Countdown's Susie Dent on the joy of dogs, words, and a good, sweaty spin session
Countdown wordsmith Susie Dent talks to Lisa Salmon about supporting a new Guide Dogs campaign, turning vegetarian and making time to enjoy the outdoors
SUSIE Dent loves words – a passion she's shared for 27 years in Countdown's 'Dictionary Corner' on Channel 4. Now, she's going a step further, by helping bring the 'Powers of Description' to visually impaired children and adults.
This is the latest campaign by sight loss charity Guide Dogs, highlighting how words and description can enrich everyone's life – as well as the charity's My Guide service, which trains volunteers to become sighted guides for people with sight loss.
Guide Dogs is calling for an extra 4,500 My Guide volunteers by 2023, with the aim of helping people with sight loss improve their independence and confidence, and getting them out in their communities.
Communication and description are key to the service, and Dent (54), who also appears on 8 Out Of 10 Cats Does Countdown, says: "If you have visual impairment, guides help you avoid obstacles and hazards and navigate the world around you. It's also a wonderful opportunity to go out and meet new people, and for the sighted person to exercise their linguistic muscles and try and express what they can capture through their experiences and their eyes.
"It's definitely a two-way street, a mutual companionship. I've asked to sign up for it because I really want to do it," adds the lexicographer. "The top guidelines for wellbeing are always about connecting with people around you, being active and giving to others, and all of those are beautifully catered for with the My Guide service."
Here, Dent tell us more about the campaign, as well as her own approach to wellbeing...
Tell us about your own approach to looking after your wellbeing?
"I've always been a massive dog lover – I'd love to have one myself and I think the single thing I could do to improve my wellbeing is to have a dog. I long for one but I'm not at home enough. If I could, I'd be going up hills every day because I love hill walking, but I don't have time for that unfortunately. And I used to row – I took up rowing as an adult after a charity challenge and I used to absolutely love it, but again it takes an entire morning and I don't have that time at the moment.
"I've found a really good spinning studio and I go there when I can. Loud music, and nobody else is remotely interested in what you're achieving, and you can just lose yourself there for a bit and sweat the day out. It's really good.
"A few years ago, I did a brilliant charity cycling event called Ride the Night with Rachel Riley, for women's cancer. It was amazing and we had to really train hard for it. I need to get back on my proper racing bike and do some more of that."
How often do you exercise?
"I'd love to say I go the spinning studio twice a week, but I don't. If I'm lucky I go once a week, but I do need to do more. But I do a fair amount of walking, and I live in Oxford which is built for cyclists, so I do quite a lot of cycling as well."
Do you eat healthily?
"I do eat quite healthily but when I'm in the studio, it kind of slips. When you're putting in long hours you just want sugar, so you have chocolate to keep yourself going. And sometimes if I'm concentrating on other things I can forget to eat, which isn't great either, because I lose weight ridiculously quickly. Lots of people say, 'You have no idea how lucky you are', but I genuinely think as you get older it's not great to be too thin because it doesn't look good. I've always wanted to be curvy. I really need to keep my calories up.
"I've been vegetarian for about 10 years and for the most part, I do eat pretty healthily, but I love cake above anything else and I don't see the point in forbidding yourself or anyone else certain treats, because otherwise it takes the joy out of life."
Why are you vegetarian?
"Purely from an animal welfare and eco point of view. I'd be driving up to Leeds or Manchester and I'd pass lorry-loads of shivering animals on the way to an abattoir, knowing they had miles and miles to go, and thinking I had to speed up to pass them because I couldn't bear the sight of them. I just thought, 'I can't go and eat moussaka or shepherd's pie or something', so I decided I couldn't go back to meat. I genuinely don't miss it.
"I don't mind cooking with meat and I don't think it's really my duty to try to convert everybody else. I do love the smell of bacon, but I've never thought that's going to send me back. My mum didn't really approve of me becoming vegetarian and she did think I wouldn't be so skinny if I ate meat, but I don't know if there's any science for that, and it's not enough reason for me to start eating meat again."
Do you feel healthy?
"My blood pressure is on the low side and weight-wise, I could do with putting some on. I feel healthy but I do think that when I'm really, really busy, I should exercise more because it does make me feel so much better, and going out in the open air is really crucial. I love being outside when it's chilly but really sunny, and I've just taught my youngest a new word – 'apricity' – which is the warmth of the sun on a chilly day. It's a beautiful, beautiful word I'd love to bring back."
:: Susie Dent is supporting the Guide Dogs Powers of Description campaign. Use your powers of description and volunteer to become a My Guide, a sighted guide to someone with sight loss by visiting guidedogs.org.uk