Monthly Archives: March 2019

Bad Language

Some of you will have read excerpts from my book. I’ll pre-empt any criticism now. MJ GC, and CP will surely delight in pointing out any grammatical errors

I know there are mistakes in my book. When I emailed the manuscript away for proof-reading I suggested a light touch. Copy-editing is more thorough, but might have been too intrusive. I wanted my book to be loose and informal. It’s neither a literary novel, nor an academic text book. My readers are not, in the main, academics. My biggest mistake I made though, was thinking I could copy-edit the first proofs over a morning pint at Wetherspoons.

There are instances of fake news. The Singing Detective TV series comes from 1986, and not the 1990s, as I said in the book. TfLs licensing of minicabs might not have come into effect in 2000 as I claimed.

There are errors of grammar, and repetitions. My starting of sentences with “But” and “And” is intentional. I know the rules; I have just chosen to break them. If starting a sentence with “But” is good enough for Peter James it’s good enough for me.

I have pleased myself over the use of capitals. I might not always be right, but I’ve tried to be consistent. You’ll notice many fragmented sentences. And when I split an infinitive, it stays split. That’s the way I like it, so there. My use of “&.” Instead of the more common “etc.” is something I took from Jane Eyre. Thanks, Charlotte Bronte. Some people don’t like double quote marks either. I do.

As for the content; sometimes it’s serious and full of facts and figures; more commonly it’s not. There’s enough detail to interest cab drivers, but I want to appeal to the general reader. I assume no prior knowledge. There are passages about one-way systems and road closures for hard users, but if I’ve done my job properly, I’ve explained everything. There is no doubt a raft of sweeping generalisations and lazy stereotyping. sometimes I’ve gone for laughs rather than 100% accuracy. I often go off piste and talk about things like pets, pubs and football. I like variety and I’ve tried to keep the interest up. I’ve basically written the book I like to read. I hope you like it too.

 

 

 

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Access All Areas?

(Original edit of article for Taxi magazine: hard users only…

People take taxis for many reasons: for work, for pleasure; and sometimes when they have little choice. Sometimes people have luggage they need to get across London to a rail station or airport. People need to make hospital appointments, and a taxi is often chosen because it’s fully accessible. Sometimes a cab is taken in an emergency. It’s an uncomfortable feeling knowing we sometimes thrive on the misfortune of others. More positively, a ride in a cab could be part of a holiday or a Christmas treat. The common denominator in every case is that the customer expects a door to door service. This is our unique selling point. Increasingly, our USP has become impossible to deliver.

Over the last few years the number of roads closed off to us has increased dramatically. The good work in making Russell Square two-way was undermined when other parts of Bloomsbury were closed off in 2015. Many people with limited mobility need to get around the many hospitals and clinics in the Bloomsbury area, and journeys have been made slower – and consequently more expensive – for them. It’s become virtually impossible to set down passengers in some streets, notably Tavistock Place. I’ve done a fair amount of Taxicard work on ComCab recently, but I wouldn’t relish trying to unload a wheelchair in this one-way, single lane, thoroughfare. In late-2018, more roads were blocked off around Bloomsbury Square and more banned turns came in. Lord knows how difficult things could become accessing the UCH if Tottenham Court Road is closed to taxis.

Many people with limited mobility rely on taxis to get them around: you wouldn’t believe how many Taxicard jobs involve West End theatres. It’s now impossible to load a wheelchair at the door of the Lyceum Theatre.

The Ned hotel in the City is inaccessible for most of the day. Last year, certain streets around Shoreditch were closed to motor vehicles at certain times of the day. Hardly a day goes by without streets being closed off; some of them destined never to be re-opened. The whole area around King’s Cross and St. Pancras Stations is a mess. Goodsway eastbound has been closed for several months, with no indications when it might re-open. The sudden closure at the top of Judd Street has resulted in misery. There are no signs informing us of what’s happening, or whether it’ll ever re-open. Many vehicle drivers think they can use Mabledon Place to escape the misery, only to find they’re being forced to turn right. The authorities should have allowed a left turn to alleviate this problem, but no; as usual, they are keeping vehicles on the roads as long as possible, thus adding to congestion and pollution.

Things used to be so much easier. Allow me to put on my psychedelic rose-tinted specs as I reflect on the time when you used to be able to drive straight down from Gresham Street on to Southwark Bridge using King Street, Queen Street and Queen Street Place. Southwark Bridge is near enough impossible to access from the west. Blackfriars is little better. The closure of Stonecutter Street causes bus congestion in Charterhouse Street, and forces other folk aiming for the bridge to drive around the smaller streets around Tudor Street – when our progress isn’t hampered by giant cranes and orange barriers.

Al Fresco reminded us of the joys of St Bride’s Street in a recent Taxi article. Indeed, when I started out we used to be able to drive straight up St Bride’s Street into Shoe Lane from just off Ludgate Circus. St Bride’s Street is now closed to through traffic, except bikes. As I sit on the Goldman Sachs rank I watch cycles scattering the suits as they quite legally tear along the path alongside the office blocks. It’s painful watching lorries making deliveries and being forced to reverse out past the Boris Bike park, cab rank, motorcycle parking area, and huge piles of building materials. It’s a miserable road for anyone who has to access this hazardous little road.

Occasionally one-way streets are opened up to two-way traffic. Baker Street and Gloucester Place worked OK as one-way streets, but we now have to sit behind buses on a single lane and swerve in and out of Right Turn lanes. It’s probably too early to provide a definitive assessment of this system, but I daresay I could get 900 words out of it another time.

Any useful road is ruined eventually. The War on Diesel ensures that the pollution side of things will eventually lessen, but it’s going to be many years before we’ve all gone electric. By that time I don’t think there will be any roads worth using anyway.

 

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The More Things Change…

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

Although I have my own book to promote, I always read the books others have written about the cab trade. One of my favourite writers is Maurice Levinson. Maurice was editor of Taxi when he published The Taxi Game in 1973.

My writer friend, Robert Lordan, recently lent me a copy of Maurice’s earlier book, Taxi! This yellowing hardback hails from 1963 (priced at fifteen shillings). Robert has a book about the Knowledge of London out, so we were both eager to read about things were in the cab trade in earlier times. We weren’t sure a fifty-six year old book would have any relevance to the cab drivers of today, but I was pleasantly surprised. The author’s sense of humour is in full flow, and the whole thing reads as easily and naturally as any modern book. What struck me most is how many of the issues the trade faced in the sixties still apply now.

The back cover blurb gives an indication where Mr Levinson is coming from: “His present occupation, and his pet hatred, is driving a taxi; his ambition is to stop driving a taxi.” At least you know you’re going to get the truth, and the truth according to Levinson is highly informative, and often very funny.

Some things have changed over the years, others haven’t. I was struck how things have changed for Knowledge applicants. Our own Alf Townsend can tell us how things were for Knowledge Boys in the old days. Every time I read Alf books I’m shouting out “How can they treat people like that?” I believe the questions asked on the Knowledge were easier in earlier times, but the way people were treated is a disgrace.

Knowledge examiners were all recruited from the Metropolitan Police. Maurice paints a dark picture of how things were in the past: before Levinson’s time, Knowledge Appearances were conducted by a man in full police inspector’s uniform. And yes, they were all men; employing female examiners is a surprisingly recent innovation. Before taxi licensing came under the umbrella of TfL, the examiners were a law unto themselves. You couldn’t question anything and there was zero transparency. Today’s Knowledge candidates are examined in a pleasant, respectful, environment. The person asking the questions is a (fairly) normal man or woman. They’ve been through the process themselves and they all hold a cab driving licence. They even write down your scores on a feedback sheet for you, perhaps even with a few words of encouragement.

Once in the job, many drivers drove a cab belonging to a garage (around 40% of drivers owned their own cabs in 1963). The cab was returned to the garage at the end of a shift, where another driver would be waiting to start his day, or night. The driver would be paid a commission based on the takings the meter had recorded for that shift.

To a cab owner, the annual inspection was a major trauma. The owner would drive his cab while the inspector sat in the back, pulling at all the switches and latches, and listening out for any untoward noises (I don’t think I’ve ever driven a cab that didn’t have strange noises!). Even the slightest of defects, or a pin-point of rust, would result in the cab being sent away to be put right.

Apparently, traffic congestion was a problem in the 1960s too. Maurice devotes a whole chapter to it, though he’d be spinning in the grave if could see the cycle superhighways and other traffic systems which have come in recently. I can’t comment of the traffic in 1963 as I was only one.

In my own book I suggested that drivers of the 60s enjoyed a good standard of income, but I’m less sure now. Levinson says he was reliant on the goodwill of his customers, and expected 25% of his income to come from tips!

Levinson asks a question that I still ask fifty-six years on: why do we rent the meter and not buy one and have it installed ourselves? I have no answer, I’m just saying.

The subject of de-licensing remains a hot potato to this day.  A taxi would only be licensed for ten years in the 1960s, “even if its owner has looked after it as he would a Rolls Royce.” Levinson goes on to say that “Owning a taxi is the only kind of business that starts off at its best and finishes up a dead loss.”

Naturally, the author has a lot to say about minicabs. They weren’t officially licensed back then, but they were becoming a menace. Maurice mentions a cab trade protest against private hire and how it demanded from the police a definition of “plying for hire”. This neatly brings us up to the present day if nothing else does! The more things change, the more they stay the same?

Maurice Levinson books are long out of print, but they can be found for a few quid on Amazon or eBay.

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