June 11, 2015

Clarissa Dickson’s Wright’s memoir ‘Spilling the Beans’

What do you do on summer vacation?  Beach Read!

I’m just finishing up Clarissa Dickson Wright’s memoir Spilling the Beans.  You know Clarissa, right?  She’s one half of the dynamic duo, along with Jennifer Patterson, of the television cooking show Two Fat Ladies. God, I love that show.

Part of the charm of the show is their outspokenness.  I’m sure people watched just to see what politically incorrect things Clarissa particularly but Jennifer too would say.  They had strong opinions and weren’t afraid to say them.

Clarissa’s memoir is similarly forthright.  Having been raised with an alcoholic and violent father who made everyone’s life a living hell, Clarissa is wedded to the truth ~ much like I am.  Not that I was physically abused at all, but I became painfully aware of the huge gap between what everyone agreed was the truth and what was my truth.  Why did these things not match?  I think that’s why I write realism ~ because what I’m trying to do is tell the truth as I see it.  Representing things with the fantastical is wonderful in its own right, but not what interests me.

But the problem comes when Clarissa’s declarations paint with such a broad brush.  “All alcoholics are this.” She simplifies things a bit too much for my taste on things that I know something about.  If only the world were that simple.  But at the same time, some of these pronouncements have great truth in them and also are very funny and wise.  But it’s hard to put your finger on exactly why they feel offensive at times.  I guess because they reduce people.  It feel very British colonial, which would make sense.  

Yet she's wonderfully understanding and nuanced about her father Arthur, who was such a lost soul and horrible family man yet great doctor. 

Clarissa is a good writer and has such a wonderfully wicked sense of humor.  She always goes for the salacious sex details, and I think a lot of the details she tells are rumors and gossip.  Which makes this memoir a wonderful tell-all, no matter how true it is. She’s not afraid to name drop.  It’s wonder she didn’t get sued. (Maybe she did.)

She goes into great detail about her alcoholism and all the horrible things she did and takes responsibility for it all.  She is genuinely warm and generous and wonderful.  And since I’m an Anglophile I love it, even as I’m hating myself for loving it because in a lot of ways it’s a gossip-rag.  It’s written for a British audience and so I don’t know a lot of the names of people, and she takes for granted that her audience knows, but really you don’t need to know to get the gist of things.

Did you know that Jennifer with Clarissa really did do a 180 on the bike in the Two Fat Ladies? Apparently, Jennifer planned to do it and didn’t tell the producer but told the cameraman to stay on them.  I’m not sure Clarissa knew ahead of time. Later, Jennifer offhandedly said that they would have flipped the bike had it been on gravel.  

Another thing that shocks me is that Clarissa was 48 when the first episodes were shot.  I’m 46.  That feels really weird.

And I’m reminded of the power of story.  A reader makes such a connection with the protagonist of a book that you forgive them everything, even if they are horrid.  When Clarissa was in the depths of her alcoholism, she was pretty horrid to everyone.  And the entitlement that comes with money is hard to put your mind around.  As someone who came from poor background, I find it hard to swallow the amount of pure selfish greed and the waste of a life in the middle there.

But I love her, you know?  She’s so charming and Brit Ish. I hope she’s happy now and with her mom (although as a realist I don’t subscribe to these notions). Bless you, Clarissa.

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