Writing competition winners: ‘What I wish I’d known at 18’

Thanks to everyone who entered our ‘What I wish I’d known at 18’ writing competition for your pearls of wisdom.

Here are the two winning pieces.

See also: 3 winning stories from the FW Kids Writing Competition

Gregory Cotton, Northumberland

Greg Cotton

© Greg Cotton

Dear Younger Self,

Before you embark on your incredible farming journey, please consider the following.

Two years after starting my first agricultural job, my employer, who was a retired Royal Navy submarine commander, took me aside and said two things.

First, the best bit of advice ever, which was: “Always remember that one hour of reconnaissance saves five hours fighting.”

And second, that I should leave the industry as it wasn’t right for me!

Well, thank goodness I didn’t take his advice on the second one as here I am, more than 33 years later, aged 55, still at it, four jobs down the line and still completely happy with my choice of career and lifestyle.

Make the decisions

You should always listen to any advice given, but any decision needs to come from you alone after careful consideration of the details.

Never be afraid to fail – and remember, all the best ideas come from those who question.

“If it isn’t broken then don’t fix it” is not always the right motto. Most machinery problems develop over time.

The key to efficiency is knowing when to intervene. The ability to know exactly when will take a lifetime to learn, with decisions depending on mostly unchangeable variables, such as the day of the week, the weather forecast, and even the time of the nativity play at the village school!

In tandem with this must also run the thought of “never do tomorrow something that you can do today”.

Failure to adhere to this one can – and always does – give you a kick up the backside.

Be appreciative

Your lifestyle, though extremely hard both physically and mentally, will also at times be extremely rewarding.

You will experience some of the very best that the natural world has to offer. Take time to appreciate how lucky you are and what a privileged position you are in.

People who live in vast conurbations pay hundreds of pounds just to spend a week in our special surroundings.

Never become too content with your lot. Life changes, life’s requirements change – sometimes very quickly.

Always be prepared to be flexible and change your job if necessary to line up with those moving goalposts.

Pride in what you do

Farming needs friends, not enemies, so always be proud of – and shout about – what you do for a living.

I have nine O-levels and four science-based A-levels from a private education and I drive farm machinery for a living – so what?

I have had and still am having a rich, fulfilling and enjoyable varied career in farming, which has allowed my wife and me to successfully raise two independent young adults, while at the same time living around the country in some fantastic locations.

Finally, if you’re still interested, you might find this useful. Never go anywhere without your weather forecast, flask and dinner box, wellies, tools, grease gun, toilet roll, and sense of fun.

Happy farming, enjoy the ride,

Your Older Self

Gillian Richardson, East Yorkshire

Gillian Richardson

© Gillian Richardson

I’m 82 and, sadly, now a widow, but I was married to a farmer for 62 years and still have children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and a daughter-in-law to cope with – not to mention Brexit and politicians. The following suggestions have kept me sane:

Get a dog! When all is going wrong, and it feels like nobody loves you, it will always be more than willing to walk across the fields and doesn’t care what you look like or if your hair is going grey. As long as you have dog treats in your pocket, you will have a best friend.

As my mother always taught me, when you are at your wit’s end with problems (which is a lot of time in farming!), think of someone else who has bigger problems than you. In today’s world, that is not difficult to do.

Keep and cherish your “real” friends and not woke ones, for they are the people who will be around to help out at a crisis in your life.

I still have school friends and lots of college pals from the local agricultural college in the 1950s whom I’ve met up with most years – and those of us still here still do!

Sense of humour

Try very hard to retain your sense of humour. Without this, I would have given up the ghost years ago. In the early days, I was a big fan of the Daily Express cartoonist Giles, who was reputed to be a pig farmer, as we were.

When we had our pig unit (my department) slaughtered out with SVD, we were lucky enough to have very understanding vets but, nevertheless, I couldn’t have survived without a sense of humour.

I moved on to Henry Brewis, whose books were (and still are) in my bedside table drawer and his table mats are on the kitchen table to remind the menfolk in our house how awful they are!

Then with his demise, I discovered Matt in The Telegraph, who always makes me smile.

Changing ideas

Having left the farm in charge of the younger generations, I am thankful to Farmers Weekly for keeping me up to date with rapidly changing ideas in farming so that I know what the “boys” are talking about.

I read it cover to cover before finally allowing myself to read Charlie Flindt, who always makes me smile, despite worrying that the boys have probably circled numerous tractors and combines to buy on the machinery pages.

They will not believe me when I tell them that overdraft interest rates have been up to 17%.

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