Category Archives: family

The Graduate


My daughter graduated yesterday from Staffordshire University with a First Class BA(Hons) in Photojournalism. I couldn’t be prouder. The ceremony took place at Trentham Gardens on the edge of Stoke-on-Trent, her university town. It was a Fairy at Trenthambeautiful setting, with a lake, Italianate Gardens designed by multi-gold medal winner at Chelsea Flower Show, Tom Stuart-Smith, and grass and flower gardens designed by Piet Oudolf, also a gold medal winner. Various sculptures and statues also sit in the landscape, notably a series of stainless steel fairies by renowned sculptor Robin Wight. All the above plus a beautiful, bright, sunny day combined to give plenty of opportunities for some memorable pictures. Congratulations to Nee, and all the other 2015 Graduates.



My niece was married this weekend and her flowers were stupendously stunning. All found in a typical English cottage garden, the blooms were deliciously scented and breathtakingly beautiful. Here are a few of my favourite shots. For horticulturalists, a list of flowers and foliage used appears below (as many as I can name). … click pic to view large …

table decorationbridesmaid's bouquetDSC00092church doorway


  • peony (“Bowl of Beauty” and others)
  • rose
  • clematis
  • phlox
  • hydrangea
  • evening scented stocks
  • astrantia
  • astilbe
  • sweet pea
  • lily of the valley
  • ivy
  • beech
  • eucalyptus
  • cow parsley
  • delphinium
  • alchemilla mollis
  • sweet william
  • cherry
  • fern
  • antirrhinum (snap dragon)
  • choisya
  • lilac
  • solomon’s seal
  • digitalis (foxglove)
  • nigella
  • milkweed
  • weigela
  • scabious
  • spiraea
  • lupin

Hello son

spain 077

Spain, 28th September 2014. On his 80th birthday, Dad receives a call from my brother in Australia.


The two loves of my life, my pride and joy.

I’ve been practising with my new secondhand camera and what better subjects than these two photogenic young things. My daughter was on her way out to dance the night away in Woolacombe and my son was on his way to his school prom also in Woolacombe. This is the first time he has ever worn a proper shirt and tie; I think he made a good job of tying it.

The North

StokeI’m in Stoke-on-Trent today, having driven up yesterday to pick up my daughter and all her belongings from her University Halls. It seems like a very early end to the academic year, but her uni. had shorter Christmas and Easter holidays than many and hence is finishing earlier too. Most of Nee’s flatmates have left already or will be going today. Just one or two are staying on for a final examination next week.

We took a walk around the Student Quarter last evening – it reminds me a lot of the terraced housing in Leicester where I lived in the 1980s. I saw the house she will be living in from September; it’s right across the road from Hamley Park, and allegedly the best student house in Stoke.

We had a takeaway curry from Akash Restaurant which was the best Bangladeshi food I’ve had for years and really puts my local curry houses in North Devon to shame.

Now preparing the car for the long drive back home.

I'm sure there was less in September!

I’m sure there was less in September!

What Price Education?

Financial planning for university life.

In just over a week I’ll be driving my daughter the 225 miles to her university, where, if all goes to plan, she’ll be living and studying for the next nearly three years.

This process began almost a year ago when Nee first began looking into which universities offered courses in her chosen field. She received brochures and details of courses, then made her list of five favourite universities and sent her applications.


The next stage was to make some visits to universities on their Open Days. We decided to visit only one because Nee was adamant that this was the one she would go to. The Open Day was scheduled for a Saturday which meant I didn’t have to book a day off work, and was also at a university only a couple of hours from our home.

So that was all straightforward; we had a tour of the campus and accommodation, a talk from the head of faculty and another one from the lecturer and we were both very happy. Cost: fuel & carparking £49.

The next stage was to wait for the selected universities to call Nee in for “questioning”. She was lucky; all five invited her for interview. Each one stipulated its own requirements which were generally a portfolio of existing work and an essay on a given subject.

As our family doesn’t have much of an income, we decided that we would attend interviews at only Nee’s top two choices. The third choice wanted everything submitted on-line so that was duly delivered costing nothing.

So I booked two days off work and accompanied Nee on her two interview days. It’s not obligatory of course for parents to attend, but I think it would be pretty heartless to send your 17-year-old off on a long train journey into a scary new environment to have an interview which will hopefully secure her future, without any support. Interview #1 Cost: fuel & carparking £49 loss of earnings £40. Interview #2 Cost: fuel & carparking £28 train £190 loss of earnings £40.

The interviews all went well and offers duly came in from all three universities. Nee changed her mind slightly and switched her no.1 and no.2 unis so her top choice was now the furthest from our home. Now came the time to put some hours into studying and making sure the necessary grades were achieved.

Results day came and the grades were good and the numbers added up and immediately (via the wonders of the web) came the firm offer of the place on the course and a room in the Halls of Residence – the latter requiring the swift payment of a deposit to secure it. Cost: deposit for room £250 (some universities require up to £1,000).

Now came the collecting of the “stuff”. This includes: stuff for the room – bed linen, pillows, duvet, towels, bath mat, hairdryer, clock, desk lamp, full-length mirror, coat hangers, under-bed storage boxes, rug, waste bin, stuff for the kitchen – rice cooker, wok, saucepans, bowls, plates, cutlery. mugs, glasses, chopping board, knives, baking trays, muffin tin, various utensils, can opener, corkscrew, oven gloves, tea towels, dish mop, detergent, grater, colander, laundry stuff  – clothes horse/airer, detergent, hamper/laundry basket.

I know what you’re saying…”surely not all those things are necessary”, and yes, she could probably do without some, and some have been gifts for her 18th. birthday, and a lot is available at charity shops and carboot sales, and lots will come out of the cupboards here at home, so I’ve taken all that into account when I’ve calculated the Cost: stuff £100 -£300.

Nee has bought a load of stationery items which I’m not counting as they will come from her grant, but another outlay today has been an injection of cash into her newly opened student account in order to activate her overdraft facility. This will keep her afloat until Student Finance get their act together to pay her the student loan/grant that she has applied for. Cost: bank transfer £300.

I’m also anticipating forking out for a starter pack of food and toiletries to keep her going until she has found the whereabouts of all the local shops and has found time to visit them amongst the hectic schedule of Freshers Week. Cost: starter pack £50.

Lion in Zion – a must for any student room

Finally, there’ll be the 225 mile drive up North and home again to take Nee and all the above to her flat. Cost: fuel £85.

I make that a total of £1,181 (and probably more). The bank transfer and accommodation deposit should come back to me, but I’m not going to hold my breath!

As for Nee, she will come away from university in 2015 with an Honours Degree in Photojournalism and a debt of around £40,000.

Clever/poor girl.

Sow’s ear to silk purse

…with a bit of elbow grease

Back in May I made the obligatory visit to the local annual Village Fair. I go every year and have done since I came to live here in 1999. It’s a good place to pick up plants and secondhand books and to watch junior football. Back in the heady days of 2004 the Fair reached it’s zenith as far as my family is concerned.

My niece, Laura, was the Fair Princess and got to circumnavigate the recreation ground waving from the Rotary Club trailer. My daughter, Nee, dressed as a Mexican ranch girl and looked fabulous – the theme that year was “Wild West”.

My son, Dan, with his team Braunton Wanderers U8s, played the final of the local football tournament and won! (medals for all). I had a stall selling homemade cakes which wasn’t a great success as the rain fell relentlessly all day, but the football players were pleased to get a steady supply of chocolate cake.

Since 2004 there have been few village fair highlights for me, though I do make a point of showing up each year and spending a pre-determined sum of money on whatever treasures I find, all to benefit local charities.

So, about three months ago, on a fine Bank Holiday Monday, I dragged myself out of bed and down to the rec. with a pocketful of tissues to staunch a heavy cold. On a little stall selling broken jewellery and porcelain nick nacks I found this grubby little brass box…

It was badly tarnished, but I thought it might clean up and make a nice little gift for my daughter who’s about to go off to university. As a bonus, I discovered it played a tune when I lifted the lid. The tune of an ice-cream van!

I paid the £3 asking price and stashed the box in a drawer away from prying eyes until yesterday when I decided to see if I could pull off a transformation. I’m pleased to say that with a bit of this…

three hours, and the strength in my right arm, this is the end result…Good as new! With a picture of the family on the underside of the lid, a square of red felt in the base and a pair of earrings inside for her newly pierced ears, Nee will have a nice little keepsake to remind her of home.

Think you can’t make a silk purse from a sow’s ear? Think again.