Monthly Archives: January 2019

Exit Through Gift Shop

(Original edit of article written for Taxi magazine).

As we journey deep into the land of kippers we wonder what this year will bring. We might also wonder what is going on in other people’s professions. I was particularly interested in the mad things that were going on in the police service towards the end of 2018. For a fair while, under-reaction had been the order of the day, with “lesser” crimes not being adequately investigated. Then there was a controversial counter reaction against moped mugging gangs. There was also a comical move into branded merchandising by the Met.

As most people in the London taxi trade are aware, there had been a spate of robberies of drivers in and around the Lisson Grove area. I’ve spoken to drivers who fell victim years ago, but activity intensified in the autumn of 2018. Drivers reported attacks to the police but the crimes weren’t followed up. On bonfire night, gangs barricaded Rossmore Road and attacked passing taxis by throwing traffic cones. The polizia showed up but withdrew when they came under fire from bricks and stones.  That was pretty much the end of the police’s involvement, though attacks on taxis continued and spread to new areas. In most cases, the police refused to investigate, despite having at their disposal eyewitness accounts, photographs and CCTV footage.

On Saturday November 17th I came home from work early because I couldn’t get around. Protestors calling themselves “Extinction Rebellion” (whose aims were vague) blockaded five Central London bridges. The police shut more streets off and let them get on with it. The demonstrations continued into the following week and London’s roads were in chaos. There were 84 arrests on the Saturday, but none on the following Wednesday when the demo had been stepped up to ruin many people’s midweek routine. The police often talk about a lack of resources. This is undoubtedly hampering the police to some extent, but they still had the resources to put cones out and direct traffic around the affected areas. Call me reactionary, but I would like to have seen Boris’s obsolete water cannon tested on Extinction Rebellion – or phantom drones – before he sold it (at a huge loss).

The police are only as good as their funding, and they have undoubtedly suffered from a lack of money. They should be responding to reports of robbery though, particularly when evidence is handed to them on a plate. I’d urge anyone who’s been victim of a crime to report it. And to the police; reporting things on Twitter doesn’t count!

A little later in November, a shift in attitude was reported concerning the epidemic of robberies by teenagers riding mopeds. It was reported that the police were reversing their earlier strategy of giving up the chase, and would now ram the machines with their cars.

The Metropolitan Police suggested that the days of passive resistance were over. The police talked about a walk on by culture after an attack on a police officer was filmed and shown on social media. This was in contrast to the Lisson Grove crime epidemic, where they wouldn’t respond adequately when presented with evidence, and just walked off when the perpetrators turned on them.

They used to tell us not to get involved. You might get hurt, or become subject to prosecution should you take the law into your own hands; even if you’re defending your own property or protecting yourself and others. Taxi drivers who came under attack after the bonfire night incident were reluctant to report attacks as they’d lost confidence in the police. Were the police still fobbing victims of crime off with excuses, or were they now working against the walk on by culture? Which version of the police service would we be dealing with as we went into 2019?

The Met had other distractions anyway. They’d recently launched a range of branded clothing, toys and souvenirs. Actually I’d quite fancy one of those checked baseball caps that the cops with guns wear. I could buy a toy gun and spend many happy hours running around the house shouting “Stop! Armed Police!” at the wife and cat.

Maybe all those police stations that have closed in the past few years will re-open in order to handle the retail side? Existing stations could extend their hours – perhaps have a late shopping day on Thursdays?  We could hand it lost property again, like we used to. The term “Cop Shop” will carry more meaning. We can report crimes in the traditional way, then browse the merchandise as we exit through the gift shop.

As for the ramming of moped gangs, I’m not sure I believe the hype. It could just be an opportunity to stop motorcyclists in a desperate attempt to sell them an “I’ve Met the Met” baseball cap.

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Today in Brexit-Land…

Mr Corbyn still refuses to talk to Mrs May. He’s too busy talking to The IRA, Hamas, Hezbollah, and President Assad.

The EU are going to commission Mr Trump to build his wall in Ireland.

Er, that’s it…

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New Year Reflections

(New Year article written for Taxi magazine).

The New Year is a time for reflection. We look over the past year: what went well, what went badly; and what our hopes are for the coming year. Work-wise, if you’ve been in the same job for a while you tend to compare and contrast with previous years.

December 2018 marked thirty years since I gained my first green badge. Yes, I’m on my second. Those who are familiar with my story know I left the cab trade in the 1990s to do other things, and foolishly neglected to renew my cab licence. During the 90s I attended various colleges and universities and eventually became a Careers Adviser. I didn’t think I’d drive a cab again and I didn’t keep up to date with what was happening in the trade (the Blur v Oasis Britpop feud was a big event for students of the mid-90s: I had other distractions). I left London for good in 1999, but was disillusioned when I entered the so-called professional world. I soon wanted my freedom back. I started the Knowledge again in 2010, and gained my second licence four months later through a Knowledge re-test with the legendary Mr Wilkin.

When I think back to December 1988 and beyond, things are very hazy. I remember my decision to go on the Knowledge – a surprising one considering I couldn’t even drive – and I remember riding runs on my Vespa and attending Knowledge Point School. I even remember the memory tricks the school taught me. Knowledge Point students of my generation may recall the phrase “Skin Percy’s Liver” used in order to remember the running order of Skinner Street, Percival Street and Lever Street; or the “Place Your Primrose Over Cyril’s Parked Connaught” phrase used to remember the mansion blocks on Prince of Wales Drive (answers on a postcard, please…). I sometimes wonder how I got through the Knowledge, as I have the memory span of a goldfish. Some drivers of my time can remember what questions they were asked on Appearances. I don’t even remember which examiner gave me my Req.

I remember my first job though: it was a young lady going from Theobalds Road to Victoria. I remember how my new job was making me tired, and how I’d go home after a few hours in my first week. The traffic flowed easier in the late-80s, but perhaps not as freely as we like to remember. Cash from Cameras was in its infancy, but the clamping units were feared by everyone.

I remember the constant breakdowns, and how the cab would fail to start in the winter and over-heat in the summer. I remember how the cabs I drove were woefully underpowered and wouldn’t go up steep hills. The cabs are better now, but the taxi trade barely reached the twentieth century until the arrival of the Fairway. Drivers still have an understandable affection for this model.

Until the recession in around 1990 I’d circulate around St James’s and Mayfair. I rarely used ranks because I didn’t need to. Picking up the occasional celebrity added a bit of excitement. I can still see George Best in his leather jacket. He was a well-known figure to drivers in Mayfair and I picked him up twice on Curzon Street. He was nothing like the media portrayal of the Manchester United legend as a hell-raiser. I found him quiet and friendly. The actor Stewart Grainger, who I also picked up in Curzon Street could well have been a real hell-raiser. He didn’t stop talking. As we arrived at his destination on Fulham Broadway he gave his opinion that the place was a “sh*thole”.  Another legend was Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin: a laid-back guy who wanted to talk about the TV programme he’d watched the previous night. Many film and TV starts rode in my cab in the early days:  Richard Harris, Rita Tushingham, Susan Hampshire, the two ladies from Birds of a Feather; and a particular favourite, Spider from Coronation Street.

There were around 40,000 minicabs in London. They didn’t noticeably infringe on my livelihood as a day man, but night drivers had problems with blokes in cars touting illegally for work. Minicabs weren’t licensed back then, but they were allowed to operate so long as they were booked through an operator and didn’t stop for people on the street. There aren’t many more taxi drivers now than there were in 1990, but there now around 114,000 minicabs, and many of these are exploiting a weak licensing body in order to respond to immediate hiring through technology.

OK, let’s not get too upset about that as we say goodbye to 2018. I’m confident things will swing back our way a bit in the New Year. We need to go into the New Year with a bit of pride and with the determination to do our bit to promote our trade. In 2019 I’ll be spending time filling in on-line consultations over changes to road systems. Most questionnaires don’t take long to complete and it’s essential we give those making our work more difficult our views – and patiently and without rudeness. TfL listen to no-one unless forced to, but the Oxford Street and Swiss Cottage plans were sent back for revision in 2018. We need more unity to keep the trade strong: class action such as the Mischon de Reya Cabbie Group Action could well be the way forward. Our mantra for 2019 could be “Assertive, but not Aggressive.” We have to be very careful to keep our house in order and keep the public on our side.

 

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