Monthly Archives: July 2019

On Becoming an Oldie

(For those of you getting on in years – read on. I wrote this piece for The Oldie magazine. They said it was delightful, but didn’t use it. Anyway, here it is for the delectation of my blog readers…

It’s started. I’ve enquired about my first over-55s reward card. I was dining out with my wife – at the Ship Inn in Leighton Buzzard – when my attention was drawn to the offer to join the Emerald Club – “Where Experience Is Rewarded.” That works for me: I’d probably be coming back for another meal sometime, and I could claim 15% off the food bill. Before I’d even touched my pint of Doombar I asked the young waitress to rush over an application form. The application form arrived on a card, showing the smiling faces of two late-middle aged couples holding aloft glasses of white wine, evidently subsidised by their 15% saving. One bloke looked suspiciously like Jeremy Corbin.

Doubt set in when  the small-print on the application informed me I’d only get a discount between 11am and 7pm Monday to Friday (so this is why older people eat early?). More importantly, I started to worry what people now thought of me. When I asked for the application form I did it in a slightly jokey way. The waitress smiled without batting an eyelid. I secretly hoped she’d jokingly punch my shoulder and flirtingly exclaim “you’re never over fifty-five!” If she demanded proof of identity I already had my driving licence poised ready for inspection.

As the waitress went about her business with a quiet efficiency, I thought I detected a slight smirk on her face. I grinned weakly in return, imagining we were sharing some kind of private joke. I wanted to ask if the pub had a dedicated parking area for mobility scooters, just to show that my sense of humour hadn’t whittled away with old age. Regrettably, I was in the loo when she made her final visit to our table (the frequency of toilet breaks has been an issue since my thirties, along with occasional bouts of gout).

I wished I’d never started this sorry business. Only minutes ago, I’d breezed past the pub’s staff in my brown leather trousers and brown linen jacket, full of health and vitality. I was a young-for-my-age fifty-seven year-old metrosexual. I had decades of productivity left in me. I’d been contemplating starting a new career, for God’s sake. I’d now, rashly, self-identified as being over the hill. Tired of living? I’m still waiting to start, mate.

When I picked up that card I instantly become an Oldie. I felt differently about myself. Maybe my behaviour would change involuntary? Maybe I’d take on the habits of old people who I’d observed: blokes jingling the change in their pockets, or whistling indiscernible tunes in supermarket aisles. Perhaps I’d feel the urge to potter about in garden centres, or take bracing walks along the prom in Eastbourne? (I’d already started the latter, so maybe the process was already quite progressed). There would inevitably be decisions to be made in the future about bus passes and such like. I fancied that my eyes hovered a bit too long on the ads for stairlifts in the Oldie. Maybe we’d need to move to a bungalow in anticipation of my sad decline?

I’d already floated the idea of buying an “Old Guys Rule” T-shirt, but my idea was vetoed by my 52 year-old wife. Watching Coronation Street, I’d often tell her she could shoot me should I ever start dressing like Roy Cropper. Maybe my jokes hid a secret desire to buy a grey cardigan or an anorak? I laughed about it with my wife, taunting her that she wouldn’t be able to enjoy the benefits of the Emerald Club for another four years. I’d be out with my new friends, enjoying discount meals and toasting each other with the finest wines known to man.

The event made me examine my own views of myself, and of ageing generally. I owned up to being middle aged in my late-thirties, and had happily accepted the manopause. I put on the leather jeans and played bass in a rock band in my forties, but in other aspects I became “set in my ways”. I was quite aware of this though. I would often challenge myself on my Oldie status, and try to keep things at bay.

You don’t have to behave like Keith Richards, but you don’t have to give in to the concept of age. You shouldn’t accept limitations unless forced to. It’s a number thing really. Age is only a number, and I’m no good with numbers. I am a free man, not a prisoner of age. No sir, I shall avoid pigeonholes. I’ll try new things, think in different ways, and continue to learn and explore. I shall always make sure I eat pub dinners after 7pm, despite the offer of discounts.

I was now noticing over-55s offers everywhere. A few weeks’ later I noticed an over-55s deal at my local fish and chip restaurant. Tempting, but ultimately I didn’t feel ready to accept discounts in return for pigeon-holing. I wasn’t going to define myself by a number. I never filled in the application. I’ll review things again at sixty.

If you’ve been affected by any of these issues, you have my sympathy.

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On Your Bike

(Original version of article published in Taxi magazine)

I’m intrigued with the case of the cyclist who injured a woman in a collision near London Bridge back in 2015. The cyclist had the right of way with a green traffic light, and shouted and sounded an air horn as the woman walked into his path looking at her phone. Both of them were rendered unconscious. The cyclist had cuts and the pedestrian suffered a minor head injury. As in the modern way, she took the cyclist to court. The judge conceded that the woman was partly at fault, but amazingly awarded her £4,161,79 damages. The cyclist didn’t initially seek legal advice and neglected to make a counter claim as he doesn’t believe in the claim culture. He now faces bankruptcy as he’ll have to pay her legal expenses. The whole thing is estimated to cost between £20,000 and £100,000. Cyclists, and other interested parties, have been donating money to pay the legal expenses. Writing on July 10th, £59,343 had been collected, for a £21,300 target.

The woman was only partly at fault! £100,000 for two days in court! What’s happening on our roads and in our legal system? The cyclist has since urged others to take out insurance. I’ve long thought that cyclists should be obliged to have insurance, largely to cover the costs if they damage a vehicle; though this case has just fed into the claim culture, something the innocent cyclist wanted to avoid.

Personally I’d welcome an introduction of a jaywalking charge, though I recognise that’s not going to happen. As traffic systems become more complex, with different lanes and different traffic signals for motor vehicles, cyclists and pedestrians, everyone needs to obey traffic signals and respect the right of way. I’m thinking in particular of areas like Blackfriars where there are some sharp turns and where accidents are only avoided by most people being sensible.

We often complain about cyclists, but pedestrians sit at the bottom of the food chain and are a menace to everybody.  We’re all pedestrians sometimes, and most of us behave properly. Every day though, we see brain-dead zombies plugged into headphones, or staring at their phone, while crossing the road in front of us. The ones who aren’t listening to music can usually hear us coming, but electric vehicles are being fitted with artificial noise to help the zombies out. Of course they can’t hear cycles, even in the case above when the rider shouts out a warning and sounds an air horn.

We’re quick to see the differences between cab drivers and couriers, but there are similarities too. Emily Chappell’s book, What Goes Around, describes the realities of the job, and describes similar experiences she’s had with stupid pedestrians. I’d say it’s a tougher job than ours. No, I couldn’t do it, but I was once a motorcycle courier for a couple of years, and this book brought it all back. That was over thirty years ago I don’t remember it that clearly. I do remember it was hot in the summer, cold in the winter, and thoroughly miserable in the rain.

It’s probably even worse as a cycle courier, exposed to the elements, and to the dangers of fast moving heavy machinery. It sounds all right in the summer, but it’s going to get unbearably hot and sweaty, and all you’ve got for protection is sun cream.

After some months I hated being a courier. I found it easier driving a cab. I did one job at a time, and wasn’t dependent on a temperamental controller handing out work and complaining when I wanted a lunch break. Many motorcycle couriers eventually did the Knowledge, as did I. The idea of being a taxi driver wouldn’t have come up had I not been a courier. One of Emily’s cycle courier friends also joined our ranks. She mentions discussing the best route from Manor House Station to Gibson Square with him.

Couriers and cab drivers are actually quite closely related. We’re all independent free-thinkers. I don’t consider myself part of regular society. I’ve had regular jobs, but I’m no longer tied to an office or part of the rat race. There’s a lot of movement in our job. We’re always going somewhere. We might not want to go somewhere, but we have a purpose. We’re getting paid for sightseeing and living on our wits.

The cyclists make a living with few resources: they ride around on tubes of metal and rubber, with a bag slung over their shoulders. They sprint into an office reception in their strange clothing, then disappear with an envelope to deliver. It’s so basic and pure. However some of us feel like outlaws, with our nicknames and healthy disregard for authority, the cycle fraternity really fit the bill. Both our jobs give those in more conventional careers something to talk about. Few people were interested in my previous life as a careers adviser, but people are interested in the lives of couriers and cab drivers: they want to know how we handle the traffic, what hours we work, and what celebrities we’ve met – when they start asking what we think of Uber we know it’s time to move on.

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Electric Warrior

(Original edit of article written for Taxi magazine)

 

Donald Trump called the London Mayor, Sadiq Khan, a “stone cold loser” when he visited these shores in May. Although Trump was referring to violent crime rather than charging points for electric cabs, Sadiq really could prove to be a loser when the Mayoral elections come up next year.

While being quizzed by Conservative Assembly Member, Shaun Bailey, on the number of electrical charging points for taxis, Mr Khan said there were enough charging points “as things stand.” A rather cavalier comment, if I may say so. As of May 8th there were over 200 rapid charging points. This includes 72 dedicated to taxis. London boroughs have also installed over 1,000 lamp column charging points for overnight charging. There might just be enough charging points right now, but there are over 2,000 electric cabs in London and that number is growing fast. Around 40 new electric cabs are being bought every week. It’s the Mayor who told us to go electric and stopped us buying new diesels. It’s his responsibility to provide the infrastructure. If the self-styled electric warrior doesn’t see a problem looming, he’ll be caught out later on.

There are websites showing the location of charging points, but nobody should have to consult the internet to plan their re-fuelling. If people are currently driving around looking for points, it’s going to get worse if provision doesn’t keep up with demand. Then there’s the time spent waiting to charge up. An electric cab saves money on fuel, but not on time; and as we all know, time is money. I wouldn’t want to sit around for half an hour just to save a couple of quid. The situation isn’t so bad for the civilian car driver who doesn’t clock up the kind of miles that a taxi does. Many of us need to drive many miles before we can even start work. I burn up 70 miles just driving into Central London and back, then add another 60 or 70 miles in stop-start urban traffic. The current TXE has a petrol engine back-up, but it would still need a daily charge. Forthcoming electric taxis probably won’t have a petrol back-up. I could easily run out of power on the M1 going home, or if I trap a roader late on in the day.

A few years ago we were told we’d have a choice of five new taxi models to choose from. We still only have one. We were meant to have a new Nissan, which was said to have a better range. This model is meant to be coming out this summer, but they’ve been saying that for years.

The cost of the vehicle is a big factor too. We don’t know how much any new cab is going to cost. The TXE is out of the price range of many drivers, and I’m surprised they’ve sold so many. Who are buying these sixty-grand cabs? Clearly people who are working longer hours than I am. Will the TXE continue to sell well? It’s surely dependent on the Mayor’s attitude to charging. We need confidence that he’s committed to the electronic switchover, but we’re not getting it.

It’s inevitable that the current (current – get it?) price of charging will prove to be an introductory offer. The government will want to get the money back it’s losing on petrol and diesel tax. There could come a time when electrical re-fuelling becomes as expensive as diesel, but taking much longer to do. Anyway, that’s a matter for the government and whoever sails in her, to sort out in the coming years.  In the meantime, the Mayoral candidates need to be grilled on their plans for electrical charging. The people of London can then decide.

Cab families make up a fair chunk of the electorate. I’m unable to vote as I live well out of London, but I can’t afford to be smug as I’m as affected by many of the goings on within the M25 as those who live there (though I’m glad my Council Tax didn’t go towards Boris’s garden bridge project which had to be abandoned by the new Mayor in order to save further waste – to think Boris is likely to be our new Prime Minister in a couple of weeks!).

I hear Mr Khan is planning a no-car day in London on Sunday September 22nd in order to improve air quality. London’s air quality isn’t caused by extra traffic; it’s caused by daft road re-modelling. I assume he’s not including taxis and minicabs in the ban? If he does, we’ll know that he’s a loser who has really lost it.

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