Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Signs of the times: Autumn #10

More comparisons between the British countryside of today and that from 1959-1961 in the paintings of Charles Tunnicliffe in the Ladybird "What to look for..." series of books.

"Wha saw the tattie howkers?
Wha saw them ga'an awa'?
Wha saw the tattie howkers,
Comin' ower the Barrow Raw?

Some o' them had bits an' stockins'
Some o' them had nane of aw
Some o' them had a wee bit whisky
Just to keep the cald awa.'"

Traditional Kilwinning song, to the tune of The 42nd

(Copyright: Ladybird Books)
Autumn Picture 10
This another picture that shows me how much some things have changed in 50 years. It shows a fairly manual harvesting process for a potato crop, with a little grey Massey Ferguson tractor with a rotary “spinner” which unearths the potatoes so that they can be lifted by hand by pickers with baskets (women in headscarves and, again, men in flat caps!), a back-breaking task. At the top of the picture, a larch tree is covered in golden cones. To the right, a hawthorn hedge has a vine of black bryony, with its bright red berries, entwined through it, and a flock of lapwings (peewits) is circling in the far distance.

I looked at hawthorn previously, here, and the larch tree here. Lapwings or peewits have also featured in a couple of posts previously, here, and in this picture we see them exhibiting their winter flocking behaviour, something I saw often when growing up in East Lothian. The long-term decline in the lapwing population has probably resulted in fewer people seeing this wonderful sight in the 50 years since these books were published.

The black bryony (Tamus communis) is a native vine species, found in southern and central England, and in most of Wales. The New Atlas of the British and Irish Flora says that is found: “mostly on neutral to calcareous, well-drained soils, particularly those overlying chalk and limestone, but also on clay. It can be luxuriant in hedgerows, woodland edges and along paths and in waste land”. It grows from a large tuber and the text in the book speculates on how good the tuber may be to eat! Richard Mabey, in Flora Britannica, however, points out that it is actually the only member of the yam family to grow in Britain, and is a poisonous irritant (so not a good candidate for our wild food project!). The New Atlas indicates that there has been no change in the overall distribution of black bryony since the previous Atlas was published in 1962.

The image of the potato harvesters reminds me of the itinerant Irish workers, in the early 1970’s, who came to our village in East Lothian each Autumn to work in the potato harvest. Backbreaking work indeed, not helped by the squalid little “bothy” they lived in on the edge of the village (On the Mair road) for the duration of the harvest, which sat empty for the rest of the year. It must have been damp and I am certain it didn’t have running water or plumbed toilets. On the farm we lived on, potato harvesters would occasionally come to the door asking us to fill a large water bottle. We used to collect leftover tatties from the fields too, once the harvest was over, something we’ve done more recently around Stirling (shame to let them rot on the ground...). Even in the 1970’s, however, the potato harvesting equipment employed around us was much more advanced than the relatively primitive mechanised digger shown here!


  1. Yay - He's back with the series!!! Yahoo!

    Mind you, I'm wondering if this is a sign of global warming that science is so out of step with the seasons...... or maybe it's the seasons that are out of step?


    Nice to see you posting these again SNB. I've fair missed them.

  2. Like a bat out of hell, etc - hi Al - glad you are pleased! Happy to be writing them again... yes, quite appropriate given how messed up the timing of seasons is due to climate change. So, you see, I'm really making a point, honest! Cheers, SNB PS The "Stirling Heads" are nearly ready for public viewing (from June 4th/5th onwards). I presume you and G are still interested in coming up to see them?


Thanks for taking the time to comment... much appreciated at this end! If you've enjoyed reading this post, why not sign up to follow this blog? I won't even make you wear a robe, cape, costume or anything, unless you insist.