Saturday, 22 September 2012

The tattie bogle

This morning saw the ground crisp with frost and the air carries a faint scent of snow.

It is a typical 'tattie' morning.

The tattie man has been round to spray off the potato shaws hoping that the energy will now go into the potato and make it grow, ready for harvesting in a few weeks time.

The potato is such an integral part of my upbringing; we ate them, gathered them, roasted them on a fire on bonfire night, used them as small pocket heaters on cold days and they were used as an object of fear to coax reluctant children to go off to their beds and sleep. More of this later.

In the early 1960s, I had just started primary school and we lived on a cotter house on a farm in Angus. Mum was at home with my younger sibling but got roped in to the tattie picking on the farm.
There were two ways of doing this, one was to physically pick up potatoes which were unearthed by the tractor and the other method was to sit on a large machine which fed the potatoes over a big belt then stones and rotten tatties were removed by hand. the latter was a bit 'fancy' and only a select few (or good workers) were promoted to the machine.

I remember my mum, hair tied back with a scarf, oldest clothes carrying a pail to take a boiling home, my sibling in a pushchair with the other young bairns.
We lived off stovies and thick potato soups then and you could smell what was for tea as you walked down the farm track.

Jumping forward to the 70's, the Tattie Holidays were a long break in October where almost all the children had to go tattie picking to earn money for winter boots and coats.
You started early, the bogie would come at 6.30 am so you had to be ready with your 'piecey', usually a sandwich and a wee tartan flask of kia-ora or the like. We all waited for the farmer, pretending to smoke as the chill morning froze breath. It was frowned upon to be too grandly dressed and we all wore hideous nylon anoraks with wafer thin lining and diamond stitching.
Our bloody cat had attacked mine with her back feet so I had lumps of white nylon fluff hanging out of the pocket.

The farmer would chuck us all into a bogie with an occasional square bale of straw for comfort then we would be ferried to the field.

Your dreel would be marked out with sticks and you picked within your dreel as fast as you could, throwing the potatoes into an oval plastic basket. Fully grown men would collect the baskets and tip the contents into a trailer.

If the farmer speeded things up, there were howls of 'being hashed' and the odd ripe tattie would be thrown with deadly accuracy at the cab.

Piecey time was great and we would sit with our friends whilst munching our sandwiches and throwing a silent thanks that the thermos flask had survived the journey.

The second day at the tatties was murder as you had seized up by then and come the morning, every muscle ached but the pain went after a while once you started picking again.

The money was quite good, the crack even better and once the picking was finished, people seemed to evaporate into their homes for the winter only to reappear in Spring.

The tatties here are all mechanised now. Massive machines do the work of the squads of old, the plastic tattie baskets are now used by myself for the washing or to hurl the wee one round the garden in a makeshift sledge.

This year, the tatties are much smaller, the yields are down and the ground is wet. Blight has been a problem for some and the tatties themselves need watching while they cook or they turn to soup.

The Farmer and I had been working at something but needed to go into town for a part. We dress for practicality and warmth and if you are in a rush to go into town, we are often halfway there when the howl goes up..."We look like we are dressed for the tatties!"

"Well, you look like the tattie bogle but I'm fine" quoth the Farmer.

"Oh, I wondered when the tattie bogle would make an appearance" I replied, miffed.

The tattie bogle was one of those mythical creatures created by generations of Scots who thought it was wise to 'fleg' or scare children into going off to their beds or staying out of sheds. If children had been told the truth eg "Don't go into the shed as that is where the paraffin and creosote are kept and you might blow the place up" but no.

"There's a tattie bogle in the shed/ under your bed" was designed to both keep the child out of forbidden sheds and make sure their feet were not on the ground as the tattie bogle would get them.

No wonder we are a nation that would fight it's own shadow! All these tattie bogles lurking in sheds/ under beds and other dark places!

Bogles aside, I'm making a big pan of stovies for tea. Siverside and thick slices of onion for the meat eaters, vegetable ones for me. Cooked slowly all day in a low oven so the smell hits you as you come in the door and your teeth start to slaver then you get big shiney eyes.

Just like the tattie bogle.


  1. I can remember a year when it was so wet that the machinery could not make it to the fields to unearth the potatoes.....a man who had kept his horses made a fortune!

  2. I think it is pretty bad this year, the fly in the web and I know of a couple of places where last years tatties were never lifted and this years are the size of marbles.

    There are a couple of horse teams fairly locally although they are just for show rather than working. Agree, it is time for the horse chiel's tae get yokit. ;)

  3. Can I also add that I did a link to a photo of people picking tatties at Rose Farm, Cromarty circa1970 but the link never appeared.

    Blogger has changed it's format again so I will need to see what I have done wrong.