Instead of spending their gap years getting tattoos in Thailand, youngsters should head for the British countryside

land girls
'I've been told I would have made a good land army girl' Credit: BBC

There was an item in the papers that you might have missed, what with the cricket and the dramas on Love Island. The Food, Farming and Countryside Commission has proposed that “youngsters” should spend their gap years working on British farms instead of gallivanting around Thailand getting tattoos.

Only joking, they didn’t mention Thailand. But the commission has recommended the farm thing – a “new land army” to “help the environment and give people brought up in towns a taste of rural life”.

Since it’s July and school’s out, you might have a teenager about to embark on their gap year. Or know of one. If they’re anything like me and my mates, there will be a vague plan to work for a few months to save cash, then buy a big rucksack and head east to Asia or west to South America for what you, as a parent, hope will be a safe and broadening travel experience.

I went east to Asia, smoked opium in Laos, hung out with a bunch of Australian plumbers in Cambodia, got my foot tattooed on a Thai island and had to help a friend, who will remain anonymous, track down the morning-after pill in India after her adventures with a tailor’s son in Udaipur.

Broadening in some senses, but Christopher Columbus certainly came home more enlightened. Which is why I’m all for this land army. It solves several problems in one fell swoop – it reconnects the next generation with the land; it ensures a plentiful supply of potatoes. It means that more of us might understand that a rasher comes from a pig instead of a magical bacon factory and prevents 18-year-olds from making poor decisions in Bangkok.

Should we run out of clean drinking water, as Boris prophesied last week, then this sprightly young army could doubtless sort that out too.

We’re not talking national service. The commission has promised these rural Stakhanovites won’t be given “menial tasks” so I expect it’ll be more animal husbandry than digging up turnips.

Does one dig for turnips? Or do they fall from a tree? See, if only I’d been farming instead of canoodling with Jason the plumber all those years ago.

I’ve been told more than once that I would have made a good land army girl; it was actually a long-running joke while I worked at Tatler. It conjures up an image of a robust, hearty woman with sensible hair wearing breeches with a spade thrown jauntily over her shoulder.

Workhorses, in other words, who don’t mind rolling up their sleeves for a spot of lambing or milking. I always took it as a compliment because I fell in love with Angela Huth’s book Land Girls as a schoolgirl. The camaraderie! The country air! The overalls!

Also, think of the romances. I don’t want to detract from the important work that 80,000 women were doing at the time but I would have been well up for the dances on the weekends.

It’s how my grandmother met my grandfather, as it happens. She was a land girl in Yorkshire and one day was dispatched to the local officers for pigswill. She turned up for slops and met Grandpa.

Dare I say it, it was a much more suitable match than mine with my friend from Melbourne.

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