If you’ve been following the last few posts, you’ll know that we’ve been enjoying a trip around a few schools in the UK with a group of high level Microsoft executives from the US who have been in Europe for a couple of weeks. So far they’ve attended the Learning & Teaching World Forum, with 60 Ministers of Education, and had a series of high level meetings with governments around Europe. And now they’re back with us in the UK, taking a road trip to visit some schools. And so far everything’s been going well – a day visiting Birmingham.

The next stage of the trip didn’t quite work out as planned, and who knows, there may be an email in my inbox a little later today advising me of the need to pack my bags! Let me explain…

The “Great British Rail Journey”…

We arrived at New Street Station in plenty of time, and we had our pre-booked First Class train tickets in our hands. As you may know a platform at New Street isn’t the best place to kill half an hour waiting for a train, but it went quickly as we talked about the day’s visits. When the train arrived, it was chaos. It had only four carriages, despite running from Manchester to Exeter at peak hour. The First Class carriage was packed solid, with bags and people lining the carriage. And people already comfortable in all of our seats. It took us a while to sort that out, and get ourselves settled down. The rest of the two hours were okay – apart from having to suffer for the first 45 minutes to Cheltenham under the glower of the people who’d been sitting in our seats. (I can see their point of view, they too had paid for a first class ticket, but at least we had booked our seats. And the chap sitting in my seat insisted I produce all of the booking paperwork showing the seat number, despite the sign already on the seat, so by the time I’d finished that, my sympathy had waned a bit).

Our hotel turned out to be quite close to Tiverton Parkway, so we left the train there.

…followed by the “Memorable British Cab Ride”

MichaelwaitingforthecabTiverton Parkway is one of those stations that is set in the middle of dark countryside, alongside the motorway. No bright lights anywhere near it. And it was absolutely hammering it down.

Fortunately I’d pre-booked a minibus to meet the five of us, but it wasn’t waiting at the station. So I called the helpful chap Id spoken with on Wednesday evening. Unfortunately, the helpful Devonian had noted it down for an hour later, so the minibus was on the other side of the county, and there wasn’t another suitable sized vehicle, or a pair of smaller vehicles available. Aargh!

Either everybody was going to have to wait in the bus shelter for half an hour or we could get a car that was too small in 5 mins. (As you can see Michael at this point was still enjoying the novelty of having his travel arrangements sorted by us, rather than the “Executive Travel Team” that normally co-ordinate all the arrangements of the top level teams from Seattle).

This was an easy decision – send the normal size cab, and I could despatch everybody else to the hotel, and then I’ll follow on later. As far as I was concerned, that would mean that everybody would be happy – and a half-hour penance in a bus shelter would mean I’d feel the pain of not having checked on the minibus booking on the way down in the train.


But the others had different views. When the little MPV turned up, absolutely everybody insisted that we’d find a way to fit all of us into it, and I wasn’t allowed to send them off. Instead, we had a game of sardines in the back for the 15 minute trip to Cullompton.

LabelledSmallPanoramaDevon

This got recorded onto a series of photos (stitched together above) – I fear it’s so that when my next Performance Review comes up there’ll be documentation to discuss!

I will, of course, point out that absolutely everybody was smiling in the photo (well, not me, for obvious reasons) and that it’s the moments like these that make trips memorable.