Cheltenham Literature Festival 2007 – Day Two

6 October 2007 – Michael Palin

With queues of crawling traffic causing chaos across Prestbury, Michael Palin’s popularity has never been more visible, and frustrating, for those making their way to the Centaur to see the Monty Python’s sell-out talk at the Cheltenham Racecourse.

Those with enough luck, or foresight, to have secured their Centaur seats were thanked for their persistence today though as Palin took the capacity audience on a breathtaking whistle-stop, slide-show journey across New Europe – which the sixty-something swore ‘will definitely be my last trip,’ before adding ‘but then again I said that after 80 Days, Pole to Pole, Full Circle, Hemingway, Sahara and Himalaya… I seem to keep getting my arm twisted by the rest of the crew.’   

Complementing the BBC television series and his new book, cunningly-entitled Michael Palin’s New Europe, we were transported from the snow-topped mountains of Slovenia through Croatia and the former Yugoslavia to Albania, before traipsing onwards to Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary, with a sojourn to and The Ukraine  and The Czech Republic, then onwards through Slovakia, former East Germany, Poland, the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad, before finally following the presenter’s footsteps to Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.

In just over an hour the audience was pelted with cultural and historical facts at a dizzying speed, with just enough breaths for Palin’s slick presentation to be littered with comedic off-camera anecdotes of truffle omelette stirring, making a Sufi imam laugh, getting caught in a snow blizzard and his wife’s difficulties reading him the football scores while he’s traipsing the globe, not to mention Pakistan accidentally buying the rights to Monty Python’s Flying Circus and meeting a group of eastern European lumberjacks, who were ‘all okay’.

While an envious shade of green collectively emitted from the audience after hearing the tall tales of the presenter’s global gallivanting, we would all agree that battling through Cheltenham’s road-rage-inducing traffic paled in comparison to some of Michael Palin’s exploits – but our individual journeys to hear the small screen legend speak was more than worth the effort.

Buy Michael Palin’s New Europe from £10 at amazon.co.uk.