Monthly Archives: June 2019

Live at the Comedy Store

(Original edit of article written for Taxi magazine this week).

Once again, it’s my weekend off and I’m watching TV footage of demos closing off London. Last time it was Extinction Rebellion; this time it’s the State Visit of Donald Trump. This one had a much funnier side to it though, and I really enjoyed the handbags between Trump and the London Mayor, Sadiq Khan. The American President had already caused a stir by expressing support for Brexit, and various British politicians had expressed disapproval of the President. Sadiq Khan, had called Trump a “global threat”. Jeremy Corbyn called him a “negative force” and even attended a demonstration against him. Several dignitaries declined to meet Mr Trump while he was in England, or attend the Queen’s dinner in his honour.

Mr Trump’s plane hadn’t even touched the tarmac when he started tweeting. He compared the London Mayor with his New York counterpart, calling Sadiq Khan “the twin of de Blasio, except shorter”. I was highly amused when Trump called Mr Khan a “stone cold loser”.  Trump’s comments were possibly cruel, but he’d been badly let down by his hosts. Whatever you think of Donald Trump as a person, he holds the office of the President of the United States; our closest political friend. And we could do with as many friends as possible at the moment.

In the taxi game you need a sense of humour. It’s what gets us through. I found myself comparing politicians with comedians. Boris provided a few laughs as London Mayor, but there was little substance underlying his comedy (London taxpayers will remember the £513 million he wasted on a phantom garden bridge). Mayor Khan never got going, and it’s certainly not funny what he allowed to happen to London’s road systems. The new workings at Old Street gyratory make the travel news every day, and many of us have been sat behind a bus on a single lane on Tottenham Court Road since re-modelling. Artificially engineered traffic jams: he’s a real funny guy.

So who would you pay money to see at the Comedy Store? Mr Trump has the air of a seventies comedian, Mr Khan doesn’t. Trump would appeal to the old school Bernard Manning-type crowd, while Mayor Khan would be more like Ben Elton in the eighties, going on about Mrs Thatch, only less funny. I bet Trump gets on great with Prince Phillip. If Trump and Khan teamed up as a Little and Large type-act, Khan would definitely play the straight man. He’d be too right-on to blame Old Street on the mother-in-law. Add Boris into the mix though, and you’d have a good comedy evening to please everybody.

Trump, and his best mate, Boris, are like drunken uncles coming round at Christmas. We know they’re not PC, and we know they’ll say something outrageous. If we’re being honest, that’s why we like them, or at least find them entertaining. Boris would be an entertaining PM, but he’d soon outstay his welcome.

Mr Trump showed impressive comedy timing at a press conference during his visit. Mrs May laughed along, but I don’t think she quite gets it. Mr Khan’s people described Trump’s insults as “childish”. That’s the thing: childish humour is a very male thing. Male humour is based on insults. It means nothing. It’s a sign of affection. Look at the way we talk to each other in the cab caffs. You’re not accepted until you’re given a nickname and are insulted every time you make an entrance. Men enjoy the same humour we did in the school playground. My wife humours me with a strained grin when I chase around the kitchen pretending I’m Leatherface from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre every time I carve a roast with the electric knife. Every man worth his salt when presented with a torch will put it on under his chin and pretend to be a ghost, complete with “Woo!” sound effects (come on, it’s not just me, is it?…).  It’s only men who play air guitar, or quote lines from our favourite films (I did it earlier in this article). Have any of us never done an impression of Robert Di Niro in Taxi Driver?

More political comedy was to come when candidates for Prime Minister jostled for position. They set out their views on Brexit, taxation – and their drugs of choice. It was all a bit silly and improbable. One hopeful said he had a cannabis lassi while backpacking through India, while another took opium at a wedding in Iran. As you do. Boris once claimed to have tried coke, but sneezed at the moment of impact and missed out on the powder. The regular dope-smokers were pretty much ignored, but Michael Gove was singled out for special treatment. I’m not sure why, and it’s hard to gauge whether public opinion of him has become worse or better. Mr Gove has something of the Mr Bean about him, and I think he’s made himself more interesting by admitting to taking cocaine twenty years ago by mistake. At the Comedy Store, Michael Gove could surely now tell a few spliff jokes to get the students on his side.

So, could we be getting a stoner PM? The Europeans might well be laughing at us, but we can take it. We can laugh at ourselves. The USA is our friend because of a shared language. We share culture and comedy too. So let’s hear it for Trump, Boris, Gove, and all the other greats in the great British comedy tradition.

 

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Women’s Football

I’m finally starting to engage with women’s football. The women are certainly less irritating than the men. Watching the Women’s World Cup matches on TV I haven’t seen anyone wearing headphones, whole sleeves of tattoos, or stupid haircuts. And they’re not rolling around every five minutes as if they’ve been shot. Go Lionesses! (at the time of writing Scotland haven’t been sent home yet, but it shouldn’t be long for them to keep up with tradition).

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Up The Workers

(Original edit of article written for Taxi magazine).

 

I read with interest that Uber drivers have taken strike action to demand they are recognised as employees and are paid the minimum wage. I thought this employees v self-employed thing was sorted ages ago. Apparently not; the appeals go on and there are still court cases pending. The last time I saw an Uber advert aimed at recruiting drivers they were promising huge amounts of money to drivers. Do you think they were telling porkies?

Anyway, I’m not here to have a pop at Uber drivers; they have it hard enough with their employer/agency supporting the ULEZ charge. Ain’t that a kick in the head? Good luck with the holiday and sick pay.

I wonder if we could claim we are employed workers of TfL and get holiday and sick pay? We’re told what to drive and where we can do it. TfL control just about everything to do with our business. We are just as dependent on TfL as Uber drivers are on their organisation.

In terms of vehicle, we’re even more restricted. We can only buy one model from new, and I’m unconvinced we’re going to see more. All London taxis have had to be wheelchair accessible as far back as I can remember. They also have to comply with the twenty-five feet turning circle. It’s a great feature, but it undoubtedly puts the price up. TfL have got it the wrong way round anyway: minicabs outnumber us about 4 to 1, so it’s minicabs that should have the turning circle requirement.

We’re told where to place the stickers and notices provided by TfL. We’re compelled to publicise certain credit card companies; but we could be in trouble if we publicise our own business ventures. All advertising has to conform to increasingly strict guidelines. TfL decide what’s permissible in the style of a Taliban censor: no women in underwear, and nothing dangerous like guns, bombs, salt or sugar. Are our cabs even our own? We learnt in a recent edition of Taxi that a taxi is “a designated public space.”

We used to think of the road network as a designated public space, but it now appears to be privately-owned by TfL. They decide who can use it, when to close it; and they can muck about with the roads as much as they like. The useable roads are reducing at an alarming rate each week, and whole areas are out of bounds (ie. Bank Junction). Their cameras are watching our every move. Any mistake and we get a photo of our cab in the post with a demand for money.

We’re told where we can work: fair enough. I don’t have much grasp of what goes on east of Bishopsgate so I’m not going to be plying for hire in Essex. There don’t seem to be the same restrictions for minicabs operating out of their licensing areas though. TfL-licenced cars are famously operating all over the country with impunity. If we tried picking up folk in Wolverhampton our feet wouldn’t touch.

We’re told what to charge by a tamper-proof meter.  Fine; but private hire companies can charge what they like. Uber are keeping their fares as low as possible until they’ve taken over the world, but they can’t resist ratchetting up the fare when there’s a spike in demand (in the unlikely event they do take over the world, their surge-pricing fares will become the norm. 370% I heard recently).

We have to use ranks appointed by TfL, and we can’t turn jobs down when our For Hire light is on. We’re compelled to take a passenger twelve miles out (we should be so lucky; I can’t remember the last time I had a job longer than twelve miles). Minicab drivers are under pressure to take every job offered, but the pressure come from their organisation rather than TfL – whether they’re self-employed or not.

Our training is clearly stipulated. You can combine study at home with riding around London with a clipboard, but there’s no distance learning option: you have to physically present yourself at an exam centre for a very traumatic series of Appearances. There’s virtually no transparency or flexibility. Complaining is pointless, resistance is futile.

What else? Ah yes, we haven’t yet been told what we can and can’t wear, but give it time. In fairness, the opposition tend to dress smarter than we do, though I don’t see why anyone needs to wear a suit to drive someone to Euston. Aspiring taxi drivers pretty much have to wear a suit and tie for Knowledge exams. I shouldn’t think trainee barristers have to wear suits for law exams.

My ideas might be a touch under-baked, but there is certainly compelling evidence suggesting that we are merely employees of TfL. I could do with some holiday pay, so I think it’s worth taking this one to court. To register your interest in my crowdfunding claim, just send me your money in a brown paper bag. I regret I’m unable to accept credit cards or give change. Oh, I forgot to mention mandatory credit card acceptance…

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