We are in that strange time between Christmas and New Year called ‘Betwixtmas’ or the ‘Festive Perenium’, when doing anything Christmassy now seems faintly depressing at the best of times. In these COVID times where many of us are separated by tiers with little Chrismas or New Year’s Eve options now seems the perfect time to watch… a travel show.
No, really, trust me. I watched Last Woman on Earth with Sara Pascoe, a travel series in which Pascoe tries her hand at jobs around the world that are beginning to die out, whilst eating Quality Street and intermittently waking my sleeping husband with my giggling.
First stop in Pascoe’s travel series is Cuba, where she is greeted by her guide Jorje in his 65 year old car. I think we all have an image of Cuba, specifically Havana, in our minds. We think of glamorous, though faded, architecture, classic American cars, Che Guevara and cigars, but Pascoe introduces us to a whole new aspect of the country.
As they drive to Jorje’s family home he explains that there is a housing shortage, so he lives with his parents and divorced grandparents, when he wants to spend a night with a romantic partner he must check into a motel. As they pass a huge mural of Che, Jorje points out the revolutionary leader, “the guy from the T-shirts” Pascoe responds, and while Jorje cannot know of the hordes of teenage boys who haunt sixth form college common rooms sporting Che on their chests and spouting misunderstood Marx, I do and it is one of many throwaway lines from Pascoe that I enjoy very much.
Pascoe tries her hand as a ‘lectora’ a person who reads to factory workers as they roll cigars. Is there anything more luxurious than being read to? It brings back memories of sitting on the carpet as my primary school teacher reads to us, until Thomas Owen-Smith gets a nosebleed and has to be escorted out the class pre-fab to the loos. While Sara doesn’t shine as a lectora, it would be sad for the job to die out.
Other jobs include that of a mattress magician, a technique that has Pascoe reaching for the Ship of Theseus when anyone else would have cited Trigger’s broom, entering the shady world of bringing entertainment bundles to families, using dance as a means to keep an old man’s buckle polished and a stint as the keeper of John Lennon’s glasses.
Of course the best is saved for last when Pascoe visits a family who make sweets from coconuts, a more arduous process than you might think even if you already anticipated having to climb a tree for said coconuts.
Pascoe brings a fresh style of hosting to the travel documentary, there is no faux sentimentality, no walking to camera whilst earnestly explaining some plight of the locals and this has the unexpected result of maintaining the dignity of the Cubans she works with. Dignity being something Pascoe obviously takes seriously signing off one scene with the words: “If I get diarhoea then we’re getting a day off, I’m not going to carry on filming.”
Good for her.
Last Woman on Earth with Sara Pascoe airs at 9pm every Sunday on BBC Two and is on BBC iPlayer.