Monthly Archives: July 2018

Strength through Knowledge

(original edit of article published in Taxi magazine this week).

With fewer people starting the Knowledge, our reaction could be “good, more work for us.” It’s a short-sighted view though, as fewer drivers means less collective power. And collective power is something we are currently in need of right now. We need strength in numbers to fight the long-running licensing of Uber, and to curtail TfL’s damaging road “re-modelling” projects and road closures.

The private hire contingent outnumbers us considerably – around 113,000 mini-cab drivers against fewer than 24,000 taxi drivers. Of course, there are nowhere near 113,000 drivers on active service. Not many PH drivers stay around for long, but they keep their licences as they double as a Congestion Charge season ticket. Private hire drivers are less of a coherent group. We have the advantage as if we put our different political viewpoints aside and pull together, we can effect some change.  It’s more than ever important to attach ourselves to trade organisations.

It might be a good time to start the Knowledge as you’re likely to get through the system quicker. When I became a Knowledge examiner in 2011 I was part of a cohort of six who were recruited to replace others who had recently left. Waiting times between Knowledge Appearances were running at double what they should have been: ie. A 56-day appointment could run to 112 days. This would have been incredibly frustrating for those affected.

I completed the Knowledge 30 years’ ago this coming December. It was tough in the eighties, but not as tough as some people make out. Sure, some people had bad experiences with examiners who made life difficult for them or acted inappropriately. Comparatively recently I’ve heard anecdotes from former Knowledge Boys who had things thrown at them – or had their appointment card damaged by the examiner scraping it against a wall during the last days of the Raj at Penton Street. No examiners were ever rude or unreasonable with me, though, and the Knowledge was easier to learn. No examiners asked me for silly Points of Interest. I just plodded along, safe in the knowledge that as long as I didn’t give up, I’d get there in the end.

The Knowledge is harder now. For a start, some districts of London barely existed in the 80s. There were a few pubs in Wapping, but past News International on Pennington Street, Points of Interest were thin on the ground. There wasn’t much in Rotherhithe, and Canary Wharf didn’t exist. There wasn’t even a lot going on in the square mile of the City, where livery Halls were the bread and butter Points. Knowledge Boys neglect livery halls at their peril to this day, but they also need to keep up with the hotels and bars. The City pretty much closed at 5pm. Restaurants and bars barely existed. The City is now chock full of lovely Points that need to be learnt.

It’s hard work remembering Points, and they change so frequently it’s hard to keep up with them. My Knowledge is nothing special. I have the memory span of a guppy. As an examiner, I only used to ask all those Premier Inns, Travelodges, Double Trees, &c. in the vain hope that I’d remember them myself. I remember few livery halls.

Compared with the old PCO at Penton Street, things aren’t quite so austere up The Towers; but the marking system puts undue stress on the candidate. Unless you’ve experienced the Knowledge in the last 17 years you won’t be aware of the Red-Lining system. You were rarely told how well you were doing, and you didn’t know how you were scored (many years later I learned the examiners used a marking system consisting of smiley faces). You understood that once the examiners felt you knew enough, they’d put you up a stage. These days you can go down. You can be relegated.

In the spirit of customer-focussed transparency, everyone leaves with a feedback sheet containing their scores – and possibly a few scribbled comments on their performance.  If you don’t gain enough marks in order to gain a C pass in four Appearances you are Red-Lined and sent back to start that stage from the beginning. It could result in months of hard work down the drain. I think once you’ve amassed a certain amount of points you should be put up to the next stage. I don’t think anyone should be put back. The Knowledge shouldn’t be made easier, nor should it become medieval torture.

At least today’s Knowledge candidates are clear on what questions they can be asked. During my tenure, TfL finally worked out how to put a circle on a map.  One amusing event was when we tried to manually draw the six-mile exclusion zone on the wall maps with marker pen. I was the one with the degree so they thought I should draw the first one. I made a right mess of it.

Anyway, for those starting the Knowledge now, they have more realistic expectations of the job. It’s been a tough few years, but I believe we’ve hit the bottom and we’re bouncing up again. I believe their investment in the trade can only go up.

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Lost Property & Missing Policemen

(Original edit, and original title, of article written for Taxi magazine).

I hadn’t found any lost property in the cab for a long time. I was keen to get home to start a three-day weekend when my vigilance deserted me and I let a man leave his phone in my cab.

These things always seem to happen at the end of the day before a day off.  I have an excellent record for re-uniting folk with their mobile phones though. What usually happens is they call the lost phone, I answer it; then arrange to deliver it make to the owner. No call came this time, so I took the official lost property route. It was frustrating though because I remember where I picked my man up and where I dropped him; I just didn’t know the door number.

It was 6.30pm, so the TfL Lost Property Office at Baker Street was closed. Not to worry, I knew West End Central Police Station would be open so I headed to Mayfair. The problem with police stations is that there’s no parking. They hardly encourage you to report a crime, do they?  I parked on the rank in New Burlington Street and made the sixty second walk to Savile Row. I wasn’t there long. Just long enough to read the notice saying they were closed.

It was Thursday and I was in Going Home mode on ComCab. I wouldn’t be back in London until Monday. Bearing in mind the twenty-four hour rule I thought where else could I hand in the phone? I then remembered a bilking incident from 2016. A PC at West Hampstead helped me recover some money after a penniless student fled from his own house leaving an unpaid £41 taxi fare. His parents weren’t in to lend him the cab fare from Shaftesbury Avenue to Hampstead and he panicked and fled the scene.  Anyway, I remember the police officer saying that he worked nights, so I was confident West Hampstead Police Station would be open, and it was on my route home.

The last time I handed something in at a police station was about twenty-five years’ ago. As a young butter boy I foolishly accepted a £50 note that two youths gave me as payment for a fare. When I went to pay for my meal at the Royal Oak caff we could all see the note was a fake.

Later that evening I heard a radio report about a gang of counterfeiters who had been apprehended. I figured my moody £50 note was probably one of their creations. When I handed it in at Tottenham Court Road, I half expected a reward;, but all they did was put my fifty into a plastic bag and send me on my way. Don’t forget I’d also given the two scroats about £40 change.

Tottenham Court Road Police Station is long gone, but I was pleased to find that West Hampstead was open. Great. I had my apology prepared as the male and female greeted me behind the glass: “It’s a boring one… Lost property.” The lady was even more apologetic than I was when she told me they no longer accept lost property. She also pointed out how lucky I was to find them open. She could clearly hardly believe it herself as she exclaimed that they only open three HOURS per week!

She had the air of a provincial librarian. In fact the whole place felt like a small town library. It wasn’t like the police stations I’d come to expect from watching TV. There was no harassed bloke in white shirtsleeves trying to tap stuff into a computer while folk drunkenly fell all over the counter mumbling nonsense. There were no streetwalkers sat sullenly on a bench awaiting processing, or hoping to be let off with a warning and a lecture on keeping yourself safe. It was just two middle aged people manning the station; and, I noted, a pet dog lying under a desk.

I know little about mobile phones, so I asked their help in trying to open the device to identify the owner. The man couldn’t open the phone either. They said I could go to Kentish Town Police Station as an alternative. I explained I was heading towards the M1 and home. He said I’d done my bit by trying two stations, so I agreed I’d have my three days’ off and take it to Baker Street on Monday.

We try our best to do the right thing and re-unite people with their lost property, but cuts to the Police Service have resulted in the situation where we’re put in a difficult position: TfL Lost Property Office works office hours; most police stations closed; and there’s nowhere to park if you are lucky to find one open.

They say the police are never around when you want them. Several days later I passed a rank of police vans parked up on Bridge Street prior to the anti-Brexit demo. There was a policeman in a yellow vest stopping people drive into Parliament Square. I wondered what station all these coppers came from, and whether if I tapped on the door of the van they’d take down some particulars and put any lost property into a plastic bag for me?

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My World Cup Shame

I’d like to say I remember something about the 1966 World Cup – ANYTHING – but I can’t. True, I was only 4 1/2, but you’d think I’d remember something; at least the atmosphere around the event: perhaps my dad holding me aloft like the gleaming Jules Rimet trophy as our little black & white TV showed us beat off the West Germans? No, nothing.

During the 1970 World Cup I was living in rural Staffordshire. Like all my friends we collected the free Esso World Cup coins from fuel stations (not silly stickers in those days). They were swapped amongst us, and put on to a commemorative board (shown). Again, I remember nothing about the actual football event.
I don’t think my complete coin collection made it into 1971. In fact, I think I can remember destroying it, once it became irrelevant to my eight year old head. I expect they would’ve been swept away in a spirit of punk rock revisionism six years’ later anyway.
I’m not even going to research how much that collection might be worth now…
essoEsso 2

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The Book They Tried to Ban

I’m delighted to announce that last night I completed my book manuscript. I started it about five years’ ago. I wrote it part-time, and there was about a year when I didn’t touch it at all: I just never had the time when I was working as a Knowledge Examiner at TF Hell (and they wouldn’t have allowed me to publish anything mentioning them).

I’ve emailed the whole 93,200 words off for proof-reading and eventual book production. It’ll need formatting for book layout, cover design, &c. As I’m publishing it myself I have total control over all aspects of production.

I’ll post updates on the book’s production; and I’ll put up some outtakes (probably including my Brexit Rant chapter, which didn’t make the finished manuscript).

As an amuse bouche, here’s the contents list:

Contents

Introduction

 

1) The Knowledge

2) Butter Boy

3) My Personal Revolution

4) Back on the Cab

5) How it all Works

6) Passengers

7) Know Your Enemy

8) When Things go Wrong

9) Examiner

10) Back on the Cab (again)

11) Examiner 2

12) The Years of Change

13) Uber

14) The Future

 

Appendix A:  Q&A

Appendix B:  Knowledge Boy Tips

 

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