Monthly Archives: March 2016

Plastic Money

When washable polymer £5 notes are introduced in September, won’t that make money laundering easier?


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Knowledge Appearance Myths Uncovered

Appearance Myths Uncovered

It’s fair to say I’ve experienced the Knowledge from all angles.  I gained my green badge in 1988, left the trade completely in 1999, then started the Knowledge again in 2010.  I was surprised to be offered a re-test four months’ later, well before I was ready; and even more surprised to pass a long, gruelling, Appearance with Mr Wilkin.  A year later I became a Knowledge examiner, left after eight months, then returned as a temp for another seven months in 2015. In the summer of 2014 I also did some tutoring at a Knowledge school.  Throughout these experiences I was confronted with a lot of questions surrounding the weird and frightening world of the Knowledge.  Some questions were asked by Knowledge students, while others were thrown up during the course of my work as an examiner and a tutor.

Everything to do with the Knowledge is intense.  You can feel the fear and pressure as an examiner, though I found being a tutor was the most challenging episode.  Tutoring at the school was very humbling.  The experience reminded me how seriously everyone takes it, and how it affects people.  Students seemed to thrive on rumour and conspiracy theories, and people were now looking to me for answers!  Students would sidle up to me at the end of a session and expect me to know why they didn’t perform at their last Appearance.  I had no answers to this.  They seemed competent enough handling mock Appearances in a school setting, but would be full of self-doubt when they scored a couple of “Ds” up at the Towers.

Some of the questions asked at the Knowledge school surprised me, and I think some of my answers surprised people too.   Many questions asked were based on ancient myths that I am surprised are still circulating. So, I think it’ll be useful to look at some of the issues raised, and expel some myths about Appearances.  Here then are some responses to some questions I’ve received in my Knowledge-handling career:


  • You are not obliged to wear a suit and tie, but I would strongly recommend it. The rules say you should dress in a smart, professional, manner.  I know, professionals don’t all wear suits and ties these days, but your examiners feel the need to maintain tradition, and they expect that of you too.
  • Examiners are not told what they can ask. Your first Appearance will be based on the Blue Book.  After that you can pretty much be asked anything  – though it must be within the six-mile limit.  Maps issued to examiners don’t have the six-mile limit circled, but few Points outside the exclusion zone get asked these days.
  • If you think your examiner has made a mistake, politely point it out. If unsatisfied, ask to speak to the manager ASAP.  Your query will be taken seriously and it won’t go against you.
  • There are no quotas: examiners don’t have to pass or fail a certain number of people in any given period.  There are no quotas for men and women either!  (I took this question seriously). Nor there is prejudice against people with ginger hair! (I treated this question less seriously, but it’s worth thinking about!).
  • Examiners sometimes ask obscure Points that are unlikely to be asked by a cab customer. Examiners know you spend longer on computers or in a school than you do on your bike.  Every day, they see candidates who roughly know where a Point is because they’ve looked it up on a computer, but they don’t know exactly where it is because they’ve not seen it with their own eyes.  Never guess a Point.  If you own up immediately, you’ll only lose one point.  If you get a guess wrong you will lose a lot more.
  • You are judged only on your current Appearance. Your previous Appearance sheets are scanned and attached to your file, and all files now only exist on computer.  Sometimes your examiners will look to see what runs you were asked previously, and they might hone in on your weak points.  If they have time.  Not surprisingly, the computerised files take longer to view than the paper files, and they give less information.  Generally, all an examiner knows about you are the questions you’ve previously been asked, and your scores.   Don’t worry about your last Appearance, just concentrate on the here and now.
  • Examiners don’t say bad things about you on your file. Not any more, anyway.  The days are gone where your weaknesses and attitude were commented upon.  Occasional comments on your performance are made on your Appearance sheet, but these are brief and strictly factual.  In the spirit of transparency, these comments are likely to be written on your feedback sheet, so there are no secrets.
  • Finally, my personal favourite! …There is no date in your file suggesting your Req date.  The idea makes me laugh, but enough candidates have asked it to suggest that people still believe this ludicrous rumour.  See above:  there are no quotas.  It’s purely down to your performance over time.  Once you’ve gained enough points you get your Req.

I often read web postings where students worry about very trivial problems.  There is always more than one way of running a run. The important thing is to connect the two Points.  Keep it simple if you don’t know the name of every little cut-through road.

Finally, a bit more about confidence.  In many cases, a bad Appearance is caused by being excessively nervous and lacking confidence, things that are virtually impossible for me to cure.  You’re nervous, because it means a lot to you.  A touch of nervousness is good, it sharpens you.  Some people always study harder than you, or at least they say they do (sometimes it’s quantity over quality too).  Don’t compare yourself with others.  If you’ve studied as hard as time and resources have allowed, you’ve done all you could.  You have earned the right to be confident.  Ignore the myths and rumours.  The examiners want you to succeed.  An Appearance is your opportunity to shine.


Copyright:  Chris Ackrill, 2016.


Filed under Published Articles

Driven Out of Business?

(Original edit of article written for Taxi magazine)

Driven Out of Business?

I’ve been so pre-occupied trying to earn a crust that I’d forgotten all about driverless cars. Recently, the subject was mentioned again in the media, and it seems they’re still being trialled. That’s all we need: more demand for road space – plus the possibility of driverless taxis making 25,000 cab drivers redundant!
The nearest place to London for testing is Milton Keynes. Milton Keynes isn’t far from my home, so I know it well. Actually, I don’t know it well, but I know where it is. Central Milton Keynes is arranged on a rational American-style grid system: instead of horizontal streets and vertical avenues, you have roads prefixed H5, V9, &c. The central roads are broad, dead straight, and – whenever I’ve been there – relatively free of traffic. You couldn’t find a town more unlike London. I get lost every time I go there, as it all looks the same, and every few hundred yards there are roundabouts. The H and V signage ensures you know your horizontal from your vertical, though you don’t always know what direction you’re going in. Anyway, driverless cars are just about imaginable here in Milton Keynes’s futuristic roadscape. It’s a much bigger leap of the imagination to see driverless cars on London’s irrational, often narrow, traffic-clogged streets.
Still, we can all imagine which app-based private hire company will be the first to try to run driverless cabs. Powerful organisations with money behind them will surely try to buy in to both driverless civilian cars and private hire. So could it really come to pass? Tentatively, I still don’t think so.
I’ve read that driverless cars could currently handle 1% of American roads. That’s still a whopping 99% to go, and American cities tend to be more spacious and more rationally arranged. There’s simply too much traffic and not enough room in British cities. London’s far too chaotic. Whole lanes will need to be given over to afford driverless vehicles safe passage. They’ve spent the last decade marking out cycle lanes, and they’re still relentlessly paving the already narrow roads into single lanes. If driverless cars are given a dedicated lane, where will the buses go? (Actually, driverless buses have also been predicted).
“Driverless” usually means the vehicle’s steering, accelerating, braking and indicating will be automatically controlled between two points, similar to an aeroplane’s auto-pilot system. There is also the technology to park a car automatically while you stand on the kerb. Driverless could mean there’s someone present in the vehicle, but not driving; or a completely un-manned vehicle. A new Highway Code will be brought out to cover all eventualities. Google seem to be at the forefront of driverless development. They’re testing a “Chauffeur “system, which uses what they call “Lidar”: an extremely accurate version of radar and sonar.
It’s possible to run driverless tube trains; so the idea of driverless Intercity trains, or the Eurostar, should be possible too (union support withstanding). But trains are run on rails and have very limited stopping points. Obstructions on the line are rare. You’re unlikely to be surprised by a crane operation, or find your way barred by a gaggle of rickshaws.
Some people see driverless vehicles in a convoy like a road-train. How will a driverless car negotiate around obstructions, or overtake? I don’t see how these vehicles won’t be obstructed by other vehicles cutting through the gaps. What about cycles and pedestrians? In normal driving you are often changing lanes because of obstructions. Think of roadworks, badly parked vehicles, or the humble pothole. It’s said that a driverless car can’t tell the difference between a rock and a piece of crumpled paper, and will steer to avoid both. If it encounters a set of roadworks it has a wobble, slows to a crawl, and occasionally gives up.
Research and testing continues around the world. Developments seem to be progressing at a fair pace in some countries. Apparently, Nissan has fitted an all-electric LEAF with an array of lasers and sensors so it can drive itself. Nissan claim it will be the first semi-autonomous car to be marketed, in 2020. Driverless taxis are also being tested. Developments in driverless technology are easily looked up on the internet. A quick scan this morning brought up the scary – yet predictable – headline from a technology website: “Singapore wants a driverless version of Uber.”
I’m prepared to believe cars can park themselves. I can believe cars can drive themselves on a test circuit. But I don’t believe we’ll see driverless cars on the streets of busy British cities like London. Still, the first Knowledge boys of 1851 would have looked forward to a cab-driving career involving a horse and a bale of hay for fuel. Maybe they would have laughed at the idea of a diesel-powered taxi with electric lights, heating, a CD player, and air conditioning. And stuff I don’t understand such as MP3s and blue teeth. So, while I remain sceptical, I still have that nagging fear that nailing my colours to the mast now may set me up to look foolish should this article be reprinted in ten or twenty years’ time. We’ll see…
Copyright: Chris Ackrill, 2016.


Filed under Published Articles

Home Schooling

(I mostly use this blog to comment on cab issues, but occasionally I return to my previous life as a Careers Adviser…)

Apparently, more and more parents are taking their kids out of school to be taught at home.  I had some contact with these kids and their parents.  In most cases, the kids were low ability, and with low ability parents.  The family would usually be anti-school, and anti-social.  The schools would be more than happy to see the back of the kids, as they were  the ones who’d bring their league tables down.  Schools would send work home, but I never heard of the materials being used.  Kids were left to run wild and concentrate on shoplifting, smoking fags in bus shelters and getting pregnant. Of course there are exceptions, but I can’t think of anything less socialising than not mixing and learning with your peers (Yes, I know, I bunked off school throughout much of Years 10 and 11:  this is why I had to start again at 30).

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