"I am no bird; and no net ensnares me; I am a free human being with an independent will, which I now exert to leave you." ~ Jane Eyre
When I was about 12 years old, I wrote a poem about a caged bird. It wasn’t that great; nobody really liked it but me – not even my mother. For me, it spoke more about how I felt when I put the words on paper than what the words actually said. I dumped it, although I wish now I’d kept it as it sticks in my memory like that little grains of sand between the toes after a stroll on the beach.
In my day-to-day life I’m often asked what I do for work all year round: ‘Is this [guiding on the buses] all you do’, or ‘what do you do in the quiet season?’. My life used to be clearly defined, my vocation straightforward – I worked in the local museum, I worked 9-5 Monday to Friday. It was a nice simple explanation that people understood. I went to work and then came home to my family. But I felt like that 12-year-old writing about a caged bird – except now I was the bird. My role now is less defined; harder to explain. I wear several hats, and it takes a little longer to unravel it to people. But that said, I have never felt freer. I no longer feel caged.
I tell my guests that I gave it all up and have never looked back. I’m now self-employed doing tours that I love and writing about all the things that make me feel alive. In January I took over as editor of Shetland Life magazine – a monthly lifestyle magazine all about, yes you guessed it, life in Shetland. I feel now like my life is full of opportunites and adventure, every door that creaks opens unlocks another wonderful experience or opportunity. My mind is bursting with ideas and my heart is full.
I’ve always enjoyed playing with words; dabbling in poetry that nobody is allowed to read, fiction that no one will ever want to read, and the dreary academic stuff that leaves your eyes feeling droopy and your brain aching from the weight of words that you don’t even recognise as your own, all written in an attempt to appear more intelligent, or accepted by your peers. These ventures into academia never left me feeling alive; in fact, the opposite was true; they just left me feeling a bit hollow and unfulfilled.
My blog was a turning point; a revelation of sorts. I could write what I wanted, and if people chose to come along and read them, great. If not, I was left with an assortment of musings and some nice photos to act as a reminder of the motivations that caused me to write them in the first place. I began to feel inspired again.
So, if you are dabbling in words, or worse still, if you are feeling caged, then take a pen and some paper and write it out. You never know what doors –or cages – it might open for you too.
This was never supposed to be a blog post about life. I was supposed to just come here and tell you that I also worked in winter. It was just a little memo I wrote to myself in the notes on my phone while I stood outside in the rain musing about life and philosophising about the road that it takes you down. That road might be bumpy – and if I’d written this a year ago, that would certainly have been the case – but if you remain true to yourself and listen to that intuition that burns somewhere deep inside you, then you too can find that little golden key to unlock your own cage and set yourself free.
Now, for anyone that is worried that I have finally lost my marbles – I’m sure that I’ve dropped one or two along the way – then please don’t worry; my next blog post will be back to basics in a few weeks. But for now, here’s the answer to ‘what I do’; I tour, write and muse.
I’d love to hear from you – what unexpected journey has your life taken, how has it shaped you, and how did you set yourself free?
This was my most liked photo of 2018. An abandoned house in Burra.
This is not the blog post I had planned out in my mind. I had great intentions. I was going to make time, sit and write a meaningful and reflective post about my first year in business; what I’ve learnt and how I mean to progress in 2019. Unfortunately, it’s 5.30 (it's now 10.50) on Hogmanay, there’s a Nerf gun war happening in the living room, Aaron’s trying to make a beef wellington with a running commentary, Lena has been cooped up inside for too long and is bouncing off the walls (literally) and I’ve already poured a glass of wine. Never mind. It actually sums up this whirlwind of a year to a tee. We've never quite stopped and everything has been done at a hundred miles an hour so why change now, at the close of play on Hogmanay?
For me, 2018 has been a fantastic year, super busy and fulfilling, I’ve grabbed chances, been brave and taken risks. As a result, I’ve made several massive decisions and I’m ending the year on a high, feeling happy, positive and proud.
This is a break down of my year — the highlights and important lessons learnt. It's also a chance to share my most popular photos from Instagram (again). An aide-memoire, for my own reference, but also, I hope, for anyone who like me, is at a crossroads and seeking inspiration.
I spent a lot of 2018 talking to people, gathering advice and evidence before I finally took the plunge and made the positive changes I needed to feel fulfilled in my working life again. None of these decisions were taken lightly and hopefully anyone in this position, feeling adrift will find this blog post useful. I certainly found the words of others a great help to me over the year, as I wrangled with my conscience and weighed up various options: A salary, pension, job-security, sick and holiday pay, versus: self-employment, no sick-pay, holiday pay or pension top-ups. Oh, and the lack of security that self-employment can bring. Yet the prospect of freedom and defining my own boundaries eventually proved to be too great a pull. I hope this post helps others make their own brave decisions and take the plunge - I promise, the water's great, you just need to dip in a toe to find out.
First third (January to April):
It was a studious start to the year, a real shock to the post-festive system. The first weekend of the new year was spent (dosed with the cold) attending a (bleary-eyed) guiding workshop. The pace never abated from then on in as I completed the final part of the green badge guide training and worked at the Shetland Museum & Archives. Much of my time during this period was spent chained to the computer, studying, or out in the wind and rain, practising my spiel. The training culminated in three days of exams (orals, coach commentary and walking tour) at the end of April before a nervous wait to find out if I had passed – I did (obviously, or I wouldn’t be writing this blog post). We then had a two week break in Portugal with the bairns before the tourist season kicked off and I got my first proper taste of guiding. I should also apologise to Aaron here — last Christmas he bought me thermals (my long Jane's) and I sulked. They proved invaluable as I spent hours freezing my ass of at Jarlshof in the worst that Shetland's weather has to offer in these winter months.
During this time, I was quietly taking stock of what I wanted my life to look like (both at work and home). It had been a turbulent year with the threat of redundancy looming. Ironically, this was the best thing which could have happened to me. I began the guide training ‘in case’ I was made redundant and when I wasn’t (made redundant) I began to seriously question my purpose in that role (as collections assistant to the museum curators). I had been in the same job for 11 years. Six of them were fantastic, and in that time I learnt a lot, both about our islands (which I love), and about myself. Unfortunately, there was no career progression on the horizon and I got itchy feet. The museum, in those early days, provided a positive start to my working life, a fantastic building, well worth a visit. Whilst there I grew, starting as a fresh-faced graduate I was keen and enthusiastic. Over time I learnt that the world of work is not always a happy one and that people are not always as they seem. That has been perhaps the most painful lesson, and one that I’m sure we all, as adults, have to experience. That said, my time there has given me a wealth of knowledge and an appreciation of our heritage and past which has paved the way for the business I’ve started and my new role. I have also met some wonderful people and made some true friends and it will always be a place I hold dear.
As the first third of the year came to a close, I was already planning my next move. 2018 was set to be the busiest season Shetland had seen (to date) for cruise liner visits, and the days I was at the museum felt wasted – I was chasing the buzz of something more. I needed to feel like what I was doing mattered. My website and blog were underway and I hoped they would be an outlet, a way to share our islands with others, something my job at that time lacked.
Second third (May to August):
This was a busy, fun time, filled with sunshine, laughter and new experiences but also a few down days, spent in the office (wishing I was on the pier, or anywhere else). I remember one of my tutors, explaining to me that when she started guiding, she hated having to go back to ‘work’ after the buzz of showing visitors the sites, and I felt that strongly. Going to the office the next day was like dragging my body though porridge after wearing fairy wings for a day. I would spend a day enthusing a bus load of people about Shetland and the next would be spent in stony silence in a claustrophobic office — it was definitely time for a shake-up.
I launched my website, Shetland with Laurie in June - an amazing feeling — for about five minutes, till I realised it’s not quite that simple. Google wants to know that your website is performing, that your content is on point and that what you’re saying matters before they will rank your site anything above page 3,456 in their search engine — and that has been another massive learning experience of the year. Google rules the world and my website is still not ranking as high as I’d like, despite posting daily, promoting and pushing the blog. However, it’s extremely rewarding to see the natural growth and this is reflected in the weekly and monthly stats. When I published my blog post about Geirhildr’s loch it received an incredible 61 shares which I’m extremely proud of and never imagined when I hit ‘publish’. When strangers stop you in the street to tell you that they enjoyed your blog, the sense of achievement is incomprehensible and it’s a real motivator to carry on. So, despite Google’s unfathomable algorithm I am truly grateful to everyone who has supported this launch and my online baby – the blog.
A busy summer and one that left me happily exhausted in the best possible way. I worked hard, played hard and got married (I'll change my name eventually). We went on adventures, camped, enjoyed barbecues and the bairns enjoyed the best summer holiday weather on record since the 1980s. It certainly was the summer of sun.
Final third (September to December):
As September approached, I thought (and hoped) that things would quieten down a little after the summer and that I’d enjoy some down-time to write, finish the (unfinished) website, tour plan and maybe clean the house? This didn’t happen, the tours continued through to mid-November, the enquiries came in thick and fast, the house was (and is) still dusty. I felt (and feel) as snowed under as I did in the summer.
Then in November, an opportunity to make the break came. I applied to become editor of Shetland Life magazine. I was offered the job and handed in my notice at the museum – closing the door on the past decade of work.
January 2019 is my first edition of Shetland Life and today (the 31st) I signed it off to go to print — a great feeling after all the work and planning which has gone into this, my first issue and the first of the new year. The next few months I plan to do lots of writing and organising so that in the summer I can meet and greet more visitors and hopefully enjoy another summer of sun. Another busy few months ahead.
And as we all reflect on the year which has been, these are a few of the important lessons I’ve taken away from 2018:
I am extremely grateful to many people who have made 2018 a good one. As this is the last day of 2018 I’d like to thank everyone who has supported me, joined me on tour, booked for next year (and 2020), liked, shared and followed Shetland with Laurie – your support means the world. As always, I love to hear from you – send me a message and let me know what you want to find out learn more about. I have very much been guided by my followers this year, and those who have joined me on tours.
And as for resolutions? Stop publishing blog posts after a glass of wine (or three).
Happy New Year, and lang may your lum reek!
Therefore, I thought I would have to confess to how I ended up in the pub on a Friday afternoon. In this particular case, the story involves, 'The Guide, the Drunk and the Thule!'
I love Lerwick, but I could count on one hand the amount of times I've been to a pub in recent years, yet two Fridays in almost as many weeks I've found myself at the bar with a bottle of 'crisp and fruity' (I'll explain that one later). The last time I went to the pub with some researchers we found ourselves sitting in an empty bar with an 80s inspired barmaid and the greatest hits of Abba on a loop (we left when it became evident that Waterloo wasn't on that particular playlist and I'm not divulging which pub it was, I'll leave that to the imagination of the reader). But what is it about the Lerwick Walking Tour that always ends with myself, and fellow guide, Jim Gray propping up the bar, I wonder? Perhaps it's because we end the tour on the pier? Or maybe it's Mr Gray's influence? Or could it just the buzz of guiding? Whatever it is, I hope that frequenting the Thule doesn't become a common occurrence on a Friday afternoon. Thankfully I don't like 'crisp and fruity' all that much anyway.
Now to get to the 'ugly'. I was taking a group of French visitors on a tour around Lerwick. This is a tour that I really enjoy. I love the old streets and this day was particularly busy and the town was buzzing. The Bergen to Lerwick race was in, the sun was shining, and there was a real holiday feel about the street — even the Thule was busy. I gathered the group on the pier and quickly realised that a number of them couldn't speak English and the ship had failed to send a translator. No problem, beautiful day, beautiful sights and they all had cameras. Sorted. Or so I thought...
As we made our way across to the Shetland Museum it became increasingly evident that this gentleman was going to interrupt, and talk over me at every opportunity, and as we progressed along the street, the number of complaints from the others grew. I couldn't help but be mildly impressed by his lungs - I didn't think it was possible to smoke so many cigarettes on the short journey across Commercial Street! Outside the museum, explaining the significance of the Shetland flag, he flapped me out the way. Correcting me, he explained to the group that what they were actually looking at was the 'flag Écosse'. That was the final straw for me. For anyone unsure of the difference, the Shetland flag, like the Scottish saltire is blue and white but it carries the Nordic cross, rather than the St Andrews cross. Funnily enough the door of the Thule shows the Shetland flag - they have it painted on the door!
But, back to the story at hand. Along with Mr Chablis, I also had the Woman Who Couldn't Walk, on the walking tour. Not my day. Anyway, a quick phone call back to the pier and before long, a young Spanish lass appeared from the ship. With our escort in tow, he behaved and the woman with mobility issues was dragged along on the tour without further incident and by the time we got back to the pier, the guests were happy again and I was in need of a drink! We entered the Thule and asked which wines they had and it was at this point that we were introduced to the 'crisp and fruity', which prompted my next question. "What other wines do you have"? "Just this one" the young barman said. And that is how I came to be drinking in the Thule Bar on a Friday afternoon.
No matter what happens in life, It's important to look for that silver lining — it's usually in there somewhere! So, in celebration of this, and for anyone who is interested, please get in touch, and you never know... you may end up in the Thule with a 'crisp and fruity' too.
We've just had the summer solstice here in Shetland. That time of the year when the long days of summer merge together in a haze of soft sunshine and warm breezes which are punctuated with the sweet smell of squill and thrift, a time when the laverock's (skylark) song never ceases and the sun only dips below the horizon momentarily. Or not. This past week has seen the worst weather of the summer so far. Today, Saturday, I stayed indoors most of the day with the fire on, watching from the window as my neighbours braved the wind and rain to have their annual midsummer BBQ (hats off to them, they did it)! The wind has decimated the garden and the few trees which do endure the elements here have been stripped bare of their new, spring leaves.
That said, the bad weather has meant that we've been confined to barracks and this has given me the opportunity to a). finish my website and b). write this blog post. I had planned to launch the website at the end of the season, with perfect content and no typos. However, I decided that if I aimed for a 'complete and finished' product, then I would never finish it, or be brave enough to publish it and it would simply stagnate somewhere in cyber-space. It should be fluid, right? So, that's why I decided to publish it, warts and all! And, wow! What a lot of feedback I've had, I can't thank everyone enough for all the kind comments and suggestions, thanks to every last one of you.
I was feeling very nervous about hitting the 'publish' button and putting myself out 'there' for scrutiny and judgement, so we watched a film about Winston Churchill to take my mind off it. During the film, Churchill's wife offered him up some sound advice and it felt very fitting as to how I was feeling about taking my own plunge into the unknown. She told him, "You are strong because you are imperfect, and you are wise because you have doubts". What better advice could you ask for? And how true it is. In fact, the whole film was full of inspiration, or maybe that was the wine? Whatever it was, it took my mind off my own misgivings.
So here's to the future!
"Success is not final, failure is not fatal. It is the courage to continue that matters"
Today has been another very busy day Guiding! I feel as though I've hit the ground running and it's extremely invigorating! My first season as a fully fledged Guide has started with a bang. On Saturday I welcomed two lovely groups from the Celebrity Eclipse who were making a short visit to Shetland before heading south to Dublin. After appearing at Victoria Pier at 8.15am for duty it was a case of load the bus and go! We went to Jarlshof, taking in the scenery of Shetland's spectacular South Mainland. We were lucky enough to catch a group of seals on Rerwick beach and the guests were in good spirits as Shetland presented itself in all her early summer glory. It was a fantastic day, blue skies and a sun that never abated. Unfortunately for me, the crew seat on the bus meant that I was in full sun and my left cheek went a lovely 'brighter shade of red'! After a jaunt round Jarlshof and 5, 000 years of human history it was back to the town to pick up the next lot of passengers from the pier. Without even time for a pee we were on our merry way again. I returned at 5.15 feeling happy, tired and extremely satisfied that everyone on the tours had enjoyed Shetland at its best.
Today was a similar format but this time, the route was West and the ship was the Norwegian Jade. Our tour involved a stop at Shetland Jewellery and the Scalloway Museum and Castle. The day started with very, VERY, thick fog and between the three lanes and the Halfway House, we could see nothing! Thankfully, I had enough fillers up my sleeve to occupy everyone till the fog lifted. As is the case so often in the summer, Scalloway was basking in lovely, bright sunshine as the east coast lay shrouded in mist. Thankfully my guests were very pragmatic and just glad that they had picked the west route rather than the south on this particular occasion!
A fantastic day - Guiding really is FUN!
Hello, and welcome to my blog. I hope that you find what you're looking for, whether you are planning that perfect holiday or maybe you're from Shetland and looking for some inspiration. Hopefully, there is something here for everyone.