I’ve been having a clear-out of long-untroubled shelves and dark cupboards, with the help of my grandson Wilbur, who is amazed that I have so much stuff. I explain to him that I’ve had over seventy years to accumulate it and that I’ve always been very bad at throwing things away. Among the things he found most mystifying were two shoe boxes full of book matches, which I’d collected from bars and restaurants and hotels all over the world.
He looked at me pityingly. ‘Why, Grandpa ?’
‘Because as you get older you begin to forget things. Your memory needs a nudge, and that’s what they give me’.
So here’s a selection of my Ten Best book-match memories.
Box Tree Restaurant, Ilkley Yorks
Whilst filming A Private Function, we celebrated Alan Bennett’s fiftieth birthday here. A wonderful meal was only slightly marred by Maggie Smith discovering a piece of glass in her Mixed Salad. “A very mixed salad’, as she described it later.
Furnace Creek Inn and Ranch Resort
Hardly needed matches here. Furnace Creek is at the heart of Death Valley and the day I stopped there with my two sons, the temperature was well-over 100F. Even the heart of the Sahara was cooler.
Watergate Hotel, Washington DC
One of the great locations of American political history. The Watergate break-in in 1972 led to the disgrace and resignation of President Nixon two years later. When staying there with my fellow Pythons in 1975 I scooped up anything with Watergate written on it, including the Room Service menu, which made Graham Chapman very cross as he hadn’t ordered his breakfast.
Hotel d’Angleterre Copenhagen
Smart hotel in the Danish capital. Amazed to find a large painting in the lobby by William Palin, a Victorian relative. Didn’t stay there but grabbed the matches and left.
BBC TV Centre
Quite a surprise. Had forgotten that there was a time when the BBC spent licence-payers money on book matches. But I’m glad they did, if only for this aerial reminder of the building where Python was born.
A fond, if scuffed memory of one of those brownstone basement bars which used to be dotted around Manhattan. Live music long into the night. To me, the essence of New York. Most have been squeezed out by developers.
One of the venues on an ill-fated Python tour of Canada in 1973. Regina was in the middle of hundreds of miles of flat prairie. When being shown round the city Graham Chapman asked our guide, “Why didn’t they put it over there?’
Tokyo Japanese Restaurant
The first time I went to a proper Japanese restaurant in London I and a friend saw a line of shoes laid out at the entrance, and assumed they were for us to change into. As we shuffled uncomfortably towards the table in these tiny slippers we passed a tableful of Japanese who looked up in horror. We were wearing their shoes.
Utah Parks Company, North Rim Grand Canyon
In 1972 Terry Jones and myself made our first visit to the USA. We tried to see everything as fast as possible, and Terry suggested that we run down the Grand Canyon and up again in a morning. It was not until the way back up that he collapsed. Worst of all, the lodge where we found these matches had run out of beer.
Europa Hotel Belfast
This is where I stayed on the many occasions I played The Belfast Festival. In the 1980’s Belfast was in the midst of the Troubles, and yet they were terrific audiences. Someone told me the Europa has been bombed 28 times.