Tuesday, October 02, 2012

A funny valentine - review of Sandi Toksvig

Sandi Toksvig at The Anvil, Basingstoke on Saturday, September 15

COMEDIANS often rave about the warm and friendly atmosphere at The Anvil, but Sandi Toksvig’s visit  generated such a tangible glow of love radiating towards her from the audience, that she probably could have spent the whole show explaining the rules of Mornington Crescent (the unfathomable parlour game played on I’m Sorry, I Haven’t A Clue) and still have been adored by every person present.

In fact, Toksvig gave us much more than that. Entitled “My Valentine”, the loose theme was a love letter from Toksvig to life; what inspires her to still find “delight in the day”. Much of her daily pleasures arise unexpectedly via her wholehearted love of books - not just literature of quality, but the fun to be had from dubious book titles, and a gem about the rules of golf during wartime, found while thumbing through an old golfing almanac (“A player whose stroke is affected by the simultaneous explosion of a bomb may play another ball from the same place. Penalty, one stroke.”)

It is no wonder that Toksvig has little trouble finding ideas for her novels, the most recent of which is Valentine Grey, and she explained the various inspirations for the plot, including the several women who are known to have disguised themselves as male soldiers (and many who were probably never discovered), and the horrors of the generally forgotten Boer War at the turn of the 20th century.

Toksvig’s anecdotes included touching tales about Toksvig’s late “showbiz husband” Alan Coren “We used to lie on his hotel bed eating burgers... it was like being an old married couple without the sex - hang on, that is being an old married couple”, her long-term friendship with John McCarthy, dating back to before he was taken hostage in the Lebanon, and her parents, who met at the BBC - “I have the BBC running through my veins”.

It was interesting to hear in Toksvig’s voice, not just the hint of Denmark of her birth which I always suspected bubbled just under the surface of her clipped English accent, but also the broad New York drawl which she brought to the UK as a teenager after years living in the USA. Such a globetrotting past hasn’t stopped Toksvig from becoming a truly British institution, but her description of Danish as a “peasant language with one word to describe one thing - although we have lots of words for ‘herring’” may go some way to explain her love of the intricacies and delights of the English language.

However, it was fun to learn some Danish essentials - if I am ever in Denmark to find that I have been made king, and need to convey my love of strawberries, I am sorted. There was also audience participation with a Q&A session, a silly little history quiz (I say “silly” only because I got knocked out on the first round) with the prize being not the expected signed copy of Valentine Grey, but a Moleskine notebook, beloved of many writers, to allow the winner to begin her “own writing journey”. 

The evening’s fun rounded off with a mass audience conducting of Beethoven’s Ode To Joy, commissioned by The Philharmonic Society of London in 1817 for £50 - “surely the best 50 quid ever spent”. I suspect everyone in the audience felt the same about the £18.50 they spent on their tickets.

  • First published in the Newbury Weekly News on Thursday, September 22, 2012

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