Mike has been building software things for 20+ years, helping companies become better versions of themselves for 7+ years and has been learning and failing with startups for 10+ years.
He is a friend, a son and a brother. He is husband to one, father to four. Mike is a human being seeking joyful collaboration with other souls.
Today as part of my #51days act of solidarity, I shall change my twitter profile to
‘I am Rohingya”
The Rohingya are an ethnic group that live in Myanmar – formerly Burma – they are mostly Muslims in a country that is predominantly Buddhist.
For a toxic mix of reasons – ranging from religious difference, land grab, ethnic hatred to simply being – the Rohingya have been persecuted almost out of existence. First by successive military juntas and now from a democratically elected government itself led by a former political prisoner and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.
The Rohingya seem to be the favorite whipping boy of everyone with power in Myanmar and the world seems mostly deaf and mute to their persecution.
The Rohingya do not deserve to be murdered, their women raped, their leaders tortured and disappeared. No one does. If they have committed a crime – charge and apply the law against them. To the best of my knowledge, their only crime, as a group, is to exist.
The violence and discrimination is both by agents of the Myanmar start under the pretense of security and by private militias with the tacit and often, active, support of the State.
For each of those days,I will change my name on Twitter to reflect a cause I want to support and bring some attention in a small way.
There is so much wrong with the world. There is so much that is right too.
We are each nodes in a big network of humanity and when we refuse to pass on the right or suppress the wrong, we degrade the network. It stops working and it lets the mundane overshadow the truly meaningful.
But I’m only a node and over the next 51 days, I’m going to be a little better at being that.
I’m pretty active on Twitter. I blog about things that interest me, I jump into conversations, I rant. My tweets are shared, liked and retweeted that creates reach beyond the 3000+ people that follow me. A change in name – especially one that provokes curiosity spreads my message. It might just provoke the right action from the right person.
What can I do to help?
Retweet me, like my tweets.
Tweet about this action – if you support the same cause or simply want to support my activism.
Share this post.
Share the messages that have the hashtag #51days – they will be about the issue of the day.
Join me – if you’re on Twitter, change your twitter name in solidarity.
Or simply just share about this stupid thing Mike is doing now.
As I sat with a professional services team at my client, launching into my tried and tested description of what agility means and how to do it sustainably, the last 11 years of my life flashed in front of me and I saw something that I hadn’t realised before. It both scare and energised me.
My typical approach to this particular exercise is to begin by introducing my audience to the Agile Manifesto – the spark of the movement. I remember to use that word – ‘movement’ because I truly believe this is what those who truly do agile software development are part of.
Then I pretty quickly move on to processes (or process frameworks) – the ‘how’. I do this partly because I assume that is what folks want to hear – “enough of this happy clappy, pie-in-the-sky bollocks. Show us the meetings, the artefacts and stuff we can put on our CVs”.
I also do it because I hadn’t really stopped long enough to consume the manifesto, to meditate deeply on it. And that might be because I wasn’t ready.
Well now I am.
As I wrote the 4 value statements on the whiteboard, time stopped. For context, here is the Manifesto for Agile Software Development:
Manifesto for Agile Software Development
We are uncovering better ways of developing
software by doing it and helping others do it.
Through this work we have come to value:
Individuals and interactions over processes and tools Working software over comprehensive documentation Customer collaboration over contract negotiation Responding to change over following a plan
That is, while there is value in the items on
the right, we value the items on the left more.
What actually triggered this epiphany was a simple question:
What would it take to fully understand each of those value statements deeply and live them deliberately – every day and in every facet of your team or organisation?
If you imagine a journey to increased agility was a 12 step program where you couldn’t proceed to the next step without satisfactorily completing the preceding step, then seeking to seriously answer that question would be steps 1 – 11 and mostly like a ‘formal’ process or framework like Scrum or SAFe would not even feature.
Don’t be fooled – this stuff is complex. Take an even modest attempt at going a little deeper into the first value statement – ‘ Individuals and interactions over processes and tools’ – :
Who are the individuals, what are the interactions? How do we know they are the right ones?
What personal and professional skills and competencies does each individual need in order to participate meaningfully in these interactions? How do they acquire and develop them?
What conditions sustain meaningfully interactions, how we create and maintain them?
How do we continuously sense that the interactions are not yielding what they are intended to yield? What do we do when that happens?
This is not a remotely exhaustive list, but they are considerable questions. In my mind, these are not ask-once-and-forget questions, they are to be asked and answered regularly.
There is even an earlier starting point. Do we have the skills to ask the right questions?
Tools like powerful questions, clean language might be useful places to look to gain those skills. I have met far more people who suck at asking the most effective questions than not.
Now I’m not saying don’t do Scrum or use Kanban or XP or whatever the flavour of the month is. But it is very possible that you might do those and not enjoy the agility you seek, worse still you may get lost in process and without a solid understanding of these fundamental first principles you will struggle to regain direction.
I am saying go deeper into these 4 statements. Fight the urge to go into processes and the tickboxes. Do not simply ask questions and pat yourselves on the back that you answered them – actually execute on the answers. Make those answers make a difference to your work and your life.
And oh, if any of your answers is ‘do process X’ , then please consider getting one of these:
I’m tired, very very tired of trying to build startups.
So very tired of starting from scratch with every idea. Of the hustling and the hacking.
I’m tired of hearing people saying ‘No’ and the ‘Oh it’s a great idea but..’.
I’m tired of the apathy – of sending 10,000 emails and having only 10% of recipients read them.
Most of all, I’m tired of the conflict in my head. There are so many ideas and the flow is not stopping anytime soon. I want a way to stop having them. The spirit is like a puppy eagerly prodding me to play but the mind and body is knackered.
These ideas, these pursuits, these startups – however exciting they are and however much I think they are useful to the world, they are stealing my time and that is the only thing I cannot replace.
Sure, I take untold pleasure in each new idea – I totally dance with it and am consumed by it. I won’t have it any other way. That itself takes a toll – it’s exhausting. Conjuring up ways this idea could rock and then building it, that is so so tiring!
I want to give up and take a job in a smallish to medium sized human centered company – or at least one where they genuinely pretend to appreciate my being there and pay me enough money to stay.
I’m tired of making decisions. Tired of being the one that worries how the bills will be paid. Tired of living on a shoestring whilst bootstrapping ideas that rock but don’t sell.
I’m tired of feeling alone in this. Tired of confronting my inadequacies everyday, of doing things that scare me. Of being rubbish at a great many things. I’m tired of learning every damn day. Of things being hard.
I hire people and they are wonderful – but we shoulder different burdens. They seem able to leave the work behind when they log off. They are committed to get their bits done and they care that the idea works – I suspect more because we get on well – but yet – I feel alone. They, understandably are concerned about each part they are responsible for, I am accountable for the whole being more than the sum of the parts.
I’m tired of context switching between the things I have to do to fund the things I love doing. The first is enjoyable and somewhat fulfilling and is entirely about the success of other people. The other is an unparalleled rush – a rollercoaster of everything.
I’m so very tired. Do I rest or do I give up? I don’t really know. I hope it passes soon.
What: Prescription glasses, Prescription Sunglasses online When: 28th June 2016 Address/Website:http://shadestation.co.uk 5 things that delighted me:
Huge choice of prescription specs – I wanted wraparounds
Really affordable. Usually 2 pairs cost me > £250. These cost me £145
Next day delivery of prescription sunglasses – are you kidding me!!!
Awesome communication – the lab called to tell me one pair failed QA tests, they were fixing and sending the next day. Live chat was fast, friendly and answered my query/solved my problem in record time.
All the above + sweets in box + £7.15 discount on next order + £50 Virgin wine
This is a new series of my personal recommendations for products and services that I encounter.
Anything that I write about here has delighted me – not simply a good service or product.
I have 4 simple criteria for a product or service to delight me:
– Suitable for purpose: it must do what I want it to do
– A pleasant experience: my experience of the website, the order, delivery – everything must me smile.
– it’s OK for things to go wrong, but if they do, the process of getting it resolved must make me smile, feel relieved and make me wanna shout with joy.
– Price is price – it doesn’t have to be the cheapest on the market, but if all the above are met and it is great value too – bonus!
Note: I have not taken any payment from any product or service for writing this. And I never will.
In January 2016, I committed to take my dog – Maya – on a really long walk and I committed to use the walk to raise money and awareness for more investment into the medical conditions: Myalgic Encephalitis, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and FibroMyalgia. My best friend and my daughter both suffer from forms of these conditions and they are poorly understood, poorly diagnosed and treated. There are no cures currently for these conditions.
Whether you walk it alone, or you trek with a group – a great walk helps you connect with people, nature and yourself. And in this connection there is so much learning. I don’t know whether it is science or spiritual or simply what happens when you give yourself the time and space to be heard.
Going into this walk, I had a bunch of things to figure out – primarily I wanted time and space to reconnect with myself. I did reconnect with myself – reaffirming what makes me, me and what my focus in life is, who and what are important and more importantly, who and what aren’t. Unexpectedly I also reconnected with parts of humanity that I had silently drifted from and didn’t realise I needed to rediscover and I’m so glad I did.
I learned so many things about myself and people and life on this walk and wrestled with demons that I hadn’t previously made time to resolve. They say that in the woods, no one can hear you scream. There are lots of woods in the North of Spain and I had many opportunities to scream at my demons and them at me.
Then there are the lessons that necessity teaches.
Anyhow – here are some of the things I learned on my walk:
Maya is a Truly Amazing Dog
I consider myself to be a very practical dog owner. There is a power relationship in play between man and dog and whilst I know all the blah blah about trust and loyalty, I hadn’t fully experienced it with any other dog I’ve had, until this walk. I know that Maya considers me her pack leader – who will ultimate protect her from any threat and provide for her.
As far as I know, Maya can’t read a map nor calculate the distance between places on a route. She doesn’t know to plan for a 30km walk with multiple ascents and descents.
This beautiful dog walked with me every step of the way and stayed by my side in the rain and through the mud. Through forests and towns and hard tarmac roads that must have been tough on her paws. She braved her fears – unfriendly dogs that barked terrifyingly at her approach – and she spread her joy by making friends with every person we met.
Whether it was 10km or 30, Maya just walked with me – trusting that I knew where we were going and seeking nothing but having a pine cone thrown in play every now and then.
Vaseline is magic
“Here’s some vaseline – put it anywhere that starts to catch or heat up or rub” – the wisest words a newbie long distance walker will ever hear. My friend Amancio said these to me when we first met and kindly offered me his own tube as a gift.
Long walks put huge strain on your feet, things rub, skin gets bruised and blisters form. All these on their own are bad enough – but when you have to walk every day, suddenly things get rather more complicated. In comes Vaseline.
Every morning of my walk started with a smattering of vaseline on my clean feet – not too much, just enough to rub into my feet and create a protective shield. This shield almost entirely eliminates the friction that causes blisters.
Then when the straps of my 9.5kg backpack started rubbing into my shoulder and my neck – Vaseline again to the rescue.
Fix problems that affect your ability to make progress as soon as they occur
On a walk and in life, there are things you must keep doing to move forward. In life, it seems like there are a multitude of things you need to maintain. You have to look after your health, eat well and exercise for example. Some say you have to keep learning, others say you need to keep an active social life.
On a walk, life is much simpler. The only thing you need to do to make progress is maintain your ability to put one foot in front of the other and walk. I learned that I needed to address any problem that affected that ability as soon as I felt them.
For example – I had new walking boots and the inevitable pains of breaking them in all started to emerge from about the second day of the walk. First I got shooting pains in the sole of my left foot – but I ignored them, put a brave face on and kept walking. Then they got worse, the pain spread to the back of my left knee.
Had I stopped and stretched, applied some balm – as I did on subsequent days (with fewer painful consequences) – I’m sure those first 2-3 days would have been a less injury prone experience.
The cost of stopping and fixing the problem is much lower than the price of being laid out for a day or two.
So now I’m working on understanding what essential things I need in order to move forward joyfully in life and I’m learning to spot problems that will affect them.
I really don’t need very much to be happy
Something about living out of a backpack for 10 days is exceptionally liberating. I packed 4 dry wick tech shirts – they are extremely light and quick drying- 2 trousers that could convert to shorts and a few other items of clothing. But I realised actually I could have packed even half of those items and still been fine.
I was without my laptop, a TV – though I had my phone, I used it almost entirely for taking pictures and keeping in touch with my family via Whatsapp.
Aside from the physical things I didn’t have – I also had much less responsibility. Basically it was to find food for myself and Maya.
Yet the walk was truly one of the happiest 2 weeks of my life. I think as material things go – I’ve never been a hankerer for things – so not much improvement there. This walk has taught me to think about the responsibilities that I take on that I might not need to be happy, it also taught me that there are some things that I had closed myself to – that I now recognise make me feel happy – which I really need to try and get more of.
I never tend to do things because I seek gratitude in return or even an acknowledgement by anyone who might benefit from my doing them. I do things mostly because I want to do them or I see they need to be done. Yet I was completely unprepared for the effect of reading some of the short messages of gratitude and appreciation on Facebook and on my JustGiving page. Hundreds of messages of gratitude for walking for others. I blubbed almost every time I read.
Everyone has their own camino
I was joined at the start of my camino by my friends Helen and Horacio. We had such a wonderful time for the 3 days we were together. We laughed so hard, there were never any awkward silences. There were times we walked in step and other times when each walked their own pace. It was easy.
Yet as much as we enjoyed walking the same route, we each were walking our own camino -both as a physical journey through each person’s limits and challenges and through each person’s mental baggage they needed to work through.
And this was the same for each person I met on the walk. Appreciating that we are not all walking for the same reasons or to the same schedule almost entirely eliminates judgement. There is no right way to walk nor a right way to start or a good time to complete a stage in.
As I apply this learning to life – I feel totally filled with empathy for the journey each person is on – even if they don’t realise they are on a distinct one from everyone else.
The Kindness of Strangers is Powerful Stuff
There were a few times on this walk when I needed help. Especially when things got a little complicated with accommodation with Maya or finding food for her on days when things were closed or in places where nothing was open.
The warmth and the kindness of people who didn’t know me from Adam – people who could easily have said ‘No’ instead of ‘Yes’ – simply blows me away.
It turns out that over the last few years I have not needed the kindness of strangers – most of my endeavours have been very much in my control. Yet on this camino, I put myself in situations where I needed that help and there it was.
From Kepa who happily let Maya sleep in his courtyard – to Manolo in Pobeña who offered to drive me to the next town to buy dog food – I’m convinced these are the people who neutralise all the cynicism in the world by their small acts of random kindness.
Never sleep with a big dog in a small tent
However much you love your dog – and I love mine a whole lot (and a whole lot more after this Camino), there are lines to be drawn.
One such line is never again sharing a small tent with Maya. Aside from the paws digging into my side and the tail tickling my nose, the most unbearable thing were the farts.
Maya is lethal with her farts- though I think I gave as good as I got – and this is made more toxic because of the size of the tent. So if there is one piece of advice I can share – that I learned the hard way – it is never to share your small tent with a big dog.
Now, remember I went to walk. But I did manage to take some pictures too. I’ll add more of my photos as well as some from Helen, Horacio and James when they share them.
I’m deeply grateful to so many people for the support and concern during this camino. Huge thanks to my wife – Katharine – for making it possible for me to even have the time to be away from home for 12 days.
Thanks to these 58 amazing people who backed my JustGiving campaign. We exceeded the target and this money will make a difference to the lives of so many people suffering with ME/CFS/FM. We need research into these conditions and whilst £3000 may not sound like a lot for research, it will fund the activism and advocacy that is critical to agitate for more investment.
The Next Steps
As my friend and Camino consultant – Amancio – says “You’re hooked on the Camino”. I am pretty hooked now on the idea of the camino as a quest, a time to reconnect and as a physical and mental challenge. So now what?
Well, in September/October, Maya and I will be walking for 25 days to complete the remainder of the Camino del Norte from Santander to Santiago. About 600 km. It will be a more informed adventure and, for sure, a lighter packed one.
I’ll post more about it and I know now that I will continue to raise money and awareness for ME/CFS/FM and also to raise awareness and funds for MOAS – the Migrant Offshore Aid Station – who are doing an incredible job saving lives in the Mediterranean Sea by rescuing migrants from capsized boats.
If you would like to join me for part of this longer walk – stay tuned to my blog for news of the plan and the schedule.
If your company/team needs a spark to improve it’s delivery capabilites, perspectives, focus, vision, value system and (no tomatoes please) culture. Then I have a gift for you. I’ll trade you a spark for £500 before 5pm BST, Thursday, May 12th 2016.
If you or your company donate a minimum of £500 to my camino walk for ME/CFS – and thereby help me reach/exceed my funding target of £3000 by 5pm BST, on Thursday, May 12th – then I will come to your company/team on a mutually agreed day in July or August to help you improve how you deliver software or any products or service.
Whilst there is no magic to it – just experience, honesty, empathy , a desire to cut through the bullshit and help your company/team rise to new heights. I’ll bring my experience of working with 1500+ people and 180+ teams over the last 11 years as a coach with some of the worlds most successful companies.
Things I can help you with:
super easy way to plan your releases (or even get rid of releases entirely)
getting pragmatic on just how agile you need to be to get where you want to get to
get *everyone* working together to increase value delivery
focus more on sustainable value delivery versus some whacky velocity
waste a lot less times in meetings
Just think about it – but not for too long – then donate.
Tick tock, thank you.
ps. Open to everyone, everywhere but… I’ll pay my way to Europe based teams/companies. Anywhere else we need to talk about travel costs.
This Saturday – May 7th, my Long Walk on the Camino de Santiago will begin.
As some of you know, I am doing this to raise awareness and funds for ME/CFS research (donate here if you haven’t: https://www.justgiving.com/mhsuttonlongwalk).
I’m doing this long walk because I was inspired by my best friend Joel, who is fighting ME/CFS and also other sufferers of this condition to whom it would be a dream to just set foot and walk for 100 yards.
As an ME/CFS sufferer at home, there are two very easy and fun ways you can “join” me on this walk. You can do both!
First: Participate on the Dedication Day:
(This is kind of urgent – the first dedication day is Saturday May 7th – when I will dedicate 22km of my Camino – so please hurry.)
How it works: I dedicate each day of this 12 day walk to an ME/CFS sufferer – tell your story, share a picture of you that day and help show the world that just because governments aren’t taking this seriously enough, it doesn’t mean it isn’t serious.
This post was written by Maria J Bellido. Maria is an awesome Virtual Assistant who helped Mike plan his Camino. She is super organised and a great executioner of plans and a fountain of creative solutions to seemingly impossible problems. Maria speaks 5 languages and lives in Zaragoza, Spain.
First of all, I need to thank Mike (and Maya) for this challenging opportunity. Walking El Camino de Santiago Norte with Maya really makes a difference!.
Although I began my planning duties in a quite common or ordinary way, I quickly realized that Maya, a 30kg dog, had the starring role in all this walking experience.
No Room At the Inn for Pilgrims’ Dogs
There are many blogs sharing a few experiences and I only have to agree with one statement. Most of the “albergues” – the hostels catering to the pilgrims – are not open to host dogs. They have tons of excuses to say no, even when I only focused in “casas rurales” with plenty of space to camp. They argued that they also had (barking) dogs that disturbed pilgrims during their restorative sleep hours.
After contacting a few of them, I thought it was better to change my mind and start looking for camping places that welcomed Maya.
And issues came up again! Some of the areas Mike and Maya will be walking through are quite small villages, nearly deserted, where only elderly retired people live and campings prefer to chose touristic areas, close to the beach. A good example could be Lezama, 2406 inhabitants. All the camping areas are located at a reasonable distance… with a car… and the purpose of El Camino de Santiago is walking, right?
When all the ordinary options seemed to be too complicated, some other options appeared. Thanks to the magic and fascinating world of new technologies, there are new startups that are putting together all the dog friendly hostels and hotels in Spain and other European cities. After a good research it looked like the most convenient option was in Portugalete or Bilbao.
For the rest of the waypoints on Mike’s walk where official camping options have been nearly impossible, I guess wild and discrete camping becomes an alternative. But sshhh! Let’s keep this between you and me!
Not Planes or Trains, just Automobiles
Maya’s accommodation was not the only challenge.
Mike wanted to drive from Granada to Irún, park the car there, walk El Camino, rent another car to return to his starting point and then finally drive back with the initial car back home. Complicated, right?
We quickly eliminated trains and planes as options for Mike to get from Granada – in the south of Spain – up to Irún in the North. Most regional plane operators don’t allow animals in the hold on domestic flights and for the ones that allow pets on board – they have to be small pets (less than 12kg) and have their own rigid travel carrier. The train regulations were not much help either.
While I was researching car options, I confirmed that whilst Irún is a fantastic place for transport companies operating in Spain and France, it is not a target place for rental car offices. All of them chose Hendaye instead. Although the walking distance between both places is just 4,6 km, we shouldn’t forget that we are crossing the French border. And you know how expensive it is to leave your car in a different country, right?
After a funny chat with Mike, we thought that a good choice would be changing the initial route. He will now be walking from San Sebastián to Santander instead. Another good reason to change the initial destination is that we couldn’t find reasonable options to rent a car in Laredo to come back to Irún. Santander is a bigger place with sort of a world of possibilities.
If you are planning to walk El Camino de Santiago Norte on your own without the company of your dog, you have tons of opportunities to find affordable accommodation at albergues, sharing cars or travel by train, bike or plain. Anyway, nothing is impossible and I think this experience (both walking and planning) will be a good one to remember.
And please, do not forget to join and donate to Mike’s cause here and share your thoughts!
After much research and trying to navigate the various logistic challenges, my final route is San Sebastian to Santander. Covering a total of 255km and likely to last 12 days of walking.
Maya, me and 3 Chums on the Camino
So I haven’t told Maya yet that she’s walking 12 days with me – I mean , I’ve spoken the words but I don’t really know that she understands what I mean. But she trusts me and she’ll go along. Though I’m not entirely sure how long that loyalty is going to last after the second day!
We’ll be joined at various points by friends. My amiga from Germany – Helen – at the start for 3 days, then the lovely James from the UK for 4 days. Poor James is joining during some of the longest walks – but he is a seasoned walker and I’m honored to have him on those long, endless walks.
Somewhere in between the start and end , my Bolivian friend – the ever smiling Horacio – will join for a few days and we will no doubt laugh until we cry!
Tremendously excited to share this journey with 3 amazing people.
So the gear list is almost all provisioned and my packing list is nearly complete.
Tent Sleeping bag Sleeping mat Walking Poles Blister prevention hiking socks Compeed anti blister plasters Solar Charger Night light Penknife
Walking shoes/trail shoes 5 x easy dry/wickaway t-shirts 2 x lightweight walking trousers – convertible into shorts Flip flops 1 x hoodie 5x underpants (or 1 pair reversible 🙂 Maya brush Cagoule rain outerware Packaway pillow 2x Microfibre towels (one for Maya) First aid kit Backpack
My goal by Thursday May 5th is to able to get my tent pitched in darkness and in the rain in 5 minutes or less. It will be like a military drill!
Unfortunately, work commitments have meant that I have fallen behind in my training schedule. So this week – Thursday to be exact – I’ll hike a 24 km round trip fully loaded and a 32km round trip next Monday. Then that will be it!
I couldn’t have gotten this far without help… meet Maria
So I work with my clients on-site 10 days a month including travel time. Then I work 8-12 hours a day of the rest of the time on Amazemeet, Snaptime and whatever else I’m exploring – when I’m not with clients.
I realised pretty quickly that I needed help but had no real idea what form that help should take. So I hired someone who did. For my startup adventures in Amazemeet and the 27 other ideas we have on the list, I hired Clara Bielefeld to be my co-conspirator with a marketing and growth focus (that’s a fancy title for ‘awesome ninja lady’). Clara, seeing my quite obvious predicament as an over-committed person, suggested I hire a Virtual Assistant.
So I hired Maria Bellido – someone with seemingly inexhaustible enthusiasm! She has helped with researching accommodation options, dates and times to things, spoken to hotels and generally provided support that would have been nigh on impossible for me to do as competently and as timely.
If you are ever in need of a superbly organised, intelligent and enthusiastic person to help get things sorted, flights booking, research done, flowers ordering (ahem!) and whatever else. I know just the person.
Did I mention she speaks 5 languages!!
Every single cent of every Dollar or Euro, every penny of every Pound you donate to this walk goes to activism and awareness raising by InvestInME who are in the forefront of fighting for greater awareness and funding by the UK government for ME/CFS research. This disease devastates the lives of the people that have the it and the lives of the people that care for them. You and I can be a rainbow in their clouds.
You can make it easier for them with a simple donation – no more than 2 minutes of your time and less than the price of a coffee and slice of cake.
I wish I could say it was lovely seeing you on my last visit, but sadly not – and therein lies the reason for this letter.
We’ve had a mostly cordial relationship these last 5 years that I’ve visited you – you never visit me – but that’s a different story. My past visits have been mostly enjoyable probably because I met and hung out with friends – somewhat cocooned from the wider Berlin experience.
Berlin, this last visit opened my eyes to aspects of your personality that I was blind to before and I must confess has left me feeling jaded and disappointed.
Your coldness to strangers – even friendly ones.
I know that for a while you have been suffering with Big City syndrome – having 4 million people bump through you trying to make sense of life can’t be easy and that might account for some of the general apathy with which people treat people they don’t know. I saw this with your cousin, London , too. The friendliest Berliners it turned out were the Turkish taxi drivers and the Slovakian hotel receptionist – and they were hard work!
Nowhere is your trademark unfriendliness more visible than at your Tegel airport. Though I cannot entirely blame you for this – pretty much everywhere in the western world is struggling with customer service – it’s almost like the wealthier we become the less we feel we need to treat others with respect and conviviality.
The terrible service at the very points where they should be fantastic is disappointing, for example with the disgruntled airport information person where I was directed because the dull, uninspired, ‘could-not-give-a-flying-fuck’ agent at the Lufthansa desk would not check the gate for her own employer’s flight!
Now you know me – I don’t judge and hardly ever on looks – but your airport sucks. While the rest of the world recognises that a classy city has a travel hub that is enjoyable to go through, you seem determined to keep yours grungy and postwar minimalist. That look might work for some, but it doesn’t for me. I suspect your unhappy airport people might be happier with a nicer , better designed airport building to work in. Just think about, that’s all I’m asking.
Smoking in bars? What gives!?
From London to Lisbon, Dublin to Donegal – the rest of your buddies stopped this disgusting habit years ago. Imagine my surprise when I walked into a cocktail bar to be welcomed by the overpowering stink of burning tobacco. My first reaction was ‘oh these Berliners are rather retro – they even have tobacco scented bars to recreate the old days’.
But no, it’s not retro, it rotten. I gave up smelling like an ashtray over ten years ago and I’m not thrilled to be grabbed back into it without my consent. I’m not ranting about people and their smoking habits – if someone chooses to redecorate their insides with carbonic brown with hints of floral pink – go for it. But we had a deal that you would cut that shit out – I think – and I find you not abiding by that to be in really poor taste.
Now, I’m told this is a special Berlin exception – that makes it all the more galling. It’s like having a pass from the head teacher to be a prick, a license to be obnoxious. Be exceptional in your welcome, even in your cuisine. Protect your weird beers with copyright but please consider falling in line with the rest of the Union on this.
I really was tempted to send you my dry cleaning bill for 1 pair of jeans, a scarf , my shirt and my jacket. Lucky for you I’m bald or I would also bill you for getting the stench of smoke out of my hair. But I’m British and we don’t do that – instead we write strongly worded letters.
Bars that only take cash?
One last thing – and this is not entirely on you though you might think it oddly quaint and traditional. Imagine you took some friends out to a big city and bought several rounds of drinks. When the bill came, you reached for your credit card, only to be told that it was cash only. Now this exact situation happened to me and it wasn’t at all enjoyable and I daresay your bars take a particular delight in delivering said notice. To the tourist – especially the well travelled business types – it feels like a juvenile stunt, a final blow against the capitalist machine – which incidentally you are in the centre of, at least in Europe. All I can say to that is ‘Grow the fuck up’.
It also feels like an extension of your coldness to strangers. Your locals might know this policy, but we hapless tourists don’t and like any inside joke shared in public – it’s not really that funny.
If you insist on having a cash only bar, you might want to also institute a “free drinks if you don’t carry cash” policy.
Come to think of it, you know what is even quainter, cuter and far more traditional that having a cash only bar – people being friendly and helpful and welcoming.
Try that out sometime.
Berlin, I’d be lying if I said my affection for you hasn’t been severely dented by this experience – even more so when I think of all the other places I could be spending my time. Now you have your ways and I respect that. But this experience comes at a time when I am re-evaluating my relationships. Which means that I now think that Krakow, Dublin, Barcelona and most of your other cousins are all lots more fun, definitely friendlier and with a lot less of your point-making. So from now on, I think I’ll spend more time with them than with you.
What is left of my declining affection prompts me to write this, so please accept it in the spirit it was intended.
your rapidly receding friend,
ps. Don’t even get me started on the weird profiling that Air Berlin does with my bookings that means half of my flights involve my ticket being suspended and I have to go to their ticketing desk to be routinely treated like a criminal. My relationship with them is also ending – so no biggie.
We’ve raised £2,128.66 out of the £3000 target and I’ve confirmed 2 sets of friends joining Maya and I on bits of the walk and I’m gradually acquiring my gear.
The route is pretty much all finalised – I’ll publish it on my next post (early next week hopefully) – I’m just finalising the camping locations at each of the stops and Albergue options for my companions who aren’t able to tent it.
I’ve bought my backpack which is a Forclaz 40 Air from Decathlon , holds up to 40 litres of my stuff. My target weight for gear is about 8kg and at the first trial this all fits in rather nicely.
Just this week I completed my first training walk – had to happen sooner or later – here are the details and pics.
My First Training Walk
With just 7 weeks to go until my Camino starts, I need to get some consistent training walks in. I’m targeting about 24km per day during the Camino and my training walks need to be at least that distance – fully loaded with the expected back pack weight, the right shoes and generally the kind of clothes I’ll be wearing. The aim, of course, is to test everything – the kit, the dog and ME!
My companions on this walk were Mark and Giles, Mark’s dog – Luna and my trusty mutt – Maya.
We had a pretty dreary start to the walk – the almost consistent sunshine and blue sky typical of Southern Spain decided to take the morning off but thankfully the rain held off for the entirety of our walk.
From Nigüelas, we took a shortcut to meet the GR7 – cutting out Acequias – and continued upwards until we reached 1260m above sea level and then pretty much stayed on this for 10KM after which we began our descent to Lanjaron. I don’t much mind the climbing, the 5km descent on mostly concrete road was a killer on the knees.
Needless to say, the landscape – inspite of the weather – was stunning and being out on the open road with the promise of beer at the end – well, what’s not to love.
Training is supposed to teach you something and it did – here is what I learnt:
I need layers – when the cold wind blew, my single fleece was just about enough but not cosy. We like cosy.
My running shoes might do for the walk – they are really light but around the 12km they got a little rubby. I’ll know for sure after the second training walk.
Donate and share this post – ask your friends and family to do the same. Also really really important is that you find out more about ME/CFS – the more people ask and discover, the less isolated the sufferers feel and the more we can hold our governments accountable for funding research and effective treatments for this.
I’ve met some of the most interesting personalities on planes. Or at airports.
There is something about the transience of travel that seems to bring out a form of casual honesty.
One such encounter was on a flight from Spain to Boston. As we boarded my connecting fight to Boston from JFK, I took my seat by the window and like everyone else seated, waited on others to take theirs.
It’s My Seat
Seated next to me were a Chinese couple – young and obviously very into each other. As we all waited for the rest of the passengers to make their way to their seats, stow their stuff and belt up, this couple canoodled right next to me – all good.
Then a dude comes up to our seat row and begins a most bizarre conversation with the couple -mostly with the lady. It went almost exactly like this:
Dude: – ‘I think you are in my seat’
Lady – with the embarrassed smile of someone about to ask a favor of a stranger – ‘Yes I know, I have a window seat couple of rows up – would you mind swapping so that I can sit with my boyfriend?’
Dude: “Sure no problem – 50 bucks!”
Lady – astounded and confused – “Pardon me?”
Dude – face as straight as laces — “If you want us to swap seats – I’ll need 50 bucks!”
In the meantime, they are holding up the boarding and the usual announcements are interrupting the conversation – but the pressure is on to conclude whatever transaction is emerging. During this time, the couple are speaking to each other rather quickly and in hushed tones in Chinese.
Then the exchange continues.
Dude – “So lady, what do you wanna do – I need to take my seat”
Lady – “Ok – I’ll pay you $40”
Deal or No Deal
More boarding interruptions and announcements – giving the couple a chance to continue their negotiations – the man is pretty adamant he doesn’t want them to pay.
Lady – “Ok, this is ridiculous. We’re not paying you to swap seats”
Dude – “No problem, please can you get out of my seat so I can sit down”.
At this point the lady gets up, gets her stuff and goes off to take her assigned seat – which was still empty and waiting for her.
This is a lovely spot to end the story. Plenty here to be astounded and ponder over.
The dude sat between me and the man from the Chinese couple whose canoodling was cut short and was clearly not feeling too great about that.
But that is another story.
I recently took up running and had occasion to shop for running gear and suddenly I’m seeing people wearing “sports” clothing everywhere. Most are unlikely to be heading to the gym. It’s almost like when you decide to buy a certain model of car, you start to see that model everywhere.
Frankly I’m blown away by the sheer number of people buying jogging pants and tracksuits or football shirts. And running shoes – fuhggedaboutit.
If I had more of an inclination I would delve into the data of how much the sports clothing and accessories market is worth in Spain and how much of that is really just fashion vs function.
So is Spain more or less sporty than the number of people wearing sports apparel?