Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Getting some inspiration

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.

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 connoiseur 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 factory 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.

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 Peeried 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 beaurocracy.

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Jammin', jammin' (hope you like jammin' too)

I should be on the boat to Shetland now. Instead I'm making jam in Manchester.

I want to avoid driving in the heat so had intended driving up to Aberdeen yesterday evening and then catching tonight's overnight ferry to Lerwick, but, the best laid plans and all that ... I keep finding things to do here and although I'm aware that my time for travelling in Shetland and Orkney is ticking away, I'm feeling good about getting so many things sorted out at home. My life is usually completely chaotic with far too many things going at once, and so I end up with piles of papers, books, camping gear, etc, all over my house and feel completely disorganised. For once, I'm working through those piles and getting everything sorted out. I've even been picking all the fruit from my tiny garden (white currants, blackcurrants and gooseberries) and had a go at making jam. For the last few years I've tried this without success, as I always misjudge the setting point and it turns to toffee. This year I've bought a jam thermometer and it seems to work. Finally I have my own home-made jam.

I've had chance to catch up with a few friends as well. Yesterday a friend called round with a bag of goodies for lunch and we were able to sit out in the yard and enjoy a relaxing few hours round a table of salads, garlic bread and home-made lemonade (yep, even had time to make my own lemonade!). And then this morning I was able to have a nice chat on the phone with my friend who lives in Oman. She's just arrived in the UK to spend a few weeks with her parents and if I had left on time, I wouldn't have been able to chat with her. Unfortunately we won't get to meet up, but I'll be seeing her soon enough when I go to Oman in October. I'm already getting excited about that holiday and I've not even got started on this one yet!

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Duke of Edinburgh Weekends

Last weekend was the last of my four Duke of Edinburgh Award expedition weekends. I've been wanting to get involved with this for years and it has been every bit as good as I was hoping it would be. Of course losing four weekends in close succession means I'm knackered and behind with everything else, but I think it was worth it. Even when it's been chucking it down and nearly blowing me off the tops I've still enjoyed it. I've worked with a good team of people and the kids have all been great. We've dealt with issues and problems as they've arisen and I think we've dealt with them well. I'm so glad I've had the opportunity to do this before starting my BELA (Basic Expedition Leader's Award) course in September as I feel really confident about it now. I think I really could enjoy doing this kind of thing full-time - I just have to think of a way of actually making a decent living out of it!