(Original edit of article for Taxi magazine).
I don’t know what the weather is like as you’re reading this, but at the time of writing it feels like summer has been and gone. A month after the last of the snow we enjoyed the hottest April day since 1949. One minute we still had the central heating on at home, the next I’m getting my shorts out for the summer. The weather has now settled into a typically unpredictable spring.
Thursday April 19th was a miserable day as I crawled around the West End in the boiling heat wondering what roads were left open. Roads around Hyde Park Corner were closed off for the Commonwealth meetings. Pall Mall westbound was closed, and I was alarmed to find Brook Street closed too (I think this one was for roadworks, though there was no notification, as usual). I made it to lunchtime, and thought I’d treat myself to some cool air afterwards. I found out my air-conditioning had packed up. It was like driving a kebab shop.
My cab had recently passed its inspection, but it was still costing me money. That’ll be another £50 for re-gassing my air-conditioning system – when I can afford it. I spent £50 a few days after the inspection when I noticed steam issuing from the bonnet when I put on at the Jermyn Street rank. I got the cab to the Luton Cab Centre without incident before they closed, and had an early finish. I barely made my diesel money for the day. I must have had every section of radiator hose replaced in the last two years. What do they make these hoses out of? Aren’t they meant to be waterproof and heat resistant?
Some days later the cab failed to start when I was about to set off in the morning. The RAC fitted a new battery. I’d lost a day and £147. I wish I took the trouble to learn a bit about engines earlier in my career. At least I’d have an idea what these parts were that I seem to have replaced at every service. Wishbones, bushes, trailing arms, anybody?
I shouldn’t really whinge about not having air-conditioning. In earlier days it was a luxury, and considered a bit flash for a taxi. The first FX4s I drove didn’t have it. You had to open a window, manually. Electrical switches were a rarity. When I bought a new Fairway I didn’t think it was worth spending extra money on air-conditioning. I thought having a sun roof would be enough. I then realised that a sunroof serves as a magnifying glass. Opening up the sunroof to its fullest four inches I didn’t feel any cooler. You get a bit of air, but also a lot of dust and debris from building sites (we all know how many building sites there are in London now; do the new cabs come with opening roofs?).
I don’t know how we survived the hot summers. Over-heating radiators were more common in the 90s. On particularly hot days I’d be swerving around cabs and buses that had ground to a halt in a heap of steam, and were awaiting things to cool down before adding more water.
Cyclists must get really hot peddling away in the heat. Most of us learnt the Knowledge on a motorbike. I was also a motorcycle courier. It was desperately hot in the summer wearing a crash helmet and protective clothing, but I felt I needed some protection riding around Central London all day, then riding the company Honda VT500 home to Upminster. I’ve seen many motorcyclists wearing T-shirts and without gloves recently; in the West End and also on motorways. It makes me shudder. Things were no more comfortable in the winter when you needed thermals and furry mitts. No, I wouldn’t go back to courier work; whether on a cycle, motorbike, or in a van.
If I had to choose hot or cold weather, I’d go for hot. I hate those cold, dark, winter evenings in the cab.
Maybe I shouldn’t complain too much about my job. Hyde Park Corner is back to normal, and I’ll have my air-conditioning back soon. Mind you, I’ve not had the need for any cool air since those few hot days in April. In the weeks that followed we had little but cold, rain, and hail. There were even warnings of snow on high ground at the end of the month. I forgot about my air conditioning and even put the heater on a few times. Anyway, there’s nothing more British than complaining about the weather.