All posts by Alex Garrick-Wright



Alex Garrick-Wright reports on Project Octagon. You can read Alex’s personal reflections on the experience in August’s Shetland Life, and see more of Calum Toogood’s stunning photographs too.

In May 2016, myself and dozens of other men were brought into Project Octagon; a dynamic arts/ theatre project that commemorated the beginning of the Battle of the Somme, designed by conceptual artist Jeremy Deller.


1500 men were involved as soldiers across the UK. Each was assigned a soldier who died on the first day of the Battle of the Somme, and given a replica of his uniform that was as historically accurate as possible (the uniforms were specially made in Poland and are to be kept as a set, and rented out for film use).


The vision was for these men to appear in locations around the UK and simply… be there, in that moment. Not to speak or really interact, only to hand out a card with their soldier’s name, details, death and a social media hashtag on it.

Above all was the need for secrecy- the project relied upon people not knowing what was going on, and talking about it on social media using the hashtag #wearehere, which was printed on each of the soldiers’ card. By lunchtime, it had reached the top trending on Twitter and been shared over 100,000 times.


The details of the project- who these men were and what was going on- was only revealed at 7pm, in a BBC interview with Jeremy Deller. By that time, millions of people across the UK had heard of, seen, or had a personal experience of these soldiers.

In addition to involving 1500 uniformed men, a whole network of organisers across the UK would need to be involved.

The Scottish side of Project Octagon was being managed by the National Theatre for Scotland- covering Glasgow and Shetland. The Shetland side was managed by Associate Director Chris Grant, who had the unenviable job of not only finding dozens of able-bodied, military age men willing to take part, but also keeping it secret in Shetland.

Preparation for the 1st July took weeks. Workshop Facilitator Chris Wright trained participants in the formations and movements they would be performing. Costume Supervisor Cara McDiarmid measured and organised the uniforms and props. Stage Manager Lisa Ward liaised and organised with Octagon down south.

Research Facilitator Lauren Doughton looked into our soldiers’ stories, and researched any WWI family connections we may have. In the course of doing so, she discovered two of the Shetland group- myself included- may be related to two of the assigned soldiers.

In addition to this were a whole cast of Costume Assistants, Stage Managers, caterers PR people, and the staff of the National Theatre of Scotland.


The public only saw the soldiers, and that is how it was intended.

Better Than Socks

Fathers can be hard to buy for. All too often you’ll wrack your brains trying to think of something thoughtful yet reasonably-priced, before giving up and presenting him with some comedy socks and a mug proclaiming him ‘Best Dad in the World’. It doesn’t have to be this way.

If there’s one thing that 99 per cent of fathers would love to open on Father’s Day, it’s beer. Now, dad might be happy with a six-pack 
of red tins, but Father’s Day surely calls for something better. The world of beer is one of mind-boggling variety, and it can be difficult to know where to begin.

Well, Shetland Life is here to help. The good folks at Beervana – Shetland’s craft beer and spirit emporium – have kindly provided Shetland Life with a selection of five random beers to review, to help you elevate this Father’s Day from “Oh, socks, how… nice”, to “You are my favourite child”.

Beers Review 3 660

Brown Ale
The Kernel Brewery – 5.6%

Colour: Very dark brown, with very little head to speak of.
Smell: Not very strong. Notes of hop and malt, although nothing jumped out.
Taste: Smooth, fairly refreshing. Mildly bitter, as you might expect from a brown ale. Very nice.
Notes: Nothing out-of-the-ordinary to speak of. The mission statement for this beer seems to have been “make a brown ale that could be used as the dictionary definition of brown ales”.
Verdict: Nice. Nothing fancy going on at all, but if your 
dad doesn’t hold with these new-fangled beers and just likes things old-fashioned, then this is right up his street.

Beers Review 4 660

Pompelmocello IPA
Siren Craft Brewery – 6%

Colour: Pale and slightly cloudy, with a head that dissipates quickly.
Smell: Grapefruit, and little else.
Taste: Very tangy. The fruitiness actually masks the hops, makes it quite hard to taste the beer itself. Initially it seems quite refreshing, as if it would be best enjoyed outside on a warm summer afternoon. However, after further drinking the tartness begins to overwhelm the whole thing. By the end of the glass the citrus flavour had become too strong for this reviewer’s palette.
Notes: The label mentions that it has lactose, so this beer is not for those with a lactose-intolerance.
Verdict: If your old man really, really likes citrus fruits then he might like this on a hot day.



Beer Review 2 660

Holy Cowbell India Stout
Beavertown Brewery – 5.6%
Colour: Black as it should be, nice thick tan head.
Smell: Citrus notes, with a solid malt.
Taste: Very nice, with coffee and chocolate, 
and a slight citrus edge. Goes down slightly 
bitter but very smooth. This is very, very drinkable – not too rich, but just right. A top-notch stout.
Notes: A bit of research concludes that ‘India Stout’ is a made-up term – it’s a chocolate 
stout if anything. The can reflects the Beavertown Brewery’s approach to beer – eye-catching, interesting and colourful, definitely not of 
the old-fashioned “Old Jock’s Speckled Ptarmigan” style of bland beer that was for a 
long time ruling the waves in the UK. No controversial ingredients this time – just water, barley, hops and yeast.
Verdict: Delicious. 
If your dad likes stout, he’ll like this.

Beers Review 6 660

Duchesse de Bourgogne
Verhaeghe Victhe – 6.2%

Colour: Dark brown, light frothy head.
Smell: Fruity and malty, with a hint of prunes.
Taste: Sour. Now, some people like sour beers – lambics and so forth – that originate from Belgium. They are an extremely acquired taste, but this reviewer has never acquired it.
Notes: Despite sitting stationary for 3 days, the beer erupted on opening – it’s incredibly reactive. Massive head, too, that took ages to go down no matter how gently it was poured, making even getting to the tasting stage a trial.
Verdict: To a very small minority of dedicated beer enthusiasts this will probably come as a pleasant surprise. To the majority, however, you’ll need to know your old dad likes this style of beer before getting this one for him.

Beers Review 5 660

Hurricane Jack
Fyne Ales – 4.4%

Colour: Pale, golden. Nice frothy head.
Smell: Light scent of hops.
Taste: Hoppy, refreshing and light. ‘Grassy’ as the beer enthusiasts would call it. A very drinkable summer beer.
Notes: Nice, accessible summer’s day drink. Nothing too exciting, in a good way.
Verdict: With our other beers, there’s an element of “If your father likes “X”, he’ll like this.” With Hurricane Jack, if your father likes beer at all, he’ll like this.

Beer Buying Tips

When in doubt, look for a bottle with a monk on the label. 90% of the time the beer in a bottle with a monk on it will be good – e.g. St Mungo, Franziskaner.
  • Avoid beers with novelty names. Good beer sells itself, and breweries give beers ‘funny’ names when they know the beer won’t shift because of the taste – e.g. Helga’s Big Jugs.
Same goes for beers with buxom or underdressed girls on the label – e.g. Top Totty, Oakham Opportunist.
The more abstract the label on the bottle, the more experimental the beer inside. Expect lots of interesting hops from all over the world. If you’re not used to strong flavours, then this sort of beer might be a bit much.
If in doubt, ask the guys in Beervana for advice or a recommendation. If there’s one thing beer fans like, it’s to be asked for recommendations.

Photos: Amy Garrick-Wright