Monday, 15 July 2013

Want to know where you stand?

According to José Miguel Guzman, I may be the 3 billionth person to have been born into the human race. Jose Miguel heads up the UN organisation that looks at the impact of population and development. The 7 billionth has recently been chosen "symbolically". Congratulations, Danica!

UNFPA have published a great tool that is as informative as it is entertaining. You can try it for yourself at It's brilliant and I am sure it will provoke you to think.

Lots of the statistics made me gasp. Take this as an example. I am already older than nearly three quarters of the world's population and by the time we reach 9 billion, I will be over 80. Unless we can master Asimov's Bi-Centennial Man science, I am unlikely to see the 10 billion. That's fine.

People are getting older and living longer in the developed world. Take the UK as my example but its trends mirror those of other developed societies. In a little more than my lifetime, the population of UK residents over 65 has increased by 80%. By 2050, the number of older persons worldwide in developed societies is expected to rise by some 10% over 2011 numbers, with some Western countries having close to a third of their population in this category.

If you couple this with the increasing number of people being diagnosed with some form of age-related dementia, then you have a growing problem in need of an international approach. I have written before about solving problems at scale and the role that we will have to allow intelligent machines to play.

You will know too I am optimistic about how robotics will help make a positive difference, providing we work together to address the myriad of obstacles seemingly placed in the way. Some things are worth striving for and, in this case, the prize is a worthy one.

And then where are we all going to live? Increased urbanisation will have over 70% of the population living in cities in the next 30 years - most in the developing world. 

Few doubt that this century will present the Earth with its greatest ever ecological and social challenge. With our global population edging ever closer towards that frightening 10 billion, resources are finite. Conventional wisdom (to the extent any of this is conventional) is suggesting the Earth will be full, once we reach between 9 and 10 billion inhabitants. This is (happily) the point when we might also reach what I call the "one in - one out" point, where for every one born, one dies. 

The problem becomes matching the location of the birth and the death! 

Science and technology will no doubt provide part of the rescue service, but science is finite and it is also highly likely that we will need markedly to change many of our (western) views. Our model of immodest consumption has to change. Seems that, even with a world population of less than our current 7 billion, if everyone lived like a "European" we would need 3 Earths to sustain us. Live like a North American and that number rises to 5! 

We will need new, if to some unpalatable, sources of food. According to the UN, there are over 1900 edible insects to choose from and David Gordon is ahead of the game with his cookbook on how best to prepare them!

And one to finish on: every time you use Google for a look up, you use the same amount of energy as when boiling a kettle. This is "hotly" contested by Google, but nothing is for free!  

I wonder how much energy this blog uses? 

Tuesday, 4 June 2013


I keep coming back to the importance of the balance of judgement, learning and experience in making the right decisions. It's becoming so interesting that I am considering a more formal approach, even maybe some classes! Now, back to school, that would be a real change for me.

I was entertained by a radio interview with Daniel Dennett, a populist philosopher and author. He was talking about his book - Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking - and made a chance remark that made me smile, then made me think. Aren't those the best ones? I bought the book and my head is perhaps a little bigger but hurting nonetheless.

Dennett was explaining one of his ideas and compared learning to downloading an application to the "neck top". His way of getting a message across. Beautiful.

What a wonderful idea! Imagine being able to learn in the same way as we access smartphone software. Gone all those days of cramming and revising. Learning rhymes to tackle lists of scientific formulae or kings and queens, all consigned to a bygone age. Wouldn't that be fantastic? Or would it?

Then some days ago, I watched a segment on the BBC at breakfast time, examining changing attitudes to spelling and how it seemed to be becoming much less important, because spell checkers re-skewed the lazy. There is a great soundbite about the reliance on spelling auto-correction being akin to following a sat-nav blindly and ending up in a canal or, perhaps in Croatia, like this unfortunate Belgian driver! Add predictive text and the consequences could be worse still.

It would be ironic to let ourselves consider that technology and the internet enslave us rather than set us free and that the great web pioneers are more short-sellers like Kane rather than Abel-ers playing the longer-term game.

Then to contrast today, an admiring article about the daughter of another BBC correspondent in Paris, talking about learning philosophy as part of the French 'bac literaire. The defence of ideas and the discipline of thinking can build great ideas and great ideas can make greater things happen.

It seems that learning HOW to think and not WHAT to think is the fundamental mission of teaching.

As we accelerate towards some sort of singularity of people and technology, we would probably do well to be wary of some of the sat-navs we encounter.

In fact, I consider sat-navs to be inherently dangerous. They should be banned.

Imagine what would happen if NASA used this technology to conquer space. A sat-nav directed mission to Mars would be fraught with unpredictable dangers, especially as the minimum and maximum distances to the Red Planet vary by close to 350 million km. This is because of the way both planets orbit the Sun. The smallest miscalculation could bring social disaster.

Think, astronauts might arrive so unexpectedly early that the Martians hadn't had time to do the shopping or so late that the welcoming dinner might have been spoiled and they'd gone to bed, all unhappy.

Now that's just absurd.   

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Hakuna Matata - Tantric Interview Techniques

A few weeks ago, I read something about the fact that too much experience gets in the way of successful innovation. It was on the HBR Blog Network, written by the CEO of a "managed innovation company" (my words) and flagged by the owner of a boutique firm advising on strategy. I guess they both have some interest in this proposition being true.

Strange to think that they are both offering their wealth of experience to avoid you being weighed down by your own! All experience is equal but some experience is clearly more equal. That's what self-help is all about, after all. And it's a hundred and fifty years old. Snake-oil anyone?

The HBR article talks about the curse of knowledge and the situation where some variant of pattern recognition causes us to make assumptions that are simply wrong. Sound familiar? The technical term is cognitive bias. All organisations and people have cognitive bias and there are many ways around to try to assist us in thinking out of the box, but in a structured way. Why is so much of management speak "oxy-moronic"?

You may well ask why I am coming back to this idea. It's part of my own self-help regime and I wanted to share it. I am at a stage in my career where I might easily fall victim to excessive cognitive bias - ECB - (being a know-it-all or inadvertently positioning as a know-it-all). So, this post offers some gratuitous (see definition 2) advice on how to avoid the pitfall.

I had a conversation today about a CEO position. Just an early exploration. Just a friendly exchange. Would it be interesting? Small company, so would I be able to "re-size"? Could there be a cultural fit? Is the industry interesting for me? Is relocation an issue? You can guess the format. It was not a cold call. We had set up a time.

Thankfully, the call turned out fine - we will explore further and the role is very interesting - but looking back, I feel my interviewer had to make unnecessary allowances. In short, I was trying to close a sale and the potential customer was just browsing the aisles. This customer was even kind enough to make their intentions clear from the outset. I didn't listen carefully enough. I did not pick up the signs well enough.

It's always a temptation to want to take control in these situations, seeming to know intuitively what needs to be said, in what tone and at what point. Our ECB sends twice as many signals to our mouth than it does to our ears. And that is precisely the wrong ratio. Evolution/God (delete as appropriate) gave us one mouth and two ears, maybe to be deployed with that same balance!

I am sharing this now because it was not intuitive. If it's not intuitive for you either, learn from my error.

I felt very wise when posting my views on dealing with recruiters in February, somehow pushing the idea that you always have to take the initiative and create the momentum. The reality turns out to be that this is perhaps not always appropriate, or even necessary.

As in all things tantric, getting to the end takes time. Be calm. No worries. Let it build.

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

It's not fair - nar, nar, de nar, nar!

Larry Page once opened the door for me as I went to have lunch in Google's canteen. I think I said Thank You but otherwise we didn't speak. I was visiting to discuss co-operation.

And this week, another Google personality has got me thinking. Not about what to have for my free lunch but about progress. That other "googler" (a normal employee being a "googlee") is Eric Schmidt being interviewed by McKinsey. I like the interview, especially as I don't think he mentions Big Data once!

About a year ago, a close friend brought some of his grandchildren to stay. We had a great time but one rather precocious youngster had an annoying habit of shouting "It's not fair", if she didn't get her own way. She shouted a lot, until my wife told her that life isn't fair and she had better get used to it. She shouted a little less after that.

So how do you build a bridge between such a brat and my friend's grandchild?

Well - you ask MIT, of course.

Erik Brynjolfsson (MIT Prof) co-authored a book (short title Race Against the Machine, followed by a longer, worthier codicil) about how technology is marginalising mankind. This gloomy assessment is mine but, in less than 100 pages, the book paints a pretty bleak picture - offering only truisms as hope. Schmidt uses less threatening language and talks about Man not "against" but "with" the Machine, with computers becoming quasi-friends.

I tend towards Schmidt and I am sure that will make him sleep better at night. In getting to understand robotics better, I looked at the implications of Technology Singularity Theory - easy version stating that humankind gets overtaken by machines by around 2050. I coined My Best Friend's a Robot to describe my positive view on how this would impact the future.

Erik and Eric both make another valuable point - that progress does not by definition reward everyone. Indeed, progress will tend to reward fewer and fewer people with more and more. As Orwell said "all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others".

So that young lady was right after all - it is indeed not fair.

But that is how it has to be. We need to recognise and over-reward innovation and step-function change. That creates egos and, occasionally, monsters. Against these latter beasts, we need to protect ourselves.

Over the weekend, I saw a brilliant old movie. It's called The Man in the White Suit - excuse for some sound effects - and tells the story of a chemist who invents a fabric that never gets dirty and never wears out. The really interesting thing is how big business and ordinary workers unite to destroy the invention. The film shows how hard it is sometimes to know who are the good guys and who are the bad guys.

Alongside such shifts, we need more than ever to work on societal solutions that recognise that growing the economic pie is unlikely to benefit us all and will likely rather create bigger divisions between richer and poorer - dixit OECD Report. That is indeed the biggest challenge that technology will bring in the next 20-30 years.

The problem is that we are not always good at solving problems this big - tending to quick-fixes and band-aids. Maybe we just need to wait a while and ask a computer for the answer? Or a Big Brother? Or maybe a poet?

Nar is a Dutch word for a fool - something of an English court jester. The jester was a critical position at court. The Nar was the only person able to make fun of the King, and live to tell the tale. Through the Nar's buffoonery, the King could gently be educated - sometimes to be told he was not wearing kingly clothes before others found out!

Friday, 26 April 2013

Edgy Enough? Striking the Right Interview Balance

I came runner-up in a race last week. The race was to find a new role. No medals for a second place though and so I need to get back in training.  This post reflects my thoughts on the role and the feedback I got. But really it's more about what it teaches me about authenticity.

First a bit of context. The role was to run marketing for a PE-backed spin-out. It's an already at-scale organisation that needs to establish a distinct identity in a crowded market. The culture is "big company" and there is need for new, transformational leadership. A case of no lack of competence (low current recognition but there is clearly an ambitious roadmap) but with a need to increase confidence, with clients and partners but importantly within the organisation too. Leaving home for the first time is a big deal, after all.

Most of the above could have been understood even before I arrived. I did my research into the company, its backers, the market and all its players. I trawled everything from social media to industry analysts' reports. I did my homework. I liked what I found. I was sure I could be a great head of marketing for them. I even interviewed the company driver on the way from the airport. I was ready.

What is more difficult is knowing what matters most in making the decision to hire. There is what the company asks for and then, there is what it needs and feels. They are not always the same. There is what is explicit but, in this case, there was a set of implicits. This is where someone else did better than the "polished" me that arrived that day.

They said I met the competence brief. I hit all the right buttons, with good empathy on what the likely challenges would be. I knew the market, the technology and enough of the customers. I seemed to have good energy and a sense of humour. But the winning candidate was "more edgy" and that got the role. That was the implicit factor that mattered.

I looked up "edgy". It means tense, nervous and irritable! What? But, when applied to music, it means daring, dangerous and exciting. The winner was just more exciting.

I posted something at the start of the year about what I called R.A.P.P.O.R.T - how to sell yourself in headhunter /interview situations. I still think it mostly  holds true and, looking back to how the discussions went, I do think I used it pretty well. But it didn't work.

In hindsight, I went from the "R" to the "T" of rapport, but was not "aRTy" enough to succeed. My music was too smooth - too lounge and not enough garage. Maybe coming across a little too rehearsed. Singing the song but not connecting with the words.

Preparation is critical. Technique means a great deal. But there is a big learning I have taken from this encounter - the importance of authenticity. I was authentic. I did care about the potential role and I do still think I will be the best head of marketing this company never had.

They believed in someone else more than in me. A good lesson indeed.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

In-Yer-Face (Interface) My Best Friend's a Robot

I have spent the last 3 days at the Innorobo event in Lyon on a mission to change the world, get rich and meet committed people. This is the place where the great and good of the robotics world, primarily from Europe (even if the Koreans won the cutest hair prize), come to show off, find inspiration and maybe a future.

There is a second event being held in Lyon in parallel. Called eu Robotics Forum, it's maybe a bit more in depth. The French Government is a sponsor, so I guess they are worthy. The organisers wanted 350 Euros to have me along, and that was enough to pay for my hotel. I am quite new to robotics - mad keen but learning my route - called SLAM for those who know. Maybe I will go next year?

I am on a start-up friendly, strict budget and staying at the Campanile close to the TGV and a short tram ride away from the conference centre. I mention the hotel only as it has an example of one of the main issues that robotics seems to face (no pun intended) today. It's about the in-yer-face interface - aka getting the best out of a product with the greatest utility and potential.

I woke early yesterday and went to shave, trying to fill the sink with an ecologically aware depth of hot water. Failure. There was an interface problem between the size of the plug and the size of the plug hole. The plug was too big (or the hole too small?).

I managed to shave in the shower with only minor cuts.

Robotics is fast becoming an area of special importance. The French government announced a package of initiatives this week to drive investment and innovation. France also boasts to be the home of Aldebaran and their famous Shanghai dancing Nao robot: but even this company is small with under 300 employees worldwide. Nice to see their CEO today out of that dark suit and playing ball with his robot (expect cute pictures soon on the site?).

The market is growing fast - supposedly a US$ 40Bn market in service robotics by 2015 (dixit GIA via eu Robotics Co-ordination Action and FP7 money). That gives room for a dozen or more players at real scale and a couple of giants! Professional service robotics is growing at some 85% a year. That's gotta be attractive! Most of these types of robots end up with the military (a post of its own, given the debate on human-out-the-loop robotics nicely captured here) or in milking parlours.

Well, we will always drink milk and, sadly, probably keep fighting. So, it's a dairy farmer or a soldier. The availability of good, empirical data is critical to making good career decisions!

The personal robotics scene looks less attractive compared to that of its professional cousins - even if every exhibitor seems to have developed a use case that fits. Sort of Corporate Social Responsibility baked into every start-up. Clearly, the current economic straits are an issue with less disposable income afforded to edutainment robots and the like. The growth here is much more modest and the associated market sizes hardly move the dial.

And as for robots that make life easier, outside of having your lawn manicured or your 4 year-old prepared for their GMAT, don't go there.

So where's the issue? What's getting in the way? So far I can see 3 big hurdles. None seems impossible to clear. The first is a negative public perception of robots; the second a set of issues around safety and product liability and the third seems to be the lack of a workable industry structure and business model.

As yet, I claim no grand insight but, through the eyes of children, emperors sometimes lose their clothes.

Robots scare us. We don't really want them in some key parts of our lives. The European Union did a large study on the public's attitudes to robotics across the 27 Member States, surveying those over 15. This work is current, published in the last 6 months.  Overall there is a generally positive view on robots - with a more than 50% approval rating and the Nordics just love them with a whopping 88% positive view - cuddling a robot on those long winter nights perhaps?

But close to two thirds of Europeans see no role for robots in mainstream education, care of the elderly or healthcare. They have a view robots can be dangerous and unpredictable, best restricted to roles where humans might see themselves potentially endangered (rescue etc) or where dull repetition is needed. This may need to change over the very near term. We are going to have over a billion people aged over 60 around in the coming years. We will need new ways to care for them, as they age further.

Are robots to be seen as slaves? For now maybe but perhaps we will need emancipation sooner and not later.

And let's also hope those slavery folks don't get too familiar with (Technology) Singularity Theory from Vinge, Van Neumann and with the more recent musings of Kurzweil and Storrs-Hall. Basically, we meet the machine cleverer than we are around 2045. If that's true, someone needs to stop Fiona getting out of her cyber-bed or at least brush up on their Spanish!

Adoption needs Acceptance and that needs Education. As one expert may have once remarked, you may be afraid of robots being allowed to help you, but think of that every time you ride in a lift!

Now what about product liability and perceived danger? Progress takes bravery. Around 150 years ago, the UK passed the Locomotive Act, restricting horseless carriages (cars) to a speed of 4mph and demanding they be piloted by a crew of 3, with one of them carrying a red flag in front of the vehicle. At Innorobo, I have seen several robots still following this legislation!

And there was a bill in Pensylvannia, thankfully vetoed in 1896, that required any car encountering a person or livestock to be stopped, dismantled and hidden behind a bush. No bushes at Innorobo!

Clearly, personal assistance robots need stringent safety regulation. This is so important. It cannot be left to individual companies and cannot be afforded by them either. Is there no European-level idea on assisted testing? New industries need support, and surely this is one area where we could make the investment at the European level. There is aligned work in ISO standardisation on this topic. I came across this upbeat assessment from Dr Chris Harper but still need to understand where we now are. Such work is worthy to be supported and accelerated. It seems too important to fail and the effort to get it right is clearly worthwhile.

Talking to exhibitors, it is the business model that perplexes me most. I attended the panel on Investments in Robotics. I heard a lot of truisms and worried at the sound of people scribbling and feverishly noting down these apparent pearls of wisdom and religious truths. I felt we'd been here before.

I heard Dmitry Grishin of Grishin Robotics explain three ways to make money in robotics - sell them, rent them or give them away and make money on the services. He made a lot of valid points - especially about affordability and beauty - but his philosophy seemed reminiscent of the mobile phone industry of the Noughties.

Robotics looks too like an industry that wants to maintain a vertically-integrated business model. My strong sense is that to grow that this industry has to find a way to split the robot body from the rest of the application/use case and to do that quickly. Clearly, open source software helps massively, but I had a bit the feeling that open source support was a rite of passage to the robotics community and not yet a real lever for success. This could just be about maturity and the academic focus of many concerns here. Perhaps, we need to be patient. They will come and build it!

I read a great book lately that sought to explain the dramatic shifts brought about by what could be called the democratisation of technology - albeit it's rather a first world view. The book is called L'Age de la Multitude by Nicolas Colin and Henri Verdier. It is strongly written, drawing on top class and recent research to make its points.

Bottom line, the authors argue persuasively that technology is cheap; this fuels an innovation and change ACCELERATION; and most importantly this innovation is external - no entity can hope to manage all the ingredients of success anymore. Innovation to be successful is becoming Open Innovation. This is where the literal and actual multitude takes centre stage.

The world is learning to code. It's seemingly the new Latin and the major Internet players are right behind it. And those building the internet are supporting too. We have a capability revolution coming fast.

To make the most of these new capabilities, robotics companies need to build clean technical architectures that focus on abstraction and virtualisation and then couple that with resilient tool kits that promote the mass adoption of robots. This is how almost all successful software companies work. A long time ago in technology speak, the rules that split platforms, applications and integration were written. Through the many changes we experience every day, these rules have stayed in place.

Do not try or expect to do everything anymore. The product architecture should support the desired business model. Keeping control of all the levers is as impossible, as it is eventually undesirable.

In this way, we may overcome many of the issues associated with fear of the robotic unknown. We will garner the capability of professionals to develop more and more relevant vertical applications and create a virtuous flywheel effect. It's amazing but it seems over 80% of Wikipedia's content is generated free and anonymously. It's mostly, but not all, about the money.

There are angels out there. Finding them? Well that's going to need a lot more than just an ordinary App Store business model.

I did succumb and bought a small personal robot. There are many other robots available but this matches my desk. Delivery is only at the end of April, so I'll need to wait a few weeks to begin my new robotic future!

I took a decision not to paste pictures of all those cute creations. We need to make robotics a serious topic.

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Customer Service - A Tragedy in 1 Act

The weather has played havoc across Europe in the past days. Airports closed, people stranded, anxiety heightened and tempers frayed. Just the time for companies to stand up and deliver excellent customer service. We always remember those who remember us when we are in trouble. And conversely...

I wrote a short piece about customer service in an earlier blog and even created my own abbreviation, TCA - Truly Customer Aware. I see too - thanks Patrick - that Forbes are re-awakening to its importance.

Well this week I experienced a company with a lot still to learn about TCA. I will not name the company but I did want to capture my experience. So I wrote a short(ish) play that I propose to share with company xxxxx's Customer Relations team.

My Superviser says...

Noon - sunny - east of London - the M25 is suspiciously quiet - tired and driving back to Belgium - turn on radio - news update: Operation Stack coming into operation: A16 in France closed: long delays: police advise to postpone non-essential journeys.

Him: I'll just call the xxxxx to check what's happening and maybe change the ticket. We can stay with P and perhaps travel tomorrow once the weather improves. Strange though, it's so sunny.

Her: We really need to get home. Geert is waiting and we need to tell him how high to build that wall. But let's see what's happening. Call them. They'll know the latest and then we'll decide.

Him calls the not-free number. Ring, ring, ring, Hello you're through to xxxxx. Voice explains all the great offers and deals they can offer Him. No clue how long the wait will be. After 4 minutes....

Him: I suppose they are pretty busy. They must have a lot of people like us just asking what's the best thing to do. I'm sure they're prepared.

Phone is answered.

Him (in friendly, cheery voice): Hello. Perhaps you can help. I am booked on the 1420 this afternoon but have just heard on the radio there are travel problems and that even the motorway out of Calais is closed.

Voice #1: Can I have your booking reference please? (Him asks Her to find the piece of paper Him wrote it on and tells Voice #1). Well, Mr Mottram we are operating 1 service an hour and there are minor delays at the terminal. So you should be OK.

Him: Well, we heard there were real issues and that you were stacking lorries and that the A16 was closed. We're not sure we should travel today.

Voice #1: Well, sir, whether you travel or not is your own decision. We have 1 service running per hour, with minor delays.

Him: That's fine, but what do you know about the A16 problems? It seems strange the BBC are telling me not to travel but you seem unaware.

Voice #1: I'll just put you on hold while I check.

Time passes slowly.

Voice #1: Hello Mr Mottram. I have spoken to my superviser and we do think there were problems earlier with an accident on the quais at Calais but it's all fine now. France is fine.

Him: Are you sure because we are out of contact here in the car and only have the BBC to go on?

Voice #1: I'm sure, but as a special dispensation, we will change your ticket providing you do travel tomorrow.

Him to Her: What do you think?

Her: We do need to get home. Let's see how far we get and we'll call him back if we end up in a mess.

Him to Voice #1: Is that OK?

Voice #1 hangs up and car gets very stuck indeed in Operation Stack, now in Phase 2 (rather serious) whilst 2 BBC radio stations insist Kent is ice-bound, the A16 is closed and France is in hibernation.

Him calls back xxxxx again but talks to Voice #2 - after an even longer list of special offers and deals.

Him (in a less cheery voice but still friendly): Hello I am on the 1420 service and spoke to one of your colleagues around noon time about these weather conditions. Just wanted to check the situation, as we are stuck in the Operation Stack queue and may wish to change our ticket as your colleagues suggested.

Voice #2: Can I have your booking reference, please? (Him provides the reference). Thank you, Mr Mottram. We are operating 1 service an hour and you can expect to be delayed by about another 30 minutes at the terminal.

Him: Thanks for that but we are still hearing about issues on the Calais side on the BBC and I don't want to get caught in a jam there with nowhere to go.

Voice #2: I am afraid I cannot comment on that, sir. We can only advise on what's happening on this side of the Channel. Any decision to travel has to be up to you. I am afraid we cannot give you any help or advice on that.

Him (now not very cheerful): Sorry. Are you saying you have no advice at all? Can't you at least re-check the A16 position? Well, I guess we best rebook for tomorrow. We don't want to get marooned. Can we fix that please?

Voice #2: Sorry sir, but your ticket was on a special 5-day deal and it expires at midnight tonight. So you'll have to buy a new one, if you want to travel tomorrow.

Him (sounds of aarrghh in the background): No. We agreed with your colleague that we could change, if we could not reliably travel today and agreed to travel tomorrow.

Voice #2: I'll need to talk to my superviser. I have only just come on duty and this is a bit complicated. Can you give me your number and I will call you back in 10 minutes?

Voice #2 (with number given) hangs up and calls back 40 mimutes later.

Voice #2: Hello Mr Mottram, xxxxx here. Sorry about the delay but I was on another long call. I have spoken to my superviser and he says he is not willing to allow you to change your ticket and we cannot find any record of your telephone call with my colleague. Are you sure you called from this number?

Him (unhappy voice): Of course, I am stuck in my car. Where else could I have called from? I did make that call and you did offer to allow me to change the reservation, providing I travelled tomorrow. Can I talk to your superviser please?

Voice #2 puts him on hold and returns after 5 minutes.

Voice #2: Mr Mottram, there's no point in talking to my superviser. He's only going to tell you he won't help. I suggest you just buy another ticket for tomorrow and then maybe you can fix it with Customer Relations later.

Discussion between Him and Her. Decision to try to carry on.

Him to Voice #2: No. We'll just go for it but be sure this is pretty shabby service. You cannot just say it's all up to me and you have no advice. And then not do what you said you would. Is no-one given any discretion in xxxxx?

Voice #2: Sorry about all this but my superviser is adamant. What I can do is change your crossing to a later time. You know you are going to miss the one you're booked on, don't you?

Him looks out of car window at the traffic, going nowhere and agrees with him, loudly.

Him: Yes, we will carry on but don't change anything. We will just get to the terminal as fast as we can and see what happens.

Voice #2 hangs up. 40 minutes later, Him and Her arrive at the crossing and discover their reservation has been changed by Voice #2 to a later time. They watch as their new boarding letter is gradually relegated to later and later crossings. Exasperated, they put their letter in the glove box and join the next departure.

The A16 was closed to high-sided vehicles and it was very windy. I do wish the BBC would be a bit more accurate.......