Frank Cottrell Boyce reviews Alexei Sayle’s (not yet published) book:
I knew that Alexei’s family were communists and I thought this would be an account of a particular political culture. Or maybe of Sayle’s adventures in alternative comedy.
Instead it’s a warm, affectionate account of a tiny family (Alexei was an only child) who were remarkable not so much for their beliefs as their individuality and their adventurous spirit. Sayle’s father Joe was a railway man and as such had access to free railway travel. While most of his colleagues used that to get their families a cheap trip to Blackpool, Joe Sayle used it to take his wife and son on epic journeys across Europe and behind the Iron Curtain. They seem to have lived for these trips and at one point Sayle says if there was a movie of the family history, its tagline would be “They Set Too Much Store By Holidays”.
But I’m glad they did. Because its given Sayle a fabulous treasure trove of holiday snaps. As a novelist, one of his great strengths is that he still has the comedian’s eye for the telling detail. Here he uses that to give us glimpses of Worlds that have gone forever – the lost empire of the Soviet Union, the Europe of transcontinental luxury steam trains and also the strange, forgotten social life of the trade union seaside conference with its dinner dances and free passes to the local miniature railway. Joe Sayle himself – idealistic, well-mannered working class autodidact seems like a member of an extinct species too. While his wife, Molly – strident, energetic, eccentric, foul-mouthed, mesmerising, yelling furiously at the telly all the way through the Queen’s speech – is a fantastic comic creation. At least I think she’s a comic creation. She can’t be real, can she?
Alexei was one of our guests at the Penny Readings last December.