Rachel Tolhurst

Rachel Tolhurst

Tell me a bit about yourself and the work you do?

I’m a researcher and lecturer and I work in partnership with a number of different research and non-governmental organisations in Africa and Asia, that aim to improve the health and well-being of some of the poorest and most marginalised people.

What’s the last thing that made you laugh or feel really happy?

The last thing that made me laugh was Celeste Barber on Instagram with her fantastic pastiche of women’s self-objectification. What is making me happy at the moment is the company of my family (even though we are keeping our physical distance from each other at the moment) and online chats with friends and colleagues. Also the magnolia flowers on my neighbours’ tree have come out, so I have spent quite a long time looking a them in their short-lived blaze of glory.

What do you like to do in your leisure time? Do you have any passions or hobbies? What do you like about them?

Reading, live music, cinema, enjoying good food with friends and family, walking, cycling and running. I like these all for different reasons – but I guess they all have the power to transport me into a different reality (places, emotions, times, sensations) but also some sort of connection, whether with nature, people I love, or people I don’t know. I have a passion for swimming in the sea and wild swimming but don’t get to do it very often.

How do you relax or soothe yourself?

Listening to music, reading, a good bath and walking. Hugs from loved ones. Eating chocolate.

Can you give us a recommendation for a good book? Why do you like it?

The mirror and the light

Like probably millions of others I am just starting on the last volume of the Wolf Hall trilogy – The Mirror and the Light. I have loved this series for Hilary Mantel’s amazing writing, which gives you the feeling of being really present in another time and place, in the intimate details of life and how these are so inextricably linked to politics and power and the unfolding of history. Other treasured authors are Aminatta Forna – I’ll read anything she writes, but her recent Happiness was deeply moving and thought provoking. Kamilla Shamsie – her most recent Home Fire (which won the Women’s Prize for fiction in the UK in 2018) and the amazing Burnt Shadows, stand out. Both of them, like Mantel, have deep insight into complex human motivations and the way our many layers of individual vulnerabilities and resilience and their subtle variations across cultures are at the heart of the ‘big stories’ of history. Most things by Ali Smith are also amazing. How to Be Both and the seasons quartet in particular. I also loved Arundhati Roy’s The Ministry of Utmost Happiness.

Do you listen to podcasts? Do you have any you suggest we try out? Why?

I actually don’t all that much. I have enjoyed The Guilty Feminist Podcasts but need to be pointed to others and to get into the habit.

Learned anything new recently that gets you excited?

I could only come up with quite academic answers to this one, embarrassingly. I have been forced to learn to play a bit of football by my son over the past year and I am enjoying that. Excitement might be a stretch though.

What’s your favourite smell? Why?

Hard to pick one. Jasmine flowers. My children. Lavender. No explanation needed!

Do you have a favourite song or piece of music that gets you singing and dancing?

I’m mainly listening to quite soothing, relaxing music and the moment. I’ve recently been introduced to collaborations between Katrin Finch and Seikou keita, on the harp and kora respectively which is some of the most beautiful music I’ve ever heard.  My go-to sing-a-long tunes are mainly oldies like Simon Garfunkel. I am drawing a blank about a single tune that gets me dancing. Tends to be things like soul, ska, soukous and kwaito.

What TV or film do you find entertaining? What would you recommend and why?

Things that have made me laugh (and cry) recently include Derry Girls, Catastrophe (I came a but late to that one) and Fleabag. All on British TV – BBC and Channel 4 – and all available on catch-up at the moment, I think. They are all quite rude and outrageous in their own ways.

What’s your favourite meal? Why? Does it have any significance?

That’s a hard one. It would have to be a choice between a south Indian vegetarian meal (including a dosa), a Sichuanese vegetarian meal (‘fish fragrant’ aubergine yu xiang qie zi, is a favourite here) along with Chinese dumplings (jiao zi) and a Thai soup. All are spicy and fragrant apart from the dumplings, which are comfort food. The significance of all is lots of memories of shared eating with friends and colleagues. They are all meals best shared (apart from maybe the soup!)

Who would you recommend we follow on social media? Why?

Apart from Celeste Barber on Instagram as above, the wonderful Pamoja, and all my lovely colleagues from ARISE I would recommend on twitter Hollie Mcnish, Caroline Criado Perez, Chisomo Kalinga, Women’s Art, Lizz Carr, Francesca Martinez, Sabrina Mahfouz and Jack Monroe and Expressive Photography by Stuart Borthwick. On Instagram my fab photographer friend David J Colbran.

What are you doing in your photo?

In my profile photo I am reading by the sea and in the one above I am walking in the forest canopy at the Kakum Forest Resevere, near Cape Coast in Ghana – a really beautiful place to be.

Do you have any tips for how we can spread more kindness and happiness?

I find people sharing examples of kindness that they see or experience really inspiring. Meditation is probably something we should all do more of to promote our own happiness and grounded connectedness to other people.

Do you have a particularly supportive colleague that you would like to celebrate? What makes them great?

I’m blessed with a lot of supportive colleagues but in particular Sally Theobald and Laura Dean. Both of them are great to think with, have really good instincts with people, make me laugh a lot and are always there for me on bad days and good ones. I hugely admire both of their dedication and commitment to inclusion and social justice as well as their compassion and humour.