Sat Nav Johnny

(Original edit of article written for Taxi magazine).

It’s often said that your Knowledge is at its best on the day you get your badge.  I recently had to send my Cabbie’s Mate device away for a battery replacement and updates.  I survived without it for a few days, but it was an anxious time.  Maybe I need to update my Knowledge too?

If you’re not familiar with a Cabbie’s Mate, it works like a sat nav, but you can switch it to A – Z mode and draw a line between two Points of Interest.  The sat nav element has limited use in London, but the A – Z maps and the list of Points can get you out of many a sticky situation.  Anyway, I chose my moment and surrendered my device prior to a few days scheduled holiday.  This way I’d be without it for the weekend rather than on weekdays.  Weekend work is usually less challenging and I figured I could find my way to Harrods and Selfridges without electrical aid.  A few weekend jobs did test me though, and reminded me I’d been getting lazy.

A young American couple got in at Pancras on the Saturday morning.  They wanted a hotel in Shoreditch and consulted their phone for details.  Tension mounted as my mind went through the possibilities.  Shoreditch has always been a weak spot.  From my Knowledge days I’d always been confused by it’s complicated one-way streets and I never learnt them properly.  From 1999 I had eleven years out of the trade, and when I returned they’d changed some of the one-way workings and blocked off some roads.  I avoid the area whenever possible.

Confirmation came:  “It’s the Citizen M in Holywell Lane.”  Strange.  I’d driven down Holywell Lane the previous day but I didn’t notice any hotels.  We set off.  As I turned into Holywell Lane I stopped outside a big multi-coloured building.  It didn’t much look like a hotel but it was the Citizen M.

Emboldened by the successful conclusion to this particular job I responded to a couple who had just left the hotel and wanted a cab.  Columbia Road Flower Market was the destination: a short hop, but one fraught with the potential for disaster if you are out of your West End comfort zone and are dragged even further into the heart of darkness of East London.  And there was no time to consult a map.  The first problem was the No Left Turn onto Shoreditch High Street.  A right, then another right onto Curtain Road might have been the sensible option, but I panicked and went straight ahead into Bethnal Green Road.  Now what do I do?  If I go through Calvert Circus can I get a right into Shoreditch High Street and another into Hackney Road?  I wasn’t sure.  I wasn’t prepared to get caught up in Brick Lane either.  I carried on to Squirries Street, and then made the left into Gosset Street.   It might not have been the shortest route, but it was quick.  It only cost my couple £7 and they were happy.

*Fear not, Knowledge Boys reading this:  you won’t be asked this run in your next Appearance.  I’m no longer an Examiner, and most Examiners would consider this little run beneath them.

On the Sunday I trapped a nice job from the V & A to the IMAX Cinema.  It was a nice clear run, but as the cinema building loomed up as we approached from York Road, I realised I didn’t know where the entrance was.  I felt all I could do was pull in just before the roundabout and advise my man to follow the subway signs.  I suspect this was the best way to access the IMAX anyway, but it did make me reflect on how I’d let my Knowledge slip.  We pass buildings every day, yet we don’t look at them properly.  We constantly need to top our Knowledge up and remain observant at all times.  Sat nav devices are useful, but they can make you lazy if you rely on them too much.  Prior to technology we used to navigate by landmarks and this is a sound strategy that we need to keep up.  On longer runs you have time to think and plan your route.  On a short run there’s no time, you just have to go and hope that your training kicks in.  Your years of training usually gets you through.

I got my device back before the following Saturday when I took an account job from the City to South-East-Off-The-Map.  I liked to think I could find Lewisham without the aid of a map, and indeed could.  I even found my way back to the City all right.  But if anyone finds the door to the IMAX, please let me know.


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3 responses to “Sat Nav Johnny

  1. Hi Pubcat,

    I’ve been reading your blog with much interest and some fond memories have come flooding back.
    It’s funny I too drop Upper Berkeley Street once when I had a punter in the back. In my panic I asked another fellow cabbie and he looked at me like I had two heads!
    I passed out on the Knowledge in 1989 and left the trade after 18 years service due to medical reasons in 2007.
    I was advised earlier this year that I’ll be able to reapply in January 2019 with a short set of appearances in the region of 1-3 at the most, presuming I answer that is.
    I will be joining a Knowledge school about this time in 2018 so I can go through the refresher process and hope to have my badge back by mid 2019.
    From your blogs I see you did the same so it would be of interest to know what sort of points where thrown at you by the gentleman that is Mr Wilkins.
    Any pointers on the Knowledge school of the day would also be useful so I use my time as constructively as possible.


    RHS – 48135 – Wimbledon Park


    • Hi Richard

      I got my first badge in December 1988, had several years where I only worked in college and university vacations, then foolishly failed to renew my badge in 2000. I started the K all over again in 2010, and was offered a re-test four months’ later. Surprisingly, I only needed one Appearance. I wasn’t with a school and pretty much out of the K loop. I didn’t know who my Examiner was until I joined TfL as an Examiner myself less than a year later! I then knew him as John Wilkin. He was really kind and put me at my ease. Points asked were pretty run of the mill, and the runs weren’t as complex as some of the ones regular K-Boys are sometimes asked. At one point he just asked a list of Points, but they weren’t particularly hard. What I wasn’t expecting was to be asked some suburban runs: I remember City Airport to Stratford (I wouldn’t be able to call that even now), and another going out to Ealing. I thought I answered about 40% well, but Super Wilkie was impressed. It felt like I was in there for an hour, but it was probably 30 – 40 minutes. When I started the K again – after 11 years – I felt I’d forgotten everything, but I found bits coming back to me. It wasn’t like starting all over again. I wish you luck, let me know how you get on.


      • Hi Pubcat,

        Thank you for taking the time to come back to me with your insight, it’s very much appreciated.
        I’ll be back to you in 2019 with hopefully a good tale to tell.

        Be lucky for now.


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