An Open Letter To Berlin

Dear Berlin,

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.

Tales from my travels: 50 Bucks!

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.

Photo by MattHurst

Every kid needs to learn to use a toilet brush

I recently showed my son to use a toilet brush to clean up a mess he made.
Of course he turned his nose up and made the face that says ‘this is a shitty job’. It is.

Life is full of shitty jobs –  crappy things that you sometimes have to do as part of the other amazing, interesting things there are to be done.
Some shitty jobs are cleanups of a mess you made.
Some are cleanups of a mess that others make.
Some  jobs are just shitty.

However they come about – there is learning and character growth in this work. It teaches kids to be prepared to do necessary messy jobs and the humility to value all labor – even that of dealing with crappy work.

My life’s work is to bring up my kids to care about the world and to treat everyone with respect by default. The nature of people’s labor has become a way to discriminate and in some cultures – yes you India! –  it has become institutionalized discrimination. I’m against treating people badly because of what work they do and this is a principle I teach my kids.

Helping your kid recognize they made a mess – in my son’s case a rather unsightly cluster splatter – and supporting them to clean it up is an opportunity to help them grow. It is an invitation to  a conversation about who would do it instead and what that would mean. It is a ticket to explore the bigger idea of what it means to be in a family and the distribution of work in a unit that exists together and individual responsibility in that unit.

When I was a kid, someone taught me to use a toilet brush and it helped me value all labor and to be prepared to do even the stinkiest work and not let that work define me as a human being.

Photo by illustir

Why #Medium is not for me right now

I love the wide group of writers on Medium.

I love the writing experience.

I love the reading experience.

I hate the inflexibility of publishing. – No scheduling, no on-publish triggers to share on social media!

I hate the curation limitations  – collections that take months for someone to read something and decide to add it to their collection.

I hate the SEO-unfriendliness – what’s with the crazy urls that only machines can read. Friendlier names are easy enough to do, why are they missing on a ‘premium’ platform?

I hate that it is closed and unextendable – maybe this is in the pipeline and maybe simplicity is the goal, but still I want to do things with the platform that it doesn’t currently do and I feel frustrated that I have to wait on who-knows-who to build it.

For those reasons, I’m out.

An exclusive invitation to help me decide what to blog next.

I would love your help in deciding what to write next as a blog post. I want to write things that  entertain, inform and challenge conventional thinking.

On the following Trello board are the ideas I have to share – please help me by doing one or more of the following:

  1. Comment: what would you like me to focus on in the post that would be most valuable to you.
  2. Vote: to express your desire to read it if I wrote it. I will ultimately write everything that has a vote on it – the question is when. Though I commit to write a post a week – more if there are higher votes and a sense of urgency (I doubt , but who knows!)
  3. Share: If you are not interested in any of the post ideas but thing others you know might be, then please share my invitation.





Unlock the power in your old blog posts with 3 awesome tools

I have been blogging off and on for about nine or ten years and I seem to have accumulated quite a few posts in that time.

In the early days, I focused on human rights issues, military interventions and the games governments play. In recent times – with the Syrian crisis – I wondered how  I might get some of my older but still very relevant posts out on my twitter timeline for my followers to read. More importantly, how to do this without flooding my timeline or creating more work for myself. More work is bad, mmmkay. I have 3 tools I want to share with you that made this problem go away and best of all are easy to use and free!

Tweetily – something to tweet old posts

Tweetily by Flavio MartinsSo I searched the WordPress plugin world and found Tweetily by Flavio Martins (who you may know as the totally awesome customer experience guru). I don’t know whether Flavio actually wrote the plugin but it has his name on it. Anyway, I installed it and it worked great. With very little effort – less than 10 minutes – I was able to get all my old posts tweeted on a basic schedule  – yay!

Basically you tell Tweetily which posts to exclude by category, the minimum age of posts to include and how often to tweet and away you go. It also has a nifty little feature that lets you prefix the tweets with some free flow text. This is the critical feature that makes this whole setup work.

Buffer – something to spread out your tweeting

Buffer by Buffer.But hang on – I also use the super-easy Buffer app to schedule my tweets, this could pose a problem. Buffer – for those not in the know – is a super-easy app that lets you schedule your tweets so that you don’t flood your timeline, but more importantly , you can optimise when you send tweets for maximum reach. Buffer also does Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+ and

I don’t really want another thing posting to Twitter – that might flood my timeline or need more management!

BufferDM – the bridge between Buffer and Tweetily

BufferDM by @mhsuttonThen I remembered BufferDM – a happy little utility app I wrote to help me add to my buffer account by a twitter DM. Let me explain.

My ideas for tweets come to me in floods, before Buffer I just let that flood flow – not good! I pissed a few people off and they unfollowed me. That sort of tweet-diarrhea stinks.

Buffer made a huge difference for me, but it was still tedious to go to the website or even the mobile app. Typically I just use the Twitter for Mac client. So I wrote a little app that I could tweet a DM to and it would put it into my buffer on BufferApp. I didn’t need to use any other clients and the only decision I have to make was whether to prefix my tweet with a ‘d bufferdm’  or not – I could keep my flow without the flooding. Happy!!

Back to Tweetily. After a few days of using Tweetily I was a little dissatisfied with the timing conflicts of old blog posts and my other tweets from Buffer, but by getting Tweetily to tweet my post as a DM to BufferDM which then puts it nicely into my Buffer queue.

I did this simply by setting my prefix text to ‘d bufferdm’ in  the Tweetily config.

Now Tweetily handles the figuring out of which old posts to tweet and Buffer does what it does best and sends them out in a very optimised way. BufferDM is the pipe that makes it all sing.

I am also noticing a generally increasing readership and a lot more conversations (that I love) on Twitter. When I have the data to prove this, I’ll share.

So if you have some old posts you want to tweet without killing your timeline, try this setup and let me know how it goes.