Monthly Archives: December 2019

Christmas Special

(My Christmas article for B-C-ing-U, as it appeared in the on-line mag. A similar article was edited for Taxi magazine this week, but I like this one better)

 

Taxi Noir: Save the Trees

Oxford Street

I hate working this time of year.  I love Christmas, but I hate driving around London in my cab. I dread that moment in November when I’m stuck in a traffic queue, and I have to make that painful admission: Christmas has started. It gets earlier each year. This year it started at about the time they switched on the Christmas lights on Regent Street, almost obscenely in the middle of November.

This is the start of the madness. Black Friday hasn’t even appeared yet. Those traffic queues will get worse, and they’ll spread. Buses won’t be moving, delivery vans will be parked on double yellows blocking everyone’s progress. Tempers will be frayed. Out of towners will be circling the West End looking for parking that doesn’t exist, while craning their necks up at the Christmas lights. All the year’s road closures and madcap re-modelling projects will come into sharp focus as we sit and stew behind the buses. The meter is moving, but our wheels aren’t. All we can do is apologise to our customers for the delays and the inflated fares.

December is fair game for Christmas festivities, but November isn’t. I don’t even allow myself to look up at the Christmas lights until December. It’s just not right. I drive up to Piccadilly Circus eyes straight ahead, as if to gaze upon the Christmas lights in November is to bring down a curse of bad luck for the coming year.

DSCI don’t want to see any Christmas TV adverts before December, or hear Christmas songs or carols. I don’t want to hear Noddy Holder screaming “It’s Christmas!” until December. I don’t want to see Christmas trees on sale too early either. The purchase of Christmas trees in November should be outlawed. I’m disappointed this didn’t feature in any of the General Election manifestos. I thought the Greens would be keen to stop the premature felling of trees at least.

My plastic Woolworths Christmas tree goes up on the first weekend after December 1st. It’s seen sixteen Christmasses. It’s been brought down by the cats and chewed by the rabbits, but it lives to see another year. I’d write to Woolworths to congratulate them on the quality of their replica tree, but the shop has long gone. Last year I bought a miniature pine from Morrison’s. It’s a tiny tree, just big enough to decorate a table top. But at least I can say I have a real tree. Surprisingly, the tree survived all year in a pot outdoors, and I’m expecting continued growth in 2020. If Morrison’s survives Brexit I’ll write to them next year.

A few days before the Big Day, the roads become quieter and trade drops off. We feel we’ve earned our Christmas break. I sometimes work Christmas Eve. It’s quiet, but there’s a jolly atmosphere. If I lived in London I might have tried Christmas Day just to satisfy my curiosity. Same with New Year’s Eve. I often work it, at least until the bridge closures are put in for the fireworks display. I worked a few New Year’s Days, but the road closures are so extensive now that I’ve given up on that. It can pay well though.

London in the Snow

The New Year is a time for reflection. We look over the past year and reflect on what went well and what went badly. Hopefully we didn’t pick up many drunks. It’s difficult because many of them look respectable, and they don’t just operate in the hours of darkness either. I usually pick up at least one party of boozed-up office workers off to annoy Arab families at the Winter Wonderland, but as a paranoid cove, I manage to avoid most of the unpleasantness. It’ll be another interesting year for sure. The LEVC semi-electric cab has sold well since its launch almost two years ago, and there’s a fully-electric cab on its way. Uber are still hanging on, like a manky Christmas tree chocolate melted by the lights.

Will trade be better this year? We ask ourselves that same question every year, more in hope than expectation. There’s now the Kipper Season to endure. No-one’s sure why this time of the year is called the kipper season: some say it’s because kippers were all Victorian cabmen could afford to eat in January. Or it could just mean that the trade is as flat as a kipper. Either way, we can look forward to one, two, or even three months of poor trade. Eventually we’ll come out of that dark tunnel and the days will bring a bit more light. We can look forward to some spring warmth, and hopefully a bit more business.

Will we get to enjoy the romance of a white Christmas? Great! – If it starts late on Christmas Eve and has thawed by the time I decide to go back to work. I don’t really remember the last white Christmas – probably in the 70s. I remember some warm ones. Global warming? Perhaps Extinction Rebellion are on to something after all?

I’ve included one of my own photos taken in late February 2018; just after I called my work day off as I couldn’t get the cab off my driveway.

Have a good one!

 

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A Waste of Space

(Original edit – and title – for article written for Taxi magazine).

With twenty mile per hour speed limits being rolled out all over London, buses now have a ten mile per hour speed limit on Tottenham Court Road. Pedestrians haven’t got used to the new two-way working and keep getting hit by buses. I shouldn’t make light of it, as it must smart a bit being hit by a bus. I certainly wouldn’t want it to happen to me, or my cab.

I wouldn’t call Tottenham Court Road a proper two-way street as the southbound lane is buses and cycles only. There’s so little traffic going south that it’s really just an under-used contraflow bus lane: a waste of space. When traffic is engineered to crawl it encourages people to walk in between buses. Gower Street has been a road to avoid for months, and I believe this road will soon become two-way too. God help us.

Even the signs are annoying: as you turn left off Tottenham Court Road into Howland Street there’s a sign at the lights saying “Cyclists Wait for Signal”.  This is in the vain hope that cyclists might obey the signals if the order is displayed in print. They shouldn’t need a sign telling them to stop at a red light!

Earlier in the year, Baker Street and Gloucester Place went two-way. How’s this working out? Gloucester Place southbound moves well, but at the expense of the northbound which has got worse. Baker Street used to work all right and should not have been touched. There’s only one clear lane going south because of the right turn lanes. And you are always behind a bus or coach.

London driving is becoming more difficult through increasingly complex traffic systems. Just about every part of Central London is blighted by complicated cycle lanes and strange traffic light arrangements. The Blackfriars area has one of the most complex road systems. They’ve tried to compartmentalise space into dedicated lanes. I get what they’re trying to do, but when everyone has their own separate set of lanes and lights to adhere to it unwittingly defeats the safety object. Pedestrians think they can cross New Bridge Street because the cycles have stopped, but the vehicle lane next to it has a green light. The only way collisions are avoided is by everyone obeys the rules; and that means motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians. It’s complicated though. I particularly dislike the eastbound slip from Victoria Embankment into Queen Victoria Street. Cycles are all over the place and their riders don’t always care whether you have the right of way or not. There are some tight turns in that area too; such as the left from Southwark Street on to Blackfriars Bridge, or from Webber Street into Blackfriars Road. In both cases, there’s a cycle lane facing you, and if you’re not expecting it you are driving straight into the path of a line of bikes.

The ten mile per hour limit means buses will be travelling at about the same speed as horse-drawn traffic did over a hundred years ago. Hardly progress. In considering a return to Victorian values I’ve often wondered what TfL would say if we tried to licence a horse as a taxi. Surely it’ll fit in with their green agenda. There will be no nasty diesel pollution and no speeding. We’d be in full future-proof compliance. I’m not sure about the twenty-five foot turning circle, but what is there not to like?

What about re-introducing horse-drawn buses now we’re back down to ten miles per hour? Traffic will move at a nice calm pace. Running a couple of horses is probably cheaper than diesel – or until tax on vehicle electricity inevitably rockets in price. Bus garages could be converted into stables, and a team of unemployed blacksmiths could be re-employed after a lengthy layoff. Feeding and watering can be carried out in the Hyde Park, which is already established for horse care. Or on those oases of concrete that have sprung up over the last few years: by Euston Tower, or on the opposite corner at the UCE where they usually put the Christmas tree up. Back in Blackfriars there’s that wasted space by the Black Friar pub (why on earth can we no longer turn left there? Don’t they realise that when drivers have to find another way round, their vehicles stay on the road longer and create double the pollution?). Cattle troughs still exist, and these just need to be filled with water. It’s a shame that little pond was removed from Russell Square some years ago.

One thing that needs to be sorted out is who is responsible for cleaning up emissions (do the police clean up after their horses?). I don’t want to go too far into this, but horse waste has its uses. Perhaps Extinction Rebellion activists could volunteer their valuable time and do something useful for a change? They’d get the public back on their side at least. Tune in next time for more half-baked ideas, and expect a return to the horse idea sometime in the near future.

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Tom Hutley - London cabbie, Tour guide, Writer

CabbieBlog

Taxi talk without tipping

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Marcus Kazmierczak

View from the Mirror

History, trivia, stories & more from Robert Lordan, author of 'The Knowledge, Train Your Brain Like a Cabbie'.

tomhutley.wordpress.com/

Tom Hutley - London cabbie, Tour guide, Writer

CabbieBlog

Taxi talk without tipping

mkaz.com

Marcus Kazmierczak

View from the Mirror

History, trivia, stories & more from Robert Lordan, author of 'The Knowledge, Train Your Brain Like a Cabbie'.