Monthly Archives: June 2017

Yellow Submarine

(Article written for Taxi magazine.  This is my maddest article to date, but they published it!  The title was changed.  I don’t know what other edits were made, I haven’t read the finished piece yet)

Yellow Submarine

Stuck behind one of those big yellow tourist vehicles recently, I had an Eureka moment.  I could barely contain my excitement as I started to work out how the cab trade could be boosted by a few modifications to our cabs.  Forget about Uber, forget driver-less cabs:  I could see new opportunities to raise the game in surface transport technology.

An exciting new initiative will make a mockery of the Cycle Superhighway, and will allow cabs to navigate the near-traffic free thoroughfares of London and beyond.  It’s simple:  fix a propeller to the back of our cabs and use the river.

If we convert our vehicles to something resembling the London Duck many of our problems will be over.  Simply drive up and down slipways on the embankment and away we go.  Compare today’s tortuous road journey from Canary Wharf with tomorrow’s smooth sailing into the City and beyond!

The technology will have to be worked on, but it should be within the ability of engineering to fit a propeller to the cab.  I shan’t attempt to discuss the finer points of seamanship here, but we could provide new work for nautical engineers in Brexit Britain, and choose whether we get our cabs serviced at a traditional garage or a boatyard.  That ship chandler’s shop on Shaftesbury Avenue could advise us on any nautical-related issues.

River cabs won’t be like the gondolas of Venice; I’m talking about powerful cab-boats with engines.  I’m not sure the TX2 will have the power required for work on the tidal Thames, so best carry life vests and subscribe to a river breakdown service.  The TX4 should be OK as I understand the VM Motori engine is already used on motor boats.  Waterproofing should be easy enough; just a little more involved than the painting of the chassis we used to have for the cab’s annual overhaul.  I’ll have the rubber seals on my door sills replaced before tasking to the waves, and we’ll have to remember to close the doors and windows properly – it was bad enough leaving the windows open at the Morrison’s car wash recently.  We need to be on our guard against all manner of critters that live in the tidal Thames.  I’m partial to a bit of plaice, but those flatfish and eels can get everywhere.  We can drive around the whales and dolphins that occasionally get into the Thames.

This initiative will open up the waterways and bring new life to London.  We don’t have to stop at Canary Wharf or the City; we could navigate down river as far as our vehicles will allow.  There are plenty of folk living near the river around Chelsea, Fulham and beyond who would use our service.  Could we make it to Southend Pier?  There are a lot of cab drivers who live down that way who would welcome a less troublesome commute to Central London.

Some drivers fear the Knowledge is going to be watered down, but it can be expanded to include the inland waterways.  Not every driver will want to take to the river, so perhaps offer the Knowledge with or without the rivercraft element.

Once our nautical skills are established we might be able to use Britain’s proud network of canals.  A night school course could teach us how to navigate canals and open and close locks (there are a lot of locks between my town of Leighton Buzzard and Paddington so I’ll be sticking with the M1 for the time being).  Perhaps Little Venice could be developed as a taxi marina, with a bustling interchange between land and water-based transport?  There could be cab cafes and service centres – rather like Three Colts Lane on the water.

TfL might have something to say about all this.  There’s sure to be some kind of law against converting your cab into a boat without authorisation, but I reckon it’s do-able.  The best way to handle TfL is to do it first, then ask for permission.  By the time they’ve caught up with what’s happening it’ll be too late.  The new regime will be established.  Any objections will result in a long appeals process, and by then we’ll have captured the public’s imagination like never before.

London clearly can’t accommodate 120,000-plus mini-cabs taking to the river, so the Thames would have to become like a bus lane.  We’ll have to keep an eye out for pirates, but hopefully we can get the Mayor on our side to further our case and repel any invaders.

Some of my ideas might be less than half-baked, but I really don’t think the idea of river taxis is any less credible than the driver-less cabs that some people think are inevitable.

Taking things further, what about submarine taxis?  Perhaps painted yellow to attract the tourists? OK, I’m taking things too far now.  I concede that submarines probably aren’t allowed to operate in the Thames, but I quite fancy being the captain of “Das Cab” complete with a periscope and a scanner that goes “Ping”.  Aye Aye Cap’n, It’s full steam ahead on the Thames Superhighway!

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Election Fever…

…live & direct from the Liberal Democrat Coffee Shop.

As a floating voter I wavered for a minute in the polling booth at 8.25 this morning.  I knew who I wasn’t going to vote for:  Conservative or UK-IP.

UK-IP did their job with Brexit.  They have some good ideas, but also one or two mad ones.  They’re irritating and divisive.  I don’t trust them.

I couldn’t put my name to some of the things the Conservatives are doing, though I quite like Theresa May.  She’s a good leader, and the best option for Brexit.  I went off her recently a bit though, when she failed to sign that letter criticising Trump for backing out of the Paris Agreement on climate change.  She also failed to back the London Mayor when Trump criticised him straight after the terrorist attack in Borough.  She’s definitely not the Iron Lady.

The Liberals are going to raise income tax by 1p.  This troubled me, but I expect the other parties will do the same.  The Liberals are generally anti-Brexit.  I’m just sick of hearing about Brexit, and have Brexit Fatigue.  I don’t even care if there is a 2nd referendum and we shake hands and make up (I might even vote Remain).  Do the Euros really hate us?  Not sure. I think all our European friends needed to do before the referendum was put their hands on our shoulder and say “You’re all right, Great Britain, you’re my best mate, ever…” .  Let’s move on…

Corbyn has some laudable ideas, but he needed a money tree to implement his policies. Dianne Abbot couldn’t tell us where the money was coming from and lost the plot when asked (get well soon, Dianne). I’d enjoy an hour or two with Corbyn and Dianne Abbot down the pub, but would I trust them to run the country?  No. Maybe a future Labour government.

I also remembered Corbyn as my MP many years’ ago in Highbury.  I remember his support for the IRA, and how he supported Arab terrorist groups, and allowed mad mullahs to sit in the street outside Finsbury Park Mosque and preach hate (I believe the instigator is now in prison in the USA, courtesy of Mrs May).

In the end I went for the LIberals.  I know they won’t get in, but I’ve done my bit.

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In the Hot Seat

(My edit of article published in Taxi magazine this week)

In the Hot Seat

Did anyone watch the C4 documentary The Knowledge:  The World’s Toughest Taxi Test?  If you didn’t, you missed a treat.  Filmed at the PCO, it showed interviews with Knowledge candidates and examiners, and excruciating footage of candidates being interrogated in actual appearances.  You could feel their pain.

Going Blank

We’ve all been sat in a chair unable to locate a Point of Interest in our mind; either in the examination room, or in the driver’s seat.  When asked for a street or hotel that you can’t think of immediately, thoughts come from all directions to cloud your thought processes, and your focus disappears.  As any Knowledge Boy knows, places you pass every day can be forgotten when put on the spot.  As a Knowledge examiner I remember one tea break discussing the places we’d been asked for in our cabs but went blank on.  My contribution was Upper Berkerley Street, but other examiners provided examples just as embarrassing.

Making Mistakes

Early in my career, a bloke asked for New Kent Road, then fell asleep soon after getting in.  At Elephant and Castle I asked him where he wanted to be dropped off.  I was horrified when he said he wanted dropping off at New King’s Road, several miles in the opposite direction.  I completed the journey with no extra charge.  He was fine about it.  And so he might have been.  That was at least twenty-five years’ ago, and I’m still convinced he asked for New Kent Road.

Airport hotels can be difficult to remember if you rarely go out to the Flyers.  Well before the advent of the Cabbie’s Mate, an Arab gentleman asked me for a hotel at Heathrow Airport.  I should have asked my passenger for the precise address, but I thought I’d ask another cab driver when I drew alongside one on the drive out to Heathrow.  I was told that the hotel was the facing you as you pull onto the main roundabout on the airport spur.  As I drove along the M4 and on to the slip to the roundabout I saw it was a different hotel completely.  I drove past the entrance and was now back on the M4 heading west to God knows where.  I eventually found out that the hotel was on the edge of Slough, a town that I’ve still never been to in all my years of cab driving.

I made a similar mistake another time and found myself heading into Buckinghamshire.  It’s a novel experience for a London cab driver to drive past sheep grazing on green pastures:  it usually means you’re on your way to Gatwick Airport, or have trapped a lucrative Roader.  It’s a sickening feeling when you have an irate passenger in the back that’s going to arrive home late, and you’re burning time and diesel.

I find airports confusing:  all those fast-moving lanes going in all directions, over-complicated direction signs, and all those car parks.  I was therefore a bit on edge after trapping a nice ride to Heathrow.  My passengers wanted Terminal 2, then Terminal 5.  I dropped at T2, then followed the signs for T5.  I followed the signs on the airport service roads, around roundabouts, and avoided the dead end car park lanes.  I was just congratulating myself on following the complicated route when I saw one last sign.  It said “Taxis Only”.  I’m driving a taxi, I thought, so I took that lane into the terminal.  I then found myself on the back of the cab rank.  Thankfully, I managed to get out of trouble by driving over the kerbing.  Embarrassing though.

The Westfield shopping centre at Shepherd’s Bush still causes me anxiety.  It’s a convoluted route to the official taxi drop off, and it resembles an airport with its confusing lanes and car parks.  On my first visit there I panicked and dropped a Caribbean family off inside the customer car park.  I pretended this was where cabs normally set down.  My passengers were none the wiser, and would have saved a couple of quid.  I, on the other hand, paid a pound to get out of the car park.  I did the same thing again a few years’ later when they changed the road system.

Don’t even talk to me about Westfield Stratford.  They moved my football club next to it.  I’ve been a few times as a pedestrian and I get lost after every game.

Last year, an American couple got into my cab on the Haymarket rank and asked for “Rueben’s”.  I repeated back the destination to confirm.  I ran a nice quick route up to Baker Street and stopped outside Reuben’s, London’s most celebrated kosher restaurant.  “Where’s the hotel?” asked the man.  I realised my mistake immediately.  We got caught up in traffic on the way to Rubens Hotel opposite Buckingham Palace, and of course the extra fare was down to me.  The couple were fine about it; in fact he implied it was his wife’s fault.  The fact was, we couldn’t hear each other over the noise of the traffic when we set off from one of London’s busiest roads.

The moral of the story is:  always confirm the destination before setting off – even if you have to shout.  And don’t trust fellow cab drivers to know more than you do.  It’s often said at the PCO that your Knowledge is never as good as the day you gain your badge.  When in doubt it’s probably best to ask a Knowledge Boy for directions.

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