TV review: ‘Last Woman on Earth with Sara Pascoe’ (2021)

I really enjoyed this show. Funny, amazing and also informative, the three-part BBC documentary is about comedian Sara Pascoe trying different jobs in three countries which are experiencing a lot of change – Cuba, Georgia and Finland. The filming had to be cut short, due to lockdown in Finland. I liked the focus on the jobs, because it allowed other issues such as the environment, economy, traditional culture and social change to be included while not getting in the way of the narrative. I love Sara’s sense of humour and how she will try her hand at anything.

Here are the endangered jobs which Sara has a go at:

Episode 1: Cuba

  • Lectora – reading to the workers in a Havana cigar factory, to educate and entertain them. Sara brings her own story, which she reads in English and is translated into Spanish. It goes down quite badly, apparently (maybe it’s too British) but she gets some patronising applause and says it was the scariest gig ever. The job may die out, now that many of the workers bring their phones and can listen to music or watch videos while they roll cigars.
  • Mattress magician. A new mattress costs about a year’s salary for the average person. The magician takes the mattresses apart and reconstructs them. Sara wonders whether, like the Sugababes (who ultimately had none of the original band members left) it can still be described as the same mattress. With cheaper products possibly on the way, new mattresses may get easier to obtain.
  • Guardian of the glasses on John Lennon’s statue. This statue has removable spectacles, which a lady named Aleida looks after. She works 8 hours a day, 8 days a week (get it?) but her job is endangered because the government intends to fix the glasses permanently on to the statue. Sara thinks the job will be easy, but it involves dealing with the tourists – ‘you have to interact with people, and they might be mad.’
  • Selling the Package – an entertainment bundle for families, on the black market. Sara visits a man who shows her a list of what he includes, such as Spanish and British reality shows and documentaries. They go out to drop the Package off and it’s not as exciting an adventure as she anticipated. If the internet becomes cheaper for ordinary Cubans, then they will be able to access the programmes for themselves and not have to buy them illegally.
  • Water healer, using spiritual power and glasses of water to heal people. Sara falls off the horse on the way to see the water healer on the mountain. The journey is worth it, however. Water healing was started in the 1930s by a preacher called Antonica. The people live off the land, rejecting the services provided by the state. Tourists who make their way up the mountain can also be served mojitos in addition to water healing.
  • Danzon teacher. In the city of Baracoa, Sara has lessons for Cuba’s national dance. The danzon is endangered because young people have no interest in it and of course new music is more accessible now. While Sara thinks the history and significance of the danzon is fascinating, she’s not impressed with the dance itself, a shuffling, slow affair for ‘very tired people’.
  • Coconut sweet maker. Cucuruchos is a local sweet made of honey, almonds and coconut. Everything about making these sweets seems more difficult and dangerous than necessary, such as stirring the ingredients for hours over a very smoky fire and climbing very tall trees to get coconuts. Sara courageously does the latter using the ‘desperation and clinging’ method.

Episode 2: Georgia

  • Guide at the Stalin Museum in Gori, the town where he was born. This job is endangered because to many people it’s wrong to have a museum dedicated to the dictator who caused the deaths of an estimated 20 million. Sara hates the place and finds it impossible to be neutral when showing tourists around. She is particularly horrified when a little boy fist-bumps the Stalin statue.
  • Border vigilante between Georgia and Russia. ‘It’s all very intense, and then occasionally someone will stop and pick berries.’ The vigilantes are volunteers who peacefully patrol the borders. It turns out to be a much more involved and serious job than she expected. She meets an elderly couple who woke up to find themselves on the other side of the border but as they have rejected Russian citizenship, they are stateless.
  • Mequise – a massager at the sulphur baths in Tbilisi. Sara is unenthusiastic straight away – ‘it stinks and I don’t want to touch people’ – however she is pretty good at it. Sulphur baths used to be very important to the city’s culture and the job of mequise goes back a long way. However, when you look at modern Tbilisi today, this job doesn’t seem relevant or necessary.
  • Train driver at the Kukushka Railway. The train has been running since 1902 and goes at an impressive 9 miles an hour. There are only 7 people in Georgia who are trained to drive it. Sara has a brilliant time steering the passengerless train along a scenic route, tooting the steam whistle, claiming the experience as ‘delightful, like something out of a fairy tale’. Now that everyone has cars, though, this train is redundant.
  • Black Sea boatmaker. Sara meets Mirian, a highly skilled maker of traditional wooden boats. The town of Batumi is a tourist place, modern and close to Turkey. No one else is making these boats, not even Mirian’s son, who’s a banker. The skills will be lost one day. Sara really enjoys helping to build the boat and decides it’s her ideal job, along with train driving.
  • Gunsmith in the mountains. The Machakhela is a traditional gun which only a few people know how to make. Young people are leaving the rural areas to find work in the cities, so they aren’t learning to be gunsmiths. The process for making this gun is very laborious. There are also no safety procedures or equipment. Sara is reprimanded for being distracted by a cow which peeks in at the window.
  • Polyphonic singer. This was the original storytelling practice in Georgia, thousands of years old. It’s not appealing to young Georgians as it’s rooted in patriarchy and Orthodox religion. Sara is taught by Vaho, one of the last polyphonic singers. He is very passionate about it and has got his family involved too. Sara is forced to dress in a traditional costume and perform in public with the group.

Episode 3: Finland

  • Forest cleaner – a lumberjack who works in an environmentally friendly way, adapting traditional methods with the help of horses and machines. Sara loves the outfit, being out in the forest and working in a way kinder to nature. She is trusted with a chainsaw and successfully fells a tree. ‘I hope I don’t get a taste for it and go round Finsbury Park!’
  • Rönttönen baker. These traditional pies are made with wild lingonberries which thrive in cold weather. However, climate change is making the berries harder to find and more expensive. Sara is worried that the pies she’s made look bad but takes heart in the meaning of ‘rönttönen’ – ‘ugly’. The end result doesn’t taste that great, but at least it’s vegan and contains foraged ingredients.
  • Icebreaker crew member. Kemi, in snowy northern Finland, is where they make ships that break through ice, keeping shipping routes open. The climate is affecting the ice, so this export is threatened. Sara begins in the engine room, which is so noisy that no one can talk to each other. She then works in the control room, where it seems a beard is a requirement, then is promoted to captain.
  • Ice carver. This very skilled job is often replaced with readymade moulds now by ice hotels who want it done quickly. Sara helps to make a polar bear ice carving. When left alone to finish it, the result is a polar bear-mouse hybrid. It takes ages to find the right bit of ice, cut it out with a chainsaw, lift it and then carve it using a variety of tools.
  • Elf at Santa’s Village. At Rovaniemi, on the Arctic Circle, there is a popular tourist attraction, the official home of Father Christmas. The place is threatened by the prospect of milder winters. Sara replies to some letters sent to Santa. Next, she looks after the reindeer. ‘First in my family to go to university, now I’m shovelling crap’. Then she meets the real Father Christmas.

If you have access to BBC iPlayer, this programme is available for a month.

8 thoughts on “TV review: ‘Last Woman on Earth with Sara Pascoe’ (2021)”

    1. Maybe it will be shown on TV again, depending on what channels you have. I almost never catch programmes on TV though, I catch up on them later. Thanks, it was a fun programme.

        1. Oh yes, or at least there may be clips of it. I didn’t have a TV for several years, I got on fine without it.

    1. It was very interesting and also funny. I wouldn’t want to do any of those jobs either.

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