30 December, 2013

True Stories

Working as a trainer and coach has its perks. One of them is the collection of stories I get to hear from my clients. No matter what topic we are discussing, from “multilingual development of immigrant children” to “user-centered usability processes” to “information and communication communities”… all we really do beyond establishing some basic guidelines is share stories.

It is my belief the moment someone starts telling a story is the moment they become completely engaged. It is that “Did I ever tell you about…” which presents endless possibilities for surprise, delight, connection, and just maybe a change in perspective. A good story can gives us insight into past events or into the storyteller’s soul.

Most of the stories I hear are told in confidence, but the one I wish to tell now I have been given permission to pass on.

A very settled and staid manager told it, while we discussed different aspects about how to hire young professionals. We started with the question, “If you were giving a job interview to your younger self, would you hire him?” To which he answered, “Absolutely not!”  This led to several twists and turns in our conversation and somewhere along the way, he told this wonderful story:

Did I ever tell you about the night I spent in a Glasgow prison? Well, my girlfriend and I decided to hitchhike around Scotland for a few weeks during our school vacation. We started on the east coast and made our way up north and then west to the Orkney Islands and finally down to Glasgow.

We didn’t have much money to start with and what little we had ran out at the city border. We wre completely broke. Our backup plan was to take an overnight train to London, where my girlfriend’s uncle lived and he said he would be willing to lend us enough money to ferry back to Germany.
When we got to the train station we discovered there was a train strike on. There we were without a cent to pay for room and board.

At that time, I don’t know if it is still so now, but if you were caught sleeping in the parks you would be arrested for public loitering. Since the only option we had was to sleep in the park, I decided to go to the police station and give ourselves up right up front. We walked into the station and I told the officer at the front desk about our predicament and asked him what we should do.

He talked on the telephone with his superior and then made another few calls with other colleagues. He then asked us whether we wouldn’t mind spending the night in jail. Their holding cells were full, but the local prison had two cells we could use for the night. Seemed good to me…

So, an officer transported us to the prison in a police car where we spent a pleasant night in jail and he kindly came back and picked us up the next day and brought us to the train station to catch our train to London.

After note: The storyteller tried the same thing a few years later during a trip to Norway. He and his (new) girlfriend were turned away from the police station. They said they didn’t mind the occasional person sleeping in the park.


  1. Fascinating! I've never heard of such a thing!

  2. The fact that he tried it again in another country makes it even more crazy.