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).

Viz Letters

While my forthcoming book is in the hands of the designers I thought I’d re-print all the Letters & Top Tips that I sent to Viz comic in 2016. As far as I know, only one letter made it to the magazine; the one about schoolkids sending photos of their privates to each others phones (not my strongest, in my opinion).

“Letterbocks”

My wife and I have just returned from the worst dining experiences of our lives, at the award-winning Clink Restaurant at Brixton Prison. Our waiter kept asking if we had any “snout” for him. A most unsavoury character. He later followed me into the lavs and asked if I would be his girlfriend. Very unsettling.

Mr L. Buzzard, Bedfordshire.

 

I’m dismayed that in these times of austerity the NHS are still performing heart operations. Money should only be granted for essential work, such as making girls’ knockers bigger. Has the country gone mad?

Mr L. Buzzard, Bedfordshire.

 

Some people think using bad language in front of kids sets a bad example.  Bollocks.  Our European cousins swear less than us because they are exposed to filth at a younger age.  French and Spanish children are encouraged to use a little watered-down profanity at the dinner table, and grow up to swear responsibly.

Professor Cock, Department of Swearing, Oxford University.

 

“Money Can’t Buy me Love” sang the Beatles.  What rot!  I bought a blinding prostitute for fifty quid last night. She said she really likes me, and I can see her again whenever I want at her bedsit by the station.  Happy Days!

 

“Things Can Only Get Better” sang D:Ream in 1993.  How very true.  I’ve just been informed by unsolicited email that a mystery benefactor has left me two million pounds in his will.  I just need to send a small administration fee to a solicitor in Nigeria tomorrow to finalise the release of funds.  I’ve sold my car for peanuts to get the money to pay the fee and put a deposit on a new Porsche.  I’ve told the council to take their crappy bedsit back, and this afternoon I shall tell my boss where to stick his job.  I aim to take a once-in-a-lifetime Caribbean cruise next month. Aye, I’m a man of leisure from now on!…

 

The kids of today have it easy.  Teenagers of my generation had to interact face to face with classmates they fancied.  These days they just email photos of their private parts and wait for a response. It seems lazy to me, but I suppose it’s progress of sorts.

 

After observing lorries delivering bags of ice to fancy West End bars, I tried making my own.  After a few weeks experimenting I found I could make my own “ice” by putting tap water in the freezer.  My friends think it’s as good as the real thing – and it’s free!

 

Councils should do more for those who find carrying their mobile phone everywhere inconvenient.  They should provide phones for public use, and house them in booths situated in prominent locations. They could paint them red for ease of viewing, and give the booths a snappy name, such as “phone box.”  I really think they could catch on.

 

“Top Tips”

Avoid scandalous car parking charges in London. You can park all day unmolested by simply by enclosing your car with orange barriers next to road works.  Barriers can be hired from any builders’ yard, and delivered by lorry the same day.

Mr L. Buzzard, That London.

 

MOTORCYCLISTS.  In order to gain attention, why not sit at the traffic lights revving your engine needlessly?  For maximum irritation, wait in the advance cycle zone in order to obstruct cyclists and intimidate pedestrians.

Mr L. Buzzard, Bedfordshire.

 

LONDON TOUR BUS DRIVERS.  Why not drive 5mph slower than regular buses?  This way, your passengers can experience a traditional British traffic jam, while watching a long line of irate drivers queuing behind you.  Make sure your passengers wave as they take their photos.

 

Make your neighbours think you have a high level job with the government by ostentatiously looking under your car every morning with a mirror on a stick.

Mr L. Buzzard, Bedfordshire.

 

Make people think you’ve just returned from an expensive long-haul holiday.  Just wrap an old suitcase in cling film and wheel it around town.

 

Eat your heart out, William Shakespeare!

 

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Knowledge Promotion

(Original edit of article for Taxi magazine).

 

I don’t spend much time surfing the net. I prefer to read proper magazines, made of paper. It was a friend who alerted me to the adverts promoting a career in the London taxi trade. He’d seen the Knowledge promotion on Instagram (I’m not exactly sure what Instagram is; like Teletext for young people, I should imagine).

I completed the Knowledge nearly thirty years ago, in December 1988. A week or so after getting my badge, an old-hand asked me how long it took me to pass the Knowledge and join the trade. He then helpfully informed me it would take me longer than 3 ½ years to get out of it. No doubt he’d had drivers telling him the same in the 1950s and felt the need to pass on this priceless nugget of information. I was earning good money and had more work than I could handle. I laughed off his advice and have always resisted the temptation to give the “Game’s Dead” treatment to a Knowledge Boy.

I did eventually leave the trade to do other things, and I foolishly allowed my cab licence to lapse. By 2001 I was a careers adviser. Nine years on and I was fed up of it: I was disillusioned with the politics, and felt the need to run my own show again. Although I was living seventy miles out in Northampton I started the Knowledge again. I reckoned it would take me about two years. After four months I was invited to a re-test. I didn’t know such a thing existed. I felt ill-prepared, but I somehow showed enough to gain a new licence after one mammoth Appearance with the legendary Mr Wilkin.

Work levels weren’t as high as they were on my return to the trade in 2010, but I couldn’t complain. Things are certainly tougher now and we can’t be certain that things will improve. New applicants need to know they are taking on something worthwhile. This isn’t a career where you can dip your toe in to test the water; you have to commit to around three years of hard, headbanging study, and a series of traumatic exams. Only then can you try it and see if you like it.

Fewer than 700 students are currently studying the Knowledge – nearly an 80% reduction in just a few years. More drivers are retiring than joining the trade. I’ve said a few times within these pages that driver numbers need to be maintained so we have collective power. We need to be part of a thriving trade, constantly topped up with new blood when older drivers leave, or go to the great cab rank in the sky. We need enough drivers to service the radio circuits and app-based hailing services. The circuits also need to grow. If we fail to do so, the circuits will lose accounts. Think also of the Knowledge schools, garages, and other supporting services.

A delicate balance is needed between under and over-supply. If the Knowledge was easy, the trade would be flooded. I wouldn’t want to be part of a trade that’s over-subscribed. I’ll leave that to our competitors. Giving your drivers just enough scraps to keep them hungry and dependent only makes the owners prosper.

The toughness of the Knowledge creates comradeship. Everyone who completes it joins an elite band of people who have achieved something monumental. If it was easy, it wouldn’t have so much value. But it shouldn’t be so tough as to deter people who could become really good cab drivers. The Knowledge needs to be firm, but fair. I’ve spoken up against the practice of Red-Lining recently. This is where a Knowledge candidate can be put back a stage should he or she fail to gain enough marks within a particular stage. It’s right that you should stay on the treadmill if you’re not progressing, but you should never be put back. This is the sort of thing that puts people off.

The new Knowledge promotion rightly stresses the trade’s inclusivity. It doesn’t matter about your background; whether you’ve a university degree, or were expelled from a sink Comprehensive. All you need is motivation and the determination to succeed.

So who might be interested in signing up? It depends on where you are coming from. People join the cab trade after doing other things. It’s not a school-leaver’s career. You need a bit of adult disillusionment in the world of work first. If you’re happy with your job, fine. Many people’s jobs have both got harder, and less secure. Is it more risky going on the Knowledge, or staying where you are while things deteriorate and you become at ripe for redundancy? My job in 2010 seemed secure, but it wasn’t. It certainly wasn’t fun anymore. It was more of a risk to stay on.

It’s very competitive out there on the streets. We’re being undercut by Uber, and Uber themselves are being undercut by new outfits. We’ll surely go through more periods of uncertainty before things settle, but we’ll come through. It could well be a good time to start the Knowledge.

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The Book they tried to Ban: Brexit Rant

My book is still a couple of months away from publication. Here’s an excerpt from a chapter that I didn’t include in the final draft.

 

Don’t Mention the War

I didn’t feel strongly either way, but I voted to leave the European Union. The EU had expanded to include former Communist countries. Some of the new entrants had very different cultures from the established EU members. They had no experience of mass immigration and they had much weaker economies. I couldn’t see what they were bringing to the party. We had the fifth strongest economy in the world at the time of the referendum. Maybe we should have helped form a breakaway Premier League?

A couple of the new member countries made it clear they weren’t going to take their share of refugees from Syria if they were asked to. Other member countries had economic problems, and it looked for a time as if they might be forced to leave the union. Citizens in other member countries also wanted to leave the EU. So, if the EU was to break up, someone had to be the first to leave and make the first move. Someone had to be Ginger Spice.

If anyone is to blame should the whole thing go tits-up, it’s Cameron’s fault for calling a referendum. The government made no provision for a leave vote whatsoever. For me, all the pathetic scare-mongering from people like George Osborne helped make my mind up how to vote. Maybe it was a token gesture on my part to call their bluff, but none of us expected the leave result.

I was now apparently a “Hard Brexiteer” because I took the government’s pre-referendum flyer as gospel. They led us to believe it would be easy. Cameron was going to invoke European Union Article 50 the following day and we would leave the EU lock, stock and barrel. I thought we’d just cancel the direct debit and unsubscribe from the newsletter. They told us no different. Nobody said there would be months of legal wrangling before Article 50 could be activated. Nobody mentioned a huge divorce bill, a lengthy transition period, or the thorny issue of the Irish border. Unsurprisingly we have heard nary a word from Dave Cameron since he deserted us, the slimy toad.

I don’t think the EU appreciates what a sensitive issue the Irish border is. The EU wants a proper border between Northern Ireland (United Kingdom) and the Republic of Ireland (European Union), yet in other parts of Europe they allow borders where there shouldn’t be any. There’s an illegal border on Cyprus, which is EU territory. Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, my arse – there’s no such country. It’s only recognised by Turkey. Turkish Cypriots are EU citizens, whether they like it or not. Talking of borders, the EU stayed quiet on the matter of Catalan independence in 2017. Whatever happened with Catalonia – are they independent now or not?

Brexit was subsequently blamed for many of the country’s problems. Banks and other institutions used Brexit as an excuse for making staff redundant. In the wake of the referendum, Lloyds bank announced 200 branch closures and 3,000 job cuts, but it transpired that the redundancies were planned before the referendum. The funniest claim came from Mayor Kahn and TfL who said that the “uncertainty of Brexit” was partly to blame for TfL expected loss of £400 million in 2018. It was nothing to do with Brexit. People were deserting the underground because it was overcrowded, full of rowdy people, and prone to cancellations and delays. Buses had lost their popularity because they were too slow. TfL had also shot themselves in the foot with the unrestricted licensing of private hire. This started a race to the bottom and made it cheaper to travel by mini-cab than a bus.

Many in big business are nervous about the UKs withdrawal. Of course they are. They’re worried they won’t be able to get any more cheap labour from Eastern Europe. It’s not Brexit itself which causes panic; it’s the uncertainty and the scare-mongering. Uncertainty is acerbated by the slow progress of negotiations with the EU. Mrs May took three months out for a vanity election in 2017, and talks have been conducted at a French escargot pace ever since.

The British are tough people, or at least we used to be. It’s generally older people who voted to leave the EU. The older you are, the closer you are to World War Two. Our ancestors were tough. They had to be. They needed faith and determination. Not enough people believe in the country any more. A stiff upper lip is now seen as cold and insensitive, but we need to pull together and invoke the Spirit of the Blitz once again. Sadly, it’s no longer PC to say that Britain’s great, or call to make Britain great again.

Time will tell how things will develop once we’ve left the EU. It might be a disaster. Some of our own citizens want us to get a bad deal so they can say”I told you so”. I say off to Traitors’ Gate with them. I’m still not sure how I’d vote if there was a new referendum tomorrow, though I’d probably stick with my original decision and see things through. If the referendum result isn’t respected I’ll be in Trafalgar Square with Nigel Farage setting fire to the EU flag.

The EU had to make it difficult for us in order to warn others about having the same ideas about leaving, but how dare they ask us for all that money? I can’t help thinking that the EU is something of a boys’ club, and I wonder how much money is spent on fat cat pensions and the EU wine cellar (admittedly, I might be sore because I don’t have a pension. Or a wine cellar).

I suggest the EU remember what the UK did for Europe during the war. Germany built up its infrastructure quickly enough after trashing Europe. European transport systems make ours look like the third world. Britain’s Family silver had been sold off to foreign investors years’ ago. Foreign transport systems are cheaper and more efficient than our own. Is this because so many of our transport systems are run by European governments? It’s the same with our domestic energy supply. We had rationing until 1953. We didn’t pay off war-time loans to the USA until 2006 – around £27 billion in today’s values. Other countries progressed while we were still crippled with debt from the war. I think we deserve some respect. If I was Mrs May I’d tell the EU to bugger off, we don’t owe you anything.

People confuse the EU with Europe and think you’re anti-European if you want to leave the EU. You can still drink fine wine in Paris and eat cheese strained through an old man’s sock. You can still lie on a Spanish beach until you turn red and sizzle like a chorizo sausage. You can still drink murky over-strength ales in a Belgian bar. You can still do whatever you normally do on a weekend in Amsterdam they can’t touch you for it.

I’m sorry we’re not such close trading partners, and that borders will re-appear, but I love Europe and Europeans, and I shall continue to take most of my holidays within the EU and the English-speaking world. Admittedly, preference is given to those countries that were on our side in the war. The European project has sidelined the Commonwealth countries: countries with whom we share deep ties, and a common language. A few of them mght have funny ideas about civil rights, and they might put your head on a spike if they think you might be gay; but during the war our Commonwealth cousins rallied round. There were also the plucky Poles, Czechs, Greeks and Scandinavians. But lest we forget, there were also some Bayern Munich-supporting wannabees who aligned themselves with the team they expected to win. They know who they are. It’s sad that the Germans are still telling the Greeks what to do. Search out the World at War series on the Yesterday channel for further details. I guarantee you’ll be a frothy-mouthed Hard Brextremist by the end of it – though I warn you though, that the series lasts longer than the actual war.

So what’s all this got to do with the London cab trade, I hear you ask. Probably nothing. Who knows? Anyway, I’ve gone on a bit in this section. File my ideas under half-baked if you want to, but I reckon I know as much about it as some of the so-called experts I hear on radio phone-ins.

 

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Where did it all go Wonga?

I’m sorry to hear that Wonga are about to call in the recievers. Could they not get a loan to tide them over until pay day?

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Taxing the Poor

(Original edit of article for Taxi magazine).

  • Two days after saying I was aiming to get my PCN average down to zero a year I got a £65 fine for slipping into a box junction on Westminster Bridge Road.

 

London is so congested and polluted that something needs to be done. Last month I filled in a Transport for London on-line consultation regarding congestion charging – including the proposal to charge mini-cabs to drive in the Congestion Zone. Well, yes; but that’s only part of the story: in giving my opinions I also suggested they strip away the cycle superhighways as a start. I reminded TfL that there is less traffic than there was a few years ago; it has just been slowed down by ill-thought out road modelling schemes.

The consultation on road-pricing got me thinking how poorer motorists are most affected by congestion charging, as well as the fines that those of us forced to drive in London inevitably pick up by being forced to park where we’re not allowed to, or by touching the sacred yellow paint of a box junction.

In 2010 I returned to the trade after eleven years of doing other things in other towns. As I planned to tackle the Knowledge for the second time I assumed Central London would now be free of traffic! Well, they’d brought in an £8 Congestion Charge – who’s going to pay that?! I reasoned. Of course, the traffic was even worse than it was when I left London. Not only that, but there were more restrictions, and there were cameras watching your every move.

There was a TV programme on in July called Killed by Debt. It was a harrowing depiction of how things can spiral out of control when you fall foul of the powers that be. It concerned the true story of a young man starting his first job, as a motorcycle courier.

When his motorcycle lets him down, he replaces it with a new bike with the help of his mum’s boyfriend. The monthly payments seemed reasonable, but the poor chap doesn’t earn as much as he expects to, and his running costs are high. Being self-employed he is responsible for his own business, and when things go wrong it is up to him to sort out.

When he picks up two PCNs, he neglects to pay within fourteen days and the fines rise sharply. Before long he’s the subject of a computerised court case and his details are passed on by Camden Council to legalised gangsters – bailiffs. The debt builds to over £1000, but the chap is too proud to ask his family for help. He loses his bike – his only way of making a living. Unable to see a way out he takes his own life.

Whenever I get a PCN, I pay it immediately then forget about it; but what if £65 represents a whole week’s profit as in this young man’s case?

I eventually got my own PCN level down to one a year, and I’m aiming for zero this year. I need to rely on luck though, as on a few occasions I have been caught on the edge of box junctions. I also did two illegals within five minutes when I was shocked by a job down to South Wimbledon and wasn’t expecting any banned left turns. Well, what does any day man know about Wimbledon?

Well-off people don’t need to worry too much about the legalities of minor driving offences or parking infringements. A box junction infringement is an inconvenience: just get your PA to deal with it and move on. It’s the same with the Congestion Charge. This just keeps the poorer motorist out of Central London. It’s mostly commercial vehicles in Central London. Few people drive up and down Regent Street for fun. The people who are forced to drive in London are the ones that suffer.

TfL, and their allies, bring in damaging road-narrowing schemes that slow the traffic down. They allow multiple road closures to occur in the same area simultaneously; and they schedule as many road closures for special events as they possibly can. They then complain that people are being killed by pollution and claim they are doing something about it. They fail to see that it’s pollution engineered by themselves (Yes, I reminded TfL of this fact in my consultation response). Let’s not forget that cab drivers are among those most affected. We’d all support sensible proposals, and sensible proposals mean keeping the traffic moving.

If petrol and diesel-powered motor vehicles are so responsible for deadly pollution they should have been banned outright. The switch to electric vehicles should have started years’ ago. All those lumbering red monsters should be operating out of garages and should not be sat blocking West End streets. Bus stands should have been converted into ranks of electrical charging points. Instead of banning motor vehicles they levy a charge that only affects the poorer drivers. You can pump as much filth into the air as you like, so long as you can pay for it.

Anyway, the consultation runs until the end of September.

 

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Burka King

I’m not a great fan of Boris Johnson, but I feel he’s getting some unwarranted flak on the Burka-Gate scandal; not so much for what he said, but for who he is. He now faces a show trial. Just laugh it off, Boris; it’s just a Brexit diversion.

Let’s not forget that he spoke against a ban on the full veil. I also don’t favour a ban, but I don’t like full face coverings. Nobody’s face should be covered in public places where security is an issue, or where clear communication is needed. You wouldn’t be allowed to wear a balaclava in a bank, and the idea that someone can teach in a school wearing a veil is preposterous.

Boris has got people talking about a contentious and complex subject. His bank robber and letter box comments might have upset some people but we all know what he means. All he’s done is make a couple of fairly lame humorous comments about garments that some people chose to wear. If women aren’t wearing certain clothes by choice then that’s another discussion that is needed. I notice it’s only women who wear full face coverings. When I see a woman in these Medieval garments I see oppression. It demeans the wearer and disrespects others. You are stressing your difference. You’re saying “Don’t talk to me.” If you want to speak to me, I want to see your face.

Free speech is being eroded with each passing day. If a person faces a hearing for these comments, it’s a sad day for all of us who view serious issues through the prism of humour. Does this mean we can’t chuckle at hipsters’ Civil War beards or people wearing pyjamas to go to the shops?

As I say, I’m generally not a Boris fan. I feel I could have a laugh with him down the pub, though I wouldn’t trust him. The reverse is probably true with Jeremy Corbyn. Jez has been quiet on the burka issue. The Boris issue has taken some sting out of Jeremy’s Jew-baiting. I’d imagine Jez is keen on full-face coverings though, whether a Hezbollah scarf or an IRA hood.

Oh come on I’m only joking, Jeremy. Can’t we laugh about anything these days?

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Is it time for an anti-demo march?

(Original edit of article for Taxi magazine).

So, another summer spent planning our work days around special events. In July we had the Gay Pride event, Donald Trump’s visit, and the ever-growing programme of running and cycling events that make life difficult for those of us forced to use London’s streets.

I find the Gay Pride event difficult to work around, so that was out. This year it coincided with an unlikely World Cup quarter final for England, so I was happy to have this day off (I got a normal day in on July 11th and caught the second half of the semi-final. I wish I hadn’t).

Next it was time for the visit of Team Trump. I’m not a supporter of Mr Trump, but I find him interesting and amusing, rather like Boris (What’s Donald Trump’s views on Uber, I wonder?). Initially, I was dismayed at Mayor Khan’s decision to allow the flying of a balloon depicting Donald as a baby. Trump had previously taken unfair digs at the Mayor over London’s record of terrorism and violent crime, but I felt it was Mr Khan’s duty to stay neutral. Was he showing his political colours by sanctioning the anti-Trump balloon? Would it make us look stupid? However, when I saw as picture of the balloon my standpoint shifted a bit and I could just about view the stunt as traditional British satire (should readers of my articles ever crowd-fund a satirical balloon of myself, I like to think I’d see the funny side).

I knew something was planned for Friday 13th, but there were no signs up warning of disruption. I therefore tried to work, bearing in mind that should there be problems on Saturday it would mean three expensive days off – Sunday 15th was already written off because of a running race. I just managed to avoid an evening of cycle misery in the City on Tuesday 17th by taking a Going Home job north from Goldman Sachs. Before the month was out there would be another two days of cycling to look forward to on the 28th & 29th

Anyway, on Friday 13th I managed to avoid the West End and complete two account jobs. I knew crucial roads in the West End were closed off, but I thought they’d hold their demos, and then everything would get back to normal. At lunchtime I heard that one of the two marches wasn’t even due to start until 2pm and would go on until 5pm. I drove home. The disruption went on well beyond 5pm anyway, so my decision to get out of town was vindicated.

The real disgrace here is allowing demonstrations to close a working city, particularly on a weekday. I often get caught in demos at the weekend, but the traffic is generally lighter and you have a fighting chance of navigating around closed off streets. On a weekday, gridlock brings large areas to a halt. It just shouldn’t be allowed. Don’t give me that “it’s everyone’s right to protest” nonsense. What about the rights of those who live and work in the affected areas? We all have rights.

It’ll be interesting to see if the Mayor will allow similar stunts when even more contentious world leaders make visits to London – real dictators and despots. There are far worse people than Donald Trump, yet the real tyrants only attract a fraction of outrage when they visit our shores.

Who are these people who can spare a day to protest against a president of a friendly country? Who are they trying to impress? Mr Trump wasn’t even in London at the time of the protests. I think many of these people have nothing better to do with their time than hang around in a pack with other like-minded people waving silly placards. Maybe they’re fed up with complaining to each other on social media about how terrible everything is? Maybe they self-diagnose the need to get out more? They’re preaching to the converted. They’re not teaching anybody anything, or changing people’s minds. Their messages are meaningless and confused. “Peace”, “Love”, “No to Racism”, &c., &c… OK, fine. We can all agree on that, now tell me something new? I don’t remember such Peace & Love messages when Chinese and Saudi leaders visited. At least Mr Trump’s own people can vote him out; his presidency is a matter for the American people.

Cycling and running racing events have reached saturation point. These events are run for commercial gain. The organisers get advertising and the participants enjoy themselves, but the majority are put out. The authorities seriously need to re-think demos and marches. London’s clearly not open for business on these days of action. The city can’t be closed off whenever someone doesn’t like something someone says and goes on Twitter to arrange a day of disruption – or however these events are arranged (I don’t know, I’ve never been invited to one).

Anyway, here’s my message: we’ve had enough of people blocking up our work space, so bagger orf.

If nothing is done to stop the marches, maybe it’s time for an anti-demo demo?

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