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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- Understanding Twelfth Night (http://www.historiccamdencounty.com)
- Time to Bring Back the Lord of Misrule for Twelfth Night (http://www.kmflett.wordpress.com)
- Monty Python (http://www.montypython.com)