Group dynamics

I have just come back from a classic car weekend away to Spa racetrack in Belgium, staying just over the border in Monschau, Germany.

A tour company organised all the travel and hotel arrangements, plus entry to the racetrack. Suggested routes and itineraries were provided and the rest was up to the participants .

We booked onto the trip with friends who in turn invited others, which made for a little group of 6 couples. Two of the couples I hadn’t met before. One participant brought his new girlfriend.

The weekend was eventful and interesting, as such occasions usually are. Inevitably I observed and reflected, as I do. Ergo, blog fodder is born.

For starters, on the way down, one of the classic cars has a problem. Not unusual, in my experience. In fact, I’ve come to expect it around these aged motors. I make sure to dress appropriately for hanging around on the roadside, incase my partner’s car proves to be the weakest link, as often happens. As you may be picking up, I don’t share my partner’s passion for classic cars, but I go along, “for the ride”, occasionally, because I know it makes him happy.

We pull off at the nearest service station, where the men and, to a degree, one woman, indulge their passion for poking around in car engines and talking incomprehensible car speak. I switch off and eat too many travel sweets, so my teeth tingle.

Anyway, an hour or so passes and still no diagnosis from the car doctors, though lots of theories. Bits of the car come out. I’m thinking how much I would like to get back on the road, as we are only half way and if we delay much longer, we’ll hit rush hour traffic and be quite late arriving at our hotel. My partner is starting to agree with me, but reminds me we are a group and must stick together. Really?

Another hour or so passes and I’m now quite antsy.  If it had been my partner’s car that  broke down, I would have made people drive on because I hate to be a nuisance, feel terrible about spoiling other’s fun and am not good at accepting selfless help from others.

After more than 2 hours, everyone in the group agrees that no-one can fix the car and the owner couple must get breakdown recovery either onwards to the hotel or backwards to the UK, depending on the car problem. Bummer for them, and they take it very well. I’m impressed. My partner and I would have been screaming at each other by now.

Off we go and travel for about another hour or so. A few folk want to pull off for refreshment. I assume this means a drink and a snack, but discover people are ordering full meals, even though we are planning to have dinner on arrival at the hotel. More delay. Time marching on. I just want to get to our destination, shower and eat something savoury.

Eventually we go back to the cars. One won’t start. I saw that coming. More car doctor stuff and car speak (you’re getting why I don’t share partner’s car passion, right?). General consensus – it’s a problem with the car battery and jump leads are required to start it. No-one has any, not even my partner, who generally carries around a garage in the boot of his car.

I see another 2 hours of waiting around by the motorway, so I think, what can I do to help? Off I go around the service station, asking other users if they have jump leads. Not easy, as few speak English, and my French (as we are in Wallonia, the French-speaking part of Belgium) is not up to the description of jump leads. No matter, I will fall back on the fail-safe option of sign language.

So around I go, miming the action of putting jump leads on a battery. People shuffle away from me, with worried expressions. No matter, I persevere, and eventually a Polish lorry driver rummages in the locker of his truck cab and pulls out a pair of jump leads. Bravo to him! The leads are applied between my partner’s car and the crock car, which jumps back in to automotive life. I get a group pat on the back and feel quite pleased with myself. On y va!

We eventually get to the hotel, late and, in the case of those who did not take on food fuel, very hungry and a bit jaded. Guess what? The first breakdown car is there before us. They got recovered to a garage and a clever mechanic fixed them straight up. They did not stop again, as we did, and so beat us to it. They had already had a refreshing beer or two, by the time we arrive. To crown it all, we were so late, the hotel restaurant was closed and we had to walk down into the town to find somewhere to eat.

It takes all I’ve got, not to have a hissy fit, at this point. I have a fierce conversation with myself. Why did we wait around all that time? Why did we not drive off sooner, when it was clear the problem could not be fixed by amateur car doctors? Why did we stop so long again, so that we were even more delayed? Finally, I said to myself, look what happens when you try to help other people and go with the group flow against your personal will. You’re with me on this, right?

Well, here’s what followed. Those of us who hadn’t eaten earlier, made our way into the town of Monschau. We found a cracking pub/restaurant, called the Zum Haller, with a great atmosphere and jolly, helpful staff. Later we were joined by breakdown couple 1, who insisted on buying everyone a drink by way of thanks and apology for the time lost. During the weekend, this lovely couple put effort into organising stuff for the group. They were humorous and sociable, and I was pleased to get to know them.

On the Saturday, I decided to miss a day at the races in favour of exploring the attractive and interesting town of Monschau. One of my friends in the group accompanied me and another lady in the group also spent the day, doing something different. We re-grouped in the evening for a meal together, organised by one of the couples. On Sunday, we all went to the races, split off in a few smaller groups, then all met up for dinner and dancing in the evening and had a great time together. The group dynamic easily accommodated individual choices as well as group activity.

Reflecting on the weekend, as we travelled back, I decided that it had been a success. In philosophical mood, I decided this had something to do with the group itself being successful. Each couple had contributed something to the group dynamic e.g navigating on behalf of the group, making suggestions and arrangements around eating together, buying drinks and, in the case of one couple, buying a birthday card for one group member, whose birthday fell during the trip.

Although I’d had to ignore some personal preferences in favour of group activity and this had sometimes seemed, unfair, I gained as much, if not more, than I gave up. Some personal sacrifice had contributed to overall good. Were we, in fact, a micro society, and was this how societies can become successful? It’s decades since I read Plato’s Republic and I couldn’t make much sense of it, but I do recall he had something to say about how societies shake down together. It’s stretching it a bit, I know, to apply Platonic philosophy to a classic car weekend, but I had lots of time to ponder on the way home!

Of course, it could have been a different story if we’d had one or more people who were a complete pain in the a**.  How would that have worked out? I’ll probably get to find out, as there will be more of these trips. Perhaps more blog fodder for another day?













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