Author Archives: Pubcat London Taxi Tails

About Pubcat London Taxi Tails

I' m a former London Cab Driver, writer, currently 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).

Learning the Knowledge (Part 1)

Look out for more Knowledge-related stuff in the coming weeks. There are also a few copies of my book left to buy at York Publishing Services – or Amazon, if you must!

http://ypdbooks.com

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My Time at TfL

In my latest piece for Taxi magazine I talk about my time as a Knowledge of London Examiner. Over the next few issues I’ll be saying more about the Knowledge: tips & insider knowledge. To read more, there are still a few copies of my my book available from the YPS Bookshop, or from Amazon (if you must):

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Food Glorious Food

Latest article written for Taxi magazine:

To read similar, see my book: available from post or on-line from YPS Bookshop. Or Amazon if you must.

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Cab Women

My current article in Taxi magazine. Again, it borrows heavily from my own book From Manor House Station to Gibson Square – and Back Again.

Feel free to read more at…

Available from the YPS Bookshop, or Amazon.

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Celebs!

A brief survey of some of the celebs I’ve had in my cab…

To read more, see my book!

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Smoke, Stairway, Paranoid

Article published in Taxi magazine this week.

For more of the same, see my Book “From Manor House Station – and Back Again”. Available from YPS Bookshop, or from Amazon – if you must. There should be a link on this website, somewhere.

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Latest Article for Taxi magazine.

As I’m not driving a cab any more I’m relying on anecdotes…

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The Beer Hunter

My latest article for TAXI magazine:

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Football Crazy

Rejoice. Football‘s back – well, the teams are, if not the fans and atmosphere. And when the season’s over, it’ll start again almost straight away.

Following a team is a bit like being a member of the cab trade itself.  It’s in the Cab driver’s nature to view the glass as half empty. Most of us come at it from an angle of scepticism. If you support an inconsistent club you’ll make a fine cab driver. This is because your aims are realistic. Arsenal, Tottenham, or Modern-day Chelsea fans aren’t the best disposed towards a cab driving philosophy because they are accustomed to success. If you expect success in the cab trade you are setting yourself up for failure. You might enjoy a bit of a cup run, but you’ll never make the Champions League.                              

I was known to have enjoyed a bit of sport with supporters of Millwall Football Club in my book about the cab trade, but it was always done with affection. You see, inside very cab driver there’s a Millwall supporter trying to get out. OK, not an actual Millwall fan, but an individual harbouring a similar fatalistic philosophy. We hope for the best, but expect the worst. We want to earn good money, but we rarely do. We want to be liked. But if we are not liked or respected we are thick-skinned enough to be able to take it. “No-one likes us, we don’t care” is Millwall’s most famous song – brilliant! It perfectly encapsulates the inner-Millwall supporter inside us. We are everything that the young, ambitious, corporate wage-slave isn’t. We play poorly as a team. We constantly fail to meet targets. We set goals that we cannot reach. And if you’ve ever see a group of cab drivers converge on a café, it’s like a mob of Millwall fans turning up at your local. That’s your quiet Sunday lunch with the missus gone.                                                                                                       

Driving a cab I’d often be asked to drive people to Arsenal or Chelsea games as their stadiums are pretty central. Runs down to Millwall were quite frequent too, but usually with foreign visitors. Many tourists like to take in a football game while in London. Unfortunately it’s not easy to get hold of tickets for Premier League games, so they invariably end up in the badlands of South-East London. it’s not so bad around the New Den these days, but relations between West Ham and Millwall have never been warm. Driving down there with some Norwegians once I had to explain to them why I took my West Ham air freshener down before we arrived.

Should you be tempted to show any football allegiance, you are setting yourself up for all sorts of problems. Other cab drivers love commenting on your team’s humiliating defeat after the day’s results have come through. Clocking my West Ham sticker another driver would invariably draw alongside to deliver a cheery, “I see West Ham lost again at home, Heh Heh!” Even if they have won I don’t like being told the result. I rarely watch live football on TV or listen to it on the radio. In traditional fashion I wait until I get home on a Saturday to watch Match of the Day with the wife. Many passengers are up for a chat about football if they know you are a fan. I like football, but I don’t understand it. I’m happy to talk about the general aspects of being a supporter, but things can get technical. Once someone wants to discuss the nuances of England’s midfield engine room I change the subject to flower arranging or something.                                                                                                

I used to go to matches regularly, but I only make a couple of games a season now at most.  I always seem to get lost at the Olympic Stadium. In the half- dozen times I’ve been there I must have walked a different route from the stadium to Stratford Station on each occasion. One night I walked around the no-man’s land around Stratford and Hackney for ages. It was dark and I didn’t recognise any landmarks: though I guess a football stadium and one of the biggest shopping centres in Europe should be distinctive enough for most people.  I never even attempted to use Hackney Wick station instead of Stratford. In the cab I was always fearful of being asked to go to Stratford or Hackney Wick: the area has developed at an alarming rate, and I can never keep up with the road layout changing so rapidly.

I expect to see out the season sat at home, so I’ll catch a few games on TV. I was alarmed at the introduction of artificial crowd noise. I feel the same about that as I do canned laughter on TV comedy programmes. I was surprised to learn that players are being encouraged to avoid contact. West Ham’s defenders have been avoiding contact all season, so no change there.  Everything is getting back to normal.

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Painter Man

Many of us have enjoyed a forced holiday recently, and this has presented the opportunity to catch up on tasks that we’ve put off for months, or even years. I made a fair stab at painting walls and a ceiling, and did a just-about acceptable job on the front door with sticky black gloss paint. Thankfully the cat’s half-black anyway.

I’m painfully aware of my lack of practical skills though, particularly after experimenting with different work. I hate working in the run-up to Christmas so I left my cab at home and signed on at a local temp agency. A stint in an office or warehouse would excuse me from working the cab in December and hopefully take me through the cab trade’s flat-as-a-kipper season after New Year.

After just a few days I was offered the position of Assistant Caretaker at a local secondary school. On arrival I was given a map of the school site. It was a big school. The caretaker said he’s known people take five years to learn it. It was like learning the Knowledge of London.

I thought a caretaker would sit in a shed all day drinking tea before changing a couple of light bulbs and perhaps move a TV set in a cabinet into a classroom. Taking down the Christmas tree would provide a bit of extra work in January, but I was prepared for that. The poor chap was rushed off his feet, and this is where I came in as an extra pair of hands (he told me changing light bulbs takes a full two days). When he left me on my own I just hoped the boiler lights didn’t turn red, or there was an outbreak of Legionnaires disease (such eventualities have to be prepared for).

I was surprised to learn how involved a caretaker’s job is. I’ve always been in awe of people who can do stuff, and not just write about it. Even unlocking the school gates looked complicated. I can’t even dress for practical work. The caretaker had to lend me his waterproof coat. I only have clothes suitable for beach holidays, sitting in a cab with the heater on, or going out on the town. It was a humbling experience.

In the end I only worked 8 days at school, either side of Christmas. It was intense physical work and I wouldn’t want to do it again. It was a good experience though. As I was sweeping leaves, digging up moss, stacking chairs, and carting bit of wood and metal on a trolley to a skip, I knew I was doing useful – nay, essential – work – but it wasn’t really me.

I realised that I didn’t know how practical things work. I’m not from that world. It’s alien to me. I’m more comfortable with a pen than a drill. I’m more into ideas than practices. Hard work to me is agonising over sentence structure. I don’t know how to use a drill properly, or how to arrange the collection of a skip load of metal. I did a lot of soul-searching while at school. Is it just me who doesn’t know how to put a shelf up?

One interesting thing I learned was that no-one notices the cooks, cleaners and caretakers. For 8 days I was part of the invisible workforce. I came away knowing more about myself, but with a respect for the invisible people. Back on the Goldman Sachs rank I’d watch someone sweeping the street and I wonder what story he had to tell.

I’m sure many of us have thought about doing different work recently. You might find you were happier where you were, but it’s a valuable exercise in self-awareness.

The Good Life

Since the Covid-19 lockdown, I’ve vowed to support local businesses wherever possible. In the area around Leighton Buzzard I can buy milk direct from the dairy and beer direct from the brewery. Self-sufficiency is the logical next step…

I’m not going to start keeping chickens in my garden like the Good family from the 1970’s comedy series, The Good Life, but I have retrieved my old home-brewing equipment from the loft. I wasn’t expecting much from my first brew in several years, as I’m still practising my skills. My brew is based on a kit from ‘Wilco’s.’ The kit method is easy – it’s just sterilising the equipment that’s a bit of a chore. Everything needs to be scrupulously clean. Bacteria that can taint beer needs to be eradicated.

Three Brewing Methods (& Fermenting Taxis)

There are three main beer-brewing methods: kit, extract, or full mash. With a kit, the malt comes mixed with hops and pre-boiled. You basically just bung a can of malty gunge into a bucket with water, sugar and yeast. You keep it somewhere warm for a few weeks to ferment, then put it somewhere cooler to allow the beer to clear. If you have a taxi that you’re not using for a couple of weeks, park it somewhere warm and it’ll make an excellent site for your fermenting bucket.

Bottling it…

When the beer has cleared it can be served from a pressurised keg or a collapsible polypin. The beer goes off quickly, so unless you’re a hard user you might want to bottle some of it. This takes a bit of work and it can be messy, especially if you lose control of the syphon and flood the kitchen floor with sticky beer. Thankfully the wife was asleep when I disinfected twelve swing-top bottles in the bath and went to work with my syphon in the kitchen.

Fish Batter & Remaining Upbeat

I bottled twelve litres and added a teaspoon of sugar to each in order to help secondary fermentation. I sampled it after the recommended time.

The resulting brew wasn’t quite the apex.  It was drinkable, but not something I’d like to be served in a pub. I’m not drinking it neat but mixed with lemonade it makes a decent shandy. My cheap beer will also be used to make fish batter. As to the stuff left in the barrel/fermenter, it’s little better than vinegar. I’m not sure if this is recommended by gardening experts but I treated my sunflower sprouts to a gallon of beer, and they seem to be thriving.

It was a useful experiment and I remain upbeat. My next step will be to buy a boiler and brew up malt extract and fresh hops to my own specification, but I need to get rid of several litres of dodgy ale first to free up the bottles.

Man Cave on Tour

How’s this for a blokey activity? The Home Brew Shop in Farnborough are offering an All Grain Mashing Course. £36 buys you five hours practical tuition on mashing grain, wort chilling and sparging techniques. You are encouraged to discuss hops, grain and yeast with other like-minded folk. A buffet lunch is included, and tea and coffee are available all day. For added excitement, you are invited to bring samples of your own home-brewed beer. Perhaps bring the missus for a romantic day out – you might need someone to drive you home. Or maybe take a taxi?

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