(Here’s my own edit of my article for Taxi magazine this week).
It’s not the first time that adverts on the back of buses have given me ideas for articles. This week, my eye was drawn to an advert for Les Clefs d’Or, the association that recognises exceptional service in hotel concierges. It was a jolly-looking bit of publicity, depicting a bloke in a suit looking at a map, pen in hand. He looked like a Knowledge Boy. In fact, the legend was “Nobody knows London like Les Clefs d’Or”. It’s an audacious claim, though I don’t think it warrants a letter from the LTDA solicitor. All I could think was, what would it be like to be a hotel concierge?
There was a reality TV show earlier this year showing hotel staff at work at the Mandarin Oriental . I remember thinking at the time how difficult I would find this job. I was amazed at the patience of hotel staff as they pandered to the whims of wealthy hotel guests accustomed to five-start service. The enduring image for me was of an Arab woman who had her luggage delivered to the hotel in a removal van, complete with explicit instructions on how her suite should be converted into a children’s play pen. Some people live in another world.
For those deemed worthy of the prestigious golden keys award, The Les Clefs d’Or website outlines what is expected from the top concierge:
“Concierge Clefs d’Or will accommodate every guest request so long as it is morally, legally, and humanly possible. Their services run the gamut from the mundane to the extraordinary, yet each request is fulfilled with vigor to the guest’s full satisfaction.
Concierge Clefs d’Or handle all duties with zeal: mail and messages, recommendations and reservations, travel and meeting planning, personal shopping and personal communication. They are also supreme social advisors, business expediters, and personal confidantes.
On those rare occasions when guests’ requests cannot be fulfilled single-handedly, Les Clefs d’Or Concierges have the necessary back-up: a never-ending network of acquaintances, friends, and colleagues from around the world to see to it that guests’ demands are met.”
Blimey, I always thought I fulfilled all my cab customers’ requests with vigour, but this is something else. Imagine being chased up every ten minutes for freshly-ironed newspaper, or a new round of roast swan sandwiches. I wonder how flexible the “morally and legally” thing is? How far would a concierge go in utilising his “never-ending network” should a Russian gangster request guns and drugs? Would he point Sir in the right direction while politely explaining that Harrods don’t sell plutonium tea bags?
I’m still amazed I’m serving the public, as being a socialite doesn’t come naturally to me. I prefer animals to people, and I’d certainly rather muck out the elephants’ enclosure at a zoo, than pander to demanding people in a luxury hotel. When I was a Knowledge Examiner, one of my valued customers was a doorman at the Ritz. When dropping off there I’d sometimes see him go about his business. I was impressed with the easy way he had with people: just the right balance of brevity and formality. I’d be too self-conscious. It wouldn’t feel natural. Hotel staff must deal with some very difficult people. I would find it hard to retain a smile on my face dealing with people I couldn’t stand.
Those who give the most problems are often those who are used to getting everything handed to them on a plate. In a cab they hold the driver responsible for the weather, the traffic; and for anyone they have been in contact with that morning, who has failed to live up to their exacting expectations. Rich, demanding, people never seem to be happy. They just seem to want more and more. Too many people chase money, fame, attention; but never settle for what they have. Over the years I have learned not to expect things that I’m unlikely to ever attain.
In our game we can get by without being sociable. The garrulous cabbie of popular imagination is largely confined to television drama. Talkative drivers exist, but in my experience they’re a minority. Most customers prefer a chat-free ride, and are often plugged into an electrical device before they even enter the hallowed portal of a London cab.
It’s difficult to hear people properly in a cab anyway, even with the intercom on full. All but the strongest voices are drowned out by the soundtrack of London. Maybe it’s a symptom of getting older but I’m always amazed how younger people can carry out a phone conversation on a busy street. All I can hear is buses and cement mixers.
No, keep your rich and powerful, and attention-seeking punters. My favourite passenger is a package, and I’ve been known to drive long distances to pick one up on the ComCab circuit. It’s a nice feeling knowing your customer isn’t going to criticise your route; or expect you to be their supreme social advisor, business expediter, and personal confidante.
Each to their own though.