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Once, sitting down with Spike Milligan, at his his mother’s rather nondescript house in Woy Woy in New South Wales Australia, we were talking about children and his children’s books. He looked at me in that typical Milligan way that could always raise a smile and said. “What children’s books? We are all children when…
Once, sitting down with Spike Milligan, at his his mother’s rather nondescript house in Woy Woy in New South Wales Australia, we were talking about children and his children’s books. He looked at me in that typical Milligan way that could always raise a smile and said. “What children’s books? We are all children when we don’t have to playact at being grown up.” Later we took a slow, rambling walk on the beach. He was hunched and shuffling, his eyes always looking down. Now and then he would bend and pick something up. “Little things.” He said. “If only we could always live in the land of small things. There are whole universes on every grain of sand.” On the way back to the old and tiny house which had been his mother’s he squatted rather painfully on crackling knees to watch a dung beetle rolling a huge ball of horse dung before him. “Imagine if that dung beetle was God,” he said “and that big ball was the world. All the microbes, all the bacteria could be us.” I loved Spike. He was the kindest man, the saddest man and the most likeable man I ever had the privilege to know.
He was an old, and sad man when I knew Spike, consumed with regrets about his ancient perceived sins and worried about what would happen to the world when he was no longer in it. He wanted to stay to the end. “Like a really terrible film.” He would say. “You hate it, you groan at every word of unbelievable dialogue, you begin to pick out the continuity errors. You finish your popcorn and yearn for your money back. But then something keeps you glued to your seat. You just want to see it through to the end. To see what happens. Nothing does. Everyone dies, and you are left thinking that surely you missed something important. Something someone was trying to say to you. But they weren’t and you feel cheated.”
Like me Spike was manic depressive, and like me he hated the newspeak ‘bi-polar’.
Today, while I lie flat on my back full of valium, Neurontin, and morphine, feeling sorry for myself because all I can move arms and legs, and trying to keep the depression at bay I think of my old friend. A friend I wish I had met in his younger years when he was a master of expression, a founding member of the timeless “Goons” with Harry Secombe, Michael Bentine (in the early days), and the magnificent Peter Sellers. From Milligan’s writing of The Goon Show with collaboration from Eric Sykes and Larry Stephens, Maurice Wiltshire or John Antrobus was birthed Monty Python, The Goodies, and perhaps even The Young Ones benefited from Spike’s mania and depression.
Today, I picked up my morphine, my valium, and my Neurontin, planning to order in a bottle of vodka and pound up my pills with my lovely marble mortar and pestle, when Spike whispered in my ear. “I’m the oldest manic depressive I know.” I heard it as clearly as the day he laughingly said it to me. So I made up my mind. I too am going to be the oldest manic depressive I know. I owe that to Spike. At the very worst I can promise to live longer than Keith Richards! (After all we’re the same age and he has had a lot more fun than I have!) e
Thank you Spike. For having lived, and crossed my path, and in doing so, taught me a lesson. I will stay till the movie is over no matter how horrible the acting or the script!
UPDATE: I had previously said that the house in Woy Woy was Spike’s “birthplace”. Even as I wrote that I knew that he was actually born in India, but I blithely skipped by and carried on writing. Thanks to Russell for keeping honest here. If it’s any excuse I was flat on my back with a prolapsed disc and in great pain. However, excuse it might be, but not absolutely honest.