Kate Turkington believes in having a go

kate turkingtonReview: Vivien Horler

Yes, Really! – A life, by Kate Turkington (Tafelberg)

If there is a message Kate Turkington would like to leave for posterity, it would probably be her mother Doris’s mantra: “Have a go!”

Turkington, an academic, TV presenter and veteran broadcaster, has done her mother proud – in her early 80s she’s still up for having a go, whether it be foreign travel, quadbike riding or praising the delights of multiple orgasms.

She has had two husbands, four children and multiple lovers; has lived in London, Ireland, Nigeria and South Africa, has taught English literature to thousands of Wits University students, presented TV programmes both here and in Ireland, and travelled the globe.

She has also interviewed everyone from the Beatles to Mary Quant, Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Chinua Achebe, the Dalai Lama and Richard Dawkins; says she has seen Queen Elizabeth’s knickers but sadly provides no further details, flown to the distant mid-Atlantic island of St Helena, got chemically high in South America, and visited both the Arctic and the Antarctic.

But it was the radio show Believe it or Not, which she hosted on Sunday nights for 20 years, that she says introduced her to ideas, stories and people she had never dreamed of: she spoke to “prophets, poets, prisoners, pagans, pantheists, witches and wizards”.

She was born in London’s East End and at four was evacuated with her older sister Rita to avoid the Blitz.

She was one of the first generation of British working class children to go to university, had a holiday in France during which she resisted the clutches of a French Legionnaire who was just back from Vietnam, and became the first woman since 1475  to be caught spending a night in her fiancé Malcolm’s Oxford college. Or so the dean said.

She married Malcolm aged just 20, and joined him in Nigeria where he was working for Unilever. And it was there, six years and two children later, that she met Alan, a young Irish captain in the British Army, who became husband number two and the father of her second pair of children.

Later, after a stint in Northern Ireland, they came to South Africa, where Turkington has lived ever since. Careers at Wits, on SATV’s Prime Time, Believe it or Not, and a new iteration as a travel writer, followed.

In outline the details of her life might sound only relatively exciting, but the attitude she brings to it makes this autobiography worth reading. As she says early on, there are many good things about getting older, like not giving a damn about what people think of you.

And so she tells her tale, joy, warts and all. And on the way she has plenty of advice for the rest of us. For instance, many of today’s young people are organised and goal-driven. She warns: “Be careful – leave space for the unexpected… Life should be a series of adventures, of taking risks…My advice is: don’t stay stuck in the past, cherish the present, and don’t allow yourself to get locked into a carefully planned future.”

There’s plenty more where that came from:

  • On sex: “If you’re still wondering about me being in my ninth decade and still happily multi-orgasmic, I’ll give you two tips: get a good lover and/or a good vibrator. Preferably both.”
  • On luck: “I believe the only wishes that come true are the ones you make to yourself…”
  • On having a go: she writes of a priest she interviewed who was saddened by the number of people who regretted, on their death beds, that they had not done more with their lives. Turkington says: “Don’t be one of those people. Get out there and do something you’ve always wanted to do… Make it happen.”
  • On a weekend at the posh Grosvenor Hotel in London, Park Lane, with a man who was definitely not her husband: “I couldn’t tell you now what it looked like, how the weather was… It was a weekend of what romantic novels might call ‘ubridled lust and passion’. It was bloody marvellous.”
  • On death (after crashing a quadbike in Namibia at 82 and breaking five ribs, one of which has still not healed): “It’s not dying that we are frightened of; it’s the manner in which we die. I’m sure it’s better to be taken out by a sniper’s bullet, which nearly happened to me once in Kashmir… than die in an old-age home in Benoni.”
  • On old age: Her mother Doris “died at 89 going on 45, still dancing with a boyfriend … and wearing black satin knickers because ‘you never know’.”

Good for Doris. Good for Kate. And let’s live our lives so when the time comes,  we can say: Good for us.

  • This review also appeared in Weekend Argus on Sunday on June 3, 2018


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