Five o’clock, and the question “What do I get my Mum for Christmas?” was niggling away inside my slightly inebriated brain. We’d been taken out for a fabulous lunch by the boss man, Tony White. We’d bought a couple of bottles of wine on the way back to the studio and we were all draped around over chairs and sofas, sipping lukewarm Riesling and exchanging slurred tales of our sightings of the various members of the Pythons.
“John Cleese was here last week. I only saw him from the back, mind you, but it was definitely him!”
“How’d you know it was him? Did he do a silly walk or something”
“Don’t be daft! He’s six foot five and he had his Bentley parked out there!”

I was travelling home to my parents over the holidays so I was keeping an eye on the time. The commuter trains going out of London are erratic at the best of times, but on Christmas Eve you’d better be sure to be on a train by eight or nine o’clock or you’re dicing with the possibility of being stranded in the city over Christmas.

But there was no sweat. I had my rucksack packed and ready, all the family Christmas pressies wrapped and labeled. All, that is, except for my Mum’s! I’d clean forgotten her.

Just as people were starting to think about hitting the road, Tony White walked in and told us that the Pythons were having their traditional Christmas party for their employees and that we were all invited along as well.

Wow! We all thought. This was an opportunity not to be missed.

The party was a relaxed affair with a buffet, drinks table, background music. There were about 30 guests – admin staff, producers, directors and the gang themselves – John Cleese, Terry Jones, Michael Palin, Eric Idle and Terry Gilliam, with respective partners and families. A nice cozy little bash.

We animators stood huddled in a corner, clutching our glasses of wine, somewhat overawed to be in the same room as a gang of comedians who for most of us were on the level of cultural icons.

Artists huddle 001 (800x735)


Within our huddle there was a lot of whispering and discreet pointing.

I watched as Michael Palin and his wife moved over towards the buffet table and in my slightly inebriated state I had one of those brilliant flashes of inspiration you only get when you ARE slightly inebriated. The solution to the problem of what to do about my Mum’s non-existent Christmas present popped into my head fully formed. Within the space of one nano-second I had a plan! I handed my wine glass to one of my pals, extricated myself from the huddle and sauntered over towards the buffet table. Towards Michael Palin!

“Hello, Michael!” I said. “My name’s Robin. Nice to meet you!”

True to his cordial reputation, Michael was very pleasant. I chatted with him and wife as we picked away at the buffet and loaded our paper plates. And then I popped the question.
“Could I have your autograph? It’s for my Mum. She’s a big fan of yours.”
“Yes, of course,” he said.

But we weren’t home and dry yet. There were a couple of hurdles to cross.

hurdles to cross2 001 (800x718)


First off was the question of what to write the autograph ON. I fumbled in my pockets but all I found was an old bus ticket and a receipt for a salt beef sandwich.

“How about this?” Michael said, holding up a paper plate.

Well, it wasn’t quite what I’d had in mind, but having got this far with my plan I decide to just go with the flow.

“Sure! Fine!” I said.

The next question was what to write WITH. Neither of us had a pencil or pen. It was Michael’s wife, Helen, who saved the day. “Will this do?” she asked, pulling a black eyebrow pencil out of her handbag.

Okay, I thought. Kind of soft and greasy, but I was still in go-with-the-flow mode.

“Great!” I beamed.

Michael took the eyebrow pencil. “What’s your Mum’s name?” he asked.
“Bridget,” I said.
Two minutes later and the deed had been done. I was back with my huddle of animators, paper plate safely stuffed into a plastic bag at my feet.

I did manage to get the train home to my family. And I did give the rapidly-wrapped paper plate with Michael Palin’s autograph on it to my Mum. And she did look extremely bemused when she opened it and saw the battered and crumpled plate with the smeared, almost totally illegible scrawl on it.

Christmas present for mum2 001 (800x715)

I spent the rest of the Christmas holiday telling her the story and trying to convince her that the words DID read “To Bridget. Happy Christmas from Michael Palin”.

The paper plate was tucked away somewhere and I was certain that it was stuffed into a garbage bag as soon as the holidays were over.

A couple of months later I visited my Mum over a weekend. We were going through some old photo albums. There were a couple of albums missing. “They’re up in my bedroom,” my Mum told me. “In the bookcase. You can go and get them if you like.”

I went upstairs and turned the light on in her room. As I crossed the room to the bookcase, something caught my eye. There on the wall, opposite the bed, was the paper plate, framed.

Don’t forget to check out what we’re cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all talked about down in the pub. Plus, you can see more of Robin Gott‘s humor–all from the only pen carved from a human funny bone.

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83 thoughts on “A Reversal of Fortune

  1. Are you sure you actually swapped? I had top go back and read the previous post to compare. It is close! Rob writes as well as you draw! And I think that could be misconstrued……. I’ll try again. Rob writes nearly as well as you do. You draw nearly as well as Rob does. You could almost do each others jobs and have sneaky days off.

    Happy New Year to both of you!

    And PS I loved the story and the cartoons! [Especially the one for the couple of hurdles to cross] 😀

    • Ha! Pauline, that’s snort-worthy. And very kind. We had some fun, but wearing someone else’s hat felt like I was walking about with a third leg. Ungainly at best, but amusing for a short walk about. It certainly gave me a deeper “perspective” into Rob’s work. I’m so glad you liked our bit of New Year Folly.

  2. uh, whut? did i wake up in time to stumbull uppawn this phurst? shelley: you are ALMOST as good as rob @ the illustrations! (eventually i plan on getting you to illustrate one or four or seven of my posts…)
    ROB: guess i should drop by and periodically READ what you write! yeah, you ‘n me and the pythons go weigh, way, back. i first saw them (on t.v.) while vizzidding in england in 1972, so was ready and front center when the show hit U.S. stations a few years later. berleave it or not, i can look up whilst typing this and there’s an autographed picture of the main actors in “and the Holy Grail” on the wall.

  3. I love it I could not stop laughing I nearly peed my pants at the writing and the doodles mom and I surely woke up dad. It was beyond funny you guys should change every so often again love it

    • No way, José! I’m leaving the cartooning to the pro. If ever there’s a call for dudley doodling tho, I’m yer man. (well, you get the picture)
      I’m so happy you liked it. (I can nearly hear you laughing.) Now off to bed for the lot of you. ❤

      • Thanks for laughing so much (and eventually stopping to write your lovely comment). And even though I enjoyed writing this post, it WAS NOT EASY. In fact it was excruciatingly hard! I don’t know how Shelley does it every week. Well, that’s not completely true. I DO know how she does it. She’s got tons of talent, imagination and humor 🙂

  4. That was a darling post! Rob and you did a great job at the reversal, Shelley! I loved Rob’s story… the ending made it!

    I liked your “Artist’s Corner” doodle best. Gave me a good chortle. 🙂

    • Thanks, Alex. The “Artist’s Corner” doodle had me chortling as well. Shelley’s hit the nail so fairly and squarely on the head with this one that I wonder if she was actually there at that Python bash? 🙂

  5. Brillliant, what a wonderful post to wake up to. Truly you must have a team of sparky writers and artists behind you each week to create such an entertaining blog, right? Seriously, Monty Python had such. (Rob, I am so jealous you got to meet them).

    Rob, finally truth be told… I didn’t realize you resided in New Jersey. Sweden was a nice cover though. (Ah, Beethoven’s piano sonata No. 14 in C-sharp minor “Quasi una fantasia”, Op. 27, No. 2 is playing in my head… consider it spiritual sympathy for you sir).

    BTY, LOVE the calendar for a Christmas gift. I am, however, planning on returning it to you both eventually as I request an autograph from each of you before I display it with pride in my office. Perhaps then someday I can sell it at Christie’s in NY and send my girls through college.

    A very happy, prosperous and blessed New Year to you both and all of your readers. (Shelley, when do we do another foodie post?)

    Stoshu P. 😉

    • Thanks for the lovely comments. And no I don’t live in New Jersey, but I CAN write in a New Jersey dialect:
      “My mudda boight dis skoit in Noo Joisy.” 🙂

    • Thank you for the lovely, lovely compliments, buddy. And boy do I wish we had a team. Seriously, I’m thinking we may need to expand this year. I’m looking for someone with a few good ideas and some computer programing skills. Put the word out. Must work for a some day paycheck. It wouldn’t hurt if they lived someplace remote and atypical. And was perhaps as divergent as the rest of the “team.” 😛

      Foodie post? Yeah, we should start brainstorming on that one. Pitch me some ideas.
      Happy New Year! ❤

  6. Great fun, you two! I am charmed by Shelley’s drawings, especially the cheery Pencil for Hire. And what a touching story, Robin. When in London we made the serendipitous discovery that the Pythons used to hang out in Neil’s Yard, where we were eating lunch. There’s a plaque and everything! I can never decide whether Palin or Cleese is my favorite, but probably Palin because he is so sweet. At least that is what I always firmly believed, and now Robin has presented the proof 🙂 The only note of sadness is the absence of Graham Chapman who passed away just a year or two before that party. I’m sure he was there in spirit.

  7. This turned out like am Eagles song with Glenn Frey on lead vocals. So good you don’t even notice, for both of you.

    I once ganked Stephen King’s hotel registration form with his signature, for my sister. Because what says love like stealing official forms?

  8. What a charming story. Rob’s mother must have really cherished the plate since she framed and displayed. I was just thinking yesterday that I wish I had scanned the love notes from my little nieces and nephews complete with wrong spellings.

    • These signatures are worth their weight in gold (or wax eyebrow pencils!) I took my kids to a sic-fi conevention a couple of years ago and we got a photo of C3PO from Star Wars, signed by Anthony Daniels, the actor who played him. My two kids were very suspicious. “How can we be sure it was really him? He was in a gold robot suit. The guy signing the pictures could be ANYBODY!”
      That said, the man who signed the paper plate was definitely Michael Palin.

  9. What a truly delightful post. Funny, informative and with that great feel good ending. Prerequisite for a Shelly post, and it also had the slightly cheeky drawings I associate with a Rob collaboration. The blessing of the hurdles,sealed the deal for me. Great job guys. We,your humbled mass of fans salute you.

    • Oh, Benson, the problem with putting on Rob’s wonky hat is that I can’t get out of the habit of looking at words quite the same way. Your last sentence is dying to be illustrated. (Not by me though! I’m picturing what Rob would come up with.)
      Regardless, I’m really glad you liked our switching seats. It was a breath of fresh air fun.
      A very happy 2015 to you!

  10. Haha! great effort from both 🙂 Or is it really that you are actually the same person and are tricking us all? Yes, the hurdles did it for me too. All best to (both??) of you for 2015. Joking apart, I’m impressed by your multi-talents Shelley and Rob and a little bit nibbled by jealousy.

    Thanks for the post.

  11. Seriously, could the two of you be any more talented?? Had I been given the illustrator’s gig, you’d have wound up with a series of stick figure scribbles. True story.

    Love the ending. Rob’s mom is a gem to have framed that plate. Reminds me just how heartless I am, having thrown out virtually everything my kids made at school over the years. 🙂

    • Nancy, I’m blushing–and I bet if it weren’t so frigid in Sweden at the moment, the color would rise in Rob’s cheeks as well. A massive thanks for the compliment.
      And I can’t tell you how many panicky emails I sent to Rob that shouted some variation of, “OH MY GOD THIS IS HARD!!”

      • Thanks for your comments, Nancy. My 82 year old Mum is one of those people who decided not to get involved with the whole computer/Internet/Social Media thing. So I’ll pass your kind words on via smoke signals or morse code or something 🙂

    • Abby! Happy New Year! And I’m so glad to see you here. Not just for the lovely comment – which you are always so kind to provide – but to say thank you, thank you, and you’re on my list of email to dos for today. Right after I check the air in my tires (this was on my early December list) and take down the Halloween decorations. Yes, you can see how behind I am. 😀

  12. I hope you both had a wonderful holiday, assuming you had time while slaving away on this fantastic post. Rob, you are a true storyteller…you are giving Shelley a run for her money. And Shelley, I wish all of my hurdles looked like that! I am picturing them doing a soft shoe and I love it. What a perfect kickoff for the New Year. Thank you!

    • You’re always so kind with your comments, Sue. I’m truly happy you enjoyed our ‘trading places.’ It was a novel way to start 2015–shake things up bit. And now it’s back to the keyboard for me. A pencil was such a foreign object!
      Happy New Year to you. 🙂

  13. I loved the story, the illustrations were perfect, but the comments were priceless. You two had so much love showered on you, I could feel the warm and fuzzy all the way here!! 🙂

  14. Lol! I love that you switched jobs for the day! My husband is a graphic designer, and now I’m curious what would happen if we tried this. Considering the fact that he didn’t appreciate my help the last time I gave a suggestion for one of his projects, I’m guessing it may not go well. (My suggestion, by the way, was: “You should totally photoshop Bigfoot in the background!” It would have been AWESOME.) Anyway, I enjoyed the story and cartoons immensely, especially being a big Monty Python fan myself. Happy New Year!!!

    • And he passed on the Bigfoot idea? Wha??
      No sense of lampoonery. You must work on that with him. I say keep tossing in the suggestions. Something will surely stick.
      And I think everyone should be expected for one day out of the year to trade places with someone else. Talk about revealing. I was enlightened (specifically enlightened from about 2 pounds worth of paper as I tried and tried and tried). Definitely a good idea.
      And a very merry happy 2015 to you too, Jen!

  15. first, hi rob and of course shelley. it’s my first twelth night with y’all, woo-hoo. second, i kept asking myself, ‘why didn’t rob just snap a pic with his cellphone?’ but then i realized this is ’91 before we all had pixels in our pockets.

    • I knew one person who had a cell phone back then. He used to whip it out of his bag when we were at a restaurant and plonk it on the table in a big effort to impress everyone around (epecially the ladies!). It was as big as a brick, weighed about as much and probably hummed annoyingly. It was a Vodaphone, I think?

  16. I’m delighted at the role reversal. You two bring joy to a week of darkness. That first sketch of a pencil is particularly poignant, in light of the week we’ve had.

    Rob, a delightful story. I’ve read it through twice, and continue to smile. I felt like I was on the train with you, then behind you convincing Mum that it was all true. That she framed that paper plate and hung it in her room…brilliant. Would love to see this switch up again.

    Shelley, how many hidden talents do you have? I’m starting to get a complex over here.

    • I’m really glad you enjoyed the piece, Alys. And yes, certainly after this week’s tragedy, I am reminded of just how dear our freedom of speech is. Whether we’re bringing our opinions to light via the written word, the cartooned sketch or the stump speech in the middle of town, we need to protect this privilege. And we need to be mindfully careful with it as well.

      My heart goes out to the many, many people who are part of a long line of victims brought about by terrorism. This is not the direction we want for our planet. We must persevere in finding ways to grow compassion and understanding for one another. It is a tall order, so we might as well get cracking.

      Thank you for the massive compliments, Alys. I cannot tell you what a joy you bring to my table when you put down your thoughts. ❤

  17. This is a great story. Thanks for stopping by my little blog and liking a post. It brought me here 🙂 following for more. Like the sketches with the story 🙂

  18. I’m glad I decided to do some catching up on reading – now I can go to bed chuckling 🙂

    The whole role reversal thing on Twelfth Night appeals anyway (I have yet to persuade Her Majesty to swap, though) but you have both done it so well I’m in awe. I had to double check the signature on the cartoons, and the story was told brilliantly. Standing ovations for the pair of you. 🙂

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