Being out in the countryside with my dogs gives me time to think. I’ve learnt the pleasure of solitude without being lonely, and that’s a good feeling for me.

Welcome to "Man with two dogs" - the family website for dog owners and dog walkers.

This is my countryside diary which appears each Saturday in the Dundee Courier newspaper.

The work ethic works

October 6th, 2007

THE GRANDCHILDREN'S arrival to spend a night with us set me thinking about the tattie holidays which used to be the reason for children having a fortnight off school at this time of year. Before the days of mechanical harvesters farmers could never have lifted their crop before the winter without the squads of youngsters and adults bent double lifting the potatoes by hand. Some families depended on the extra income to buy winter clothes and other essentials. Everyone got a  bit', or length of a potato drill – or  dreel' – to pick, and the little ones got a half bit which meant half pay, and wasn't good news!

Potatoes were still lifted by hand when our own children were growing up and once they were old enough they set out each morning to the neighbouring farms with their midday piece in their piecey bag. It was an opportunity to earn better money than they would have done at home, and the money was theirs to spend how they wished. It was hard work and they soon learned that getting roared at by the farm grieve and chased to work harder was how life was. But one thing's for sure – it helped them understand the work ethic, which they all still have.

The dogs and I were walking round a wee lochan when Inka disturbed a waterhen at the bank. It's been an age since I've seen one and I'm wondering if there are fewer about or whether I've just not been in the right places at the right time. Their flight is weak and they fly low over the water, trailing their legs so that their feet patter over the surface.

When we lived at Logie Pert there was always a pair or two nesting or roosting along the side of the Gallery Burn which ran through the garden, and I would waken sometimes in the night with their calls, “kurruk, kurruk”, which are surprisingly loud and deep for such a small bird. Above my desk I have a print of a waterhen taking flight which was done by my predecessor Colin Gibson who wrote this column for over forty years and embellished each week's article with a black and white scraper board drawing.

Sometimes the smallest things can illuminate my day. I picked up a feather about three inches long from the grass beside the bird table at the back door. It's mostly light grey or fawn in colour but what caught my attention was the narrow, vivid yellow stripe along the top of it. It's been sitting on the corner of the desk for the last four days and it's only now that the colour is beginning to fade. I'm trying to identify its owner and I think it must be a secondary feather from the yellow flash on a greenfinch's wing.




The book of the newspaper column has gone into its second print run for Christmas.

“Man with two dogs – a breath of fresh air from Scotland”


Buy direct from the publishers

Written on Saturday, October 6th, 2007 at 1:58 pm for Weekly.