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Opinions / If you believe tatties are harmless, read on

Reflecting on Shetland’s recent and not quite so recent history, Tresta-based crofter and tattie grower Rosa Steppanova has submitted this work of pure fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locals, and incidents are, of course, either the product of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner.

Shetland is set to become to potato capital of the world.

DEAR reader, $hetland is about to make its debut on the world stage of potato excellence involving $hetland’s world-class rigs and middens, and I’m now in a position to reveal that I played a not insignificant role in bringing about this innovative and exciting development, guaranteed to bring wealth and prosperity to all.  

It started with the letter copied below. I would’ve shared this with you sooner but, as you will see, I was bound by a vow of silence, which I bore with great courage and dignity.

Dear Mrs. Rosa $teppanova,

As I am sure you will be aware, 2021 has been designated International Year of the Potato. I, along with my associates, am presenting a Golden Wonder Opportunity for the $hetland community; a once-in-a-lifetime chance to mark the islands’ unique place in the field of potato excellence.

We have commissioned plans for a ‘TRE$TA POTATO FESTIVAL’, initially scheduled for the summer months before becoming a permanent installation. A large area of swamp (I believe this is known as blanket bog in your part of the world) is going to be drained and the barren, featureless wasteland between Bixter and the $andsound junction, including the village of Tumblin, will be levelled and redeveloped in a three hundred billion $ potato scheme. This includes the construction of several Olympic standard tattie rigs, a tattie academy surrounded by seven hanging potato gardens, and a twelve-storey hotel (shaped like a giant rooster to blend into the rural landscape).

In conjunction with $hetland Archives we are incorporating a $hetland history trail on your croft, with special emphasis on the potato. On the site of your dilapidated dwelling we are going to build an interpretive centre with hourly re-enactments of scenes from the Irish potato famine. A large museum is to be dedicated to the history of the French Fry (from humble chip to world vegetable domination), and has already been short-listed for an international potato award.

Your overgrown and, at the time of our visit, apparently abandoned croft is a part of the development area. Locals tell us it has become the haunt of degenerate geriatric bohemians and uncontrolled rabid hounds, endangering the lives of small children and bringing down the neighbourhood. Nonetheless, we would like to offer a substantial sum for the site, dependent on a swift settlement.

Taking into account projected costs: scrub and noxious weed clearance, demolition of derelict outbuildings, removal of worthless junk and avian infestations (frolicking feral crows); bio-diversity elimination etc., we have arrived at a figure of 350KGP.

Due to time pressure this is a non-negotiable*, strictly time limited offer.

We hope you will feel as excited as we do at the prospect of reinvigorating the local potato market with this ground breaking visionary scheme, which offers the prospect of unlimited $pud Billionaire $tatus for all.

We look forward to hearing from you by 31 January 2020 at the latest.

*Payment can of course be converted into chips for use in Potato-Piddle International Casinos.

Yours in the strictest confidence etc.

Peter Piddle
World Wide Opportunities in Potato Production, Exploitation and Research (WWOPPER) Corp. International

Ps. We are aware that some environmental concerns have been raised and I can assure you that in order to prevent even minimal ecological damage, mitigation measures using the latest in environmental protection technology, such as double-gusseted potato sacks, are to be installed prior to the start of construction.

Dear reader! I had been given the opportunity of wealth creation by proxy and of securing a future not only for today’s youth, but for generations yet unborn. Without this window-to-the-world festival $hetland would miss a great opportunity.

There is, however, a little heartache. Giving up all I’d worked for in more than 40 years was not easy, but who was I to obstruct such a visionary and above all lucrative rejuvenation of $hetland, a forgotten and economically moribund place? Sacrifices have to be made for the greater good.

Alas, not everybody was of the same mind, and I still find it hard to believe that our very own planning department advised against giving consent for such a visionary scheme.

An artist’s impression of a hanging potato garden.

But all was not lost. Enter local potato hero SIC development department: their rousing speech on the great financial benefits of the project was greeted by rapturous applause from the public gallery. Spurned on by this fine show of support from the electorate, nine out of 22 councillors (the rest of them cowards and traitors to a man) said: “Yes”.

The Tresta potato festival is going to create 13 – yes you have read this correctly – 13 (!) permanent jobs and that is only the beginning.

Countless planning applications are in the pipeline already and in the not too distant future there will be local potato festivals from Muckle Flugga to Sumburgh Head (I can reveal that potato-peeling, sack-mending and speed-mashing competitions for the adults and ducking for tattie apples as well as potato and fork races for the bairns are already in preparation.)

Such noble and ground breaking developments always attract what I call a lunatic fringe; in this case a small band of luddites, hapless, deluded and selfish individuals, known as no-bies, calling themselves Boggers, and recognised by their knotted heather garments.

They made the most ludicrous claims and accusations using catch phrases such as “environmental degradation”, “habitat loss”, “carbon miscalculation” and “health impact”; even casting aspersions on the projected profits of the potato festivals and associated activities.

Thankfully in March, from the premises of $hetland WWOPPER headquarters at Cutter’s Hood (after the protective garment worn by chip factory workers), the WWOPPETTES, a huge voluntary group of more than eight members emerged.

These upright citizens, dressed as potato scones during public appearances, gave short shrift to the Boggers’ scaremongering. First they debunked the “habitat loss ” claims by showing a letter of promise from WWOPPER CEO Peter Piddle, promising that no less than 0.5 per cent of $hetland’s natural environment would be preserved for posterity.

But then, just like the SIC development department before them, they pulled out their Piddle card, stating that unless $hetland’s world class rigs and middens were utilised for the sake of the planet, the islands’ inhabitants would soon have to emigrate or starve to death like in the bad old pre-lard days.

Rumour has it that their leader, Ingron Tonail, is in line for a knighthood for services rendered in the field of international potato proliferation. I believe he shall, from then on, be allowed to add the much sought after title “right honourable potato head” to his name.

With opposition thus swept aside, a great transformation is already taking place. What was dull green becomes glossy brown as mega-sized lard-propelled ploughs and drills prepare our hills and dales for potato production on a scale the world has never seen before.

Potato hobs

At harvest time the crops are transported by a wide network of under-connectors directly to 37 offshore potato processing plants, known as potato hobs. Designed by pioneers in their field, they have the pleasing appearance of giant Rayburns, and are equipped with the largest steamers and deep-fat fryers in the world; manufactured from rare Congolese metals and shipped directly from South Korea to Dales Voe.

Hundreds of under-connectors are fitted to each hob, half of them pumping liquefied Russian lard into the installations, while the remaining 50 per cent pump the finished vacuum-compressed or freeze-dried products directly into Australian and Canadian supermarkets.

To aid the revival of $hetland’s rundown capital and to celebrate an important centenary, a temperature-controlled glass mausoleum is to replace the market cross as a fitting final resting place for the largest potato ever grown in the northern hemisphere; a tattie weighing 70kg, was dug up in Tumblin on 16 October 1921 and up until now housed in less than ideal conditions at $hetland archives.

The town hall, a drain on public resources, is to be demolished and in its place an exhibition centre resembling a giant potato waffle, is to be built. This impressive building is to be dedicated to a little-known but illustrious part of $hetland potato history – the tattie rug.

The oldest of these date back to the mid 17th century and have been until recently mistakenly referred to as tatted rugs by local historians. The theory that these rugs were used as blankets or quilts has since been widely discredited. We now know that they were traditionally used to protect the vital potato crop from frost damage, and their colourful and intricate patterns are proof, if proof were needed, that this nutritious and versatile vegetable was worshipped and revered throughout the Northern Isles.

All over $hetland members of the crofting community are wiping tears of gratitude from their eyes, as they are the first to benefit from the potato bonanza. The days of living in cramped and unhygienic hovels are numbered.

From north to south, from east to west, on beauty spots like St. Ninian’s Isle and the cliffs of Eshaness WWOPPER potato towers are to be erected, to enable crofters to live in luxury apartments affording panoramic views.

And there’s something for all of us to look forward to. As I write, filming on a new series of Tattieland featuring much-loved detective Timmy Tuberous, has started.

In the first episode, the lives of royal $uper-$pud couple King Edward and his consort Lady Balfour are at stake. The Lady has been abducted by the infamous Colorado Beetle Gang. Is Timmy going to get the better of gang leaders Jeremy Blight, Carlos Blackleg and, vilest of them all, Starchy Scab-Face?

Potato capital of the world

Dear reader, as you can see, $hetland is well on its way to becoming the potato capital of the world, and proud location of the shiniest tattie hobs on the planet. The isles now have the potential of attracting millions of potato enthusiasts from all over the world.

Imagine that bustling scene as hundreds of bunting–draped cruise liners, shaped like baked potatoes, drop anchor off the capital.

As the visitors alight they are greeted by $hetland maidens wearing potato flower garlands and ‘sho’ skirts, holding dishes of steaming mash aloft while singing the famous 18th century birlin’-for-tatties song, accompanied by the Lerwick brass band.

While cones of chunky chips are distributed amongst ordinary passengers, potato celebrities on board partake of a peerie buffet supper of potato-based refreshments.

Visitors are then given the opportunity to buy an array of potato-themed merchandise such as potato clocks, Fair-Isle gansied toy potatoes, tinned tattie soup, potato-flavoured crisps and, given the climate, cagoules made from potato starch, before being conveyed to various potato sights around the isles in $pudniks (speed-coaches fuelled by fermenting tattie peel).

The highlight of this grand reception is the performance of the famous SIC dagger dance. While our councillors are dressed modestly in plain tattie-brown suits (councillors Leask and Scott, allowed out for the day, are wearing potato sack cloth and ashes), this can’t be said for our civic and political leaders.

They are standing on a raised dais as befits their position, resplendent in their chains of office, and draped in purple silk and cashmere tattie cloaks from which protrude topaz-encrusted ceremonial daggers.

While the cameras of the world’s media click, and the crowd goes wild, both leaders, arms draped across each others shoulders, are seen leaping rhythmically and energetically over their ceremonial weapons in a pace that increases steadily at first, then gets faster and faster. It is a daring performance, as the dancers have to take great care not to fall on their daggers.

Thanks to our potato festivals and hobs the dream of every man, woman and child is now coming true: given the islands’ strategic position, world-class middens, and multi-billion WWOPPER investment, $hetland can afford to become an independent country.

At last week’s meeting of the $hetland Independence Trust ($HIT), a motion was passed: To show the islanders’ gratitude and to honour WWOPPER Corp. International, $hetland must be spelled with a dollar sign instead of a capital S from 1 December 2020 onwards.

As you can see I have already implemented this change.

As I’ve said before, there is a little heartache involved, but why would I want to continue living in a hovel surrounded by a wilderness when I can soon wave from the window of a potato tower near you?

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Scottish Parliament election, 6 May 2021