Debbie Smith is a member of the Lit & Phil and the author of The James Losh Diaries 1802-1833: life and Weather in Early Nineteenth Century Newcastle upon Tyne.
Life & Loves with Debbie Smith
Debbie Smith is the author of The James Losh Diaries 1802-1833: life and Weather in Early Nineteenth Century Newcastle upon Tyne.
Below is the full 'Life & Loves' interview with Debbie expanded from our Summer Magazine.
Reading is one the great pleasures of my life. I tend to keep several books ‘on the go’ at the same time, usually a mixture of history books (especially biographies) and of literature. For the latter I am firmly, but not exclusively, rooted in the nineteenth century. I delight in Hardy, Austen, Dickens, Trollope and Elliot. I also venture, but only occasionally, into poetry and have a passion for the works of Marvell, Coleridge, Housman and Heaney. All that said, the most wonderful read I have ever embarked upon is Milton’s Paradise Lost.
I first began to enjoy the challenge of writing as an undergraduate. In those distant days weekly essays were part of the programme of study but my final-year dissertation first alerted me to the pleasures of being, for want of a better term, creative. It was only 5000 words long but I secured unexpected pleasure from its solitary preparation. For most of my subsequent working life I was engaged in teaching and research; the latter in the contentious field of climate change. Consequently much of my writing has been in the form of scientific papers and University text-books, but even that seemingly arid field for creative writing offered its challenges and pleasures. Moreover, given the importance of climate change, impinging as it does upon our everyday lives, I attach great importance to the ability of scientists to communicate effectively and clearly to the wider public and those in authority. However retirement has freed me from the limitations of such a narrow field of enterprise and my recently-published item on the life of James Losh has brought me huge satisfaction. Hopefully there is more to come.
My days of ‘Munro bagging’ (not that I bagged that many) are long gone and I am now a thoroughly urban creature. I enjoy walking around towns and cities, and the urban landscapes, the diversity, age and character of the buildings that compose them offers – to me at least – a panorama of pleasures to match those of many rural locations. I have a particular fondness for Newcastle (is there a vista in an city to match that offered by Grey Street viewed from the Monument?) but would list, and perhaps not surprisingly, Paris, Barcelona and Venice as amongst my favourites. Stockholm takes some beating too. As far as the individual buildings go, I make a point of exploring cathedrals. They are often the historical, spiritual and geographic heart of our towns and cities and have such rich and enduring stories to relate in stone and glass.
This is a tricky area for me. Being transgendered there are some parts of the world where I would be ill-advised to venture, consequently western Europe is my territory, but what territory! What richness. What diversity! Outside of our own, and for me much-loved, England, Spain is high on my list of favourite countries. I relish the contrast of landscapes, cultures, food and music that characterises that fascinating, indeed exotic, land. Castilian is the only foreign language of which I have any working familiarity, and despite the poverty of my vocabulary, cultural doors open to me on my travels that would otherwise have remained firmly closed. I travel, usually by car and usually only in the summer, over much of England tracking down cathedrals and churches armed with the appropriate editions of Nicolas Pevsner’s matchless architectural county guides. Favourite cathedral? Well, and with apologies to local devotees of our own glorious Durham, it has to be Ely.
I enjoy food, and, equally, cooking, which is one of my great hobbies. But do not run away with the idea that I claim to be some Rick Stein or Delia Smith: I’m not, and it’s a matter of enthusiasm rather than culinary skill that guides my enterprises. But, whether it’s eating or preparing food, my preference is always for Mediterranean and Middle Eastern dishes. It perhaps is not surprising, given my travel preferences, that Spanish cooking figures on my list, but I also have a great liking for Persian food that brings together so nicely Indian and Mediterranean tastes and flavours. Despite such exotic preferences, steak and kidney pudding is an abiding favourite.
Reading, perhaps obviously, but, and many would never regard it as relaxing, I like to work out at the gym a few times each week and I still play squash! No matter how tired, stressed or generally ill-tempered I might feel at the start of a session I am guaranteed to be more human, and humane, at its conclusion. Now well in to my 70s, and having done sport since my teenage years, I feel it has been nothing other than beneficial to my general health and well-being. A final note, and again whether one regards it as relaxing – given their recent form at least – or not, I have a season ticket for St. James’ Park.
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