[From Manx Quarterly, #26, 1921]
BY GEORGE QUARRIE.
In the north of the Isle of Man, where the land is dry and peculiarly adapted to the growth of potatoes, the long winter evenings, ones upon ,a time, used to be occasionally whiled away by tittlewhack sprees. A case is point occurs to mind, where a large, stone-flagged kitchen was the scene, its ceiling almost entirely hidden by hams, shoulders and flitches of bacon, among which, about the centre, high up and not too much in evidence, was a large Christmas kissing bush, about a yard in diameter, gaily decked in country fashion with ribbons, rosettes, apples, oranges, etc. There were also the literal " hibbin and hollin" decorations still around the walls and on the high mantelpiece, whereon about a dozen candles burned on their various heights of candlesticks-from the short bedroom ones, having trays, snuffers and extinguishers, to those tall, old-fashioned, ornamental ones from fifteen to thirty inches high-all of wellpolished brass. These lights, backed by several tiers of burnished dish-covers and various pewter drinking vessels, metal tea and coffee-pots, etc., etc., gave a bright, comfortable appearance to the still extant remains of the old-time open fireplace. From the " swee," or crane in the chimney, on such an evening hung the big family pot, full to the lid of the favourite " Bill-John" potatoes, boiling away with their skins on. (The " Bill-John" was a long, oblong, rather flat potato, grown from seed potatoes imported from the Orkney Islands.) Around the room on the big, high-backed settles, on chairs, stools, forms, etc., and out in the long back-kitchen adjoining, some dangling their legs from the long table there, and some seated on the stone " bink" among the milk-cans, were the farmer lads and lasses, all bent on fun and mischief, practising everlasting larks on one another, with frequent appeals to the high privileges of the big " kissing bunch," as they generally called it.
When the potatoes were done, they were emptied into many dishes along the tables, and all joined in at the peeling which, as the tubers were steaming hot and liable to fall to pieces, was quite a ticklish kind of work. When peeled, the potatoes were put brck into the great pot, and this was set down on the floor on a sheet or tablecloth, a hich prevents the slipping of the three little pot-legs on the stone floor. All the young fellows now take turns at mashing cr "bruising" the potatoes, until not the an allest lump is left in the whole mass. Irto this, dish after dish of that night's: milking, new from the cow, is poured, and then commences the long and brisk stirring by which that delightful dish, "Tittlewhack," is made.
The pot-stick-a plain, round wooden porridge stirrer-is briskly moved through the creamy mass so as to execute the figure", eight, the operator all the time moving `; re and and round the pot while so stirring.;; The sound the potstick makes on the sides;; of the pot very closely resembles the words, i " Tittle-whack." Hence the name of the toothsome dish.
It is utterly impossible satisfactorily to describe the fun and many drolleries accompanying this turn about among a lot of rustics, male and female, old and young:!; Some of the old cottagers, particularly, provided great merriment. Old Juan-a-Beth,! for instance, who, so far as the writer knew,` was never seen by mortal man without the broad rim of his old weather-beaten stove-pipe hat resting on his ears and almost entirely hiding his eyes. As Juan put down his cutty clay pipe with the gravity of a man about to lay his neck on the executioner's block, and took hold of the potstick, everybody laughed at what was genuinely and irresistibly funny. It was the very farthest thing from Juan's wish or intention to be funny; but he could no more help making you laugh than lots of others in this world can help making fools of themselves trying to be funny. The screaming stage was reached when Kerry-na-Coolyeh (who well knew Juan's awful austerity) actually attempted to kiss him, as he stood right under the license-giving bush. Juan's resentment of this unparalleled liberty made comedy of the most enjoyable kind.
Johnnie-Willie's fiddle soon covered the floor with dancers. After indulging in some merry hornpipes and reels, the meeting was sort of called to order for something special. The fiddler said he had a new song he would like to sing for them, and hinted that the composer of it was too modest to let his name be known. They were all invited to join in the chorus, which was heartily done. The song, which, by the way, was afterwards credited to Johnnie-Willie himself, was called-
O, the English blow a good cheek on beef,
And they'd die if robed of their beer
And the Scotch must brew and the Irish too,
Some whisky for their daily cheer;
But you know, now boys, how far we would
Forgo heir whisky and beef and ale:
As far, I believe, as Billy could heave Ballavarkish bull by the tail !
With a hey-riddle, ho-riddle, riddle-om raa,
Aw, Tommy, don't you know your tack, boy?
Let the potstick rattle
Like a barndoor battle
With a hey-riddle, ho-riddle, riddle-om raa,
Then lay into good tittle-whack, boy !
Now, Kelly's not over particularHe will not say what he's preferrin',
Put what's in his glass, or what course to pass,
You must give him his spuds and herrin' !
Here's a health to thee, bould king of the sea,
We want you with a good thick back
And a big " Bill-John" with the skin left on,
And once in a while, tittle-whack !-Chorus.
If you're wantin' to please Misther Kelly, now,
Jus' tell him he's the keenest han'
A'. bargain or bet that ever you met,
An' there's nothin' he will not stan' ;
But if you would have your revenge on him,
I'll tell you the very way how;
Jus' go to the fair-you'll sowther him there.
Give him all he'll ask for his cow ! - Chorus;