The joys of transitory groups and individuality

excuse me...has anyone seen our guide!

excuse me…has anyone seen our guide!


Many years ago I had the pleasure of working for the NHS growing viruses and bacteria. We sampled a specimen that had been sent to us for evaluation, broke it down into its cultural components, and then, through careful selection isolated whatever species were needed for further investigation.


By doing so a new group of bacteria was formed, but such a groups were to be short-lived as all too soon the samples we had so carefully prepared were consigned to oblivion once all the work had been done.


That I thought was that, once I had left the NHS, but recent events stirred up such adventures when myself and my wife went on holiday. It was a good holiday, a very good holiday, despite the near inevitable holiday hangover that followed, but while we were on holiday, it was fascinating to see how 30+ individuals came together as  a group before, after 9-10 days, going their separate ways.


The tour itself was a Swiss rail tour of the Bernese Oberland organised by Great Rail journeys , and I cannot praise their organisation and professionalism too highly, despite one or two hiccups along the way, but impressive though that was, along with the holiday itinerary and the alpine scenery, it would have been nothing without the group which temporarily formed.


A curious group in many ways, made of couples from many walks of life, but a strong little group which, forming out of nothing more than shared or at least compatible interests, met, at St Pancras International Railway Station, before dissipating and going their own way at the end of the tour.


Such a group, I thought to myself, as we travelled around, was a triumph of group mentality over individualism. An especially noteworthy triumph as logically, no such group would ever normally form. Just think about it for a moment, as I know such a statement sounds peculiar, but just stop for one moment and think about it, and you may well see what I mean.


In order for such a group to form couples, individuals, or whatever, identify with an activity that all wish to pursue.  They source a supplier for such an activity, pay for that said activity, and agree to start such an activity at a specified place and time. That point of convergence arrives and so it is that the group, often under the careful eye of the tour guide or manager (and yes, there is a difference), begins to form. In the case of tours such as the one mentioned, everyone gets bagged, tagged, and rounded up prior to embarkation, and that is when the group really begins to form.


A shy smile, a glance at a coloured tag, and a few tentative words of acknowledgement and introduction; that’s all it takes to get the ball rolling, but bearing in mind the group is little more than an assemblage of shared interest, it is astonishing how easily such a group can gel. It shouldn’t happen really, as nature and logic dictates that more caution would be a sensible course of action but, all to often, it happens all the same.


“We are not supposed to all be the same, feel the same, think the same, and believe the same. The key to continued expansion of our Universe lies in diversity, not in conformity and coercion. Conventionality is the death of creation.” 


states Anthon St Maarten, and I agree with such sentiments, but even my jaded eyes recognise that triumph can rule over such adversity, and I must admit that I am intrigued, as a bit of as social outsider, to see how such groups both function and form.



Don’t be alarmed though, this is not some learned post about social groups and herd mentality, although readers interested in such areas might like to follow the link provided-click here– . This post  is simply an observational post about how one such group formed, operated and then dissipated over a ten-day period. No names no packdrill, as the British Army once stated, just a gentle reflection about a group of travellers and their tour manager, as, all to often, they peered up happily at the Swiss Alps and their variable blanket of covering snow.


Our group in question (about 34 in number) varied in age over an approximate 20+yr age gap, and was comprised of various social and cultural backgrounds, but we all had four things in common.


  1. We were all looking forward to getting to Switzerland and having a cracking good holiday
  2. We were all hoping that there would be no problems on the tour
  3. We were all prepared to act as a group and, as opportunity and time allowed, to chat away happily, and
  4. We are all looking forward to meeting and working with our tour manager who was to travel with us during the tour


All in all, such points and such aims were negotiated successfully, and I am happy to report that, most of the holiday was enjoyed by one and all. There were one or two problems and a couple of last minute on the spot adjustments, and at times the weather was slightly inclement, but as we all went our separate ways at the end of the journey the overall consensus seemed to be that a good or a very good time had been had by all.


Yet it was still interesting to reflect how the group had functioned during the tour, for, as stated, no such group naturally comes together,and once formed, every such group has to rapidly form it’s own code of conduct or rules.


I suppose we were, in many respects, like any other group, in the way we behaved. We all had our own histories, stories and experiences, and brought together by a common goal we shared our own stories or whatever, and either, at the very least, made ourselves agreeable, or even made new friends. What was interesting for me  however was how such pleasantries were achieved under such a set of circumstances, and how the whole group dynamic was handled by the tour manager who discretely controlled us yet who often quietly stood to one side.


I could be wrong here, but, to me, being in such a group is akin to participating in very friendly chess tournament. As part of the group you play your own game to the best of your ability, and, while interacting with other players, you try and ensure you all have a good time. Your opponent, if all things are equal tries to return such a favour, but organisational and unbiased  arbitrational skills are still needed under such circumstances. Resources have to equally distributed, and that is where a tour manager enters the fray.


Whether or not he or she knows about the game is almost immaterial, for, under such circumstances, skilled operational and resource management is far more critical than specific rules of the game or, in a tour setting, the more individualised and specialised services of a guide, and, in my opinion (for what it’s worth) we were lucky, very lucky, to have her by our side.


Some in the group were not as satisfied with her performance as we were , but, looking back over nigh on forty years of work within the service sector, and having operated at various levels of management, I can only say that I think she did us, herself, and the company  proud.


No such group lasts forever though, and just as it was interesting to be part of and watch such a group form, adapt, and successfully function; so it was equally interesting to see such a group gradually disband. Farwell’s were said, hands shaken, embraces made, and emails , or whatever, exchanged successfully, and of course well-intentioned promises of longer term friendships made, but I wonder how quickly such memories, promises, and fine words will fade.


I doubt whether anyone actually lied to each other on parting at the Ebbsfleet or St Pancras Eurostar Terminal, and if any diplomatic niceties were needed on such an occasion, then I am sure they were imparted in full, but did we really all believe in the words we gave to each other, or was it, in part, only part of the now closing game?


I’m not too sure, and even if I do have my own opinions, I am not prepared to divulge them, or speak for others, but I think it is only right to close with a video about the jungfrau region, and a short word about the one individual who actually made the tour succesful.


We all like to moan about management, but, at times by doing so, we all fail to recognise the good work that they do. In part we made the tour succesful ourselves through our good spirited co-operation and desire to enjoy ourselves, so we were part of a successful equation, but there were certain things we didn’t have to do.

  1. we didn’t organise the all the rail tickets; 28 trains in 9-10 days and for 34 individuals,
  2. we didn’t have to keep the group together through five different countries,
  3. we didn’t have to converse in a an equal number of languages.
  4. we didn’t have to bring the group together
  5. we didn’t have to deal with all the day to day “occurrences” that inevitably beset us, and
  6. We didn’t have to be permanently cheerful and to continually smile


So here’s to a lovely holiday I say. Here’s to both individuality AND to groups that defy all logic and psychological expectations, and finally here’s to all good group tour guides or managers, as without their expertise and enduring patience, such groups and such tours would never survive, let alone see the light of day.


Oh yes, the video. I hope you enjoy it. When we saw it there was much more snow on both the lower and upper slopes of the Jungfrau and its surrounding area; but it was just as majestic and beautiful all the same.











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