I’ve long been an admirer of Sandi Toksvig, ever since the days of her starring role in The Big One television show, so I was delighted when I was given the opportunity to review her memoir Between the Stops. My enormous thanks to the team at Virago for allowing me to do so.
Published by Virago, Between the Stops is available for purchase through these links.
Between the Stops
This long-awaited memoir from one of Britain’s best-loved celebrities – a writer, broadcaster, activist, comic on stage, screen and radio for nearly forty years, presenter of QI and Great British Bake Off star – is an autobiography with a difference: as only Sandi Toksvig can tell it.
‘Between the Stops is a sort of a memoir, my sort. It’s about a bus trip really, because it’s my view from the Number 12 bus (mostly top deck, the seat at the front on the right), a double-decker that plies its way from Dulwich, in South East London, where I was living, to where I sometimes work – at the BBC, in the heart of the capital. It’s not a sensible way to write a memoir at all, probably, but it’s the way things pop into your head as you travel, so it’s my way’.
From London facts including where to find the blue plaque for Una Marson, ‘The first black woman programme maker at the BBC’, to discovering the best Spanish coffee under Southwark’s railway arches; from a brief history of lady gangsters at Elephant and Castle to memories of climbing Mount Sinai and, at the request of a fellow traveller, reading aloud the Ten Commandments; from the story behind Pissarro’s painting of Dulwich Station to performing in Footlights with Emma Thompson; from painful memoires of being sent to Coventry while at a British boarding school to thinking about how Wombells Travelling Circus of 1864 haunts Peckham Rye; from anecdotes about meeting Prince Charles, Monica Lewinsky and Grayson Perry to Bake-Off antics; from stories of a real and lasting friendship with John McCarthy to the importance of family and the daunting navigation of the Zambezi River in her father’s canoe, this Sandi Toksvig-style memoir is, as one would expect and hope, packed full of surprises.
A funny and moving trip through memories, musings and the many delights on the Number 12 route, Between the Stops is also an inspiration to us all to get off our phones, look up and to talk to each other because as Sandi says: ‘some of the greatest trips lie on our own doorstep’.
My Review of Between the Stops
I’m not a great lover of ‘celebrity’ memoir writing because all to often I find a false modesty underpinned by an irritating self-aggrandisement that simply doesn’t ring true. However, Sandi Toksvig has completely wrong footed me with Between the Stops and I loved every word. I must admit that I like her television persona so much that I was already on her side before I began reading, but Between the Stops is a book any reader can enjoy and appreciate because it’s so fabulous.
Firstly I adored the writing style. I think I possibly learnt more about Sandi Toksvig as a person in the passages about the stops on the bus route and her dealings with others than I did in the pure biographical sections because her writing is natural, honest and fabulously entertaining. She genuinely seems to care about her environment, and those in it, in ways that are politically, economically, ethically and socially astute and which gave me cause for reflection in my own life. That said, I found the personal passages so honest, humane and touching. I’ve gone from admiring the television personality Sandi Toksvig from afar to feeling I have been privileged to share insight into a warm, feisty and wonderful woman’s life.
Between the Stops is, as I might have expected, incredibly witty, but equally it is so educational. I learnt about history, geography, sociology, psychology, politics and so much more as Sandi Toksvig journeys through her life on the Number 12 bus. That said, there’s no ‘worthy’ sermonising here, but rather a hugely funny, touching and believable account that I found spell binding.
I don’t want to spoil the read by referring too closely to the eclectic mix of personal account and other details inspired by the places on the bus route, but I truly believe a reader could open this book at any point, dip in and find an absolute gem to investigate further, ponder or simply enjoy. I will certainly look very differently at the courgettes I grow on the allotment next year and Sandi Tokvig’s rejoinder that obsessively checking our emails and social media is akin to constantly opening the front door to see if there’s a visitor on the doorstep is simply perfect!
I thoroughly enjoyed Between the Stops. Sandi Toksvig the person, rather than Sandi Toksvig the celebrity, rings out across the pages so clearly, so wittily and so entertainingly that I admire her even more having read the book than I did before. I felt a genuine emotional connection to the writer. Brilliant!
About Sandi Toksvig
Sandi Toksvig went into theatre as a writer and performer after graduating from Cambridge. Well known for her television and radio work as a presenter, writer and actor, she has written more than twenty books for children and adults. She also writes for theatre and television: her film The Man starred Stephen Fry and Zoe Wanamaker and her play Bully Boy starring Anthony Andrews opened the St James Theatre, London in 2012. She was Chancellor of Portsmouth University from 2012 to 2017. In 2016 Sandi took over as chair on QI, and in 2017 she started presenting The Great British Bake Off. She lives in London and Kent.