The Kist in Thyme
A little taste of The Kist in Thyme: a look at traditional plant use in Scotland through art, stories, tastes and memories.
Pictures from the Kist in Thyme's last tour!
Kist in Thyme Blog
The Tattie Bogle's Dance
Tattie bogles #KistinThyme
The first school session for #KistinThyme was created for a class who were studying Scottish Food this term, I like to create links between my sessions and the children's topics, that way the multi-faceted nature of storytelling becomes more tangible, children can see the connections...sometimes with even greater ease than the grown-ups!
When I arrive at the school, we start off with a chat about the sort of vegetables we like to eat, where we get them, what time of year...
Broccoli, cucumber, butternut squash, sweetcorn and red peppers are all faves
This great bit of archive material recorded just up the road from the school was one of the inspirations for me to look at how dramatically the way we eat has changed in just 100 years.
I've brought my Gran's copy of 'The Scot's Kitchen' by F. Marian McNeill with me
The vegetable chapter is a real eye-opener to modern readers...
I open the page and start listing recipes:
Banffshire Potato pie,
There are only a few pages...every recipe features potatoes, carrots make one appearance, cabbage and turnips two.
We end with an exotic one,
No potatoes included...
We hold our breath...
In 2016 the list sounds like a comedy creation.
The children are genuinely surprised as they realise, cucumbers, broccoli, peppers and even the humble brussels sprout don't 10-year make it onto the page of a 100 year old cookery book!
So tatties, we ponder...clearly a staple, where did they come from...
"Who's got plans already for the October holidays," I ask the class of 7 and 8 year olds.
Hands erupt into the air...
'We're going to France',
'...to my Granny and Grandpa's'
'I'm going to rugby camp'
'I'm going to complete lego star wars on my PS4'
'I'm playing with my wii' (older people's groups love the hidden hilarity clearly inherent in this one)
You get the gist...it all sounded pretty good.
"I've got a leaflet here about the perfect activity to keep young children amused during the holidays, how does that sound, shall I send one home in your school bags?"
A cheer of positivity; hands held out for a look at this promising sounding source of holiday fun.
"AND instead of your family needing to pay for you to go, YOU'LL get paid"
My mum storyteller Jean Edmiston, who is herself 69, is joining me for this session, I turn to ask her:
"How much did you need to live on in 1969?"
'Well, she replies your dad earned 15 shillings a week, we were both students and you were new-born, we were incredibly hard up but we just about managed on that'
"Ok, I say to the children, you can earn 2 shillings a week for doing this holiday activity, how much could you earn in a week"
They quickly work out that they can earn nigh on an adult wage in a week...
'I'll do it',
'What is it"
I tell them they'll need to work hard and wear wellies, one boy figures out it's farm work, they're a rural school...
But they're still keen,
"5am" I warn...
They nod eagerly
This brilliant cartoon helps
https [:/] /scotlandonscreen.org.uk/browse-films/007-000-002-155-c
Then I go and spoil it all by showing the reality...
Even to a seven year old this immediately looks like backache...
There are some brilliant memories about tattie howking in nearby Callander in the 1970's on this BBC forum:
I produce a neep...that's a turnip, sorry a Scottish or Swedish turnip, a Swede in England, a snep in Gaelic, tumchie is my favourite name for them...the old Scots word.
But what's our tumchie got to do with tatties?
I ask who's heard of a 'tattie bogle’…
…only one or two....a tattie bogle is literally a potato ghost...a scarecrow...a bogle is something that scare things and in this case the tattie bogle is there to scare the crows away from the potato crops and Tattie bogles, always have a neep for a heid.
I've adapted a great story by the legendary Duncan Williamson for the session, the original from his book 'The Flight of the Golden Bird' can be found here: The Hare and the Scarecrow
In my adaptation I add some of the fantastic bits of folklore and plant use I've found in Tobar an Dualchais, so the tattie bogle sees turnips being used as a poultice, as a cold cure, in purry.... this is one fantastic example of an unexpected but perfect use for a neep: http://www.tobarandualchais.co.uk/en/fullrecord/102006/1
This is my working synopsis, this is the way I learn a story when I'm working, I can add description and detail as I go.
The farmer's children build a tattie bogle (one of my community elders is a really lovely local farmer, her comment that farmers children never went tattie howking as there was too much -unpaid- work for them to do on the farm is added to this bit)
It sits in the tattie field
October holidays come round
School breaks up folk come from far and wide to dig up the tatties.
Scarecrow watches them eating stovies and soup, glad that it's not him, using neeps from the nearby field to cure a cold, glad that it's not him, as a poultice on a chafed hand (I expand with memories and archive)...so glad that it's not him, but glad that neeps are so useful
Halloween comes around and the scarecrows left in a field all on his own, thinks he’s of no use and remembers all the useful things the other neeps did
Local children running around guising, carrying turnip lanterns flickering eyes look like neeps have come to life...wishes that was him alive and making children laugh...(I add memories of local customs http://www.tobarandualchais.co.uk/en/fullrecord/17998/60)
Halloween and the walls are thin ...a hare asks him what's upsetting him he wishes he can come to life...and he says ok but only if you remember you can't speak... or otherwise the spell will be broken...
The farmer has party...find scarecrow on the doorstep, takes him inside at children's request. But he joins in with party games (here I add in the games from last weeks blog)...and spell is broken, but because he has made the children so happy...every Halloween the tattie bogles were brought back to the farm and that was the start of scarecrow festivals.)
The class loves the story
They ask as children always do 'is it real'
I like my mum's answer best
"I always say all stories are real whilst they're being told".
We gather up our neep and head outside with a bag of old clothes and make Tumchie Snep, the most fantastic tattie bogle, stuffed with leaves from the school grounds...
Then we round the session off with a gorgeous song in Gaelic....here's one we looked at: a lullaby or dandling song about a child being allowed to go and lift potatoes....but not go to the well!
http [:/] /www.tobarandualchais.co.uk/en/fullrecord/83274/42
So there you have it, the magical tattie bogle one of the favourite sessions for families and younger schools groups from A Kist in Thyme in it’s first session.
This workshop has now been loved by schools and audiences at The National Museum of Rural Life in Scotland and The Ashmolean Museum in Oxford and is available to book now as part of The Kist in Thyme package, who knew turnips could be so much fun!
Amanda Edmiston 2018
It’s early Autumn and our hedges are covered in plump ruby red berries.
But a huge number of people are uncertain which is which!
They pause in front of the May, the faerie tree: Hawthorn and hesitate before asking 'Rowan?'
On a day to day basis identifying berries seldom comes up in many peoples conversations,
A lot of people correctly identify the big beauties of the British wild berry scene, the brambles and the rosehips.
But even then a surprisingly high number aren't confident enough with their I.D. to actually pick and eat them
I have veg box buying, kale munching, friends, who say:
" I would if I was with someone who knew what they were doing”
I know gardeners who assert that you can't eat domestic unsprayed rosehips…
Whilst I was delivering the first stage of the Kist in Thyme project in rural Stirlingshire, I found that the elders in the village at least, still mostly knew their stuff, but that younger generations were often uncertain and children particularly were unsure, having been cautioned against ‘poisonous berries’ they were wary and lacked the confidence I felt growing up in a rural area where having edible and inedible fruits and leaves pointed out to me by my mum and my gran was an everyday occurrence.
But what was a valuable reminder for me and I did notice with some of the older folk who grew up just before or during the second world war was the vague residue of the association with wild food and poverty, we forget this in our age of trendy foraging, very quickly during my planning and research for Kist in Thyme I realised how our current perception of rural life, wild food, storytelling, herbal medicine is rose-tinted, we are now far enough away from the famine, disease and clearances that stretched into the 19th century for it not to mar our romantic view of recent rural history.
A class of 10-year old's grandparents grew up with the national health service and the benefits system.
The National Health Service was only introduced by Bevin in 1948 and I am very much a different generation, (this was after my mother was born) when I say this to a grown-up group I can see the moment of reflection as they pause and consider for a moment how recent this change in British lifestyle is.
Rickets due to vitamin D deficiency, lack of sunlight, poor nutrition is not a Victorian disease, it was still commonplace in the UK until the 1940s.
To omit these facts in an intergenerational sharing would be obtuse.
We are very lucky.
We may now covet a lifestyle filled with homemade hedgerow jelly, wild mushrooms and herbal tea.
But we have the luxury of choice.
We now know through societies omissions that previous generations hard work and shortages lead to wise ways and creative solutions.
But it’s about the flow and sharing of knowledge, it's about a respectful and aware acknowledgment of change...we should not seek 're-wilding' without being aware of the huge deprivation our ancestors faced that lead to them stepping away from natures harsh handed bounty.
Awareness is key, understanding, flexibility, respect and listening, equality must pervade intergenerational work, no one group is right or wrong, each has equal value and we must accept that there is value in our difference.
The class of 10 and 11-year-olds was studying farming, the class, their teacher and I were joined by a retired primary teacher whom I'd talked to at the local Heritage Society session.
The differences in how teachers approach talking to a class of children were immediately very evident for me!
I also realised how much I love a sense of dynamic energetic equal interaction between everyone in the room during my sessions and how although I see this as the way to learn, bouncing ideas off each other, creating, there is no wrong in creativity, there are morals and ethics and integrity, authenticity, hopes and dreams but there is no completely wrong, just elastic space to discover and experiment.
But this session was interesting because the tight control a different generation of teachers had seen as the desirable norm, worked brilliantly with one or two members of the group who don't flourish as much as others when given an afternoon workshop with me.
Suddenly the different working ways were interesting and not as black and white as I'd expected.
It was also very interesting because my original community elders group were mostly locally born and bred, with the one incomer having moved from less than ten miles away over 50 years ago but now we were working with our retired teacher who had grown up in a very different part of the country, locality of plant growth became a major consideration.
She shared great memories of how rare a treat strawberries and other fresh berries had been in her childhood, we were looking at how the diverse selection of fruit and veg from around the world which now grace our supermarket shelves, very recent addition, but of course there is a huge local variation in the UK and Stirlingshire is pretty much part of Scottish berry country, close enough to 'The Berryfields of Blair' for locals to have once traveled the 40 miles for the harvest season. We listen to the song sung by Belle Stewart which chronicles the berry picking time.
We were drawn towards looking at sustainability again.
Handing round fat juicy strawberries from a nearby farm, now grown in polytunnels on raised shelves for easier picking and longer seasons we discussed the tactile sensory experience of picking strawbs whilst kneeling on straw with warm sunshine and friendly field mice....but considered that recently introduced methods are environmentally friendly, sustainable ways of increasing the crop size and lengthening the season.
I wove my new version of the classic story of The Twelve Months, shared so beautifully by Stanley Robertson on the oral archive I'm working with.
I told the group about Stanley's upbringing, how his grandfather had really, truly, run away to join the circus, about how the traveling people moved around the area to follow the seasonal work.
I embellished my version with subtle suggestions of ethics and points designed to draw the groups minds further into creative solutions to environmental sustainability and supply and demand.
In my retelling the first sister goes to find small quantities of unseasonal fruits to mend her sister's ailments and the second sister, maladies mended, goes to get huge amounts to sell in the market and gain wealth and riches.
The class quickly spotted the ideas I was weaving into the story.
We went outside...
There is a beautiful wild herb garden in the school grounds
We collaborated, made choices and designated tasks, three children volunteered themselves as 'good at maths', I gave them a ball of string and asked them to think about how they might divide the roughly circular pace into twelve months, when the string ran out the class problem solved finding them fallen sticks to mark the spaces.
We thought about what grew when, what foodstuffs people might have used before modern farming and transport expanded our choices.
I used Betsy White's brilliant recollections of foraged food and herbal cures from the archive to prepare for this stage of the project.
I wove Betsy's memories into stories as we worked, exploring the hedges within the school grounds, the children were interested in their potential to provide foodstuff. They talked eagerly about the opportunity to know what they could eat in the natural environment and how it might add a layer of possibility to games and adventures.
For the teachers they saw how it brought reality to modern classics of children's literature like Michelle Paver's 'Wolf Brother', or indeed Harry Potter, the potential herbal storytelling had for making literacy projects leap into life.
The class found armfuls of dry leaves for October
Bare branches for November.
The bleak months bear so little I tell a short story of winter and ‘the stone months’, we end up with pebbles representing the cold, seeds symbolising snow...I tell them about the old activity of children being sent to harvest thistledown to fill bedding...the seeds now also represent winter warmth, one girl remarks they would also be germinating under the soil during January and February.
We look at the berries in the school grounds, they can all now happily identify hawthorn and Rowan and many try the hawthorn berries, they become September.
We had flowers...representing the summer months, three of the group chose their favourite colours for their birthdays, but we also thought they were rather appropriate as summer was so bountiful that it gave us time to appreciate flowers.
Nettles are grasped and their properties discussed, they are going through a phase at this point in September where they are re-growing in the Autumnal warmth as if we are experiencing a second Spring, the new tips become March.
Fennel seeds are guzzled...the Romans who once lived on this site were known to appreciate the seeds for their restorative powers, we imagine legionnaires eating them where we stand now.
Holly and Pine cones for December.
The teacher has clearly enjoyed herself hugely and remarked on how great it's been to sit within the class and watch them work and create things and process ideas and information....she says how 'great it is to have had an afternoon not teaching from the front’ and we've created a bit of environmental art, temporary but beautiful.
We go back indoors, the bell was about to ring, an afternoon has rarely passed so quickly.
I left them some books, a bit of a display, a few had been asking questions they could research for themselves tomorrow…
The follow-up sessions lead to the beautiful seasonal wheel you can see on the Kist in Thyme slideshow at the top of the page.
The exhibition has been to The Scottish Storytelling Centre in Edinburgh, The Macrobert Art Centre in Stirling and The National Museum of Rural Life near Glasgow with fabulous feedback from audiences and the workshops and mini-accompanying installations have traveled even further afield with sessions for students and teachers at Shanghai United International School in China and The Ashmolean Museum in Oxford amongst others.
If you would like to discuss A Kist in Thyme featuring at your venue please do get in touch: [email protected]
If you'd like a free download of resources for this workshop please join my facebook group here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/botanicafabulousness/
For a further glimpse into The Kist in Thyme see the short film at the top of my gallery page here: https://www.botanicafabula.co.uk/gallerytestimonials
To Book a Kist in Thyme experience to bring folklore, memories and plant stories to life in your venue email