Having a career as a Canadian outdoors writer, I’ve had the privilege of meeting some very cool, renowned celebrities and chatting with them about time spent in the wilderness. I’ve conversed with great musicians like Gord Downie of The Tragically Hip, Jim Cuddy of Blue Rodeo, Grapes of Wrath’s Kevin Kane and Jann Arden—all about the simplicity of canoe trips. I’ve chatted with legendary scribblers like Farley Mowat, James Raffan, Margaret Atwood, Pierre Burton, Roy MacGregor and Red Green. I consider myself lucky.
Recently, I was honoured to sit and have dinner with Mark Brown, an extra in Monty Python’s Flying Circus and the sketch writer for The Lumberjack Song. Yes, I pinched myself more than once throughout our conversation.
The song/sketch follows a disgruntled Michael Palin who hated his work as a barber, weatherman, pet shop owner… and announces to the world that he always wanted to be a lumberjack. He then reveals a red flannel shirt (a.k.a. Canadian Dinner Jacket) and stands amongst a patch of Canadian British Columbia coniferous forest, pledging his love for the outdoors while being backed up by a group of male singers dressed in Royal Canadian Mountain Police uniforms—one of which is Mark Brown.
It seems Mark is a big fan of my work and joined me and a group of friends for dinner while I was visiting England this past summer. He shared silly stories of the “Spam Song,” the controversy over The Life of Brian movie, how George Harrison helped finance more than one Python project, the facts behind the “Dead Parrot” sketch and whose idea was it to bang two coconuts together for the Holy Grail movie. I blurted out stories of roasting a moose nose over a fire at forty below with the northern Cree, being stalked by a predacious bear near James Bay and being caught skinny dipping by a group of women paddlers while canoe tripping along the French River.
It was awkward for all the people sitting around us. I was trying to play it cool—but failed miserably. Who wouldn’t? I’m having dinner with the guy who Meat Loaf hosted a documentary titled Spam to Sperm—Monty Python's Greatest Hits—detailing the inspiration for the songs of Monty Python such as The Lumberjack Song. And this guy wants to talk about my time spent travelling wild areas of Canada!
I’ve had an interesting life writing about the wilderness, but I have to say it doesn’t compare to stories of writing about lumberjacks wearing women’s clothing or Knights who say Ni! My stories did seem to amuse Mark, however.
To add to the comic dreamscape, it was at a fancy restaurant, with fancy rules. Who knew you had to place your knife and fork upright on your plate before the server would remove your leftovers? My lack of proper dinning etiquette was excused by Mark telling the waiter that I lived in northern Canada.
That seemed to be a good excuse for my wild behaviour—and I’ve never been so proud to be Canadian.
Yes, chatting with Margaret Atwood about the importance of our reconnection with nature, Gord Downie about the freedom of a northern canoe trip and Red Green about the importance of Duct tape for camp gear repair was nothing compared to having one of the Monty Python sketch writers asking me about the solace of wilderness travel in Canada—and what a roasted moose nose tastes like at minus forty.
I’m such a lucky person.