Growing up there were two types of kids: kids who went to other peoples’ houses to play, and kids who had everyone else over. I was firmly entrenched in the former category. The home that our group hung out at belonged to a pair of brothers.
The older brother, Red, was in college. He had *gasp* a personal computer and a room walled in paperback books. Geek chic long before geek was… you get the picture. The younger brother Mike and I were on the Math Team together. Just geek. No chic.
On any given weekend, Tim, Ben and I could be found in their den or living room. One of the activities we engaged in had nothing to do with dice or hexagons or counters or gaming of any sort. It had rather a lot to do with Monty Python.
But Monty Python is a British Comedy troupe, you protest. What on earth do they have to do with writing? Rather a lot, it seems. Five of the six were originally television writers–Terry Gilliam was the lone animator/illustrator. Over the years they have given us some wonderful memes…
She: I’ve got Thomas Hardy in the bedroom. I’d like you to look at him.
Inspector: Ah well, I can’t touch him. He’s a novelist.
She: Oh, he keeps mumbling all night.
Inspector: Oh well, novelists do, you see.
…and a decent body of work on literature. The one that piqued our interest was a short sketch from their 1973 album “Matching Tie and Handkerchief”. In the skit, a crowd gathers to watch Thomas Hardy begin his latest novel, The Return of the Native, while an announcer provides a running commentary. Yeah. Well, it was something back then. Something enough to inspire our own session of novel writing.
We grabbed an egg timer, writing utensils and paper and formed a rough circle. The timer was started and we furiously began our works of fantastic fiction. Five minutes later the ding of the timer signaled “Pens and pencils down!” and we each passed what we had written to the left. Once everyone had read what they were given, we started the time again and continued the story set before us. The cycle continued until your original story made it back to you. Then the reading began. Out loud, of course.
Our own little vicious circle. There were only two rules. You have to write something, and you can’t write “…and then they woke up.” I had no idea then how important language and writing would become to me. I just knew we were having fun.
McGough: I’m sorry. I’m afraid I’ve caught poetry.
Mr Bones: Oh really? Well, don’t worry, sir – I used to suffer from short stories.
McGough: Really? When?
Mr Bones: Oh, once upon a time…
That fun also taught me to appreciate the different styles of others and their ability to see what I would not. It taught me that having my baby spray-painted by others was a good thing. Hard lessons to learn, even among, especially among friends.
So thank you British Comedy. Thank you, parents who provide safe and structured hangouts for their children’s friends. And especially thank you, not so vicious circle, for everything. I think of you every time I put pen to paper.
Twice on Saturdays in November.
Some other excellent skits on point: