Along with most other people I discovered Sue Perkins years ago when she was presenting Light Lunch with Mel Giedroyc. I have no idea how I was watching Light lunch, I should have been at work, but anyway somehow I managed to see it. I loved their witty, slightly irreverent but wholly upbeat way of presenting. In recent years I’ve loved the travel programmes Sue has presented and taken part in, and of course like the majority of the UK I love the GBBO. I’m pretty sure that without Sue and of course Mel it would be a much less interesting programme.
So, I couldn’t wait to read ‘Spectacles’. It was on my Christmas wish list from the moment I knew it was being published. I’m not quite sure of the difference between an autobiography and a memoir, but this is a memoir. As you would expect it is the story of Sues life, pretty much from birth until the present.
The opening few pages of the book which detail Sues conversations with her family about writing this book made me laugh out loud. It becomes clear early on that she has a close relationship with her family and her love and respect for them is evident throughout the book. She is pleasingly open and describes her relationships with her partners with candour but respectfully and kindly too. Sues relationship with Mel is clearly very special, I enjoyed reading of how they met and the joy they obviously have in their professional and personal relationship. I was ridiculously pleased to find out they are best pals outside of work too!
If Sue writes lovingly of her family and friends, she writes really, really lovingly of her dogs. Her beloved dog Pickle had to be put down. 6 weeks after this event, she remembered that Pickle was still in the freezer at the vets. Pickle was then cremated and Sue had to collect his ashes from the vet.
“It was the weight that got me – the sheer weight. I don’t know I thought that ashes would be light, like grey candy floss, that I would take the bag and swing it into the air, and she and I would go walking into the fresh spring morning together united once more. No one tells you how heavy the urn is going to be or how much dust you’ll have to spread. No one tells you how to deal with someone handing you something you adored in a carrier bag in front of a waiting room full of hacking cats and three-legged dogs. It’s hard to be nonchalant in that situation. It’s hard to pretend that being handed a plastic sack full of something you love is an everyday occurrence. The urn weighted one kilogram. The exact weight of loss.”
I had some vague recollection of Sue taking part in some reality show called Maestro where along with other celebrities she learnt how to conduct an orchestra. The chapter on this whole process she went through was fascinating. Music is in her soul, she lives and breathes it so that it overwhelms her. She describes here the process of conducting The BBC concert orchestra for a comic relief performance.
“I wasn’t leading. I wasn’t following either. I was inside it, inside the guts of it,and I couldn’t get out. My chest vibrated with the sound. My head flooded with a million sudden thoughts and feelings – snapshots, sounds,s smells. My past. My family. Love and the loss that walks so closely behind it. My hand was so heavy I could barely drag it across my body. The music was either too big for me or I was too small for it. Either way, I will never forget being so utterly overwhelmed. In that moment I understood something profound – that words would only distort should I choose them to describe it. I learned about performance,c connection, intimacy, sadness. I learned about me. Every part of myself I tried to hide it, it came looking for – ripping me open like a tin can”
There are many reasons to love this book. Its warmth, its generosity to others and its kindness. Sue has a big brain and she writes intelligently and with humour. She is regularly self-deprecating laughing at her own foibles and she really loves dogs.
As memoirs go this is a lovely one.