You are NOT REDUNDANT

With the devastating impact of Coronavirus on the economy, an unprecedented number of people are facing “redundancy”. This article comes in 5 chapters, the first three of which are to help people deal with the anger, hurt, loss and self-doubt which so many people feel. The last two chapters talk about moving forwards, and re-planning the future.

  1. The Emotional Ambush
  2. Anger & Hurt
  3. Loss, Doubt & starting to Rebuild
  4. Casting away and gathering stones
  5. Planting seeds & enjoying the fruit

I am an empathetic, professional coach offering help with anyone in this situation. Please take a look here :- https://www.moonriseconsulting.co.uk/services

1 : The Emotional Ambush

How does it feel to be told that you are being made redundant? How did that ever happen to me?

You can picture the scene. Anonymous senior managers in secret late-night meetings, sifting through organisation charts with their collection of red pens. The specially chosen employees are marked with an X. Then the redundancy robot is let loose to fulfil its cynical and calculated mission – quietly and efficiently removing those who no longer serve a useful purpose to the company machine. People disappear silently – there are no fanfares or lavish leaving speeches. Their desks are cleared. The essential role they imagined they fulfilled has magically disappeared. “Whatever happened to Dave?” someone is heard to say, “I haven’t seen him for ages . . . ”

How was this allowed to happen? First there was an announcement full of management clichés – which spoke of “downsizing”, “increasing effectiveness” “restructuring” and “realignment”. Words wrapped in carefully constructed double-speak, which tried – and failed – to reassure people without actually telling untruths or creating mass panic or – worse still – lowering the machine’s productivity.

Suddenly HR is everywhere. There are hushed meetings behind closed doors and talk of so-called “consultation”. Suspicion and uncertainty abound. The redundancy robot is doing its deadly work.

Then it happens. A mysterious meeting invitation with your manager and HR drops into your inbox with a clunk. To your dismay and disbelief – you are one of those specially chosen ones heading towards the “Goods Out” door.

How does that feel?

And now Coronavirus . . . 

The redundancy robots have been particularly busy of late. The Coronavirus epidemic has forced companies large and small to examine their cost base and reconsider how many staff they need to run their shrunken business.

Lots of people have already left their employment – or more accurately, their employment has left them. Maybe you are one of them. How will you manage your feelings, and what practically and emotionally can you do to turn and face away from the past to build an equivalent – or even better- future? Because, whilst you may not feel it right now, in time, your enforced loss can become a real opportunity for change and personal development. I have faced redundancy twice in the past, and that is my story, for sure.

The Emotional Ambush

People will be advising you to “move on”, to “look to the future”, to “be positive”. All well-intentioned – and we may not be ready for that yet. But first we need to process what has been done to us. It may feel like a robbery or an assault – something very valuable has suddenly been taken from us without our consent.

There can be at least four big time emotions for us to deal with – anger, hurt, loss and self-doubt. All of them multiplied by the element of shock and surprise.

When my job was made redundant the first time, the anger and injustice hit me first. I was mad with the organisation. Why did it need to restructure, downsize or realign itself? Why did it not respond more quickly to the trading challenges? Wouldn’t the business recover and need just as many people in the future?

If we are angry at the need for any job losses, we are probably enraged about being singled out. After all, we can name a whole load of people who were less capable, committed, and productive than we were. What about Jimmy in accounts or Mary on the Service Desk. Surely they could have “restructured” those people out and rewarded me with a better job? And what about the management themselves? How is it they all get to keep their own jobs? Where is the justice in that?

And then we are furious with ourselves for being stupid enough to work all of those extra hours, put in all of that energy and show so much loyalty to a company which has repaid us with the unceremonious Big Boot. As for that redundancy payment –it won’t last five minutes if we haven’t got another job to go to. Diddly squat to show for all of my years of devotion. How naive and foolish was I to imagine my loyalty would be reciprocated by my employers?

Finally, we may well be incandescent about the way we were dealt with through this whole “process”. Where was the empathy and sympathy? Why did I feel like a discarded object rather than a valued person? Why take me through all those pointless meetings and half-promises about other opportunities when the end was predetermined from the beginning?

Of course, this won’t be everyone’s experience, and in many cases managers are facing a very difficult task with lots of thought, planning and sensitivity (I have been in that position as well). But I’m pretty sure that some of those feelings will resonate.

Changing the Dialogue

We will consider more of how to deal with “anger” and its good friend “hurt” in the next article. But first, if you are in this position, some practical advice to help you align your thinking and guard your self-respect.

Don’t say : “I was made redundant”.

Repeat to yourself : “I was not made redundant, and I am not redundant”

Say to others: something like this : “My role was no longer required in that organisation at that point in time, Therefore, I have left to find other opportunities”

You are absolutely NOT redundant. Far from it. You are a precious, worthwhile, talented and valuable human being. Nobody can ever take that away from you. You now have the challenge – and opportunity – of finding where your skills, experience, strengths and ambitions can be realised in a new situation.

2. Anger & Hurt

I once made a middle-manager’s role redundant. I invited him to a meeting in my office with a proper HR representative. We sat down politely. I made the well-rehearsed introductory statements, placed my well-prepared briefing pack on the table in front of him, his way up, and slowly leafed through the pages, sticking to my script. He listened carefully and calmly. I turned over to page eight – the new organisation structure. He leaned forwards, his eyes darting across the page, scanning furtively for his name. His eyes widened and there was a hint of panic. “And as a result of this process, Brian, as you can see, your role is at risk of redundancy”.

The remaining pages would have explained what would happen next – the fair and considerate consultation process, the personal support, the other opportunities Brian could apply for and – should he be unsuccessful – the details of the fair and equitable redundancy package, the outplacement support. Blah Blah Blah.

Brian didn’t hear any of that or care about any of it – he was still on page eight, still looking vainly for his name.

He stood up, pushed his chair back violently, swore loudly and stormed out of my office to tell as many people as he could what a ******* I was. And I had done it by the book.

Bottling it all up?

Much of our fury is what it is – and we just need to let it out and express it.

I was made redundant once just before Christmas. In the middle of the process, my boss left a bottle of wine on my desk on Christmas Eve with a short message wishing me a happy holiday. I wanted to toss that bottle high up into the air and let it smash loudly and spectacularly all over their desk. Crashing and splintering into little pieces – like I had. I would throw their Merlot blood money straight back at them and leave them to clean up their own mess. That would be one way of literally unbottling my anger.

Anger is often a cloak for different, more hidden and vulnerable emotion. Our anger could well be a cloak for our hurt and our pain. Losing our job can make us feel emotionally mugged, assaulted and wounded. We may feel we have been robbed of our power, our autonomy, our security, our value and our meaning. That is a whole heap of loss. Add to this a sense of injustice, and this will be immensely painful and make us feel extremely vulnerable. And so, we lash out and rail against those who are responsible.

On one occasion, I was so enraged, hurt and upset, I walked four miles home from the office, furiously in the rain, at great speed – literally steaming. It was a great work out in more ways than one. For me, railing at the negatives – and maybe later acknowledging the positives – seemed like the best emotional medicine. Nobody is perfect – my manager and I talked about it afterwards. He hadn’t meant to upset me – and I mostly forgave him.

So, let your anger and hurt have their day – ideally without causing physical damage to anything or yourself. It’s your pain and fury and nobody can take them away from you.

Later, in our more sober moments – you may be more able to assess how fair or unfair the decision and execution were and how much of our anger is justified. The management may well have screwed up, acted without sensitivity, demonstrated scant care and attention. Or they may have done the best job they could given the almost impossible situation they found themselves in.

Through all of this, it is important to protect our dignity and self-respect – confiding in a few chosen friends for support and empathy, rather than telling everyone who does – or doesn’t – want to hear – how hard-done-to we have been. Publishing angry posts on social media, or well, smashing wine bottles over managers’ desk may be something we later regret (I didn’t do it by the way). Anger is best let out in enclosed spaces rather than in public ones.

Throwing pillows or cushions in an enclosed ornament-free environment is quite therapeutic and reasonably safe.

We cannot always control events, but we can always control our reactions to them. And our dignity is the one thing that people can’t take away from us.

3 : Loss, Doubt & starting to Rebuild

The redundancy robot has completed its work, the day arrived and we have finally left our job, or rather, our job has left us.

Much more than Job Loss

Now there is little to get up for. We miss our old adversary, the alarm clock. We miss our frenetic morning schedule. There is no gossip to keep up with, no boss to complain about, no endless “to do” list. There are no meetings, interruptions, phone calls, difficult customer, crises to manage. We used to quite enjoy a good crisis. We are missing the bad, as well as the good.

We are experiencing loss – something very important and meaningful has been wrenched away from us without our agreement. We are not only hurt and angry – we are bereaved.

Perhaps most of all we miss the social network we had unconsciously built up and come to rely on. Of course, we have friends and family outside work, and we will keep in touch with some of our colleagues. But all of that will require effort and organisation. Something which seems far too difficult right now.

In the workplace (at least before Covid) we had conversation on-demand, always available. We could chat about anything at any time – however trivial – and usually it was. Swivel the chair round, meet at the mythical water-cooler, grab a coffee or sit at the same table in the canteen. It was all very easy and undemanding. And now it has gone, and even social media cannot compensate for it.

There are nine “human givens” – the vital things we all need in order to be happy & healthy. These include “security”, “status”, “community”, “competence and achievement”, “meaning and purpose”. Our job gave us a big chunk of all of these. Read that list again.

That’s an awful lot to lose in one go, so a feeling of loss is to be expected. There is no easy therapy, no one magic solution. The thing we want to reverse is irreversible. Remember – loss is not a problem to be solved. It is something to be with and to learn from.

Lots of Doubt About It

Meanwhile, long hours of loneliness and boredom stretch out before us. And because our emotional nature abhors a vacuum, our feelings of emptiness can soon be occupied by yet another unpleasant feeling – self-doubt. Were we made redundant because we failed in some way? Am I not as good at my job as I thought I was? How will I ever find anything comparable?

It may be many years since we engaged with the job market, had a job interview or “sold” ourselves. What if nobody wants us? What if, actually, I’m not very good? The redundancy money will only last so long. Self-doubt eats away at us, nags at us, undermines our self-esteem and takes away our energy.

These self-doubts will twist around our loss, anger and hurt; those four emotional assassins ready to attack us at different times. In the absence of activity, we will have too much time to think, and far too much time to feel.

So here is the good news (you are probably ready for some).

Acknowledging and recognising these feelings is the first step in your recovery. Stay with them, talk about them, don’t deny them or minimise them. Then, slowly but surely, you will find yourself looking in the other direction, forwards through the windscreen, rather than backwards in the rear-view mirror.

Rebuilding and Replacing

You can start to rebuild and replace some of those “human givens” which have been stolen from you. Create a new – more relaxed – routine, with a daily timetable and weekly schedule. Structure is good for us, but remember to build in “me time” – times when you have permission to do whatever you want to. And always good to schedule in some exercise and fresh air.

Then we can warm up a few old friendships and spruce up our social network. We can start to discover a new sense of self-worth by doing things for other people we rarely had time for. We can find some mental stimulation and meaning in other ways – join a book club, start a new hobby, engage in a campaign, write a blog!

Maybe now is the time to rediscover some of those long-forgotten pleasures – like reading, walking, cycling, cooking or simply having a mid-week lie-in. And we have a golden opportunity to spend quality time with those we love, or just like.

It is a slow repair, but if we play our cards right, our days can become full, interesting and useful – but far less frenetic and stressful than they were. We can replace the good, without keeping the bad.

It will take time – we need to process our anger, loss, hurt and self-doubt, but we don’t need to wallow in them. We can start to look ahead more than behind. Beginning to gently rebuild our lives and enjoy all the wonderful things which life still has to offer us, is probably the best therapy of all.

4. Casting away and gathering stones

There is a time to process and learn, and a time to progress and earn.

And, as one philosopher had it – a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather up stones.

Looking forwards begins the moment we know we are leaving. This is an essential part of our emotional health. As we saw in the previous three articles, we need to properly process our anger, our hurt and our loss. But we also need to start to look forwards and to take control. It will do us nothing but good.

So-called “redundancy” is the perfect time to re-evaluate where our very special abilities can be put to best use, maybe in a surprisingly new place or in a new way.

Do not say “I have been made redundant”. Nobody is redundant and nobody can make you redundant. You are a unique combination of talents, energies, values and experiences. We are not redundant – we are indispensable. When we discover exactly where we are indispensable, we will be at our most productive, most energised and our most fulfilled.

So yes, now is the time to cast away those old stones – our old job, our old routine, maybe our old frenetic or tedious lifestyle, and to gather up something new, different and better.

Life is short – and whether we wanted it or not, we have been given a rare opportunity to rethink our future. In hindsight, we may even be ironically grateful to those who “did this” to us.

CV or not CV?

This does not mean spending the next weekend “updating our CV”, signing up to countless job boards and whisking off endless applications. For one thing, this strategy rarely works. For another thing, it misses the whole opportunity to have a fundamental re-think.

Please do not just “update your CV”. So many people search through their files for their last CV and tag the last few years of responsibilities onto the end, add a few well-worn phrases like “Excellent communication skills” or “experience in stakeholder management” and then reduce the font size or narrow the margins to keep it down to 4 pages.

This will not work, will not impress prospective employers and misses the whole opportunity to re-present yourself in an authentic, personal and convincing new way.

It also pre-supposes that you are looking for the same job you just left – or maybe any old job you can find.

Writing Your Manifesto

So, don’t start with your CV – we will come to that later – start with a blank piece of paper. A big one. Divide it into three.

In one section, make an honest list of your strengths, talents and skills. Think of times in your career – or outside of your job – where you enjoyed particular success, what qualities did you bring to that success? Don’t worry about the phrasing – use the words which come into your head – and don’t be too modest.

In the next section, note your bottom-line job requirements – employed/self-employed, contract/permanent, minimum income, maximum hours, location, ethical limits etc. Things which are non-negotiable with yourself.

In the third section, write down the characteristics of your ideal employment – the things you enjoy doing, things which energise you, the type of organisation or business you want to work for. Be imaginative and don’t be constrained by what you have done before.

Talk all of this through with a couple people you trust – until you are happy enough with it to put it on your wall as your Manifesto.

You may be clear and content to look for a similar job to the one you have left. But do this exercise and see what it comes up with. It may surprise you.

After my job was made redundant for the second time, I had no idea what I wanted to do next. I had enjoyed my role – it gave me a feeling of importance and a good salary and I got on well with people. It met all of the “human givens” we looked at in the last article. It would have been easy to pitch back into a similar job in a similar organisation.

But that job also gave me a frenetic lifestyle and feelings of frustration and disappointment. Maybe there was a better balance available? Maybe there was a place I could use my abilities more directly, without forever having to convince other people in the organisation – people who were often more interested in maintaining the status quo or protecting their own territory. So, I added “more autonomy” and “working with positive and supportive people” to my manifesto.

Raising your profile

Now you have your manifesto, you are allowed to spend time on your CV.

As a recruiter, I have read– or to be honest skimmed – hundreds of CVs. I know what busy managers’ look for and I know what they ignore. You can read endless books and articles on how to write effective CVs, but I have five simple tips:- 

  1. Be authentic – write your own CV, in your own style, using your own words and make it personal. Dare to be a little bit different if you want to stand out from the crowd. A truly authentic CV cannot be written by a ghost-writer, you need to write it yourself
  2. Start with your manifesto – include your skills, strengths and values in your summary statement and make sure they are evidenced by what you have achieved.
  3. State your personal achievements and how they benefited your employer or customer at the time. Don’t list endless things you were “responsible for”, or “involved in”. Focus what you actually delivered and the real value you personally added.
  4. Are you pitching as a project manager or a plumber? Do not try to be all things to all men – otherwise your CV will go straight to the “confusing pile”.
  5. Two pages maximum. Your CV is there to get you to interview, not to tell your life story. Otherwise it will end up on the “can’t be bothered to read” pile.
  6. Get someone to proofread it, sense check it and spell check it. Does it make sense to someone who has never worked in your organisation?

Recruiters are increasingly using LinkedIn to scour for suitable candidates. Apply the same six tips to your LinkedIn profile as for your CV. And don’t be afraid to ask people to endorse you and the specific skills you are selling.

And finally . . .

After my role was made redundant, I started to think in a new way. I realised that it wasn’t me that was redundant from the job – it was the job that was redundant from me.

I didn’t need it anymore. It had served its purpose, and we had a good time together, but it was time to go our separate ways. I bid it goodbye, wrote a “dear John”, bid it farewell with a “thanks for the ride” and moved on to a new chapter in my life.

It was a golden opportunity to cast away old stones and gather up some new ones with which to build something better. So that is what I did.

5. Planting seeds & enjoying the fruit

If your role has been made redundant, I hope articles 1-3 are helping you work through your anger, hurt, self-doubt and feelings of loss. In article 4, we started to look forwards, to grasp the opportunity to cast away the old and build together the new. You should now have a Manifesto, a CV and a LinkedIn profile. Links to articles 1-4 are at the bottom of this page.

Well done if you have come this far. You have climbed a hill, and the view ahead is panoramic.

Now is the time to start planting seeds for the future.

Last year I left my big corporate job and started looking for new work. I wanted to do something different and create a more balanced lifestyle.

I set myself the daily challenge of planting 5 new seeds and watering 5 of the seeds I had planted earlier. I bought myself a gardening book – a plain old-fashioned brown A5 notebook. With a fine line black pen, I wrote down which seeds I have planted and where I had planted them. As I nurtured them, I tracked their progress.

A seed is nothing more than a small and simple step or connection which takes us towards our manifesto. As we see our seeds take root and come to life,  we see our garden blossom and grow.

The garden I was planting was to be self-employed, rather than part of a large organisation. I had a number of different plants and trees in my design.

One tree was to provide leadership and team coaching for businesses and organisations. This was fuelled by the desire to give back from what I have learned over many years about good, bad and ugly leadership and teamwork.

I wanted to help leaders to be brilliant leaders of fantastic teams. I know that when leaders truly lead (rather than manage) with authenticity, courage, imagination and humanity, and when teams truly collaborate and work enthusiastically to clear objectives – businesses can be transformed. And everyone is energised and happy in their work.

I also wanted to help people facing particular life-challenges or taking time out to re-evaluate and re-direct their lives. I know when we understand and accept ourselves and those around us, we can learn to make choices about how we feel and react. We can move forwards with clarity and confidence to our chosen positive future.

Alongside coaching,  I set out do some business consultancy (building on my change management and technology experience), take on a worthwhile non-executive director role and do some pro bono charity work.

This was the fertile ground I planted my seeds in, and where I am now seeing good growth and some nice fruit. The “writing a book” seed I planted down the bottom of the garden is struggling to grow under the shade of the other trees. I need to find more light for it.

If you have completed your manifesto, you have your own, personal garden designed and your soil is ready. You are ready to start planting

A seed may be an email, a message, a job application, a Zoom or a phone-call. It may be a partnership with someone else. It might be a book or a training course. It could even be an article or a blog.

Our seeds need to be sown openly, casually, honestly and carefully. Neither under-selling nor over-selling. Being clear, focused and not too demanding. Wherever possible, they should be personal, with people you know and feel a connection to at some level. The more people we meet and interact with, the wider our seeds are blown on the winds of our network – often to places we did not expect.

Gardening

Be prepared for rejection, or worse still silence. Some – maybe many – of your seeds will die on the ground – you won’t even get a response. But don’t be afraid to risk a follow-up. Most people don’t respond because they are too busy. Others may just have nothing for you. Others mean to reply but just forget. It’s less likely that they hate and despise you! But it is frustrating and discouraging to have repeated rejection or silence – particularly after having gone through the rejection of job redundancy. So, I usually follow up twice, and then stop. Surprisingly, the final often does succeed. But if not, simply plant another seed in a different place.

A few seeds will take root and start to grow. An email comes back, you have a meeting. Soon you have a stem with maybe a few shoots. More contacts, more ideas. You follow some of these up. Some are dead branches, some are more fruitful.

I draw these growth lines in my gardening book. Some of them I chose not to pursue because they didn’t fit with my manifesto – or simply seem too difficult right now. Or I may update my manifesto with a new thought.

In the midst of all of this, helping others – maybe in a similar situation – has its own reward. Life is not all about earning money, it is also about feeling useful and valued and in a small way making someone else happy. I’m a firm believer in “what goes around comes around”. The more we help others, the more we get help back.

At best planting seeds is exciting – at its worse it is hugely frustrating. It takes time. Great patience is required. Seeds planted in the hard ground of winter may or may not survive, and spring feels a long way away. But, given time, and with careful nurturing, more than one seed will grow into a tree which will bear some lovely fruit. And of course, in this metaphor – money really does grow on trees.

Many of my seeds have borne fruit – I am now a fully trained and working coach, with a new expanded network, some great new colleagues and friends, and a much less frenetic life. I am still planting and watering. If we stop gardening, the ground grows hard, some of the plants die and weeds start to appear.  

Enjoying the Fruit

Do you pick the first ripe apple, or wait to see if a bigger and juicier one comes up? The financial constraints of your manifesto may give you little option. But be determined to stick to the heart of your manifesto, and compromise only around the edges.

If you don’t, you may find yourself telling your friends with great delight that you are back into employment, in a much better job. But deep down you may be disappointed in yourself. Chances are you will have dropped back into your comfort zone and are simply repeating the experiences of your previous job.

At the end of their lives – or their working lives – people regret less the things they did, than the things they didn’t do. So, go on – be brave – cast away those old stones away and gather up some new ones. Plant some seeds, water them carefully and – when it is ready – enjoy the fruit of your heart and soul.

I am an empathetic professional coach offering help with anyone in this situation. Please take a look here :- https://www.moonriseconsulting.co.uk/services

The Man in the Boat

Out on the sea,
see the boat
rocked by the waves,
but still afloat.

An orange segment,
a wooden half moon,
like a rocking horse rocker,
like the bowl of a spoon.

Dancing on water,
how can it prevail?
No oars, no engine
no rudder no sail.

The dark skies are threatening,
the elements wrestle,
the raindrops like bullets
pour down on the vessel.

And there in the craft
is a man who is saving
himself from sinking,
not drowning, but waving.

Through storms of the world,
and storms he’s contrived,
the man in the boat
has always survived.

“The ancient mariner”,
“Alone at sea”,
“The life of Pi”,
He’s lived through all three.

Secure in his vessel,
he won’t come to harm.
The waves may be wild
but his spirit is calm.

Through all of life storms
he’s staying afloat,
enjoying the ride,
The Man in the Boat.

Istanbul – Finding the Essence

My third and final day in Istanbul, and a much sunnier one. Finally, it was starting to look a little brighter on the outside, if not any more colourful.

Following a jolly five mile dawn run, and breakfast in the Crowne Plaza hotel lounge, I jumped on a tram to the city’s cultural centre and, on the look out for colour, headed for the famous Blue Mosque. Unfortunately, when they say blue, they mean grey with a very slightly blue tinge in the right light. It was free to enter so long as I wore wore trousers, removed my shoes and carried them around with me in a plastic bag. The shoes, not the trousers. Also I was not to be loud, so I stayed silent.

Fortunately for our feet, we kept our socks on and the floor was carpeted. Having said that, I once walked round the big temple in Delhi with bare feet on cool marble, which felt fantastic. But that was in Asia – I was still in Europe. Besides which, the Turks like their carpets.

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Speaking of Asia, I popped over there for an hour or so in the afternoon – once I finally found the right ferry – namely a cheap local commuter boat rather than an overblown cruiser.  It was a short sail across the Bosphorus. Now the sun was out, the sky was finally blue and Istanbul was starting to smile for the colour photographs.

We berthed in Üsküdar – which promised much in the write up, but delivered little in the touch down. All I found was a busy port – with lots of people and pigeons. I lingered a while and opted for the underwater train back to Europe.

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I spent the remainder of my time dragging my poor blistered feet around Topkapi Castle, another monument to Mehmed the Ottoman Conqueror with four large courtyards. Another “massive on the inside”. By now I was rather beyond caring. I was oblivious to Mehmed’s treasures and spoils, and decided not to pay extra to have a look around his harem, tempting as it sounded.

I had ticked off the final Trip Advisor Top Ten attractions. I was done and completely done in. I had clocked up 40,000 steps and that was with four tram rides, a train and a boat. But it was all worth it when FitBit went out of their way to email me to say “not only did you earn the Cleats badge for this massive step tally, you gained a serious amount of traction on the leaderboard”. I have no idea what any of that means, but I am very proud.

So ended my three days in Istanbul. All that remained was to get back to the hotel, repack my little rucksack, take the taxi to airport and try to run down my Turkish Lira.

Istanbul only takes cash. Nowhere accepts plastic. Fortunately there is a multitude of ATMs. I was surprised chip and pin had not made it to the shops. There is no shortage of other technology  with an integrated train, tram and boat transport card and the standard ratio of people with their smart phones. Maybe as a major trading capital of the world, cash just seems more honest and tangible. As for the phones – they seemed to be mainly used for actually speaking to people, which is a little old-fashioned.

And so, as we headed to the airport, I looked out of the window and observed a city in perpetual motion.

Istanbul is a noisy city – people talking, shouting and honking their horns, the whirring of trams and the 5-a-day very loud call to prayer by the muezzins from the mosques. It is a frenetic city – millions of people milling around, pulling overloaded carts, pushing overloaded trolleys and carrying ridiculously large packages on their backs. And the endless rows of small shops selling anything and everything, but mainly, it seems, dresses, Turkish delight and suitcases. There are body parts all over the pavements, displaying various items of clothing. Mannequin body parts that is, of course.

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The other ubiquitous retail offering is the daytime pavement cart outside a tourist attraction – each one selling roasted chestnuts, simit (bread)  and misir (roasted corn). Having said that, at night, I was hard pressed to buy any Turkish street food, walking for 30 minutes before I found a disappointingly chewy chicken kebab.

So all in all a bit like India, slightly less chaotic, with a little bit of European restraint. For example, the drivers seem to broadly follow the road signs and markings, although it seems motorbikes are allowed on the pavement, and white BMWs are allowed in the tram lanes. As we know, there are special dispensations for BMW drivers across Europe.

Despite all of the bustle and hustle, it all felt very safe and respectful. Amazingly, in my three days I was only once approached by someone attempting to sell me something. Whilst there seemed to be a disproportionate number of men in their twenties, in small groups, at no point did I feel threatened. There is a nod to security with scanners to walk through into many buildings, although I beeped a few times and was casually waved through.

People dress modestly, as required by the Quran. A few women wore a hijab, most wore headscarves. The men seemed to wear mainly black tops and blue jeans. Most had beards. Very few wore glasses. All in all, most people had dark or black clothing. I ran in black longs and a black top, not wishing to draw attention to myself (there are very few runners in Istanbul). So I was rather surprised to be encountered by two elderly, chubby men by the sea, jogging towards me topless. Not a pretty sight. European seaside rules I guess. Or maybe they were BMW drivers.

So that was Istanbul. The European Asian fusion, the imprint of history. Grey, scruffy and busy on the outside. Safe and secure. And massive and mainly fascinating on the inside.

Day One – Istanbul in the Shadows

Day Two – Istanbul – Massive on the Inside

More on Turkey:-

Turkish Delights – Day One: Queues and Car-sharing

Turkish Delights – Day Three: Crime and Nourishment

Turkish Delights – Day Seven : Wire-walking around the Pool

Turkish Delights – Day Eight : The Road to Ephesus

 

 

Istanbul – Massive on the Inside

Istanbul aka Constantinople nee Byzantion, is a city which divides geography and history. I am here to try to find its chemistry.

The city famously straddles Europe to the west and Asia to the east. The Bosphorus strait is chiseled between its feet providing the vital sea route between the Black and Mediterranean Seas since time – or at least shopping aka trading – began.

It is divided just as precisely in history either side of 29th May 1453, when Constantinople (as it was then) was seized by Sultan Mehmed II and converted from a Christian Byzantine city to an Islamic Ottoman one.

With such a unique pedigree, one would expect Istanbul to offer a feast of unique European-Asian-Christian-Islamic fusion delights. After all, that’s why I chose to come here.

This was my second day in Istanbul. After its less than impressive first impression, the second showing in the daylight was – well – damp at best. But don’t stop reading yet, even drizzle can have its moments of sizzle. Things did get better. My objective was to tick off the Top Ten Tripadvisor sites.

My first destination was the medieval Galata Tower which pokes into the sky on the European side, with panoramic views across the two continents. I’ve surveyed many cities from a height. Sydney, London, Vienna, Auckland and Paris paint pleasing landscapes of blue seas, red roofs, green parks and multi-coloured parasols. Today, Istanbul offered expanses of grey buildings, grey streets and grey waters. Maybe the rain had washed out all the colours.

The only thrill I got was the familiar vertigo surge in my stomach as I stared over the edge of the parapet. And before you suggest it, telling me not to look down rather negates the point of being up there in the first place. Adding to my anxiety – the lift was small and claustrophobic. I’d have taken the stairs, but they hadn’t survived.

Relieved to be back on firm ground, I strolled along Istikal, the city’s renowned shopping street. A long pedestrianised parade, much the same as say Copenhagen or Barcelona without the pavement artists. I counted the international retail brands until I got bored.

Istikal terminates at another “Top Ten”: Taksim Square. This is an expansive open space, with a statue of grim soldiers and leaders celebrating victory and liberation – de rigeur in most Eastern Europe cities. Nothing too remarkable so far here, either.

I took the metro back to the centre, which was a challenge in itself. Suffice to say, after I had found the correct station, ticket type, change, route and direction, I was rolling. In my experience, all the worlds metros are the same – mind the doors, hold on tight and stand on the right on the escalator. Still I had not found any unique ingredient of Istanbul.

I found them indoors. First of all the covered Grand Bazaar with its staggering array and display of goods for sale – ceramics, linen, leathers, ornaments and lots and lots of Turkish Delight. Not the Fry’s version coated in thin chocolate with the consistency of putty we had as a child. Rather the multicoloured variety dusted in spices, with the consistency of putty.

True to its name, the Grand Bazaar stretches over a seemingly endless lattice of streets and corridors. I thought Oldham market was impressive as a kid, but that was a corned shop in comparison. In front of each stall was a hopeful vendor, unaware that their presence was more likely to deter than encourage sales. I didn’t buy anything, but stole a dazzling collection of technicolour photographs and mentally pocketed my first Istanbul icon.

From here I walked through busy narrow streets to the spice market with its bewildering cornucopia of colours, and scents. When will the iPhone acquire an aroma recorder?

I was ticking nicely through Trip Advisors Top 10. Next up – the Hagia Sophia. A monument to the Christian Byzantine era, it was converted into a flagship of the Islamic Ottoman Empire in (remember the date?) 1453, and is now adjusted for the selfie-collecting tourist dynasty. It has an enormous, frighteningly high and cavernous central dome. Looking up was like looking at the stars. Now we were getting somewhere.

Resplendent with mosaics, chandeliers, pillars and a stone ramp to the upper gallery. I did try very hard to look and notice and not just snap and record.

Ooo

The floors are a magnificent polished white marble. It was at this point, I became aware that my damp trainers were squeaking very loudly with each step. I tried soft pedalling, I tried walking on the edge of my souls. In the end I tried not caring – that worked best of all. Everyone was too polite to say anything.

My final stop was subterranean – the Basilica Cistern, an underground tank built in the 6th century to store rather a lot of water – A bit like the cistern in your bathroom but a million times bigger and without (as far as I could see) a flush mechanism.

I walked down the stairs into a vast underground space, quietly munching a bag of roasted managed chestnuts I’d bought for a pound from a street seller. My trainers continued to announce my presence, like the annoying beepers on a reversing lorry.

“Istanbul – Massive on the Inside” may not be the best marketing slogan, accurately though it would describe the Grand Bazaar, Hagia Sophia and Basilica Cistern. A bit like the Tardis or a handbag. Dull and unpresupposing on the outside? And it got you reading this far.

The cistern is massive – bigger in area than a football pitch and supported by innumerable stone pillars. It is dark but beautifully lit with carefully positioned amber lights. Another massive hit for Istanbul.

I took the tram back to the hotel, and didn’t make a squeak. Tomorrow the sun is due to shine and I’m planning a silent trip into Asia.

In case you missed it: Day one – Istanbul in the Shadows

Istanbul in the Shadows

The night time does not always provide the best first impression of a city. The colours of the day have faded to monochrome, shadows have spread like blankets to smother every flicker of natural light. Only where the darkness has been banished by electrically powered illuminations, can a city be rescued from its natural nocturnal misery.

I landed in Istanbul at dusk. The airport terminal is a magnificent and spacious like a cathedral – and largely empty with not a single person in the passport queue. I soon contacted my pre-arranged driver and was transported in a rather impressive mini-bus into the city. With no WiFi and excessive roaming charges (yes, Turkey never did get to join the EU), I was left with no realistic option but to look out of the window.

The gloominess had already set in, made more despondent by a thin soup of mist. That, and the endless parade of grey tower blocks and factories. Flashes of garish neon signs did nothing to improve the rather depressing first impressions. Down on the pavements, bearded men in dark jackets and scruffy jeans were taking refuge in small bars. Bags of rubbish were already stationed on the roadside ready for tomorrow’s collection, some having burst, spilling their intestines across the streets.

But then, rising out of the gloom, some beacons of hope. A tall stone viaduct illuminated with a warm orange glow. An octopus shaped mosque, standing proudly on a hill, bathed in a soft yellow light. And then, like a small boy putting his head around a door, the moon, low in the sky peeking around one of the taller tower blocks. It shone, as only the moon can, with that eerie silvery pale lemon radiance over the city. There is hope for Istanbul yet.

My hotel has no shortage of lights – chandeliers, standing lamps, table lamps, ceiling lights and four illuminated glass elevators positioned like guards at the four corners of the well-lit atrium. The hotel was originally constructed to accommodate victims of the 1918 great fire. In my room, I found the most comprehensive instructions I have ever read about how to survive a hotel fire. Let me know if you would like a copy or just like the idea of crawling along the floor in a wet towel.

The Turkish restaurant I dined in was also impressively illuminated – resplendent with tasteful interior lighting, complemented by the glow of the hookahs at virtually every table side. I didn’t indulge. Not for any high moral reason, simply because I didn’t know how to. Do you suck or do you blow?

So, my only concession to being in Turkey (so far at least) was to order a chicken kebab from a bewilderingly extensive menu. A bewilderingly extensive menu normally presages underwhelming, mediocre food. And so it proved with my room temperature chicken which could not possibly have been prepared fresh in the 5 minutes it took to arrive.

It was fascinating just watching the locals, whilst absorbing the ambience and inhaling the fragrant hookah smoke exhale by others. Maybe this is why Turkey has no Coronavirus.

The bill – mediocre room-temperature kebab with a side of shredded lettuce and a cola-light – racked up to a just 56 Turkish lira, a mere 8 great British pounds. As I left, the waiter came running after me with my 4 lira change, which I had been quite happy to forgo. I am nothing if not generous.

So maybe this is Istanbul. A busy city shrouded in grey, like so many others. But with a few monuments of light rising above the fog and small candles of humanity lighting up the shadows. Let’s see what the morning and daylight brings.

So what exactly IS coaching?

I’ve just come off an intensive four-day course to learn all about – and try my hand at – coaching. Fifteen strangers gathered in a hotel in the east midlands – with different careers, backgrounds,  personalities and ambitions – but all with the same question. How can we help other people by becoming great coaches?

What coaching is (and isn’t)

So, what exactly is coaching? It’s probably easier to say what it isn’t – it’s not about offering advice, expertise or knowledge. It isn’t about solving other people’s problems or offering solutions. It’s different from mentoring and it’s not psychotherapy.

So, what is it ? Our homework question at the end of the course was “how would you explain coaching clearly and concisely”.  Here is my work-in-progress definition.

Coaching is a meaningful conversation which helps a person solve a problem, make choices and/or take action, through which they can get to a better place.

What a coach does (and doesn’t do)

The first thing to say is that your coach is 100% on your side. They respect you as a unique individual with 100% positive regard. They are there to support to you, encourage you and to be your best professional friend for every minute of the coaching sessions. Typically, there will be half-a-dozen of these of 1 – 1.5 hours each.

However, this is not like the type of friend who offers advice or tells you what to do. A coach recognises that the expert on you in the room is – you! We are all highly complex and unique individuals dealing with fluid and complex situations. It would take a coach many years to understand all of the detailed aspects of our life and personality.

So, the coach is here to listen and ask questions and help you to find your own answers. To help you navigate and drive to the better place you discover you want to get to.

Five things a good coach does

How does a coach do that ? Here are the five key things that a good coach does:-

  1. Listens relentlessly
  2. Holds up a mirror
  3. Shines a light
  4. Asks great questions
  5. Empathises and encourages

When did you last sit down and talk to someone who really listens to you ? I mean REALLY listens? Someone who is paying attention to you, rather than just waiting for an opportunity to speak. Who doesn’t interrupt, change the subject, check their phone or have a meeting to go to? Who is 100% present with you, concentrating and understanding?

A coach will do this for you, with genuine interest and concern. Then, they will play back to you what they have heard, observed and understood. They will hold up a mirror, so you can see yourself and your world, with a perspective you haven’t seen before. They may well shine a light into corners of your head you haven’t looked at or haven’t wanted to look at. But again, all with the intent of helping you, without judgement.

A coach will do this not by providing easy answers, but by asking helpful and searching questions. How does it feel when? What would happen if? What would good look like? What would prevent you from doing this? What would you do if you knew it would succeed?

Throughout the process, the coach is there to empathise and encourage, even when – especially when – the conversation becomes challenging and maybe (dare I say it) emotional.

Better understanding, choices and outcomes

The aim is to help the person being coached to understand themselves better. What sort of people we are, how we react to certain situations, what impact we have on the people around us and how – by greater self-awareness – we can play these out in a more positive way.

This includes understanding our:-

  • goals & values
  • drivers & motivations
  • sensitivities & vulnerabilities
  • strengths and (most importantly) our potential

It also means critically examining the stories we tell ourselves – the self-limiting stories, the assumptions about other people, the over-simplistic interpretations we often make. The things we tell ourselves we cannot do “because”. The stories we believe which prevent us reaching our full potential and making that important next step in our lives.

Once we understand ourselves better, we can make better choices. The outcome from the coaching sessions might be making a difficult decision, re balancing our life, improving a difficult relationship, letting something go, picking something up, making a particular career or life choice. We may decide to change how we behave, or how we react, in order to be more effective and in a happier place.

What does this require of a coach?

We learned a whole load about what all of this demands from the coach – in terms of mindset, skills, and  techniques, and most importantly being self-aware and authentic ourselves. The key is to build a trusting relationship with the person being coached – all in the cause of helping them and serving their needs.

Going to the Party . . .

So many friends assumed I was a card-carrying member of the Labour Party, that I decided I may as well become a card carrying member of the Labour Party. Never one to jump on the bandwagon of a winning team (I’m an Oldham athletic supporter), I decided to join the party at its lowest ebb following the General Election red blood bath. On the positive side, it means I can cast my vote for a new leader. Hope springs eternal.

Jeremy is leaving the building. The reluctant leader, thrust into a position he was as uncomfortable in as wearing an ill-fitting suit. He retires as the tragic, heroic failure; the rebel turned would-be saviour, who was cruelly foiled by the evil press and internal mutiny. A travesty of justice for our man of high ideals and integrity, beaten by lies and misrepresentation. Or maybe, just a decent man out of his depth, or a narrow-minded idealist with little practical or political nous. Probably all of the above.

So how do we find someone to replace him, someone with all of his strengths and none of his weaknesses? Step forward the latest class of leadership candidates – Emily, Keir, Lisa and Rebecca. My daughter and I drove up to Nottingham to hear them gently interrogated in front of a friendly audience.

Unfortunately, the pre-race favourite, Keir Starmer was unable to attend the hustings. So we had the three female candidates lined up before us. Each was asked the same questions, submitted in advance by members of the audience, and had 60 seconds to respond. Like Question Time, except the panellists had to differentiate themselves whilst also demonstrating that they were all on the same side. A tricky balancing act.

84519120_10157140527346819_1422063581511286784_nWe sat through an hour – and whilst I had a favourite, I was suitably impressed with all of them. Each candidate was articulate, passionate and largely coherent. In just a minute, there was little hesitation, no deviation and only minor repetition. Nicholas Parsons would have been proud. They answered the questions they were asked and didn’t interrupt each other. Clearly that is something they need to correct back in the real world.

There was a high degree of agreement on policies and approach. We did not hear anything of left, right or centrist positioning. When asked who they most admired in their past, nobody mentioned Blair, Corbyn, Millband, Smith or even Bevan. They all said their parents (at which point I nodded at my daughter).

Here are some of my favourite quotes from the three candidates:-

  • Defeat – Having a Brexit election was a mistake, we could never change the subject. Labour walked straight into an elephant trap (ET). We failed to make a one-nation argument (LN).
  • Brexit – was was a rejection of an entire political system (LN). People feel just as alienated from London as they were from Brussels (RLB).
  • Boris – he is not a buffoon, he is canny and needs forensic exposure (RLB). Take on Boris’s lies at the dispatch batch. Pin Boris down (ET). I’m not scared of Andrew Neil (LN).
  • The Labour Party – The greatest vehicle of social change this country has ever known. But we are in a mess. We need to be cuddly lefty and winning elections. A working party not a protest party. Professional, competent and winning (ET).
  • Unity – Challenge behind closed doors, pull forwards together. Live our own values. (LN). We cannot have people castrating each other publicly – er I mean “castigating” (RLB).
  • Welfare – The welfare of the people is the highest law (RLB). We need to up our game with emotional support for teenagers (LN).
  • Human rights – need to be at our heart, we need to be a force for good in the world (RLB).
  • Antisemitism – Accept EHR commission recommendations on antisemitism and we can support Palestinians at the same time (LN).
  • Transport – We need to sort out buses and railways. We need to connect northern towns (LN).
  • Environment – We don’t only breathe out carbon we breathe out guilt (ET).
  • Local government – Keep the Preston pound in Preston (RLB). Bring Power to the people. Councils need more money (LN).
  • Internationalism – Stand up and be counted. No trade deals with countries who are not in line (LN). When did we become afraid in the international community? We must apply international law and not get involved in breaching it (ET).
  • Leadership – build the best team and trust each other – fire them if they don’t ! (ET)
  • The Future – I am determined to deliver democratic socialism in my lifetime (RLB). Build the Red Bridge. Create a political consciousness. Have humility and get out to the country. Take arguments at the core not the periphery. Identify what is not there and ask, why not? (LN).
  • Best Tony Blair Quotes – Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crimes (LN). Education education education (RLB).
  • Nice strap-lines – Aspirational socialism (RLB) The world needs our anger not our sorrow (LN). I’m a tough old bird (ET).

Rebecca Long Bailey was passionate, animated and not as high-volume far-left as she had been painted. Emily Thornberry spoke quickly but eloquently, to get as much content as she could into her minute. As ever, she was provocative, belligerent, witty, honest and (for this audience at least) engaging. My daughter described her as “scary head teacher that everyone likes ! Lisa Nandy started every answer with a real life experience, was insightful, calm and more measured, but did a very rousing and heartfelt final speech.

Here is a party undergoing a painful degree of self-flagellation and self-examination, licking its wounds and very realistic about the mountain it has to climb in the next 3-5 years. There is a steely determination to stick to the party principles, to fight injustice, defend the under-privileged and provide equal opportunity for all. A party which understands that without power, very little can be achieved.

Core to this is the realisation that all wings of the party need to work together. A fractured party does not get elected (not that it ever stopped the Tories). The party also needs to be more professional, and to deliver its message better, both in the media and at grassroots level  the people. A need to return to square one, reconnect with the people and rebuild the argument. Until then , as the headmistress has decreed “Nobody leaves the party”. I wouldn’t dream of it, Emily.

 

 

We have nothing before us, we have everything before us

Forgive the slight variation on Charles Dickens, but this is a great thought for the start of a new decade. This is a time to look forwards to the road ahead rather than staring backwards in the rear view mirror.

Our legacy from the past

The past is gone – this is an indisputable truism. Of course, we can scroll back through social media posts and emails, browse through our selfies (or what used to be called photographs) and even read through old diaries (for those of us who keep them). But even when we stitch these together with our memories and communal storytelling, we can only capture small fragments of the past and whispers of thoughts and feelings. Our brains are ruthlessly efficient at housekeeping data which they decide we will no longer need. Which is 99% of it.

What the past does leaves us with, for better or worse, are not so much the individual pictures, words or sounds but the impact of experiences which have shaped our personalities. The past bequeaths us our deepest and often invisible beliefs and feelings. The landscape of our character – who we are and how we behave – has been formed by traumatic glacial events or the constant daily dripping of rainfall on impressionable surfaces – particularly when we were children.

These are the lasting engravings in our minds, many chiselled in the days before we even remember. Those events, those people, those experiences which shaped our personality, which moulded our present day hopes and fears.

When we face the blank canvas of our future, we don’t so easily leave these behind. Whilst the past is gone forever, the one thing we take with us is its profound impact on ourselves – who we are. This is what will determine our future more than anything. For better or for worse.

If we let it.

Our mindset for the future

At the end of last year, I resigned my job and decided not to take up full time employment again in the future. So I have a 2020 diary which is straining to be 5% full. Having spent the majority of my working life with a dozen entries in my calendar every day – meetings, flights, deadlines, tasks and reminders – this is a very scary thought. I have almost everything before me in terms of time, and almost nothing planned to fill it.

A glorious opportunity of course, and one I am very grateful for. The options are endless. Spend more time reading. Learn a new skill. Meet up with neglected friends. Do more exercise. Sleep more. Take a qualification. Write more blogs. See the world.

But then I still have my personality. Those fears and self-limiting thoughts which were formed in childhood and adolescence and persist through the years of adulthood. The difficulty I have in concentrating for any length of time. The need for distraction. The need to be motivated by deadlines and pressure. The fear of emptiness and boredom, from when I was stuck in my room for hours on end as a child with nothing to do. Anxieties about what people think and whether people will like me. The loss of identity and meaning if I don’t have a job title to sit behind. The worry that I have nothing of any reverence to say.

As a manager, I coached my teams in the difference between a fixed mindset and a growth mindset. A fixed mindset is constrained by its past.  It is self-limiting, talks itself out of taking risks and making hard decisions and finds comfort in the familiar. It finds security in keeping things fundamentally the same. It is born out of insecurity, under-confidence and fear.

Contrast the growth mindset, which has learned from the past, but is not its prisoner. It has a ‘can do, will do’ attitude which will risk and even enjoy being uncomfortable. It is adventurous and seeks out new challenges and experiences.  A mindset with inner confidence and belief. It takes control of its own destiny. It boldly goes . . .

Choices we can make

Last year, I did an exercise with my team to show that we always have a choice about how we react to experiences, situations and other people. We can choose not to be frightened, not to be stressed, not to be bitter, not to be envious, not to be limited. We can decide not to be dictated to by those ghosts of our past. We can choose to let go of the baggage we have dragged behind us through the years. We can choose a growth mindset over a fixed mindset.

Now I have the opportunity to test what I said my on myself and to shrug off some of those lifetime habits and default reactions. I already made the big decision – to leave a job I loved, to give up the safety blanket of a regular salary, and to jump into almost empty space. Now the challenge is to shake off the chains of my past, work through the old fears and anxieties and tell myself that I am never too old to learn, to change my thought patterns and to learn new tricks.

So I have signed up for a coaching course and a cookery class, and have a list of 10 other things to have a go at. It’s a start at least.

Of course, there are aspects of our lives which we cannot change – commitments, families, health and mobility. And there are many things we do not want to change – where our fear is more about losing them.

We certainly can’t change other people – despite the fact most of spend a whole load of energy wishing we could or trying to do so. But we can change ourselves – how we are and the way we think about ourselves. We can choose a growth mindset. We can choose not to be prisoners of our past. We can face the future with optimism and positive energy.

“We have nothing before us, we have everything before us.”

Norway Cruise – Days 2-6 : a Week on the Ocean Waves

It’s a strange and wonderful world living on a cruise ship for a week. We are not on one of those massive 3,000 berth Caribbean monster liners with 7 passenger decks, 7 bars and 17 nights of restless B-factor entertainment.

Rather, we are on something of a mini-cruise on a robust Hurtigruten Nordic ship, working down the spine of Norway. Like a slow and deliberate masseur checking out every vertebrae of a mountain and every disc of a port. There are 300 of us, with the occasional educational lecture and one bar – unused by me on an alcohol-free week.

All Aboard the Big Floating House

So a random selection of not-previously-introduced voyeurs are squeezed together for a week into a makeshift instant community. Day One to Day Eight, each day announced like a new day in the Big Brother House. “Day Four – and Debbie is eagerly anticipating the arrival of the cloudberry cheesecake”

Unlike in that ironically labelled “reality TV” programme, in this literally real floating apartment block, there is no overt competition or confrontation. Everyone is polite, respectful and accommodating – at least on the surface. More on that later.

Each day, a different part of the world streams itself live in front of our eyes, as we sail effortlessly from one town to another. We just have to sit back, eat, take photos, post them on Facebook and then count how many people like them. What could be more relaxing?

We were warned that we could be the youngest people on the ship. Well not quite. But there is a majority of elderly couples – particularly German and French – many no doubt retired. The majority clearly enjoy the unlimited food and possibly should be taking the stairs rather than the lift. I haven’t seen any of them in the gym.

There are some folk you notice and keep seeing – others you only spot on the last day and wonder where they have been hiding. As in life.

The staff too become familiar as they too are part of the closed community – just living on a different, lower deck. Upstairs for the elite, and downstairs for the servants.

The Fullness of Full Board

Most people take full board. Otherwise, obtaining regular food would be pretty challenging. There is one shop on board selling chocolate and crisps, otherwise you would be forced to find a shop on one of the stops. Unsurprisingly, nothing is open in Tromsø at 12.30am, or in Trondheim at 7am. Or, it seems is some ports at anytime. Norway seems to have a refreshingly no-fuss approach to tourism. There is no need to open up specially, just because 300 people are landing every day in your little town of 2000 people. If we ignore them, they may go away.

The downside of full board is the constant challenge of having to eat “what we have paid for” even when we are not hungry. Two weetabix at home translates into fruit, porridge, yoghurt, salmon, pickled herring, boiled egg, cheese, cold meat and a variety of salad in a breakfast buffet. Repeat ad nauseam (if not careful) for lunch and then a three course dinner, which becomes a relative light snack, because the food is brought to us, rather than the other way round.

The constant feeling of being bloated becomes rather too much. We pretend it is something imposed upon us rather than self-selected, as we return to the dessert bar for “just something to finish us off”.

Queue the Quiet Competition

I mentioned that people are outwardly polite and respectful. But as everywhere in life there are undercover competitions and unspoken conflicts. With so many people in a closed space, accessing food, facilities and seats – there is the a temptation to jump the queue. This could be the rush to check-in, the dash to leave the ship, the stampede towards the vacant chairs, or the queue for the coffee machine.

Competition is discrete and tactics are well-hidden. Subtle enough that no accusation would stand up in court, “I didn’t see you”, “I thought you were in a different queue”, “I thought I was here before you”. As we checked in, there were two queues with some unauthorised moving between them, people using their suitcases as markers, like towels on a deckchair or a golfer marking his ball. Playing the queues both ways. Or maybe one half of a couple in each queue.

Be careful the person who tries to subtly cut in front of my wife when the waiter brings in the fresh tray of tiramisu. She has tracked it leaving the kitchen on her fine-tuned pudding-radar, and vacated her seat at the perfect time to meet it as it arrives at the dessert bar. Don’t even try to get in front of her – or the just desserts you get may not be so pleasant.

Maritime Mating Rituals

There are many rituals on board. We are invited to wave at passing ships, in some sort of international competition to see which community of passengers waves the most. I have never seen this sport on TV, nor expect to read any of the results in the maritime newspapers. So I leave it to others – mainly Norwegians with flags it seems – to take part.

What is harder to avoid is the exchange of mating calls. Our ship groans out a deep guttural and seductive B flat. The approaching ship moans out a higher pitch perfect C. Like two sea-monsters checking for a mutual attraction. Thankfully, nothing ever comes of it. Swipe left, swipe left.

A Long Time at Sea

Whilst there are lots of meals, quizzes, excursions and presentations on board and frequent stops. But even if you went to them all, there is awful lot of time simply “at sea”. Sailing along for hour after hour through water and time. Every knot is 4 minutes, every minute a quarter of a mile. Time and distance spread out – and the temptation is to keep asking ourselves “what shall we do?” The opportunity to read, write, take photos, social mediate, make coffee are all fine and not to be sniffed at. But there is also an opportunity as the beautiful world passes across our eyes simply to stare and watch and listen and notice things. Look and listen out.

Or, its quite okay to give ourselves permission to be bored and to lapse into lethargy and low-energy stupor. Even to take a nap or watch inane TV. We don’t get the chance very often. So let’s not feel guilty.

Journeys End / Carry on Cruising

And so we come to the final day, when we will all be evicted, with our tummies full, our suitcases re-packed and our batteries recharged, or at least rested. I only took to the treadmill once – for 20 minutes.

Apparently, I have 300 unread emails. So the that particular treadmill is still waiting for me. But for now, we are relaxing for the final time on our final night, watching the satsuma sun sink slowly into the sleepy blue-grey sea. A life on the ocean waves is probably not for me. But a slow week at sea – just cruising along – definitely floated my boat.