London in Quotations: Ambrose Bierce

Respirator, n. An apparatus fitted over the nose and mouth of an inhabitant of London, whereby to filter the visible universe in its passage to the lungs.

Ambrose Bierce (1843-1914), The Devil’s Dictionary

London Trivia: Looks like rain

On 1 August 1861 The Times published the first ever weather forecast for the general public. Admiral Robert Fitzroy was its inceptor. He was reprimanded, despite the ‘forecast’ being correct, as his superiors did not believe his predictions were accurate. We have been criticising their accuracy ever since.

On 1 August 1715 the first Doggett’s Coat and Badge race, the oldest rowing contest in the world, took place on the Thames, starting at London Bridge and ending in Chelsea

Chancery Lane takes its name from the 14th century Court of Chancery administered by the Lord Chancellor’s personal staff, the Chancery

Charing Cross was a hamlet known as Charing derived from Anglo-Saxon word cerring meaning ‘bend’ its position by a large bend in the Thames

Canning Town once had no roads, pavements, drains, fresh water, houses built below high tide level behind embankments were damp and flooded

The London Silver Vaults opened 1876 survived a direct hit by a German bomb in World War II that completely obliterated the building above

Jeremy Sandford’s much acclaimed 1966 BBC play Cathy Come Home directed by Ken Loach was partly filmed on Popham Street, Islington

Kensington Olympia opened in 1886 as the National Agricultural Hall on the site of a vineyard and market gardens in Kensington High Street

Chesham the start for the Tube Challenge visiting all stations on the network in the fastest time first completed in 1959 latest 16 hours 29 minutes 57 seconds

The original Tube escalators ended with a diagonal so it finished sooner on the right leading to the etiquette of standing on the right

Cannon Street was known as Candelwrichstrete meaning ‘candle maker street’ after the many candlestick makers that had set up residence

Olympia proved popular with King Edward VII who requisitioned a private suite as a secret rendezvous for liaisons with his many mistresses

CabbieBlog-cab.gifTrivial Matter: London in 140 characters is taken from the daily Twitter feed @cabbieblog.
A guide to the symbols used here and source material can be found on the Trivial Matter page.

Driving Lessons

Ten things you learn when learning to drive and passing your test in London

If you live here and want to learn to drive, London’s probably where you’re going to do it. A word of warning – don’t it’s not for the faint-hearted. I know my son is a driving instructor.

1. You’ll need a master of the ancient Buddhist practice of meditation to mentor you

Navigating London by car takes the patience of a saint, everyone, and I mean everyone, drives like an idiot. Shop around online for instructors with reviews that include keywords like: ‘calm’, ‘understanding’, ‘relaxed’ and ‘didn’t swear at me when I did an emergency stop in the middle of Hyde Park Corner’.

2. Don’t take someone sounding their horn personally

You’ll get beeped for pausing three seconds to let a little old lady slowly cross at a pedestrian crossing, just relax into that. In plenty of situations, your fellow motorist will helpfully second guess what you’re about to do wrong and honk you before you’ve even done it. Driving a cab I would be disappointed should I not be reminded of any hesitation or transgression.

3. Don’t expect to travel faster than 15mph (or should that now be 24.14016km/h?)

The fact is, if you manage to travel at the blistering speed of 20mph for more than 60 continuous seconds in central London, you’re probably in the bus lane, thus giving the London Mayor £80 to waste on bike lanes.

4. Use Zipcars to practice

The trouble with passing your test, if you don’t have your own car, is staying street-wise, once in a while it makes sense to go for a quick spin. While Zipcar et al aren’t thrifty, they’re still far cheaper than advanced lessons by the hour and there’s no faffy paperwork/credit card nonsense that comes with many car hire companies.

5. Manuals are very . . . well manual

If you don’t fancy changing gear more times than the government changes Covid advice, an automatic transmission is for you. You’re not likely to get into third gear, let alone fourth, fifth or sixth in central London. So instead of contemplating which gear you last selected, concentrate on that cyclist about to commit hara-kiri beneath your wheels.

6. You’ll suddenly feel an affinity for drivers

As a dyed-in-the-wool pedestrian, it’s easy to badmouth cars for little things like blocking zebra crossings, mounting the pavement and giving off a general air of wanting to mow you down. With your sudden transformation into a driver, prepare to experience the other side of the story: Low Traffic Neighbourhoods are tougher to escape than the Crystal Maze; Pedestrians idly strolling out in front of you like they’re at the Chelsea Flower Show; E-scooters falling out of the sky; and taxis deciding to show off their tight turning circle as you approach. Nobody is your friend, it’s a jungle out there.

7. If you can drive in London, you can drive anywhere

Except maybe Rome, Buenos Aires, Mumbai and Hanoi . . . hang on, let us rephrase that. If you can drive in London, you shouldn’t have any problems in Guildford, just give Glasgow a miss for the moment.

8. There are one or two ‘magical moments’ to compensate for the rest

Driving’s often a chore, and in London’s rush hour you probably identify with Edvard Munch’s painting of The Scream. But being behind the wheel does bless you with one or two magical moments. Like driving over the Albert Bridge at night, tourists looking surprised you’ve stopped to let them cross or seeing the BMW which cut you up is now stuck behind a tipper truck.

9. Don’t tell your friends of your brilliant achievement

Bragging about your life skills and qualifications can suppress most conversations. Admitting you can drive in London will qualify you to be the ‘nominated’ driver for the next few nights out.

10. Expect wear and tear

So you have ill-advisedly taken the plunge, or been persuaded by Rylan Clark-Neal to purchase a vehicle. Don’t expect it to remain pristine, despite the Clean Air Act, crap falls from the sky like snow. London has some world-class potholes, holes and humps proliferate Islington, drive faster than 8mph at your peril. Also, London drivers take pride in their ability to pass a vehicle leaving barely room for a cigarette paper between them.

And as a bonus: You don’t really need to drive in London

Being able to drive is a life skill, doubly so being able to drive in London. But the latter should be used sparingly like driving a pregnant woman to the hospital. Otherwise, London has one of the best transport networks anywhere, so as soon as you pass your test, reserve a car for your next countryside getaway, then celebrate by taking the tube, thus rewarding Sadiq Khan with the price of the fare, and not the congestion charge.

Image courtesy: Styles-Steering Driving School

No litter matter

Imostly write about London as any regular – or casual – reader of CabbieBlog would have realised. I’m also in the fortunate position to be able to walk every day in suburban London and have reached an age to be categorised as a ‘grumpy old man’.

My greatest bugbear, in a closely contested long list, is litter. Brought up in post-war suburbia when any waste was considered a crime, dropping anything in the street was punishable by the loss of privileges.

During lockdown I’ve taken to walking around the local roads, only to be greeted by the overly familiar sight of litter-strewn streets. This has been exacerbated by our local London authority’s inability to source brooms, at best once a month they now stroll around brandishing a grabber and plastic bag which enables them to remove any large items.

Once it took over two weeks of correspondence between me and a local councillor and then a direct notification that I instigated to the refuse department to remove rubbish [ pictured below]  which clearly couldn’t be lifted using a hand grabber.

Bottles and wrappers lie but feet away from bins – the extra few steps it would take to throw the rubbish away being evidently one step too far for many.

Beyond simply ruining my walks, and allowing my dog to supplement his diet, should I not be looking, it has had many grave environmental, economic and social repercussions.

In my opinion, the worst outcome is the damage done to animals, LitterGram claims that 70,000 animals are killed or injured annually by litter in the UK, whilst the RSPCA receives 14 calls a day regarding animals affected by litter.

Out of a total of 7,200 sites surveyed by Keep Britain Tidy, 14 per cent were found to be at an unacceptable standard for litter. While 48 per cent of respondents admitted to dropping litter, this number is only increasing, with a new incident of fly-tipping occurring every 12 seconds.

Beyond the cost to life, the financial cost is also shocking. Litter-strewn roads on average have been found to decrease the value of a property by 12 per cent, although looking at the rubbish in front gardens of many who have bought a house around here, rubbish-strewn streets seem to be an attraction.

Picking up litter is estimated to cost local authorities in the UK on average £1 billion a year, but certainly not by my council.

Another piece of research has found that if a company’s product is often seen on the street as litter, it is estimated that this can result in a 2 per cent drop in the company’s turnover, clearly McDonald’s where not included in the findings.

As was espoused by Rudolph Giuliani, New York’s mayor in the late 1990s, litter can be attributed to a lack of general safety. Dealing with minor crimes like dropping litter helps to reduce larger crimes and improve public safety, in addition, litter can damage a local sense of pride and worth, resulting in further anti-social acts.

So there you have it. Is dropping litter an ageist propensity, cultural trait or just my geographical location?

London in Quotations: Joseph Hatton

London’s like one of the flash women at Frisco – fine to look at, cruel as the snow.

Joseph Hatton (1837-1907), Cruel London

Taxi Talk Without Tipping