Monthly Archives: August 2018

The Book they tried to Ban: Brexit Rant

My book is still a couple of months away from publication. Here’s an excerpt from a chapter that I didn’t include in the final draft.

 

Don’t Mention the War

I didn’t feel strongly either way, but I voted to leave the European Union. The EU had expanded to include former Communist countries. Some of the new entrants had very different cultures from the established EU members. They had no experience of mass immigration and they had much weaker economies. I couldn’t see what they were bringing to the party. We had the fifth strongest economy in the world at the time of the referendum. Maybe we should have helped form a breakaway Premier League?

A couple of the new member countries made it clear they weren’t going to take their share of refugees from Syria if they were asked to. Other member countries had economic problems, and it looked for a time as if they might be forced to leave the union. Citizens in other member countries also wanted to leave the EU. So, if the EU was to break up, someone had to be the first to leave and make the first move. Someone had to be Ginger Spice.

If anyone is to blame should the whole thing go tits-up, it’s Cameron’s fault for calling a referendum. The government made no provision for a leave vote whatsoever. For me, all the pathetic scare-mongering from people like George Osborne helped make my mind up how to vote. Maybe it was a token gesture on my part to call their bluff, but none of us expected the leave result.

I was now apparently a “Hard Brexiteer” because I took the government’s pre-referendum flyer as gospel. They led us to believe it would be easy. Cameron was going to invoke European Union Article 50 the following day and we would leave the EU lock, stock and barrel. I thought we’d just cancel the direct debit and unsubscribe from the newsletter. They told us no different. Nobody said there would be months of legal wrangling before Article 50 could be activated. Nobody mentioned a huge divorce bill, a lengthy transition period, or the thorny issue of the Irish border. Unsurprisingly we have heard nary a word from Dave Cameron since he deserted us, the slimy toad.

I don’t think the EU appreciates what a sensitive issue the Irish border is. The EU wants a proper border between Northern Ireland (United Kingdom) and the Republic of Ireland (European Union), yet in other parts of Europe they allow borders where there shouldn’t be any. There’s an illegal border on Cyprus, which is EU territory. Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, my arse – there’s no such country. It’s only recognised by Turkey. Turkish Cypriots are EU citizens, whether they like it or not. Talking of borders, the EU stayed quiet on the matter of Catalan independence in 2017. Whatever happened with Catalonia – are they independent now or not?

Brexit was subsequently blamed for many of the country’s problems. Banks and other institutions used Brexit as an excuse for making staff redundant. In the wake of the referendum, Lloyds bank announced 200 branch closures and 3,000 job cuts, but it transpired that the redundancies were planned before the referendum. The funniest claim came from Mayor Kahn and TfL who said that the “uncertainty of Brexit” was partly to blame for TfL expected loss of £400 million in 2018. It was nothing to do with Brexit. People were deserting the underground because it was overcrowded, full of rowdy people, and prone to cancellations and delays. Buses had lost their popularity because they were too slow. TfL had also shot themselves in the foot with the unrestricted licensing of private hire. This started a race to the bottom and made it cheaper to travel by mini-cab than a bus.

Many in big business are nervous about the UKs withdrawal. Of course they are. They’re worried they won’t be able to get any more cheap labour from Eastern Europe. It’s not Brexit itself which causes panic; it’s the uncertainty and the scare-mongering. Uncertainty is acerbated by the slow progress of negotiations with the EU. Mrs May took three months out for a vanity election in 2017, and talks have been conducted at a French escargot pace ever since.

The British are tough people, or at least we used to be. It’s generally older people who voted to leave the EU. The older you are, the closer you are to World War Two. Our ancestors were tough. They had to be. They needed faith and determination. Not enough people believe in the country any more. A stiff upper lip is now seen as cold and insensitive, but we need to pull together and invoke the Spirit of the Blitz once again. Sadly, it’s no longer PC to say that Britain’s great, or call to make Britain great again.

Time will tell how things will develop once we’ve left the EU. It might be a disaster. Some of our own citizens want us to get a bad deal so they can say”I told you so”. I say off to Traitors’ Gate with them. I’m still not sure how I’d vote if there was a new referendum tomorrow, though I’d probably stick with my original decision and see things through. If the referendum result isn’t respected I’ll be in Trafalgar Square with Nigel Farage setting fire to the EU flag.

The EU had to make it difficult for us in order to warn others about having the same ideas about leaving, but how dare they ask us for all that money? I can’t help thinking that the EU is something of a boys’ club, and I wonder how much money is spent on fat cat pensions and the EU wine cellar (admittedly, I might be sore because I don’t have a pension. Or a wine cellar).

I suggest the EU remember what the UK did for Europe during the war. Germany built up its infrastructure quickly enough after trashing Europe. European transport systems make ours look like the third world. Britain’s Family silver had been sold off to foreign investors years’ ago. Foreign transport systems are cheaper and more efficient than our own. Is this because so many of our transport systems are run by European governments? It’s the same with our domestic energy supply. We had rationing until 1953. We didn’t pay off war-time loans to the USA until 2006 – around £27 billion in today’s values. Other countries progressed while we were still crippled with debt from the war. I think we deserve some respect. If I was Mrs May I’d tell the EU to bugger off, we don’t owe you anything.

People confuse the EU with Europe and think you’re anti-European if you want to leave the EU. You can still drink fine wine in Paris and eat cheese strained through an old man’s sock. You can still lie on a Spanish beach until you turn red and sizzle like a chorizo sausage. You can still drink murky over-strength ales in a Belgian bar. You can still do whatever you normally do on a weekend in Amsterdam they can’t touch you for it.

I’m sorry we’re not such close trading partners, and that borders will re-appear, but I love Europe and Europeans, and I shall continue to take most of my holidays within the EU and the English-speaking world. Admittedly, preference is given to those countries that were on our side in the war. The European project has sidelined the Commonwealth countries: countries with whom we share deep ties, and a common language. A few of them mght have funny ideas about civil rights, and they might put your head on a spike if they think you might be gay; but during the war our Commonwealth cousins rallied round. There were also the plucky Poles, Czechs, Greeks and Scandinavians. But lest we forget, there were also some Bayern Munich-supporting wannabees who aligned themselves with the team they expected to win. They know who they are. It’s sad that the Germans are still telling the Greeks what to do. Search out the World at War series on the Yesterday channel for further details. I guarantee you’ll be a frothy-mouthed Hard Brextremist by the end of it – though I warn you though, that the series lasts longer than the actual war.

So what’s all this got to do with the London cab trade, I hear you ask. Probably nothing. Who knows? Anyway, I’ve gone on a bit in this section. File my ideas under half-baked if you want to, but I reckon I know as much about it as some of the so-called experts I hear on radio phone-ins.

 

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Where did it all go Wonga?

I’m sorry to hear that Wonga are about to call in the recievers. Could they not get a loan to tide them over until pay day?

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Taxing the Poor

(Original edit of article for Taxi magazine).

  • Two days after saying I was aiming to get my PCN average down to zero a year I got a £65 fine for slipping into a box junction on Westminster Bridge Road.

 

London is so congested and polluted that something needs to be done. Last month I filled in a Transport for London on-line consultation regarding congestion charging – including the proposal to charge mini-cabs to drive in the Congestion Zone. Well, yes; but that’s only part of the story: in giving my opinions I also suggested they strip away the cycle superhighways as a start. I reminded TfL that there is less traffic than there was a few years ago; it has just been slowed down by ill-thought out road modelling schemes.

The consultation on road-pricing got me thinking how poorer motorists are most affected by congestion charging, as well as the fines that those of us forced to drive in London inevitably pick up by being forced to park where we’re not allowed to, or by touching the sacred yellow paint of a box junction.

In 2010 I returned to the trade after eleven years of doing other things in other towns. As I planned to tackle the Knowledge for the second time I assumed Central London would now be free of traffic! Well, they’d brought in an £8 Congestion Charge – who’s going to pay that?! I reasoned. Of course, the traffic was even worse than it was when I left London. Not only that, but there were more restrictions, and there were cameras watching your every move.

There was a TV programme on in July called Killed by Debt. It was a harrowing depiction of how things can spiral out of control when you fall foul of the powers that be. It concerned the true story of a young man starting his first job, as a motorcycle courier.

When his motorcycle lets him down, he replaces it with a new bike with the help of his mum’s boyfriend. The monthly payments seemed reasonable, but the poor chap doesn’t earn as much as he expects to, and his running costs are high. Being self-employed he is responsible for his own business, and when things go wrong it is up to him to sort out.

When he picks up two PCNs, he neglects to pay within fourteen days and the fines rise sharply. Before long he’s the subject of a computerised court case and his details are passed on by Camden Council to legalised gangsters – bailiffs. The debt builds to over £1000, but the chap is too proud to ask his family for help. He loses his bike – his only way of making a living. Unable to see a way out he takes his own life.

Whenever I get a PCN, I pay it immediately then forget about it; but what if £65 represents a whole week’s profit as in this young man’s case?

I eventually got my own PCN level down to one a year, and I’m aiming for zero this year. I need to rely on luck though, as on a few occasions I have been caught on the edge of box junctions. I also did two illegals within five minutes when I was shocked by a job down to South Wimbledon and wasn’t expecting any banned left turns. Well, what does any day man know about Wimbledon?

Well-off people don’t need to worry too much about the legalities of minor driving offences or parking infringements. A box junction infringement is an inconvenience: just get your PA to deal with it and move on. It’s the same with the Congestion Charge. This just keeps the poorer motorist out of Central London. It’s mostly commercial vehicles in Central London. Few people drive up and down Regent Street for fun. The people who are forced to drive in London are the ones that suffer.

TfL, and their allies, bring in damaging road-narrowing schemes that slow the traffic down. They allow multiple road closures to occur in the same area simultaneously; and they schedule as many road closures for special events as they possibly can. They then complain that people are being killed by pollution and claim they are doing something about it. They fail to see that it’s pollution engineered by themselves (Yes, I reminded TfL of this fact in my consultation response). Let’s not forget that cab drivers are among those most affected. We’d all support sensible proposals, and sensible proposals mean keeping the traffic moving.

If petrol and diesel-powered motor vehicles are so responsible for deadly pollution they should have been banned outright. The switch to electric vehicles should have started years’ ago. All those lumbering red monsters should be operating out of garages and should not be sat blocking West End streets. Bus stands should have been converted into ranks of electrical charging points. Instead of banning motor vehicles they levy a charge that only affects the poorer drivers. You can pump as much filth into the air as you like, so long as you can pay for it.

Anyway, the consultation runs until the end of September.

 

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Burka King

I’m not a great fan of Boris Johnson, but I feel he’s getting some unwarranted flak on the Burka-Gate scandal; not so much for what he said, but for who he is. He now faces a show trial. Just laugh it off, Boris; it’s just a Brexit diversion.

Let’s not forget that he spoke against a ban on the full veil. I also don’t favour a ban, but I don’t like full face coverings. Nobody’s face should be covered in public places where security is an issue, or where clear communication is needed. You wouldn’t be allowed to wear a balaclava in a bank, and the idea that someone can teach in a school wearing a veil is preposterous.

Boris has got people talking about a contentious and complex subject. His bank robber and letter box comments might have upset some people but we all know what he means. All he’s done is make a couple of fairly lame humorous comments about garments that some people chose to wear. If women aren’t wearing certain clothes by choice then that’s another discussion that is needed. I notice it’s only women who wear full face coverings. When I see a woman in these Medieval garments I see oppression. It demeans the wearer and disrespects others. You are stressing your difference. You’re saying “Don’t talk to me.” If you want to speak to me, I want to see your face.

Free speech is being eroded with each passing day. If a person faces a hearing for these comments, it’s a sad day for all of us who view serious issues through the prism of humour. Does this mean we can’t chuckle at hipsters’ Civil War beards or people wearing pyjamas to go to the shops?

As I say, I’m generally not a Boris fan. I feel I could have a laugh with him down the pub, though I wouldn’t trust him. The reverse is probably true with Jeremy Corbyn. Jez has been quiet on the burka issue. The Boris issue has taken some sting out of Jeremy’s Jew-baiting. I’d imagine Jez is keen on full-face coverings though, whether a Hezbollah scarf or an IRA hood.

Oh come on I’m only joking, Jeremy. Can’t we laugh about anything these days?

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Is it time for an anti-demo march?

(Original edit of article for Taxi magazine).

So, another summer spent planning our work days around special events. In July we had the Gay Pride event, Donald Trump’s visit, and the ever-growing programme of running and cycling events that make life difficult for those of us forced to use London’s streets.

I find the Gay Pride event difficult to work around, so that was out. This year it coincided with an unlikely World Cup quarter final for England, so I was happy to have this day off (I got a normal day in on July 11th and caught the second half of the semi-final. I wish I hadn’t).

Next it was time for the visit of Team Trump. I’m not a supporter of Mr Trump, but I find him interesting and amusing, rather like Boris (What’s Donald Trump’s views on Uber, I wonder?). Initially, I was dismayed at Mayor Khan’s decision to allow the flying of a balloon depicting Donald as a baby. Trump had previously taken unfair digs at the Mayor over London’s record of terrorism and violent crime, but I felt it was Mr Khan’s duty to stay neutral. Was he showing his political colours by sanctioning the anti-Trump balloon? Would it make us look stupid? However, when I saw as picture of the balloon my standpoint shifted a bit and I could just about view the stunt as traditional British satire (should readers of my articles ever crowd-fund a satirical balloon of myself, I like to think I’d see the funny side).

I knew something was planned for Friday 13th, but there were no signs up warning of disruption. I therefore tried to work, bearing in mind that should there be problems on Saturday it would mean three expensive days off – Sunday 15th was already written off because of a running race. I just managed to avoid an evening of cycle misery in the City on Tuesday 17th by taking a Going Home job north from Goldman Sachs. Before the month was out there would be another two days of cycling to look forward to on the 28th & 29th

Anyway, on Friday 13th I managed to avoid the West End and complete two account jobs. I knew crucial roads in the West End were closed off, but I thought they’d hold their demos, and then everything would get back to normal. At lunchtime I heard that one of the two marches wasn’t even due to start until 2pm and would go on until 5pm. I drove home. The disruption went on well beyond 5pm anyway, so my decision to get out of town was vindicated.

The real disgrace here is allowing demonstrations to close a working city, particularly on a weekday. I often get caught in demos at the weekend, but the traffic is generally lighter and you have a fighting chance of navigating around closed off streets. On a weekday, gridlock brings large areas to a halt. It just shouldn’t be allowed. Don’t give me that “it’s everyone’s right to protest” nonsense. What about the rights of those who live and work in the affected areas? We all have rights.

It’ll be interesting to see if the Mayor will allow similar stunts when even more contentious world leaders make visits to London – real dictators and despots. There are far worse people than Donald Trump, yet the real tyrants only attract a fraction of outrage when they visit our shores.

Who are these people who can spare a day to protest against a president of a friendly country? Who are they trying to impress? Mr Trump wasn’t even in London at the time of the protests. I think many of these people have nothing better to do with their time than hang around in a pack with other like-minded people waving silly placards. Maybe they’re fed up with complaining to each other on social media about how terrible everything is? Maybe they self-diagnose the need to get out more? They’re preaching to the converted. They’re not teaching anybody anything, or changing people’s minds. Their messages are meaningless and confused. “Peace”, “Love”, “No to Racism”, &c., &c… OK, fine. We can all agree on that, now tell me something new? I don’t remember such Peace & Love messages when Chinese and Saudi leaders visited. At least Mr Trump’s own people can vote him out; his presidency is a matter for the American people.

Cycling and running racing events have reached saturation point. These events are run for commercial gain. The organisers get advertising and the participants enjoy themselves, but the majority are put out. The authorities seriously need to re-think demos and marches. London’s clearly not open for business on these days of action. The city can’t be closed off whenever someone doesn’t like something someone says and goes on Twitter to arrange a day of disruption – or however these events are arranged (I don’t know, I’ve never been invited to one).

Anyway, here’s my message: we’ve had enough of people blocking up our work space, so bagger orf.

If nothing is done to stop the marches, maybe it’s time for an anti-demo demo?

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The Book They Tried To Ban (Excerpt)

Hey Teacher!

This short excerpt  from my forthcoming book concerns my ill-fated period as a student teacher. What follows if from the most personal and autobiographical chapter: “My Personal Revolution.” I’ve chosen this section for the delectation of teachers, failed teachers, and others who knew me in 1997/1998. I shall post more excerpts in the coming weeks.

I took to being a student straight away. Loved it. The work wasn’t too challenging. The living was easy. I was privileged to be one of the last cohorts to get a full tuition and maintenance grant. I feel sorry for today’s students who have to take on part-time jobs to survive, and then leave with a huge bill that’ll take years to pay off.

In my final year at Bradford I took part in a student tutoring programme, spending time in a girls’ secondary school helping out in the classroom. I enjoyed my afternoons at school and thought I might like to be a teacher. I’d been thinking about becoming a university lecturer but was put off when I realised how competitive it was. I was now confident I could be a good teacher and applied for courses. I was delighted to be offered a place on a Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) course at the University of Birmingham. I was to train to teach Secondary English.

Before I went up to Birmingham to start my teaching course I had to spend a week or two observing at a primary school. I enjoyed myself at a school in Blackheath and was still convinced this teaching lark was for me. Oh the idealism of it.

My placement ended at the end of the school term. I joined the teachers in a local pub and curry house on the last day. These female primary school teachers were the biggest bunch of boozers I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet. After a while one teacher asked me how many beers I’d had. When I replied I’d had three pints she told me I’d have to do better. I’d have to up my game by way of drinking, but I was excited about my fledgling teaching career.

At the University of Birmingham I enjoyed the university-based study, but wasn’t prepared for the practical placement. I was allocated a girls’ school in workaday East Birmingham. On placement you are for all intents and purposes a proper teacher, albeit with a reduced workload. I had to plan lessons and schemes of work, deliver lessons, and take books away to be marked (usually undertaken at the New Inn, Harborne). My brief experience as a student tutor in Bradford had lulled me into a false sense of security. School discipline was poor, and staff morale was low. The pupil intake was 80% Muslim and the school felt as if it was run by the Taliban. It was oppressive. A member of senior management told me the school was known as a “Paki school”, and it played this up in fine style. Eid was a big occasion, but I was told the school didn’t celebrate Christmas or Easter. I couldn’t imagine this place being much fun for the Christian minority.

Girls would disappear for months, but their absence wasn’t treated as anything unusual. I believe they were being sent to Pakistan to get married. I found the whole set-up abhorrent, but what could I do? I was just a student teacher, struggling to make sense of it all and keep out of trouble. Even back then I knew not to question cultural practices.

I’d like to blame my failure to see the course out on the oppressive Christmas tree-less environment of the school, but I can’t. I’d like to tell you that I had the no-nonsense hard man demeanour of one of Ray Winstone’s film characters, but I can’t. I had no stage presence. My nervousness probably showed, and the absurdity of my situation played on me. Well, I would have laughed if someone told me in the 1970s that I’d be a teacher.

However stressful it is pushing a cab down Oxford Street, it’s nothing like waiting for that school bell to go. When thirty teenaged girls run riot they are a match for anybody, and I found it difficult to assert my authority without being heavy-handed and threatening whole-class detentions. Things could be unruly at my Hornchurch comprehensive in the 70s, but at least there was some discipline. The principal sanction here was a black stamp in the girls’ exercise book.

I also thought it would be an eight-to-four job, with a bit of marking in the evenings. I’m quite a disciplined person. In the cab I have exactly an hour for lunch and exactly thirty minutes for coffee. In teaching, you’re working to bells, but your work duties are flexible and are frequently changed at a moment’s notice. If you have any free time they’ll find you something to do. And if you have no free time, they’ll still find you something extra to do. Your lunch break could be taken up with playground duty, and you could be running any number of little projects before and after school hours. Once they found out I was a cab driver they’d surely have me driving the school bus. I could see the way it was going and I couldn’t live my life like that.

A fair few students on my course had already left. I never thought I’d do the same, but soon after New Year in 1998 I left before I was pushed. I returned to London with my tail between my legs and to my mum in Blackheath.

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