The Night I Went to Brewdog Beer School

A gift voucher for Brewdog Beer School gave me the excuse to drink lots of beer on a school night.

I like beer.

I don’t drink very often or very much, not because of any particular health or sobriety reasons, but because when I go out I’m usually driving and when I’m at home I’m more likely to feel like a cup of tea. Continue reading “The Night I Went to Brewdog Beer School”

Website coming soon!

This is a post I’m writing that no-one’s going to see straight away.

One of the challenges on my list of 60 things to do before I’m 60 is to get my own website. There are a couple of reasons why this is on there. One reason is pleasure and a sense of self-achievement. I enjoy using the internet for all kinds of things and I like to understand the things I’m interested in. By creating my own website I’m developing a better understanding of how things work on the web and this insider knowledge enables me to use the web more effectively.

The second reason is more practical. I want to write, travel and generally spend more of my time doing things that I enjoy. Having my own business (or at least being able to generate some of my own income without having to work for it through regular jobs) is one way of achieving this. And of course, every good business needs a website these days doesn’t it?

A few years ago I attended night-school and spent a couple of terms learning web-design. This was really useful and I learnt a lot, but didn’t actually do anything with it at the time. I’ve now decided the time is right to turn my blog into an actual website.

Setting up the basic site, buying hosting, getting a domain name and so on, was all really easy. I imported WordPress, partly because this is what most websites and blogs seem to use now and also because I already had my blog in WordPress.

So far, so good. All I had left to do was choose a theme. This should have been the easiest bit, but for some reason all the themes I tried wouldn’t display correctly and I was getting some really bizarre looking layouts. I’ve ended up going with the basic WordPress theme for 2016 which I do quite like, though I was hoping for something that looked a bit more ‘websitey’ rather than ‘bloggy’.

I’m now tweaking and checking everything and writing up a few posts offline to make sure all is well. I’ve noticed that some of my photos on previous posts haven’t transferred across in the original layouts, so at some point I’ll have to go back and adjust them. This isn’t my biggest priority at the moment though. I still have lots of unfinished posts sitting in drafts that I really want to get finished and posted.

What will I use my website for other than a glorified blog? I’m still working on that, but I feel good about having a foundation to build on. And it’s one more challenge completed.


Getting some inspiration

Finding inspiration in a chocolate factory and a brewery.

When I’m at school, I get so overwhelmed with the amount of things I need to do and the amount of my time that is taken up, and I’m so ‘in the moment’, life outside of school seemingly ceases to exist and all the plans, ideas and hopes I have come to a standstill. As soon as I take time off, get away, give myself chance to meet interesting people (actually, ordinary people like myself except they have done something with their dreams, instead of just filing them away) and before I know it, I’m filled with inspiration and ideas are buzzing inside my head and what’s even better, they all seem feasible.

Chocolate factory
Foord’s Chocolate Factory

Today I’ve had two inspiration boosts. Firstly, I visited Foord’s Chocolate Factory on Unst. This in itself is inspiring – an English couple started a connoisseur chocolate factory in buildings which are part of the old Saxa Vord complex. (Saxa Vord was built as an RAF base in the days of the cold war.) Not content with merely making delicious chocolates, they have made the most of both their product and their location by making themselves very attractive to tourists. It’s possible to wander down the corridor in the factory observing the chocolate making as it happens. There is a room with a display on the history and geography of chocolate and the chocolate making process. Another room taps into the historic associations of their location and has a big display on the RAF connections including uniforms and lots of photographs. At the front of the Chocolate factoryfactory is a cafe selling not only chocolate experiences, but also a range of savoury food. On an island with not many places to grab lunch (the hotel has a restaurant and two of the shops have cafe areas where you can get a cup of instant coffee, a bowl of soup or heat up a pie from the pie counter), and since the Northern Lights Cafe and Bistro closed down (please, somebody buy it and re-open it in exactly the way it was before), having a cafe here is a good way of attracting extra business.

Chocolate factory
Chocolate Experience

But this wasn’t the main source of my first bout of inspiration today. No. At the back of the factory is a room where they sell locally made crafts. Two years ago, on the day I was leaving Unst, I was at the Skibhoul shop and bakery stocking up on their wonderful, thick, chilli-flavoured oatcakes (special ingredient: sea water) and I spotted an old, but very well kept Morris Minor in the car park. I have a thing for Morris Minors having grown up with one. If I was in the position of being able to own a fleet of cars, and if I had the knowledge, time and ability to ‘do up’ and maintain old cars, I would definitely have one. Along with an old Landrover Defender and an ancient VW combi. But I’m not and I don’t. But that just means I’m even more fascinated when I see other people with them. As I left the shop a lady was unpacking her shopping into the Morris Minor. Of course I went over to admire her car and, as happens in places like Unst, we ended up chatting for quite a while.

Heather had recently moved to Unst from Nottingham having taken early retirement from her teaching job. She seemed disillusioned with the way teaching and schools in general were going, and so with redundancies and early retirements on offer, she jumped. Along with her husband, she’d bought a house in Westing on the west side of the island called ‘Da Peerie Haa’ – Shetlandic for ‘the small manor house’. When I met her she was about to leave on a long drive in her Morris Minor to the Isle of Wight. She was doing it for charity and referred to it as ‘Westing to Wight’ – sounds much better than John O’Groats to Land’s End. Being unsure as to whether or not the Morris Minor would make actually make it, her husband was driving a campervan as a back up vehicle. Although I read something about the trip in the Shetland Times that week, I never found out the end of the story. I don’t know if the Morris Minor made it or how the journey was.

Heather had told me to pop in next time I was in Unst, so I decided to take her at her word as I really wanted to know how the story ended. I drove out to her house yesterday but no-one seemed to be about and there was no sign of the Morris Minor. Was this a bad sign? Did it mean that the Morris Minor hadn’t made it and was now relegated to life on a scrap heap? Or did it mean that the dream retirement on Unst wasn’t so dreamy after all and they’d returned to the mainland (as in mainland UK and not mainland Shetland)? The lady in Skibhoul told me she was still living on the island though she didn’t know if she was at this moment in time. She also didn’t remember if the Morris Minor had made it to the Isle of Wight.

Today, in the craft room at the Foord’s Chocolate Factory, I looked round the handmade scarves, hats, gloves and so on, and was just about to leave when I spotted an interesting stand half hidden behind the door. The stand was displaying an array of colourful knitted bags, each one individual. The sign at the top said ‘Bags by Heather’ and there was a woodcut of her house which was labelled ‘Da Peerie Haa’. It had to be the same Heather, it had to be. I bought a very unusual bag for £10 and asked the man (Mr Foord?) if she was on the island at the moment. She’s not because she’s back in Nottingham for a wedding in which the Morris Minor is being used as a wedding car. So I know she’s still living here and I know the Morris Minor is still living here. I also know it made it to the Isle of Wight because Mr Foord told me so. What I don’t know is how the journey went. As she’s not due back until early August I’ll probably miss her (unless it’s very early August, as in tomorrow, aka August 1st).

So this was my first bout of inspiration today. She’s been living here for over two years, has started a little business and has completed her dream ‘expedition’.

Leaving the chocolate factory, I headed for the brewery (is this a dream island or what? Lightly inhabited, stunning views, amazing wildlife, fascinating history and geology, pretty much as isolated as you can get in the UK (apart from Foula and Fair Isle) and yet it has its own chocolate factory and its own brewery. And there’s talk of a distillery setting up too. Should it be renamed Paradise Island?).

The Valhalla Brewery, Shetland’s one and only, has moved since I was last here. Owner, Sonny Priest, has expanded from a barn outside his house into much bigger premises at Saxa Vord. He makes six beers and I always buy a selection to take home. I called in on the off-chance that he would now take card payments (he never did before) and I could stock up now to save coming back later. He doesn’t. But I was just in time to go on a tour (£4.50 including a bottle of beer of your choice at the end). It was interesting to see the workings and hear how the six beers are made with different combinations of the various grains. But his own story of how he came to own a brewery is what provided me with my second bout of inspiration for the day.

He left school at 15 with no qualifications and trained as a joiner. After several years of joinery he went to sea for three years on a North Sea trawler. This was followed by a job at Baltasound Airport (a tiny strip of runway with a few sheep grazing on it and not much else) and in the attached firehouse. Redundancy led him to to wondering what to do next with his life. He toyed briefly with the idea of opening a launderette, but following a drinking session with some of his soon to be ex-workmates, he found himself promising to start a brewery in order to keep them drinking. This may have been a drunken comment but the seed (of barley presumably?) had been sown and it germinated and lo and behold, he found himself in 1997 setting up a brewery and hiring a master brewer as he had no idea about brewing himself.

I’m planning my hostel and planning a sandwich bar / coffee shop, and all these other things and I keep on planning and not doing, as I feel I’m not ready; I don’t know enough; I don’t have the right skills; I need more money; and excuse after excuse. Here’s a guy who didn’t have a clue about the business he was starting, but jumped in, did what he needed to do to get it up and running, and learnt what he needed to know as he went along. I am most definitely inspired by this. Now, I only have to keep hold of all this inspiration once I’m back at school and getting bogged down in marking, planning and bureaucracy.

Climbing, archery and bad internet

There’s a lot going on at the moment.

So, what have I been up to? Quite a bit actually. Let’s start with archery.

The man at the archery club where I was going to take my Duke of Edinburgh students has let me down so I’m feeling rather miffed about it. I’d told him in my initial email before the summer holidays that it would be Friday afternoons from about 12.30. After several emails in which he’s sounded as though it might happen at the last moment he told me they can only do courses on Tuesday evenings. Arrgh.


After some frantic hunting for another activity I’ve come up with climbing. It all sounds very positive. The club can fit us in at the times we require. The students can gain their level 1 and 2 qualifications in indoor climbing and it costs slightly less than the archery. Only problem now is whether or not school will give me the funding for it. I don’t see what the problem is as I only need the money I would have had anyway for archery, but for some reason no-one will confirm with me whether I can go ahead and book or not.


Although I won’t be doing the climbing myself I’m sure to pick up plenty of tips for when I do get round to trying this for myself. I’ve put it on my list of things to do as some of my friends are climbers and seem quite obsessed with it. I thought I should give it a go to see what’s so exciting about it. Personally I’ve always preferred to walk and get from one place to another rather than hanging about (literally!) in the same place all day. But I know I shouldn’t dismiss something without trying, hence it’s on my list.


I’ve also been looking into doing my level 3 Basic Expedition Leader Award as this will be useful both for when I’m working on the Duke of Edinburgh expeditions and for when I get around to doing my Walking Group Leaders’ qualification. The course runs over four weekends and costs £325. As it’s work related school would pay for this so of course I’m very keen to do it. The course runs twice a year, once in the autumn and once in the early spring. The autumn course would be best for me, but it’s full. I’ve looked at the dates for the spring course and it looks as though I’ll be unable to do two of the four weekends. I’ll have to try to move things around a bit, but as some of them are holiday things and as working in a school I have to take my holidays at fixed times, it won’t be that easy.


Duke of Edinburgh issues aside, I’ve also been starting to think seriously about my own business. Ultimately I want to own my own hostel and I have very specific ideas about what I want. But now isn’t a good time economically to start that type of business and also it would need a lot of financial input upfront. As I don’t have any track record in running my own business I’d find it difficult to get backing for something like that. So I need to start with something that is cheaper, easier to make a turnover in the beginning and ideally is something I already know quite a bit about.  I’m thinking sandwich shops / coffee shops. Having worked in this kind of business for years when I was travelling and a student it’s the thing I know best. I’m starting to look around at businesses for sale to get an idea of prices and locations. I’m not in a position to do anything about it at the moment, but at least I’ve made a start.


I’ve downloaded a few books on coffee shops, sandwich shops and small business start-ups on to my Kindle. My knowledge is out-of-date and legislation and so on does change so I thought I’d better read up. By downloading the books I’ll also use my Kindle more effectively as I can use the tools for highlighting and annotating and so on, rather than just reading. This means I’ll be getting to know how to use one of my new pieces of technology and working towards achieving one of my 2012 twelve targets at the same time as reading up on businesses.


Another of my 2012 targets that I’m working on at the moment is reading 10 of the books from the BBC Big Read list. At the beginning of the year I set myself the target of reading ten books from the list thinking this would be easily achievable, but we’re now three quarters of the way into the year and I haven’t read any. I realise I need to get a move on if I still want to achieve this goal and so I’ve started reading Arthur Ransome’s Swallow and Amazons.


I’ve also been working on my book database. I’ve catalogued my books up to the letter ‘C’ and already have almost 1100 entries on my database. I knew this would be a mammoth task when I started it, so I’m not setting myself a deadline. It does feel good to be getting on with it though.


The other thing that’s taking my time at the moment is trying to get all my write-ups from over the summer transferred onto my blog. I found using my tablet whilst I was in the Hebrides a good way to get every typed up straight away, rather than hand writing and then typing up later, but I struggled to find internet access. In Shetland there’s lots of free wi-fi and I was expecting it to be the same in the Outer Hebrides. So I have all these posts that I wrote at the time but was unable to publish. I have lots of photos to upload too and really it should be quite straightforward and quick, but my internet keeps playing up and stopping and because I have a rubbish internet company I’m struggling to get it fixed. This means that often when I do have the time and motivation to sit down and starting getting things updated the internet lets me down. As I do manage to upload my posts I’m backdating them to when I originally wrote them otherwise it’ll just be too confusing for me when I look back over them.