This is a rollicking good weekend read, if you’re a Jilly Cooper sort of reader. Not being a Jilly Cooper sort of reader, and perhaps because I’ve read too many Bill Brysons and soul-searching memoirs of late, I might be a little handicapped in making a fair judgement of Kate Turkington’s latest book, gushingly titled: Yes, Really! A Life'.
Certainly, the first sentence is attention grabbing: “I’m in my ninth decade and can still have multiple orgasms.”
But unless you know Kate Turkington, as a friend, family member or fan, her admittedly eventful and globally expansive life stops short of being a thrilling must-read for everybody, considering too that it is rather prosaically penned in places, and a little lean in wisdom beyond reportage and the odd platitude about how wonderful life is.
That said, if you’re of Turkington’s generation, and especially if you’re a UK expat, this book will take you on a journey back to a time of great travel and learning, reflected through the lens of a London girl who became a woman of the world who became a well-known broad- caster-cum-seasoned travel writer.
Kate Turkington was raised in the East End of war-time London and educated at London University before marrying husband number one and raising her young family in a remote part of east Nigeria. She became a traveller at a young age, first leaving England at 14 to live in Paris with a French girl she met through Girl Guides, and has since notched up dozens of destinations on her travel log, including far-flung places like Tibet, India, Patagonia and Guatamala.
At the ripe old age of 83, she is still writing, and has three books under her belt (this is the third). A dab hand at self-branding, let me turn you over to the “About Kate” page on her website: “She has waltzed at dawn with a Chinese dance instructor in a Beijing square, fallen over emperor penguins in Antarctica, lunched with a rajah in Rajasthan, dined with the comrades in Cuba, been winched over a raging torrent 9 000ft up in the Andes in Peru, climbed Ayers Rock in the red heart of Australia, broken bread with monks in Tibet’s oldest monastery, downed ‘thumbs’ of pepper vodka in Russia, confronted Afar warriors armed with Kalashnikovs in Ethiopia’s Rift Valley, shivered at Everest Base Camp in Tibet, eyeballed Blue-footed boobies in the Galapagos Islands and heard the stars sing in the Kalahari... and of course, lots, lots more.”
Mercifully, this hyperbolised tone is diluted in her autobiography, which is saved, only just, from the sin of navel gazing by an irreverent sense of the absurd, and as insinuated by her opening gambit, by some salacious reveals about her adventurous love/sex life.
I was more intrigued by Turkington’s era as a young woman living in Europe, the demureness that would later be exorcised and replaced with much more flavourful goings on: “We didn’t know much about sex in those days of the 50s. The Swinging 60s were still a long way ahead... “Young men were mostly real gentle- men in those days (even rugby players) and if a girl said no, it meant no,” she writes.
An irrepressibly buoyant character, Turkington seems to have sashayed from one serendipity to the next. In her London University days, she met first husband Malcolm, who was studying at Oxford. She recalls: “We were the first working-class kids who had breached these elitist walls.”
This book is full of fabulous and truly enviable experiences. I guess my party pooping niggle, then, is not her admirable largesse in life and living and telling, but a lack of gravitas and perspicacity that might have made this a more gratifying read for the shadier, more introspective tendencies of my generation.