Pyong at heart: Why Michael Palin felt 30 again in North Korea

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Pyong at heart: Why Michael Palin felt 30 again in North Korea

His 75th birthday was extraordinary, but he says his globetrotting days are coming to an end

Mick Brown

There is a delightful moment, which Michael Palin recounts in his journal of his travels in 2018 in North Korea, when he celebrated his 75th birthday.

Hungry and thirsty after a hard day’s filming in the Wonsan Special Tourist Zone, at an airport totally bereft of passengers, and at a cooperative farm where a woman brusquely dismissed Palin and his brave attempts at hoeing a vegetable patch as “unnecessary” (“which is not really what you want to hear, especially on your birthday”), he and his crew adjourn to a restaurant. There, they are ushered into a back room decorated with balloons and tinsel, where the stone wall of North Korean officialdom finally cracks. Enter his appointed minders, hitherto poker-faced and watchful, bearing flowers and an enormous cake, joining in with “a rousing Anglo-Korean chorus” of Happy Birthday.

“This,” Palin writes, “has been the most extraordinary and wonderful birthday of my life, only equalled by my 30th birthday performing in a Python show at the Birmingham Hippodrome, when the entire audience sang Happy Birthday at the end of the Dead Parrot sketch.”..

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