Author Archives: Pubcat London Taxi Tails

About Pubcat London Taxi Tails

I' m a London Cab Driver, writer, and a qualified Careers Adviser. I am also a former Knowledge of London Examiner (old customers need not call me Sir any more, we're all equals here, dude). I'll use this site to give my own idiosyncratic spin on the cab trade, and other social issues. There will be original edits of published magazine articles, plus shorter comments. So, why Pubcat? Simply because I like pubs and I like cats; and I support the social inclusion of all animals in pubs (Yes, that's my house tiger, Rocky, sat on a London map when I was studying the Knowledge the second time round).

Lost Property & Missing Policemen

(Original edit, and original title, of article written for Taxi magazine).

I hadn’t found any lost property in the cab for a long time. I was keen to get home to start a three-day weekend when my vigilance deserted me and I let a man leave his phone in my cab.

These things always seem to happen at the end of the day before a day off.  I have an excellent record for re-uniting folk with their mobile phones though. What usually happens is they call the lost phone, I answer it; then arrange to deliver it make to the owner. No call came this time, so I took the official lost property route. It was frustrating though because I remember where I picked my man up and where I dropped him; I just didn’t know the door number.

It was 6.30pm, so the TfL Lost Property Office at Baker Street was closed. Not to worry, I knew West End Central Police Station would be open so I headed to Mayfair. The problem with police stations is that there’s no parking. They hardly encourage you to report a crime, do they?  I parked on the rank in New Burlington Street and made the sixty second walk to Savile Row. I wasn’t there long. Just long enough to read the notice saying they were closed.

It was Thursday and I was in Going Home mode on ComCab. I wouldn’t be back in London until Monday. Bearing in mind the twenty-four hour rule I thought where else could I hand in the phone? I then remembered a bilking incident from 2016. A PC at West Hampstead helped me recover some money after a penniless student fled from his own house leaving an unpaid £41 taxi fare. His parents weren’t in to lend him the cab fare from Shaftesbury Avenue to Hampstead and he panicked and fled the scene.  Anyway, I remember the police officer saying that he worked nights, so I was confident West Hampstead Police Station would be open, and it was on my route home.

The last time I handed something in at a police station was about twenty-five years’ ago. As a young butter boy I foolishly accepted a £50 note that two youths gave me as payment for a fare. When I went to pay for my meal at the Royal Oak caff we could all see the note was a fake.

Later that evening I heard a radio report about a gang of counterfeiters who had been apprehended. I figured my moody £50 note was probably one of their creations. When I handed it in at Tottenham Court Road, I half expected a reward;, but all they did was put my fifty into a plastic bag and send me on my way. Don’t forget I’d also given the two scroats about £40 change.

Tottenham Court Road Police Station is long gone, but I was pleased to find that West Hampstead was open. Great. I had my apology prepared as the male and female greeted me behind the glass: “It’s a boring one… Lost property.” The lady was even more apologetic than I was when she told me they no longer accept lost property. She also pointed out how lucky I was to find them open. She could clearly hardly believe it herself as she exclaimed that they only open three HOURS per week!

She had the air of a provincial librarian. In fact the whole place felt like a small town library. It wasn’t like the police stations I’d come to expect from watching TV. There was no harassed bloke in white shirtsleeves trying to tap stuff into a computer while folk drunkenly fell all over the counter mumbling nonsense. There were no streetwalkers sat sullenly on a bench awaiting processing, or hoping to be let off with a warning and a lecture on keeping yourself safe. It was just two middle aged people manning the station; and, I noted, a pet dog lying under a desk.

I know little about mobile phones, so I asked their help in trying to open the device to identify the owner. The man couldn’t open the phone either. They said I could go to Kentish Town Police Station as an alternative. I explained I was heading towards the M1 and home. He said I’d done my bit by trying two stations, so I agreed I’d have my three days’ off and take it to Baker Street on Monday.

We try our best to do the right thing and re-unite people with their lost property, but cuts to the Police Service have resulted in the situation where we’re put in a difficult position: TfL Lost Property Office works office hours; most police stations closed; and there’s nowhere to park if you are lucky to find one open.

They say the police are never around when you want them. Several days later I passed a rank of police vans parked up on Bridge Street prior to the anti-Brexit demo. There was a policeman in a yellow vest stopping people drive into Parliament Square. I wondered what station all these coppers came from, and whether if I tapped on the door of the van they’d take down some particulars and put any lost property into a plastic bag for me?

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My World Cup Shame

I’d like to say I remember something about the 1966 World Cup – ANYTHING – but I can’t. True, I was only 4 1/2, but you’d think I’d remember something; at least the atmosphere around the event: perhaps my dad holding me aloft like the gleaming Jules Rimet trophy as our little black & white TV showed us beat off the West Germans? No, nothing.

During the 1970 World Cup I was living in rural Staffordshire. Like all my friends we collected the free Esso World Cup coins from fuel stations (not silly stickers in those days). They were swapped amongst us, and put on to a commemorative board (shown). Again, I remember nothing about the actual football event.
I don’t think my complete coin collection made it into 1971. In fact, I think I can remember destroying it, once it became irrelevant to my eight year old head. I expect they would’ve been swept away in a spirit of punk rock revisionism six years’ later anyway.
I’m not even going to research how much that collection might be worth now…
essoEsso 2

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The Book They Tried to Ban

I’m delighted to announce that last night I completed my book manuscript. I started it about five years’ ago. I wrote it part-time, and there was about a year when I didn’t touch it at all: I just never had the time when I was working as a Knowledge Examiner at TF Hell (and they wouldn’t have allowed me to publish anything mentioning them).

I’ve emailed the whole 93,200 words off for proof-reading and eventual book production. It’ll need formatting for book layout, cover design, &c. As I’m publishing it myself I have total control over all aspects of production.

I’ll post updates on the book’s production; and I’ll put up some outtakes (probably including my Brexit Rant chapter, which didn’t make the finished manuscript).

As an amuse bouche, here’s the contents list:

Contents

Introduction

 

1) The Knowledge

2) Butter Boy

3) My Personal Revolution

4) Back on the Cab

5) How it all Works

6) Passengers

7) Know Your Enemy

8) When Things go Wrong

9) Examiner

10) Back on the Cab (again)

11) Examiner 2

12) The Years of Change

13) Uber

14) The Future

 

Appendix A:  Q&A

Appendix B:  Knowledge Boy Tips

 

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Carrots & Communication

(Original edit of article for Taxi magazine).

An amusing news story caught my attention recently. Apparently supermarket bosses had been scratching their heads wondering why they were selling more carrots than they held in stock. What was going on? It transpired that people were using the self-scanning facility to pass off expensive fruit & veg as cheap old carrots. The shops have now installed CCTV trained on the self-service tills.

To speak truth, I’m no fan of carrots. I buy them for the rabbit, but I wouldn’t eat one myself. I pick out anything green or orange from my food, and if the cat or the rabbit doesn’t eat it, it goes in the bin.

I’ve always been an opponent of self-service supermarket tills, and I said as much in a piece I wrote not too long ago on the subject of driverless cabs. On the subject of automated taxis I argued that it wasn’t just about safety; it was also about how we are losing the personal touch. Technology used sensibly can make life easier and more pleasurable, but it can also come as a detriment to social cohesion and well-being. However many of us get irritated, or feel uncomfortable, with other people, most of us have a basic need for some degree of human contact (and this is from someone who is off the scale on introversion and has spent most of his life avoiding other people). Sometimes a welcoming smile or a cheery greeting can be enough. Having 50% of a supermarket’s tills given over to self-scanning is reasonable, but it’s going to be a soulless experience if all the human checkouts are replaced by machines. The carrot issue also highlights how technology can be exploited by both suppliers and consumers. In this case the consumers are de-frauding the suppliers.

Uber halted its testing of driverless cars earlier this year, after someone was tragically killed by one of its driverless cars during testing. The car was manned at the time, which is worrying. I expect you’re expecting a rant about Uber now, but no. It just got me thinking about communication and the social experience.

The service that a taxi driver provides can be impersonal. Some people like that, some don’t. We’re behind a bullet-proof partition, and the intercom doesn’t do a lot. London is a very noisy place, with roads full of cars, cabs, vans, motorcycles and buses. There are roadworks and building sites on almost every road you could mention (this is one reason why I wouldn’t move back to London after eighteen years’ of relative peace and quiet).

Drivers of the new electric cabs have an advantage with their quieter vehicles. It would be nice for all of us to hear our passengers speak, and even hold a normal conversation – as far as you can when someone’s talking to the back of your head. I prefer the old sliding partition we had on the FX4. The rule was we could only have a 4 ½ inch gap, but by removing the wooden block the partition could be slid open fully so we could talk to our passengers. I remember how put out I’d be if the passengers slid the partition closed. That’s what I mean about losing social contact. It doesn’t feel nice.

Some drivers neither want to be seen or heard. In my town of Leighton Buzzard, taxi drivers often obliterate the view by posting large notices on the partition. At least one driver here has covered the clear plastic almost entirely with cardboard, leaving a mere pillar box opening. Communication is definitely not encouraged, and it’s disconcerting.

I read something else which I found odd this week: under European rules (cough), new models of electric and hybrid vehicles are not allowed to run silently: they are obliged to have noise built into them, because pedestrians can’t hear them coming (people can’t hear a fifteen year old TX4 coming when they’re plugged in to an i-pod either). I’m resisting the temptation to shout “Health & Safety gone mad” but, well, really!

I’m always irritated by those attention-seeking drivers of high performance cars driving around making a racket. Maybe the new act of rebellion will be to drive as quietly as you can? Maybe not though, as the whole point is to have everybody looking at them.

Anyway, I’m off to Morrisons to stock up on truffles  … I mean carrots.

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Public Displays of Nudity

Nudes

Last Saturday I was driving through Piccadilly Circus, concentrating on trucking right, when the traffic came to a standstill. Turned out it was the day of that naked cycle ride. As I edged the cab forward they all came around me and I damn near had some bloke’s dick in my face. The Horror, the Horror! Thankfully I didn’t dream about it.

Strange thing public nudity. If one bloke does it he risks arrest, but if a hundred do it, everyone laughs about it and takes photos.

Anyway, upskirting; enjoy it while you can, as it looks like it might be banned – despite the objections from a Conservative MP. I can’t believe it’s still legal.

Great Expectations

Strangely, I’ve seen few English flags around for this year’s World Cup. Also, no-one’s saying how Eng-er-lund are going to do well – until the inevitable penalty shoot-out with Germany. Maybe we’ve tempered our expectations, and this will do the trick?

 

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Shopkeepers on Wheels

(original edit of article for Taxi magazine),

It hasn’t been easy for any of us over the last few years. Potential customers are still there, but they are spread across a range of competing transport providers. They always were, of course, but we’re so heavily outnumbered by private hire that it feels like we are losing ground. We just need to try to tempt a bigger chunk of custom over to our side. Easier said than done, I know.

Private hire aren’t having it all their own way though. The biggest threat to traditional private hire companies are Uber. We’re also threatened by Uber, to a lesser extent. The strange thing is that Uber’s own future is uncertain. While they’ve been crawling to TfL in an endeavour to get their licence back, they’ve been denied new licences in York and Brighton, and they have been made unwelcome in various other cities around the world. London is the accepted transport honey pot, though; the big prize. Regulations are slack on the private hire side, but taxi licencing requirements in London are still incredibly stringent, making the licence the hardest to get in the world – as we all know.

Provincial licensing authorities look to London to see how TfL react to Uber. Emboldened by TfL’s refusal to re-licence Uber, other cities now have the confidence to do what is right and stop them in their tracks. It’s scandalous that Uber are still allowed to operate having been unfit, though they could be in for another kicking should they lose their appeal against TfL later this month.

If Uber are re-licensed, either in London or elsewhere, they will have to make changes and their business model will be unsustainable. The current business model only works through saturating the market with drivers, covering up criminal activity and data breaches, and working in other people’s areas (there will still be London-licensed Uber drivers working in Brighton whatever happens after the inevitable Brighton appeal).

Workers in any industry assume the customers will always be there, but sometimes they’re not. Look at retail: Woolworths, BHS, and C&A disappeared from British high streets years’ ago, and other long-established retailers are struggling. At the time of writing, Mothercare and Marks and Spencer’s are both in trouble for failing to modernise and acknowledge a shift in shopping habits.

About twenty-five years’ ago, when I was a young butter boy, I remember reading an article by Monty Schiman. I believe the article was entitled Shopkeepers on Wheels. Yes, we need to think like shopkeepers, the better ones. Customers need to be valued and respected at all times. We need to give the people what they want, and we must move with the times. We need to provide a first class service at all times.

Some retailers get complacent and suddenly find themselves out of date. Marks & Spencer’s are still hanging on, but they recently announced store closures because people have switched to shopping online. M&S have often been criticised for being old-fashioned. Even as a twenty year old shopping in Romford, M&S held no interest for me. As I got older I’d shop there now and again, but it never became an exciting place to spend my valuable time. M&S was never a young person’s shop. Maybe we’re not a young person’s transport service with all that waving your hand in the air? There’s no longer any need to visit the high street to shop, nor to hail a cab. As customers desert the high street, those hardy souls who still venture into the outside world order transport on-line in the same way. Thankfully, the trade does have computerised booking apps. They aren’t as well-known as Uber, but with Uber weakened, they might help us regain custom.

If the terms “Taxi” and “Private Hire” are interchangeable in London, they are even more so in the provinces. I recently saw what we are up against. Following a boozy wedding in rural Oxfordshire, my wife and I needed to get to our guest house in South Oxford. With no cab ranks around, our hosts asked the barmaid to call us a taxi. What arrived was a mini-cab. Never mind, like most boozed-up members of the cab-riding public, we just wanted to get home. I have to say, the experience was faultless.

In a hurry to get off on the following, the missus asked a passing chef to help book us a taxi. It was a small guest house, but they had some kind of booking App on their wall. It looked a sophisticated piece of equipment, and not one I’d expect to see in a £75 guest house on Iffley Road. He pressed the button a few times, and told us a blue Toyota would be with us in three minutes.

We need to get our thinking caps on and think about how taxis are hailed generally. There are many towns and cities around the world where waving your hand is unusual. Maybe it’s just a London and New York thing? I’ve never waved a cab down in Leighton Buzzard where I live, and it was considered unusual in Northampton where I previously lived. It was all ranks and phones.

Is the solution to install booking Apps on walls? Maybe. The PH one in Oxford wasn’t Uber, it was a smaller private hire firm. I’m sure if modest private hire companies have the power, then we should have the ability to fix booking Apps on to London hotel walls.

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Russian Carrots

Allow me to Retort: News Items from the Cab Radio

 

GRENFELL TOWER

Initial reports suggest the tower was fine until the refurbishment in which unsafe, highly-flammable, cladding was installed. Was it Kensington & Chelsea Council’s fault, or the contractors? No-one is going to take responsibility. This one will drag on and become another Hillsborough. Nothing will be concluded until those responsible are dead or retired.

RUSSIA

I hope the World Cup is a successful (England win) and trouble-free event, but I fear the worst. Russian hooligans attacked England fans at the last Euros, and reports suggest they are planning bigger things on their own turf. Did you see that TV documentary some months’ ago? Fans of various Russian clubs arranged huge fights between themselves as a kind of training.

Things aren’t good diplomatically between Russia and…well, everyone really. Let’s hope they don’t shoot down the England team jet (like they didn’t do with that passenger jet over Ukraine), or poison the players with a nice samovar of nerve agent (like they didn’t do in Salisbury, London, and various other places).

CARROTS

I was amused by a recent news story: apparently supermarket bosses were wondering why they were selling more carrots than they had in stock. The reason was that folk had been passing expensive food items through the self-scanning facility and claiming they were carrots. The shops now have CCTV trained on the tills.

I can’t say I’m a fan of carrots. I pick anything green and orange out of a take-away and offer it to the pets. The rabbit eats all that boring stuff. The cat only eats carrots if I hide them in curry or chow mein.

Anyway, I’m off down to Morrisons to buy some truffles…

 

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