I was speaking to HL about the tattie holidays and the years where I went tattie picking and he thought it would be fun to take a picture. I have to say that this in no way represents the time I spent out in fields for the back breaking work, as it is much gentler to pick the potatoes in our little patch. There was a long history of children picking potatoes in this part of the world, so much so, that they created a two week holiday in October (still called the tattie holidays) so that the crops could be harvested without so many young people missing school to work on the farms.
While it really holds no place on a D/s blog, I thought I would write about something that holds vivid memories as part of my childhood. It often feels strange looking back on my childhood at how much things have changed. Not only are there machines now to do the work that we did, but the rules and presence of health and safety these days would make the whole thing impossible. Growing up in a rural area, I am glad that I was able to have this experience and although I could no way do now what I did back them, I do look back on it with fondness.
Tattie Picking in the early 1980s
Tattie picking was hard work. Terrible work really. But we did it anyway and, to be honest, we did have a laugh. The first time I went tattie picking it was with a friend. She was a year above me at school and friends of hers had told her what to do and where to go. My birthday meant that I was also 12 and tall enough to pass, and so I set off at the crack of dawn (probably earlier to be honest) to go and experience my first real taste of paid labour. It was cold and dark that October morning when I set out to catch my lift.
There was a pick up point that everyone seemed to know of, by the corner shop, and they came for us between 5.30 and 6.00. It was still dark and I suppose that was the point because we were working to the daylight. We waited and there were tales of how hard it was. The other kids seemed to know who to go with and who was a slave driver and was best to avoid. The first lot came and we held back, advised by someone much wiser to wait. Then the next lot of vehicles came and the group I was with rushed forward.
I swear half the school was there waiting. It was survival of the fittest and I should have known then what was in store for me. Tractors pulled behind them large open trailers, the sort that would be used to transport livestock, and we ran and hurled ourselves at them, scrabbling up the sides and hoping for a friendly hand to help haul us over the top of the cart. That alone was enough to put some people off, and exclude others, but I guess that was part of the point. You had to be strong, able and determined to make the cut.
We were packed in like sardines and, standing huddled together, with a jolt we were off. Looking back it seems crazy that we were allowed to do this, but times were different and it seemed to be accepted that the tatties needed lifting and this was how it was done. We trundled through the village and after a time made it onto the narrower lanes that led us through the countryside and up to the farm. The distance travelled depended on which farmer took you, but the same pick up point served farms within about an 8 mile radius.
By the time we arrived, the sun was coming up and, this time, they opened the back of the trailer to let us out. We lined up in the field and farm workers came past, measuring our patch in strides and marking it out with pegs. Some places gave you a double dreel where you worked a longer length with a partner, and others a shorter one where you picked up one side and down the other. Basically the machine came along while you stood well back and ploughed the field, turning up the tatties behind it. With a plastic washing basket between your legs, you bent over and gathered up the tatties as fast as you could, chucking them in the basket as you pulled it behind you.
You had until the tractor came back again to complete your work, and then the same thing again, and again. If you worked fast you would get time to stand straight before you began the next stretch but if not, you remained huddled over hence the back breaking work. Some of the bigger kids worked as howkers and their job was to come along and lift the washing baskets to empty the tatties into another trailer. The howkers had a higher status than the pickers and they let you know it, but I am not sure their job was any less work than ours.
The farmer walked up and down the field, checking the work and shouting at anyone who wasn’t going fast enough. The common cry of, “pick your tatties clean”, indicated that someone had left a few hidden in the earth and this, I learned, would not be tolerated. If they didn’t like your work, they docked your wages and told you not to come back the next day. If you did ok then you could return and they would add your name to the sheet for the following day. I am not sure really what this did; it wasn’t as if they registered us by name at the corner where they picked us up, but I think the other kids policed it really and you could become a regular of one farmer or another.
We worked all day, starting before 7am and finishing about 4pm, although this depended on whether the field had been picked or not, so it could be later if necessary. We had a fly part way through the morning when we could eat and drink something, and another in the afternoon. These lasted about 15 minutes and our lunch was closer to 30 minutes, depending. The reward for this hard day’s toil was about £7 or £8 and it was money I stashed away so that I could buy the things my mum wouldn’t pay for, from places like the market!
As a testament to my love of boots, I worked as many days as I could, usually with the aim of buying a nice pair of ankle boots. Mum was willing to get me the practical wellies that I wore for the picking, and I even had a pair of moon boots for a while, but she didn’t see the value in something which wouldn’t keep the snow out during the long winter months. But I thought of those boots each night as I went to bed exhausted and again when I got up, the house still asleep, to slip back into the clothes, stiffened from the mud which had caked on and set on the the previous day.
For several years I made a sum of money tattie picking which boosted any other pocket money and earnings that I had made throughout the year, and allowed me to buy some of the fashion items that I wanted. It was real hard work and I have never volunteered to do something so physically challenging since, but it was a good laugh and I have so many good memories of having fun with friends and being silly during the break times. It feels like a different world, I think a more resilient one, and although it was progress to move on to mechanised farming of potato crops, I feel that it was a positive childhood experience and one I am glad that I had.
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