Grad Talk is back with Roisin Beck Taylor’s tales of deerhounds, woodworm and illustration. Having graduated from Emmanuel in 2016 with a degree in HSPS, she is working as a farmhand before starting a Masters at St Andrews this autumn. Here she shares her experiences of rustic living and recommends taking it slow after leaving the Cambridge bubble.
So, what do you do now?
Desperately saving money for a Masters. I work on a remote hill farm two days a week, two days as a barista in a farm shop cafe, two days on a flower farm, and on my day off I go on adventures with my long-legged deerhound.
Describe a typical day.
At 6.15am my alarm goes off and I drive up to the farm. I walk and feed dogs in the boarding kennels for two hours before breakfast and then eat my body weight in toast. The morning consists of mucking out horses, feeding five hundred pigs and walking dogs again. After lunch, anything goes, by which I mean my practical skill set has drastically expanded since I came home from Cambridge. In the past six months I have learnt to dry stone wall, drive a tractor, pull down and reconstruct a ceiling, hack old plaster off walls, lay and grout tiles, pressure hose pig shit off shed walls (my least favourite job), lay concrete flooring, refurbish old furniture pieces, treat woodworm in roof beams, the list goes on. Whatever strange and exciting jobs I am tasked with in the afternoon is usually followed by bringing in the horses, a quick coffee and shovelling large numbers of biscuits into my face, then back to round three of walking dogs. The working day finishes about 5pm, at which point I return home physically exhausted, smelling of animals and plaster dust. I make myself a viciously strong coffee and try to get some reading done before a scaldingly hot bath and desperately withstanding falling asleep at the dinner table.
What do you like about it?
I have always been an outside girl, from the moment I could crawl I was in the garden with my Mum, so working on the hill tops – even in the exposed winter weather – is my ideal situation. While the job isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, the sense of family and the number of practical skills I have learnt in the last seven months is something I am immensely proud of. I love being in an environment that I grew up in, but learning new ways in which the land contributes to the livelihoods of the people I work with, or the ways the birds sing at different times of the year. I feel deeply connected to it and that in itself is hugely fulfilling.
What do you dislike about it?
I do quite often feel isolated from everyone. While I love living in County Durham, most of my friends are in London and Cambridge which feel very very far away when you are sat in a field somewhere in the horizontal rain, hefting huge stones with bloodied fingers trying to construct a wall to stop the ewes escaping again.
What do you miss about Cambridge?
There is so much opportunity in Cambridge, so many wonderfully eclectic people and so much enthusiasm for things you didn’t even knew existed. I miss the people most of all, the ability to pop in for a tea and toast, or stay up until the early hours of the morning on a chilly rooftop eating pizza. I miss Savino’s and Hot Numbers to provide my early morning kick of caffeine, and cycling through the streets to the athletics track, blossom pillowing the cycle path and cursing tourists for taking pictures on the crests of bridges.
…and what do you not miss?
I don’t miss the sunken eyes, the fear of not being able to write two or three essays a week. I don’t miss the competitive exhaustion, the panic attacks or the academic needling.
Did you know what you were going to do before you graduated?
I knew I needed to go home for a while to decompress, but I had planned to save for a few months and then go travelling before joining in the fun of the Graduate Job Search. I didn’t realise until November that I wanted to continue in academia.
What are your personal aims for 2017?
A week ago I was accepted onto the Masters course I had been working towards at St Andrews, so my sole focus is to earn enough money to be able to afford that. And on a more weekly basis, explore more of the North East and working on illustration so that I am not drawn into that capitalist nightmare of earning money and feeling soulless.
What’s your pipe dream? Be bold.
The dream is to work for Chatham House, or the Red Cross, advising on Central Asia and the Caucasus. And then retire at sixty-five, with a wealth of bizarre stories and a hill farm full of rare breed animals.
Name three women you look up to.
Mary Leakey, Gillian Tett, my best friend Tamsin.
Any words of wisdom for undergrads apprehensive about job prospects
Harness your passion, and if that means working a menial job so that you can illustrate, or playing that acoustic set in your spare time, then do it. But know that if you don’t know what the next stage offers, and you just need to survive, then it is okay to ‘sell out’ and take that job in finance. Chances are you won’t pick up the dream job straight out of university and that is one hundred percent okay. Know that there are so many darn opportunities out there that you don’t even know exist because the Cambridge bubble gives you tunnel vision. You have to work for a long time before you retire, so explore a bit and do what you need to do to give yourself the time to breathe after Cambridge. You deserve it.