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A tale of hidden gems


The University of Nottingham (#UoN) has one of the greenest campuses in Europe. It is also quite large and sprawls into varied and hidden nooks and crannies. Students can complete their entire degrees without ever knowing all the lovely spaces where they could enjoy some respite from their studies. Hugh Stewart House is one of them. When I was doing my MA at #UoN a number of years ago, I made the happy discovery one day, out of pure laziness. In a bid to find a shortcut from my lectures to my car, parked on the other side of campus, I took a detour through some bushes and a hedge into what looked like a lovely secret garden. At the top of the garden I saw one of the most beautiful constructions on campus, an old Gothic style building with some kind of ivy covering its facade. It turned out to be Hugh Stewart Hall, one of the oldest halls on the University campus. The building has been extended over the years but the original part was built in 1804 by the architect William Stretton for a Nottingham banker. While the building itself was quite spectacular, the garden was also quite a delightful find. It was a lovely space just adjacent to the main library, hidden away behind an enclosure of trees on all sides. I discovered that you could walk through the garden to a gateway that led to the regular path I took to commute from my lectures to the car.


That was many moons ago. More recently I was passing through the garden with my camera on the ready because it was a lovely day and I knew my travels would inevitably provide me with a reason to use it. I was not disappointed. As I stepped through the archway into the garden I saw a young couple relaxing on a blanket on the grass. They looked supremely comfortable and quintessentially young and beautiful. They happened to be ideally situated for a scenic portrait fit for a tourist brochure of the site. Part of me wanted to slip past unnoticed to avoid breaking their reverie. But the greedy artist in me quickly quashed those thoughts and I approached them with the camera around my neck in full view and asked if they would mind me taking some photos of them. I tried to soften the interruption with a compliment on how wonderful they looked against the regal architecture in the background. They turned out to be a really friendly and chatty couple with a heart-warming tale to tell. It was a story of sunshine, laughter, love, parting and overcoming global barriers to be united again.


Hugh Stewart Hall in autumn, taken by my camera phone in 2010.

Nottingham-native Josh met the French beauty Tiphaine (French version of Tiffany) three years ago when the two of them had taken a year out to work in Australia. They got together during this year of sunshine and discovery, but when the year ended they continued their relationship from a distance. Josh was working in Nottingham and Tiphaine was studying in France, which made it difficult for them to see each other very often. Months would go by in between trips across borders. That was until last year when Tiphaine applied and got a place at Nottingham Trent University and moved to be with her man. She is studying Business, Josh works at NTU and the couple now live together and couldn't be happier (from what I could see). The love and affection between them was palpable. When I first asked them where they were from, Josh had laughed and told me that he was local but Tiphaine was not. 'She's French', he said with a smile, 'can't you tell by how beautiful she is?' He was factually correct but the way in which the comment was made to a stranger communicated the depth of emotion between the two.



Having heard their story and about the challenges they had overcome to be together I wondered what they planned to do in the future and where they wanted to go next. I suppose with Brexit looming I had at the back of my mind a fear that these two lovebirds might again be forced apart or confronted with difficult decisions. I need not have worried as Josh had it all worked out in a ten year plan which he informed me of with a knowing grin. The couple are hoping to go back to Australia where it all began and where they plan to have a life together. I was curious about their choice because it was so far away from their respective homes in the UK and France. Tiphaine explained why, with an exuberant facial expression that almost glowed with the brightness of an imagined golden future. Tiphaine loves Australia because it has so much to offer in varied scenery and settings, from big cities to hot deserts and cool seaside resorts. As she focused her explanation on the geographical features of the country I couldn't help wondering if that one year they spent there which brought them together wasn't the real reason for wanting to return. Ahhh…. to be so young and to have such dreams. A wonderful encounter that made me feel warm and fuzzy. I do hope they can find their way back to the place they first met. As they relaxed on the colourful blanket in a very English garden, I imagined that these two beautiful people could make any place feel sunny, happy and full of promise.

This picture is #15 in my 100 strangers project. Find out more about the project and see pictures taken by other photographers at the 100 Strangers Flickr Group page

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@Anisa M Photography