The ramblings of a travelling consultant, episode 9
I don’t get out much these days. Global pandemics tend to curtail one’s business travel, I find. Which is unfortunate for a couple of reasons, aside from the obvious one that pandemics can be bad for your health. Firstly it means I’m not getting to meet with my clients in the flesh – Zoom and Teams (other online collaboration tools are available) are all very well but they have their limitations. Secondly it means I’m not going to be writing any new episodes of my ‘Ramblings of a Travelling Consultant’ blogs anytime soon.
So I had a mooch through my drafts folder, rootled around amongst the partially-written ramblings languishing there and unearthed this one, which, but for the prevailing situation, would probably have remained buried, never to see the light of day…
We all have days when things don’t go quite as well we’d like. This particular day was definitely ‘one of those days’.
On the day in question, I toddled off, suited and booted, to London to deliver a crisis media communications course, along with a colleague, to a client. It was an afternoon gig, so I caught a slightly later train than the more usual silly-o’clock one. As the ticket office was closed I bought my ticket on the train and noticed that the fare was quite a bit less than usual. On querying this, it transpired that the train manager had sold me an off-peak ticket. No problem though, as he pointed out that I could just pay the difference if I caught a peak-time train back.
Whilst on the train I emailed my client to confirm that lunch wasn’t being laid on. It wasn’t, so I made a mental note to pick up something on the way and sent a message to my colleague, who was travelling from a different direction, to do likewise. So far, so good.
All went reasonably well with the train journey and I arrived at Paddington station a fairly standard seven minutes late, with a fairly standard excuse trotted out by the train company. Operating on auto-pilot, I walked to the underground platform to catch my usual tube train. The trouble was, I wasn’t making my usual journey and was therefore on the wrong platform, on the wrong line, in the wrong part of the station. In fact, the platform I actually wanted was about as far away as it was possible to get whilst remaining in the confines of Paddington station. Fifteen minutes later, after a lengthy walk, following which I missed one train by precisely two and a half seconds, I boarded the next one. The problem was, it wasn’t the correct one. This time I’d been on the right platform but had boarded the wrong train on the wrong line. No problem, I thought, I’ll just get off in a couple of stops and catch another train on another line to Earl’s Court, where I’d meet up with my colleague and change trains again in order to get to my destination. Are you still with me?
If you’re not a London underground anorak you can ignore this bit, but I wanted to explain, just in case there’s anyone who’s desperate to know, that I’d intended to take the District line to Earl’s Court where I’d change trains in order to get to my final destination. However, I’d actually boarded a Circle Line train that didn’t go to Earl’s Court, so I got off at South Kensington, where I got on a District Line train to Earl’s Court. Simple.
I made it to Earl’s Court. Just one more train, two more stops, a five minute walk and I’d be there, just about on time. My phone buzzed and displayed a message from my colleague, saying he’d taken a different route due to the announcement of severe delays to trains heading west from Earl’s Court. I looked at the departures board, which said it was seven minutes ’til my train arrived. Not too bad, after all. I looked again a few minutes later and it was down to six minutes. Then two minutes later it was back up to seven minutes, where it remained for the next five minutes. Ever the optimist, I gave it a few more minutes, at which point it still said seven minutes, so I baled out and went in search of a taxi.
Several taxis went past, all with passengers in them. Then I saw one with its light on, indicating that it was available. As I raised my hand to flag it down, a lady (and I use that term loosely), nipped in front of me and usurped what was, by all the laws of taxi-flagging etiquette, my taxi. I resisted the urge to rugby tackle her – partly because it would have been unseemly, partly because she’d taken a couple of steps towards the (or, rather, my) taxi so it would have required a full-length dive, which would almost certainly have resulted in me injuring myself, and partly because the last time I played rugby was a very, very long time ago and I had no idea how to actually do it. It took another five minutes for another available taxi to arrive, during which time I was constantly looking over my shoulder for other potential usurpers. I jumped in, told the driver the address and we headed off. Two minutes later we were stuck in traffic.
I called my colleague and completely misunderstood what he said about having sorted out lunch. I thought he said he’d got something for me, whereas what he actually said was that he’d got something for himself. So he was fine, whereas I was now unwittingly lunch-less.
I eventually arrived at the office to discover several dollops of bird poo on my jacket. I racked my brains trying to think where this might have happened as I’d had my overcoat on for most of the journey across London, only taking it off for a few minutes while waiting for my colleague outside the client’s office. Stranger still, said poo had been deposited around the side pocket area of my jacket, not on the more typical shoulder area or back as one would usually expect – not that I study these things in any great detail, you understand. I could only conclude the the offending pigeon had executed some impressive aerobatic manoeuvre before depositing its payload, possibly to win a bet with one of its mates, or I’d brushed against some previously strafed wall or lamppost. Either way, it was a bit of a surprise, and a teeny bit embarrassing.
The exercise went fine, thanks for asking, and I was pretty sure that no-one else had heard my rumbling stomach or spotted my poo-spotted jacket. My journey back to Paddington was event-free. Sadly, the same can’t be said for my journey home from Paddington. I got to the ticket barrier five minutes before my train was due to depart and inserted my ticket into the slot, only for the gate to remain resolutely closed. I tried again with the same result. Just for good measure, I tried a third time, now aware of the beginnings of a grumble behind me. The gate still refused to budge so I backed up, apologised to the grumbler and looked around for a station employee. I spotted one nearby, who grumpily informed me that I had to buy my upgrade before getting on the train, at which point he melted into the ether. So I missed my train and had to wait an hour for the next one. At least I had time to buy a sandwich.
Unfortunately, the next train broke down halfway home and somehow managed to limp slowly backwards into Oxford station, where we were all booted off. To cut an already long story short, I spent several hours in Oxford waiting for another train, which never came. So I ended up getting a bus to a village about twenty miles from where I live and dragging poor Mrs Oz out in the now torrential rain to pick me up, finally arriving home way past my bedtime.
No matter how well me may think we know our plans, it’s as well to refer to them occasionally, if only to review our progress against them from time to time.
That’s not to say that we should necessarily follow them rigidly 100% of the time. “No plan survives contact with the enemy” (or one of several variations thereof) is an often-repeated quote, attributed to various military leaders. Whether is was coined by Napoleon, Helmuth von Moltke (the Elder or the Younger), the Duke of Wellington or some other general, the sentiment certainly applies to the activation of our crisis/incident management plans, which are unlikely to fit the prevailing situation precisely.
However, whilst it’s essential to be able to exercise a degree of flexibility in the execution of our plans, there are sometimes elements that need to be followed precisely in order to avoid misunderstandings or ambiguities. Examples might include technical recovery scripts, specific communications protocols or explicit processes.
Oh, the joys of business travel! In some ways I’m quite pleased not to be doing so much of it at the moment, as I can’t help thinking I have more than my fair share of ‘those days’ when I’m out and about. Maybe it’s just me, though, so do post a comment and let me know if you have any of your own ‘one of those days’ stories that you’d like to share.
Agree? Disagree? Want to share your own thoughts or opinions?
Leave a reply (below) and let me know what you think.
Andy Osborne (known as Oz to friends and colleagues) is the Consultancy Director at Acumen, a consultancy practice specialising in business continuity and risk management.Andy is the author of the books ‘Practical Business Continuity Management’, ‘Risk Management Simplified‘ and ‘Ski Boots and Celery – A Compilation of Oz’s Business Continuity Blogs’, as well as his popular blogs and ‘Tips of the Month’, all of which aim to demystify the subjects of business continuity and risk management and make them more accessible to people who live in the real world.