Sometimes we don’t want to be tethered to yesterday

by Sue Perkins

This memoir by beloved comedian and TV presenter Sue Perkins jumped out at me when browsing one of our local charity shops, as I was looking to add some comedy to my book shelves and this seemed like just the thing. One the one hand, I was right that it would be funny, on the other it also made me cry no less than three times. Damn it Sue with your sweet, touching moments. And dead pets.

I’d like to claim to be an early fan of Sue, having watched her first TV shows Light Lunch and Late Lunch, back in the 90s, but the truth is that they followed years of stand-up comedy that I of course knew nothing about. Sue is yet another alumnus of the Cambridge Footlights society, and gives a brilliant description of the drab, dingy basement that is the Footlights theatre. This is also where she met long-time comedy partner Mel Giedroyc, who in this book (and, I assume, in life) is the butt of many a joke, primarily about her being two years older than Sue.

Sue is a good writer, whether talking about her family, her career, her loves or her pets. Her timing is spot-on, knowing when to hit the sad button and when to lighten the mood with a joke with the canny judgement of Spielberg. She’s not afraid of sincerity about tough subjects and the chapter about her break-up with a long-term partner after getting back into TV work and running a bit wild is a little painful to read as it seems to betray lingering feelings.

I won’t spoil the moment that had me in absolute floods of tears, when I had to put the book down, but I will tell you about the first time this book made me cry, as it’s a good indicator of this book’s overall tone. A neighbour’s cat, Pog, adopted their house full time shortly before Sue’s father was diagnosed with cancer. He’d moved to the lounge and Pog stayed there with him. “She purred while his nails went black and fell out, while he bloated with steroids, as he crunched endless mints to get the metal taste from is mouth. She purred through the whole damn thing.” After Sue’s Dad got the all-clear, there was a hilarious incident with Pog and the Christmas turkey. And then:

“A few weeks later Pog took herself off to die. We never got the chance to thank her, or to let her know that any one of us would have happily lain next to her, like she did with Dad, in her hour of need.”

You see? Sad stuff. But Sue is also very funny. As the epitome of Britishness she is generally very generous about others and heaps criticism on herself, occasionally mocking family and friends. But in a gently humorous way, of course.

“My family are gathered together at my parents’ house in west Cornwall. Rain relentlessly spanks the windows…My dad, brother and sister are bunched up together on the sofa watching a marginal American sport on a marginal subscription channel. Mum is perched on the armrest, jabbing at her iPad with a stiff finger, ET-style, muttering ‘Well, I never!’ in a loop.”

There is an extent to which this book taps into Sue’s recent fame explosion courtesy of The Great British Bake-Off, which is truly a cultural phenomenon and I’m happy that Sue was dragged back from the brink of retirement to share her comedy with us again, but I also think that she is such a capable writer that without this moment in the limelight she might have turned that ability to writing something else, fiction or non-fiction, that would be less ephemeral than this book feels. Hopefully she still will.

“Sometimes we don’t want to be tethered to yesterday. It’s nicer to forget. Maybe the gaps in our memory are there for a reason, evolutionary perhaps, to give us the space to grow…Or maybe it’s so we have the chance to invent, or at least include, some magic in our yesterdays. Surely the consolation of getting older, of moving away from youth, is that we can shape our past to our fantasies. So, even if the present isn’t going the way we want it, we can stand back and remember our earlier selves as exciting and funny and daring.”

Published 2015 by Penguin Random House.

Source: The Melting Pot, Bristol (I think; that or one of the charity shops around Clifton Triangle).