Palin endures wine wait in Wellington

LONG DAY: Was it too much to ask, at the end of a long day, to have the wine brought out first?
LONG DAY: Was it too much to ask, at the end of a long day, to have the wine brought out first?

The butterflies were fair humming this week ahead of an interview with the Monty Python-globetrotting documentary-making, book-writing Michael Palin.

The interview was scheduled for Friday but I arrived at work on Thursday to an email from Palin's publishing house inquiring as to whether I would like to join Mr Palin for dinner after his public appearance that evening.

Of course I said yes and, like a 12-year-old schoolgirl invited backstage at a Justin Bieber concert, immediately posted my upcoming brush with comic genius on Facebook. It wasn't quite "OMG having dinner with Michael Palin" but pretty close.

Back came a raft of comments, including "Don't be too sucky", "He's a really nice guy" and a plethora of puns and jokes about parrots, lumberjacks and crucifixion. A journalist mate wanted me to ask him about Jimmy Savile and another if he was related to Sarah Palin.

I wangled an invite for a female friend who is charming company and well capable of papering over any gaffes I might commit in meeting a childhood idol. We were to meet at a well-known waterfront eatery at 8.30. The table was for five, Palin, his publishing minder Gemma, Jackie from Unity Books, my friend and I.

The event ran long so Palin and Gemma didn't arrive until 9pm. There were polite introductions, a shaking of hands all round, and a general consensus that we should sit down, order some wine and have dinner.

Indeed, Palin seemed very keen for a glass of wine and something to eat, having just spent two hours or so talking, smiling, shaking hands, and signing copies of his book, Brazil.

It was at that stage that the evening became, quite unintentionally, comic. The waiter was Irish and well-meaning but seemed blithely unaware that the guest of honour was barely containing his raging thirst.

I reached for the wine list and settled on an Ata Rangi chardonnay and a bottle of their excellent Celebre for the red drinkers. Having told our Irish friend a bottle of each was required I thought that issue was settled.

But when he turned up a few minutes later there wasn't a bottle in sight. Instead, he pulled out what appeared to be the script for a mini-series and informed us that he had to tell us about the menu and the specials.

Palin looked a little peeved and gently suggested a glass of wine would be good too. But in the best traditions of Fawlty Towers (I know I'm mixing my Pythons), the clear hint was not taken.

In a lilting Irish accent he proceeded to outline in the most intimate detail almost every dish on the menu, where the vegetables were grown, where the meat was raised, how it was killed, what the guy who drives the truck to the restaurant's name was and, most importantly, which dishes were his personal favourites.

Palin looked ready to start banging his head on the table in frustration as the rest of us stared dumbstruck while the boy from Dublin prattled on, topping his performance off with a detailed description of what gravlax was.

Thinking back, I should have acted then, grabbed the bastard by the throat and screamed: "This is probably the most travelled man in the world, he's tired, he's thirsty and he's hungry and he, like the rest of us, knows what frickin gravlax is!"

But I didn't, the waiter finished his grand oratory and announced he was now ready to take our orders at which point he reached into his pocket, announced that he'd forgotten his pen, turned on his heel and disappeared.

The five of us looked at each other with varying degrees of horror and embarrassment, and then someone laughed. Really, it was all any of us could do.

That broke the ice and while the details of the next two hours are a bit of a blur I don't think I was too gushy or dropped too many clangers and Palin was tolerant, affable and damn good company.

Our meals were all delivered to the wrong places, the wine flowed, and I'd like to think a good time was had by all.

We were offered coffee at the end of our meal, which a clearly wilting Palin declined. We said goodnight and confirmed arrangements for the interview the next morning.

It is nice to discover your idols are good people – and I'm so thankful the waiter didn't offer the guest of honour a wafer to finish.

The Dominion Post