What I really like…

My principal hobbies are grandchildren, cooking/jam making and reading. I also love the theatre and film and visit art galleries when I can. I am very catholic in my theatrical tastes. I enjoy dance performances, particularly modern dance, but when based in Leeds I was woken up and challenged in my perceptions by Northern Dance. I go to art galleries in every city I visit and particularly enjoy late Victorian and early 20th century art and architecture: my grandfather was an Arts and Crafts cabinet maker. I delight in finding Art Nouveau places around the world where I can eat, stay and shop. And at Christmas we love the children’s shows at Northern Stage and Leeds Playhouse (The Snow Queen and the Wizard of Oz respectively in 2020).

Most years Phil and I go to the Edinburgh Festival with Carole and David Baume, where we aim for about five shows a day for three days. It’s exhausting but extremely engaging as we range far and wide in our genres: comedy, monologues, magic, reviews, cabaret, serious plays, and my favourite, physical theatre and circus.

As part of my later life health campaign, I do yoga stretches every day alongside Phil getting his 5 x 15 min bursts a day on his exercise bike, swimming as much as I can and walking (but not out on the fells! I prefer lakeside or seaside walks or the regular school runs).


Food has always been important to me and my family. I enjoy making about 70 jars of jam a year with fruit from my own garden (or fruit I’ve been given), baking cakes, (especially with my granddaughter Poppy and grandson Lucas with whom we celebrate random birthdays from the calendar almost every week as they like blowing out the candles), cooking large Sunday lunches for lots of people and making big batches of Christmas puddings in October for all my family and friends (22 this year made, distributed and eaten around Britain and Ireland).

Top recipes this year: learning to make Kimchi with @HalehMoravej, adapting my tea bread recipe with a lot of rum for gluten free flour, Christmas Gingerbread Houses (for the children at Benton School where I made up a story which ended up with an alien leaving one filled with sweets), Crab Apple and Ginger jelly (as well as jars and jars of Redcurrant jelly), a spicy Moroccan lamb with a biryani style rice, and lots and lots of Sunday dinners.

Eating out is a great pleasure too. In Brighton (Hove actually) we really like the Connaught, Maroccos and the Ginger Pig. The Cinnamon Kitchen at Aberavon near where our Welsh family lives serves wonderful Indian food. In Newcastle we enjoy El Torero, the Tapas restaurant near Central station, and at Whitley Bay the recently re-opened Spanish City is a favourite (Phil especially likes the fish and chips). Sunday lunches at The King’s Arms, Seaton Sluice never disappoint. Our lovely local Italian at the end of the street is Amicis which is great for family meals, and Lezzet near Four Lane Ends serves fabulous Turkish food.

Books I’ve read and enjoyed with my book group in the last couple of years

My book group encourages me to read some books I would never otherwise open, mostly but not always fiction, often but not always by women. We nominate books we’ve enjoyed reading, make up lists to last the next few months and discuss them in meetings in each other’s houses monthly.

  • Ali Smith Public Library and other stories: a gentle paean to the importance of public libraries.
  • Exposure: Helen Dunmore: Cold war paranoia underpins this intriguing family story.
  • Little fires everywhere: Celeste Ng suburban America torn apart by the unconventional.
  • My Name is Lucy Barton: Elizabeth Strout Mothers, daughters, complex relationships.
  • Elinor Oliphant is completely fine: Gail Honeyman: a complete world told from an unusual point of view. I loved it.
  • Convenience Store Woman: Sayaka Murate: eye opening insights into one part of Japanese society.
  • Burial Rights: Hannah Kent. Set in Iceland in 1829, a harrowing tale that made me long to go to Iceland (going April 2020).
  • Finding Lucy: Diana Findley: set partially in Newcastle, is a story about the aftermath of stealing a child.
  • Home Fires: Kamila Shamsie: all too believable on the impact of terrorism on a single family and beyond.

Other books:

I pick up books at stations and airports, read recommendations in the Guardian weekly Book Review on Saturdays as well as reading everything I can find by favourite writers.

  • The Legacy: Yrsa Sigurdardottir: Icelandic Noir, only read it if you have a very strong stomach.
  • Snap: Belinda Bauer: young kids knife murder.
  • The Burgess boys. Distressing saga of dysfunctional family that led to me have a row with my own sister as I was so bad tempered as a result of reading it
  • Maxine Alterio: The Gulf Between: Penguin Random House: written by my friend who I first knew as an educational developer and like all her novels, an excellent narrative.
  • Sally Rooney: Normal People: about two people who care so much about each other but don’t seem to be able to get it right together. I think it was a happy ending!
  • Ghost War by Sarah Moss: this was a tale set in Northumberland where a group of archaeology students and their professor join a decidedly peculiar family who re-enact Anglo-Saxon lives as a hobby.
  • Life after life: Kate Atkinson: reimagining multiple lives.
  • Little Deaths: Emma Flint: another tale of lost children, set in New York in 1965.
  • The girl on the train: Paula Hawkins: I loved this thriller.
  • Gone Girl: Gillian Flynn: much hyped but a terrific read.
  • The Power: Naomi Alderson: what would happen if women developed powers that gave them physical control over men? My recollection of how she described it on a recent World Book club on BBC World Service as “a complex analysis of feminist thinking wrapped within a gripping narrative”. I picked it up because I knew her father when he was a VC.
  • Clock Dance: Anne Tyler: another lost child tale. She looks after a child she knows is not her grandchild and forms a close bond.
  • The Essex Serpent: Sarah Perry: Set in London and Essex close to the Suffolk border where I lived when my babies were born, it’s an intriguing tale.
  • The Miniaturist: Jessie Burton: a great tale set in the Netherlands in 1686 where little is what it seems. Very moving.


If any readers of my website, having seen this list have any recommendations you think I would like, do drop me an email on s.brown@leedsbeckett.ac.uk