It’s October and I have an anniversary coming up. I think we all share a red letter day of this type. October is the birthday of me earning my first ever pay packet. Cue the John, Paul George and Ringo in my head: "It was twenty years ago today, Misssy joined the ranks of the underpaid...."
In this part of the world, that is, the Scottish part, I suspect that a lot of my compatriots share the same anniversary. For the October school holiday is also known as “The Tattie* Holidays”.
For those of you not aware of country ways (arrr!) and perhaps from non-potato growing regions of the planet (where do you get your chips?), the idea of a holiday in honour of the potato might seem a little strange. And if that were the truth, then yes, it would be a little strange. Kind of like Hawaii having a week off to celebrate the pineapple, or Germany having a local holiday in honour of the cabbage. But the Tattie Holidays are the opposite of what you might think. Yes, they are holidays from school, but they are holidays in which the children were traditionally released from the classroom in order to bring in the potato harvest. Perhaps, in days gone by, folk took their kids out of school for harvest anyway, and the school ended up just giving in and making it official. For many of the boys and girls of rural Aberdeenshire, the Tattie Holidays remain to this day, your first chance to earn some cash.
At fourteen years old, the idea of £10.50 a day for picking up some potatoes was too good for me to resist. It seemed like riches compared to my previous wage of £0.00 per day. I had calculated that if I worked the whole week, I’d be rolling in it and could spend my cash in my continuing quest to dress like the members of Duran Duran and follow them around the globe with a view to eventually marrying one of them.
Now, I’m no Tess of the Durbervilles by any stretch of the imagination, but I thought in my stupid hairsprayed head that working on a farm would be “quite nice”. I was wrong. It is a deeply unpleasant business. Especially for a fourteen year old whose only recorded manual labour up until this point has been tidying her room under extreme coercion by her parents, and filling the dishwasher once a week on Sunday to the soundtrack of the Top Forty Countdown.
To say I was ill prepared would be understating things. There I am on wet October morning, about to pick potatoes in a big field, but you can bet your Eighties arse I’m still going to be rocking those lycra infused Oddball stretch spray on jeans I’ve barely been out of since I bought them. Never mind that I can’t actually physically get out of them, I’m mainly wearing them because “lads from school might be there”.
I’d like to think that I was at least wearing wellies, but I can’t in all honesty tell you I wasn’t in fact wearing tukka boots or suede pumps with dainty bows on the toes. And as anyone who has ever worked on a farm, nay been in Scotland, in October will tell you; you need yer wellie boots.
So here’s how tattie picking works- the clue’s in the name. A tractor with a thingy attached goes up the field. The thingy digs over the ground exposing the tatties to the world, it is your job to pick them up. There we stand, with our own six meter square area to clear of tatties and put them in buckets. You've the time it takes for the tractor to come back down the field until we move on to the next dug section of earth to start over again. It’s physical work alright. In fact, it’s chain gang type work. Without the fetching striped jammies and ....erm, chains.
After a few lanes of tattie filled earth, I’m way behind. Ruddy faced men with meaty hands are shouting at me in frustration, as I claw my way in the earth, falling to my knees with tears in my eyes, vowing never to eat a potato ever again. I resemble Tim Robbins when he finally gets to the end of the shit tunnel in the Shawshank Redemption.
It’s the end of the first tattie picking day and I can barely move for exhaustion and muscle rippage. After the tractor deposits the trailer full of tattie howking** kids back at the pick up point, my dad has to chisel a hardened Misssy shaped mud sarcophagus off me before my Mum will let me in the house. I return home, at least with a little brown envelope containing £10.50. The hardest tenner I’ve ever earned. As well as the hardest fifty pence.
The next morning, Day Two of Tattie Week dawns and my dad gives me my wake up call.
But I will not be working the fields that day...or any other. Dad smirks and closes my bedroom door behind him and somewhere down the road a trailer trundles off to the potato farm without me on it.
(Can you remember how you made your first Dollar/Pound/Euro/Peso/Rouble? Delete as appropriate.)
* For overseas visitors tattie means potato. You knew that, right?
**Howk is Scottish for to pull up. you can even howk up your trousers if they are falling down.
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