The VIPs in the High Castle

Because one team meetup a year in never enough, the VIP team have met once more. This time it was just the support team and was to be in Scotland.

A castle, to be more precise.


My journey started around 10:40am, as I hopped on a pre-booked train, heading to York. My local station is not far from me so train journeys are nicely convenient.

I’d like to say the whole journey got off to a great start but, well, it didn’t. Although I, and many other passengers, had reserved seats the train company hadn’t (and this is by a later admission by one of their staff) “uploaded the seat reservations”. Thankfully there were plenty of seats but I had an further inconvenience in the form of a small child, seated behind me, that was having a tantrum for a large portion of the 1.5 hour journey. This involved screaming and kicking (hard) the seat in front (mine). Oh, and there was no air conditioning on the train either (or any kind of ventilation) on a hot day.

Thankfully, the next stage of the journey was easier. This was a 4.5 train journey from York to Glasgow. The train was half an hour late, with the train having to be switched out during an earlier part of its journey, leading to us having to spend the entire journey facing backwards. But, the air conditioning worked and I had a reserved seat – I can deal with journeying backwards.

Once at Glasgow Central station, there was a short walk to a nearby bar where I met up with 3 of my fellow Automatticians (surprise, surprise!). After a drink, Simon, who had hired an 8 seater car, took us on the rest of the journey to the castle, including a short ferry crossing.

By the time we got to the Castle it was around 7:30pm and a meal was already present – a delivery from a local Indian takeaway. Curry and rice was my tea and it was much appreciated, after little to eat all day. After eating I headed up the lodge that I was staying in – it’s a short 5 minute walk from the Castle (albeit up hill) and these lodges are, essentially, mobile homes. But the place is nice and I’m sharing with Scott and Musannif. Oh, and it has a hot tub (not that we used it, in the end).

Once settled in, I return to the Castle, checking out the pool and taking part in both ping pong and snooker (both, badly).

One of the things we realised was going to be an issue was WiFi. Long before we left we’d checked out the local mobile networks and found that 3 have a strong, indoor 4G signal in the area. Therefore, mobile hotspots were purchased along with 3 sims. Imagine our disappointment then to find that this wasn’t the case – the coverage was lousy and you had to go outside to get even a weak signal. Additionally, each hotspot only supported about 6 connections and there were 30 of us, each usually connecting both our phone and laptop. This was going to be messy and was a pain throughout the week as a result.

You can’t argue with the views

It was around midnight by the time I returned to the lodge and my sleep was not particularly good. I was awake around 7:30am but not feeling much fresher.


After breakfast, we all got together with a talk from Nick, lead of VIP, and then split into our teams to discuss various personal and team-related questions. This includes coming up with lists of hopes and fears for the year ahead as well as some goals. Lunch, as with all the following days, was sandwiches fetches from a nearby Morrisons. The afternoon was a continuation of the activities from the morning

The agency Big Bite joined us for the evening, and that included our evening meal of Fish and Chips, provided by a local, traditional “chippy”.

One way to really get acquainted with others, in this case Big Bite, is to play a game involving keeping secrets and then accusing each other of being fascists. Yes, we played Secret Hitler which, I have to say, it rather splendid. In fact I got so involved in playing it I didn’t get to bed until around 1am.

Overnight Nick left, as he had a plane to catch the next day.


Dear God was I feeling tired.

The morning was a talk on VIP Go debugging, making use of the various tools we use for data analysis and graphing. During this Big Bite left (not due to the quality of the talk, I hasten to add).

In the afternoon we worked further on our team goals from the previous day but also took the opportunity for a team photo. Or two.

That evening, through a combination of walking and a couple of cars, we headed to a nearby Italian/Spanish (don’t ask) restaurant named Rio. The food was good and considering the number of us that suddenly descended on them, it came very quickly. After far too much food the previous day, I stuck with the healthy option of a chicken Caesar salad.

By this time tiredness was getting the better of me and I headed back to the cabin – for the first time by myself, so I had to actually find my way to it without help. And in the dark. I did it but thanks to Google Maps. I was asleep by midnight for the first time this week.


After a good 8 hour sleep, I was refreshed again. The morning involved talks on the WordPress API, debugging and VaultPress.

In the afternoon was co-working time and a demonstration of the new, as yet unreleased, VIP site.

The evening meal was cooked by some of my co-workers, who’d all volunteered to do this in advance. And, I have to say it was amazing. I had to shake the hand of Matt, who cooked the pork, and, he may be from the US, but he knew what a ‘Paul Hollywood handshake’ was. Dessert was an amazing banana dish, cooked by Andrea, which involved, well, setting fire to it. It tasted as spectacular as the cooking looked.

The evening was a combination of gaming. Like the previous afternoon, I had to spend the evening working (we take it in shifts to cover things off when we’re on meetups such as this). The weather had now turned for the worst so I headed back to my cabin soon after 10pm, where I read and kept an eye on the ticket queues. I’d spent most of the day already sorting through tickets, so I could now feel confident in kicking back and just keeping a lazy eye on proceedings.


Arrgghh, I’ve been bitten. A lot. Stupid insects. I had a couple of bites yesterday so had managed to get some insect relief cream ordered in the day’s shopping. Blessed relief.

Today is ‘activity day’. Some have gone for beer tasting and others have gone for a bike ride. Personally, I’ve stayed behind and relaxed. A lazy final day, chatting with co-workers is a great wind-down, although most of us still end up working anyway. As we’re leaving tomorrow we also took the opportunity today to start cleaning and tidying.

I also organised the groups of people leaving tomorrow, particularly with regard to car sharing. Unfortunately, I appear to have put myself in a position where I need to be ready to go at 7:45am, even though my train isn’t until 11am.

That night we go to an Italian restaurant named Livingstone’s. The staff were friendly and the food was great.


So, up nice and early and off we go. 3 of my co-workers are dropped at the airport before Phil and I are dropped as the station.

First-things-first – Burger King for breakfast (their bacon/egg muffins are like McDonald’s but drier). Then across to Boots to get a ‘meal deal’ for lunch (stuffed gently into my backpack).

Around 10:45 my train arrives and I board, my reserved seat awaiting me. My journey today is taking me from Glasgow to Derby and is going to be 5.5 hours. I’m soon joined by a local family who seem to not understand what reserved seating is (even reading the ‘reserved’ sign but still, apparently, not understanding what it meant. But they did remove all the reserved signs from their seats which causes much mayhem later). Grated cheese sandwiches and doughnuts later, they leave, having thoroughly smeared jam across the window and strewn  cheese across the table. Oh, and the youngest thought bashing his toys against my laptop was a great game too. When, later, the people who had reserved the seats boarded, I suspect they wondered what I’d been up to.

Anyway, noise reduction headphones are a blessing and many, many podcasts (and one full bladder) later I arrive at Derby. I text my wife to let her know I’m there and hope aboard a 10 minute train back home, where she and my daughter are waiting. It’s good to be home but I had a great week with my fellow VIP team.

Thanks to all my co-workers, not only for a great week, but for many of the photos (and the video) included above.

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