Why I loved being a Ransacker!

For ten weeks from April-June 2013 I lived at Ruskin College, Oxford enrolled on the Ruskin Ransacker course. This unique and wonderful course is open for older learners with few or no formal qualifications. Described as an “educational adventure”, it certainly was and achieved the aim of helping us undertake and write-up our research, working for the most part at degree level.
My final project printed and bound The Ransackers Project offers an opportunity for older learners to undertake a ten-week residential term and carry out a piece of original research.  Our group were lucky as we were able to carry out research on our own topics to answer the burning questions we each always wanted to find an answer. Mine was entitled Nourish & Flourish and I explored the reasons for the slide towards obesity in the UK. It was a hugely enjoyable and rewarding experience, made possible by the expertise of my tutor, David Bliss, who expertly guided us through the process of study. The opportunity to study in the Bodleian Library and the ability to be residential were central to the success of the course. This meant that the intense 10 week study plan was not hampered by the ins and outs of home life and made it much easier to focus on my study. There were seven of us in the group and each of us benefitted from the experience. Without a doubt the best part was spending time in the Bodleian, studying the books we had sent there and writing up notes. The swearing in ceremony to use the library highlighted the importance of the study process.  I especially liked the upstairs reading room, but also enjoyed the Radcliffe Camera, although this tended to get busy coming up to exam time. Just drifting around Oxford watching the students scuttling about was inspiring, like a dream come true.

Like many Ransackers before me, I got the learning “bug” and am now embarking on an Open University Degree. I left school at 17, leaving my home in Wales to work for the BBC at Bush House. Having subsequently run my catering business for the last 20 something years, returning to study was daunting, and leaving my family to study for three months seemed crazy. However it was such a beneficial and life changing thing to do and I now cannot wait to continue my studies. A lot of things slotted into place for me after this course; like why I’ve always questioned things and wanted to know where people obtained their information. I clearly had a quest for study and finding stuff out in depth, which I simply didn’t know how to do before. The course makes you evaluate and present the information you are reading and is a great preparation for further study. In practical terms,  I shared a small two bedroomed flat with a lovely lady called Felicity, who had taken retirement especially to do the course,  and we both enjoyed walking into Oxford from the Old Headington site through Cuckoo Lane and through the park. This quick 40 minute march each day helped to keep us fit, as did the great yoga sessions in Headington Hall with the lovely Hazel Faithful on a Tuesday evening. We also got up really early to listen to the choir on the Magdelen Tower singing as dawn broke on May morning, as well as went to the different museums, colleges, parks, famous pubs and some lovely walks.

I loved being a Ransacker and being at Ruskin College and feel very privileged to have experienced this amazing opportunity. It was truly a life changing experience.


May morning, Oxford


A very quick and tasty soup to make for lunch. You can also use up bacon if you have a couple of rashers in the fridge, rather than the ham which makes it a cheaper option for students.

Serves 2 as main course or 4 as a starter


1 Tablespoon mild olive oil (or butter if you prefer)

1 medium onion, peeled and finely chopped

1 large potato, peeled and cut into cubes

400g frozen peas

400ml chicken stock (made from 1 x Knorr gel stock pot)

200ml milk

100g packet ham hock (cooked, diced ham)



  1. Heat the oil or butter in a large saucepan on low or medium heat, then add the onion and potato, season with salt and pepper, then stir to coat the vegetables in the oil.
  2. Put a lid on the pan, cook on a low heat for 8-10 minutes, until the potatoes are tender and the onions are soft and translucent.
  3. Make up the stock by adding 1 x gel stock pot to 400ml of boiling water. Add the peas and stock to the pan, then bring to the boil. Cook for a couple of minutes until all of the peas have floated to the top of the stock and are tender and bright.
  4. Take the pan off the heat. Using a stick blender, process the peas until very smooth. Add the milk and process again.
  5. Bring the soup back to a simmer, then season to taste with freshly ground black pepper. Both the ham and the stock are fairly salty, so you may not need to add salt.
  6. Stir the ham through the soup and serve.

Approx. cost = £4.50 (this pea soup without ham would be £2.50, so you could consider using up some rashers of bacon. Simply cook off and add at the end in place of the ham)