DIARY FROM A FAMILY FARM IN ULSTER
I FINISHED my NVQ in "tour guiding" last month and I am trying to put some of the things I learned into practice now the open farm is back in business. Staff training was a big element and our tutors stressed the importance of a piece of paper in todays competitive world – it doesnt matter how good you are at your job if you dont have written proof. So I have invented a new qualification for the young people at Streamvale and my first successful candidate got her certificate today. I am probably more keen on such bits of paper now, having teenagers who are about to start on the big career hunt over the next few years.
A qualification, no matter what it is, at least gives the young person something to talk about at interview, or to list on this all-important "personal statement" which Jenny has to complete for her university entrance forms this summer. My memory of "my day" was it was just a list of school societies I belonged to, but now its practically an autobiography with a major selling job about how wonderful you are in every aspect of life.
Amy is now nearly half way through her "Ulster project" in Milwaukee, USA, and seems to have landed well on her feet as far as her host family is concerned. According to her, the house is a mansion and it has its own lake in the back garden. When quizzed further on the "private lake" we discovered it was actually Lake Michigan, so we are presuming the garden just runs down to the lakeside rather than the family actually owns it. Whichever, Amy is enjoying her time there and brushing up on her water skiing – so we are expecting a big improvement for when we also head to the lakes this summer – the lakes in Co Fermanagh that is.
Our right-hand man, James, is leaving us in a few days time after nine years milking our cows, maintaining the tractors and the milking parlour, fixing the fences and everything else really – including sorting out my computer problems! A nine-to-five job with the Department of Agriculture has tempted him away from the early mornings and weekend work here and who could blame him. In fact, weve asked him to find out if there are any other positions available. We lost our right-hand woman earlier in the year when the foot-and-mouth crisis started to bite hard and so all of a sudden we are back to only family members working here full-time. This farm has always employed staff, indeed in my father-in-laws day there would have been upward of a dozen men working here, so this is the first time in living memory that we have been left to our own devices. Luckily the children are getting to an age where they are a real help. Jenny has been job shadowing me for the past week, to allow us to get away on holidays next month, and Helen has been putting her animal skills to great use as a "cuddler".
Cuddle times have become a very important part of the visitor farm over the past couple of years as we have introduced a lot more supervised handling of the animals and it is now one of the most popular activities.
Mind you I am not sure how it will look in future years when Helen is at the stage of putting together a personal statement and she lists under the previous work section " five years cuddling experience". It should certainly lead to interesting interviews.