19 October 2011
Elizabeth Leslie remembers happy summers berry picking in Perthshire. ...
Elizabeth Leslie remembers happy summers berry picking in Perthshire.
Driving around Perthshire, the sight of raspberry fields always takes me back to my Fifties childhood when, along with my mum and two sisters, I spent each summer holiday ‘at the berries’. For despite the early starts and the hard work, I loved the exciting new dimension it brought to my life.
The first treat of the day was boarding the ‘berry bus’, a white double-decker belonging to McLennans of Spittalfield. Full of noisy, excited children and their long-suffering mums, it drove us some six miles to the berry farm near Bankfoot. Once on board, the older children and teenagers rushed upstairs, while the mums stayed downstairs with the smaller children.
On arrival, we piled out of the bus and into the berry field, where the gaffer assigned a ‘dreel’ to each pair of pickers. And after hanging our coats on the end post, tucking our piece bags in the bushes, and collecting our berry pails from the huge pile at the top of the field, we were ready to start.
One on either side of the bushes, we carried our pails to the far end of the dreel, doing our best to avoid a nasty scratch from a protruding stray branch. And after a rainy night, we would try to dodge the wet bushes that slapped against us as we squelched down the muddy dreel in our wellies.
My younger sister and I were too small to reach the higher branches at first. So mum and my older sister Helen took a side each, while Catherine and I were their helpers, picking the lower berries. After
a few years, however, we had grown tall enough to stretch to the top berries, and were allowed our own sides.
Once our big pails were full, we took them to ‘the weights’. Stationed at the top of the field was a flat cart upon which were huge hanging scales, a row of barrels and a table with a money box. We would heave the pail up to the weights man who deftly emptied the berries into the weighing pail then hung it on the scales, noting the weight before tipping the berries into one of the barrels.
Then came the exciting bit. We were paid there and then, according to how much we had picked. When we started in the early Fifties the rate was a penny ha’pennyper pound of berries, so picking eight pounds of rasps would earn us a shilling. Proudly tucking our earnings into the little drawstring purses attached to our belts, we would return to our dreel, eager to make some more. And after several such trips in a day, counting up our money at night was a satisfying business.
Once home, we would recount the day’s adventures to our dad, while mum got our tea ready. Then it would be a wash and an early night, while mum prepared clothes and food for the next day, then took a well earned breather.
Meanwhile, our money boxes were filling up, and when the berries were over, there would be a shopping trip to Perth or Dundee, where we could spend our berry money on something special. I bought my first watch one year; another year it was a tennis racquet.
Then it was time to return to school, and in the excitement of being in a new class with a new teacher, berry time was soon forgotten – until the next summer when the magic started all over again!
(originally published October 2011).