I am about to leave home to go to Ruskin College, Oxford on a Ransackers Course. This is a project open to people over the age of 50 who have not previously benefited from higher education. Best of all it is free for eligible students and includes tuition, accommodation, free meals and most wonderfully, a pass to the Bodlian Library. Ransackers is aimed at those from a generation that has had
limited opportunities for education and who have burning questions or a project they are deeply committed to. I applied for the course and went along to meet the tutor and to present my project and discuss if I would be able to commit to the learning process. They seemed to think that I was eminently suitable, but will my brain still work? I know that I am capable; I have run a business for oever 20 years, but reading for me has been more entertainment than for learning.
When I left home in Wales I had a clutch of O Levels and a lot of enthusiasm for life. My first job was in London employed by the BBC as a secretary in The Urdu Service at Bush House in London. Whilst I learnt a lot about people in that building and their very different cultures , I was a terrible secretary. My typing was so bad that for important letters, my boss, a journalist called Towyn Mason, would type them himself very quickly and accurately with two fingers.
After working in different areas of the BBC, I finally found my niche in food by winning Cosmopolitan Cook of the Year Competition. The first prize was a year at Leith’s School of Food and Wine, sponsored by The Butter Council. In fact I won a whole new career via this prize and my first job was as the chef of Justin de Blank’s country house hotel in Norfolk. From then on I ran various kitchens and set up my own outside catering business, specialising in large events.
Now after 27 years of marriage and combining bringing up our two boys with running a catering business I am finally leaving home to study. After a life as a food writer and caterer I am going to use this time away from home to explore the way we eat now and the lost cooking skills of at least one generation. More specifically I am going to examine the benefits of cooking from scratch and how to understand the lack of knowledge and concern the youth of Britain have towards the food they eat. I am interested in hearing how people manage to cook, eat and share food with their families, whilst juggling different timetables, jobs and social commitments. The skills I have learned being a caterer is to be highly organised, how to manage people and organise my time. The problem being that I have always worked towards paid projects and this will require a different discipline. I am very much looking forward being shown how to develop research skills and digging out relevant bits of information. It will also be lovely not having to worry about shopping, cleaning and immersing myself in learning for a while. On the other hand it will be strange waking up alone and I will really miss walking the dog every morning. I would be interested in hearing from anyone who has any ideas or thoughts on the way we eat in the UK today, particularly the education of the young about food and where it comes from.
Apparently, previous Ransackers have gone on to study for degree courses in all manner of subjects and have benefited from learning in later life. Many people retire early and find gardening, golf and walking the dog not quite enough and have embarked on this path to fullfil their academic potential with great success. So, if you are thinking about taking on a new challenge, this might be for you.