Human memories are fallible.
As we age, our minds ruthlessly edit our pasts, either inflating, deflating, or conflating events to create a neat, linear narrative.
The peaks and troughs are smoothed out, and random incidents are downplayed or even removed if they detract from the neat cause-and-effect storyline our brains are trying to construct.
As a result, a life that has contained a million and one events, some isolated and surreal, can appear to have been scripted by a piece of AI-driven screenwriting software obsessed with causality, 3-act structure, and barnstorming set-pieces.
My brain has fallen prey to this. As I look back, I too perceive my life as having a sleek, almost cinematic feel.
The only problem is that the film of my life hasn't been crafted by Frank Capra. It's been hewn from the chaotic minds of (cue music) -
On the one hand, this isn't remotely surprising.
We devour stories to make sense of our lives - given that I was reciting the Parrot Sketch and singing 'The Lumberjack Song' before I knew my times' tables or - indeed - how to spell the word 'table', it's not much of a shock that my mind turned to Python to help make sense of mine.
Therefore, if I was to assemble a loose collection of milestones from my life, it's only fitting that Python should score them. No one else captures the energy, the silliness, the bewilderment, and the absurdity of having spent nearly half a century living on this tiny, floating piece of rock we call Earth.
Aldershot, Hampshire - 1979
I was seven years old when I first sat down to watch Monty Python with my father. I must've understood very little but the moment John Cleese walloped Michael Palin in the face with a giant fish... well, I got that bit. To my juvenile mind, that was pure genius. Actually, it still is even to my middle-aged mind.
From that night, I was hooked.
As soon as I had the means, I purchased 'Holy Grail', 'Life of Brian' and (much later) 'The Meaning of Life' on VHS. I asked for the scripts from the TV shows for Christmas.
Even better was the extra present my parents threw in - 'Monty Python Sings' on CD. Purists are free to disagree, but - for me - it's a better album than 'Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts' Club Band.'
And I played it incessantly.
Until I left home, I shared a bedroom with my brother - I'm pretty sure that even when he goes to sleep now he can still hear the strains of 'Every Sperm is Sacred' rattling around his subconscious given how much I played it.
From the day I received that CD, the songs of Monty Python became my most favoured part of their output, and remained a comforting musical presence in my life ever since. Along with The Beatles, Python has been a key component of the soundtrack of my life. Actually, with apologies to John, Paul, George, and Ringo, Python has probably been the key component.
A lot of this is simply down to a factor that needs no further explanation - the songs make me smile. And, in my youth, one song made me chortle more than any other.
Aldershot, Hampshire - 1985 to 1990
Schooldays were all shades of Hell for me.
I was an academic non-entity who was - at best - adequate at sport, with acne that made me look as if I was Freddy Krueger's younger brother. I wasn't smart enough to be a nerd, was too mediocre at sports to be cool, and was too ugly to even be one of the 'weird' kids.
As a result of this triple whammy, I liked to be alone. Which I was, a lot - I became very good at hiding.
Unfortunately, there was only one time I couldn't: Assembly.
Every morning I had no choice but to join the rest of the school in filing into the hall to listen to the headmaster's attempts at imparting well-meant wisdom on a bunch of kids who - to a person - were only pretending to listen. For a child who preferred to hide away, being trapped in that space with the rest of the school's population was a vile experience for me. It was social anxiety writ large.
One of the quirks of my school was that, despite not being a religious institute, we still had to sing Christian hymns in assembly. Without fail, this meant 'All Creatures Great and Small.' I'm certain there are many other hymns but we didn't sing them.
I have nothing against hymns or any other trappings of the Christian faith, but that song quickly represented those horrid gatherings and anxiety caused by them.
Thankfully, Monty Python was on hand to save me.
Following in the footsteps of The Goons, and Beyond the Fringe, Python took great pleasure in subverting British stereotypes. In their hands, army generals, normally seen as the bastions of authority and common sense, became jabbering buffoons. Sweet old ladies turned into homicidal killers.
The traditional images of the clergy, civil servants, and politicians were turned on their heads and all aspects of staid, stuffy Englishness were lampooned.
Cue, 'All Things Dull and Ugly.'
For generations of school children who'd had to endure the original homily, this version must have been liberating.
For me, being to recite the Python's take silently in my head not only got me through, but it also ensured that - upon leaving school - I'd actually grown to enjoy school assembly, and my anxiety significantly eased. My little silent rebellion had paid a wonderful dividend.
Huddersfield, Yorkshire. 1994.
In September 1994, I left the South of England (much to my brother's delight, who wouldn't now have to hear 'The Penis Song' thirty times a day) to travel to deepest Yorkshire to begin at the University of Huddersfield.
University was the first time I met other people as enamoured with Monty Python as I was. However, in hindsight, as I studying drama, this shouldn't have been a huge surprise. With Python's innate ridiculous and over-the-top theatricality, their songs are often loved by drama students.
I genuinely have no idea how it started (I blame the cheap alcohol for any lapses in my memory) but one song became an unofficial theme for the three years I spent as an undergraduate - 'Camelot (Knights of the Round Table).'
Whether it was due to me humming/singing it one day and someone else who knew the song joining in or vice versa, 'Camelot' was regularly wheeled out, normally to puncture the gloomy air of whatever oh-so earnest play we were rehearsing.
The song also captures the energy of that period - a time in my own life when I could be as daft and as carefree as those Knights. A time when my biggest concerns revolved around which supermarket sold the cheapest baked beans.
Despite being at university during the reign of Britpop, it's not Pulp, Blur, or Oasis that sums up my time as a student - it's 90 seconds of nonsensical lunacy about a mythical castle.
ALDERSHOT, HAMPSHIRE. 2005.
After a few years living in London, then briefly back in Aldershot, I moved to Liverpool, the city that remains my home.
However, not long after relocating to Merseyside, I had to return home following the death of my father.
Losing a parent is never easy, regardless of your age. And when things have been left unsaid, the toxic brew is muddied further. It's only now, well over a decade since he passed, that I see just how much my father's death affected me and laid the seeds of what was to follow a few years later when my mental health fell off a cliff.
We never had the easiest of relationships but - with the benefit of age - I can see that I was unforgivably intolerant of his flaws and should have been more understanding of the difficulties he faced. I never did.
This was rammed home as, years later, I remembered how he vainly fought to cling to life.
It's said that crisis reveals who we truly are - when the chips are down, and your back is against the wall, who you are in those moments is who you really are. As my father faced the most terrifying challenge of his life, I saw a man who tried to remain cheerful, to try and make sure that everything was sorted so none of us would have extra 'stuff' to deal with upon his passing, and who never once resorted to self-pity or anger, but faced the end of his life with quiet dignity.
It's the most impressive of epitaphs.
For a man who loved music and introduced me to The Jam, The Kinks, David Bowie, and The Beatles, part of me feels guilty that it's a Monty Python song that evokes the strongest memory of him. However, he also introduced me to Python, one of the greatest gifts he ever bestowed on me, so I think he'll be okay with it.
'The Lumberjack Song' was the first Python song I learnt by heart. It's also the only song I've ever found that (on the album version) mentions Aldershot - something that amused my dad.
The 2020s didn't have the most auspicious start and involved admission to a psychiatric ward followed by Covid descending on the world.
I was far from being the only one who struggled and wrestled with a world that seemed to make no sense anymore.
But, once more, Monty Python came to my aid. One song in particular - 'The Galaxy Song.'
Earlier, I explained how, from the day I received 'Monty Python Sings', those songs not only became my most favoured part of their output but have also remained a comforting musical presence in my life ever since.
However, it's not solely because they make me laugh.
There is also a sheer admiration for the Python's talent - writing a song that is both genuinely funny and musically pleasing is nearly impossible. Many have tried - most have failed. Meanwhile, the Python's succeeded. Eric Idle might rightly claim to be the most musically talented but they all had a belter in them.
But there's something else.
All of the Pythons were smart. They wore their intelligence lightly but it was there.
Whether it was due to their intelligence, or simply down the unquantifiable alchemy of bringing six very disparate individuals together, they were also anarchic. As the man behind the groundbreaking animated sequences, Terry Gilliam was the most obvious non-conformist but, for middle-class, Oxbridge graduates, the other five held little respect for established norms either.
If The Beatles and The Rolling Stones had been the infantry responsible for culturally dragging the UK into the modern, non-Bowler-hatted future, the Python's were the calvary not far behind. They might seem tame now, but the Pythons were among the first to have no problems in writing sketches and songs whose starting point was a 'taboo' subject.
In terms of sex, we were a long way from the anodyne smut of the Carry-On films; with death, Python sometimes resembled a Dario Argento fever dream.
However, they were also resolutely silly - they always went for the absurd because that's where the laugh was. Many of their ideas may have sounded highbrow on paper but the execution was always focused on how many giggles they could mine.
For me, this uneasy balance of intelligence and absurdity creates an interesting dynamic - a distinct lack of sentimentality.
The Pythons were too smart and too anarchic to sugarcoat the world. But there were also joyfully daft, finding the comedy in some pretty dark places.
This contrast between intelligent, often quite dark, anarchy and utter silliness means there's something almost existential in their best work - as if they're telling you -
"Look - let's be honest: Life is pretty shit. It's grim, nasty, unpredictable and short. You may as well accept that life is cruel and unfair, and laugh at it when you can."
You can argue that this is the entire conceit of the wonderful 'Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.' But, for me, this was never better encapsulated than in 'The Galaxy Song.'
It's essentially a clever-crafted explanation of how vast the universe is, and - by extension - not only how incredibly small we are, but how our entire existence is an almost meaningless, cosmic fluke. In short, you're not the centre of the universe, and let's put things into perspective, shall we?
Whenever you feel overwhelmed, put this gem on from Eric Idle, and help him make you see that there's always a BIGGER picture. I did during 'lockdown' and I'm pretty sure it's why I didn't go insane.
So, that's 'Monty Python's Life of Chris.' A random collection of pivotal milestones scored by Messrs Cleese, Chapman, Idle, Gilliam, Jones, and Palin (with a lot of help from the mighty Neil Innes). My mind might have made all of those incidents a bit neater than they were in reality but - you know what - who cares when the soundtrack is that good?
BONUS TRACK -
I couldn't not include it, could I?
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