Electric Ink

Sitting in my garret chewing the end of my proverbial pencil composing this post for your erudition, it occurred to me that electric ink has empowered all us wannabee authors. With the passing of the brilliant columnist and author Keith Waterhouse recently, he who rejected all electronic devices to write and used a trusty manual typewriter, it’s time to look at the digital revolution which has enabled amateurs to publish their work.

[A] blog (a contraction of the term ‘weblog’) is credited as being started by Bruce Ableson who launched Open Diary in October 1998, which soon grew to thousands of online diaries. Open Diary was innovative, inventing the first blog community where readers could add comments to other writers’ blog entries.

Why blog? As a London cab driver I spend an unhealthy amount of time on my own, in a space smaller than a telephone box. The mental exercise of writing posts keeps me sane and I also enjoy the creativity of designing a website. In my cab I have ample time to ruminate on London’s shortcomings and virtues, which I hope to share with you, dear reader.

I’ve started reading Claire Tomalin’s Samuel Pepys The Unequalled Self a biography of the great diarist who wrote with astounding candour and perceptiveness in the 10 years from 1660 at a time when England was undergoing momentous changes.

Do you fancy yourself as a 21st century Samuel Pepys and want to start writing or are you happy to be one of the 98 per cent of web surfers who are just voyeurs and not publishers?

If you want to join the Band of Bloggers I recommend Matthew Stibbe’s Bad Language to get you started with some sound advice and Neil Patel, Quick Sprout who’s so prolific a writer on all things blogging I wonder if he ever sleeps.

A quotation attributed to Robert Louis Stevenson author of Treasure Island sums up the desire to blog perfectly: ‘I don’t enjoy writing, I enjoy having written.’

Oh! And thanks for taking the time to read CabbieBlog.

Backward Cabbie

A London taxi converted to look like a bumble bee taking part in an insect-inspired festival on London’s South Bank.

Raising awareness of the collapse of bee colonies around the world, one of London’s iconic black cabs has been transformed into a bumblebee in full flight, complete with a working beehive in the front seat. Keep a look out for this spectacular sight, which will be travelling around London.

Backward Cabbie
[H]arpreet Devi, 30, a cab driver in Punjab, India, was forced to drive his car in reverse for months because of a faulty gear box. The cabbie became so skilled at whizzing around in reverse he decided to modify his motor to drive backwards permanently.

Harpreet’s reversing skills have become so famous in his homeland, he has even been issued with a special government licence to drive in reverse anywhere in the state, located in the county’s north.

His Fiat Padmini, has painted ‘Back Gear Champian’ on the side, and the gear box is reconfigured to have four gears in reverse and one forward. Watch the video.

He can now reach speeds of up to 50 mph while driving backwards.

Mr Devi is a regular sight and sound around the area’s dusty streets, as he uses an ambulance siren to warn unsuspecting drivers, and pedestrians, to avoid him.

“After five years of practice I have perfected the art of reverse driving,” he said, adding that he took “all the care I can to protect other drivers on the road”. I always wanted to do something different, something unique. In simpler terms I reversed the complete gear mechanism of the car so that I get maximum speeds while driving backwards.”

But his somewhat bizarre practice has had one side effect – he has now begun suffering severe neck and back problems.

“I do have pains in the neck – frequent pains in the neck – and I have had severe vomiting in past, I have got a severe backbone problem from driving so fast in reverse, because my whole body gets contorted.”

But he insisted it was worthwhile.

“Achieving something special is never easy, it’s not giving that counts,” he added.

He has even tried to break the Guinness Book of Records for driving in reverse, after searching on the internet and finding a UK resident, John Smith, had achieved such a feat.

“Unfortunately I couldn’t break the world record because the Guinness Book authorities demanded non-stop video footage of my whole reverse driving and I was unable to produce that,” he said.

He was also thwarted a few years ago attempting to drive in reverse from Rajasthan, in the country’s north-west, to Lahore in Pakistan in a bid to promote peace.

He failed because he didn’t have permission to cross the border.

Preaching Heresy

As you read this they are already stacking the kindling wood for me in Smithfield, but I feel it has to be discussed. London is experiencing the worst decline in its core business for a generation and cabbies not renowned for being stoical never stop complaining about the loss of business. With so many cabs available companies have in some cases stopped pre-booking them, telling their employees to hail from the street.

[W]e now have the opportunity to become the first city in the world to have a completely integrated transport system (excluding rickshaws).

By allowing cabs to accept Oyster Cards while at the same time drivers should offer an appropriate discounted rate for the journey (say 20 per cent) for using the card.

At the same time TfL runs a promotional campaign spearheaded by Boris Johnson and offering tokens in the Evening Standard, I believe could be of mutual benefit to all participants.

By promoting the fact that we are helping London’s struggling businesses by keeping down their costs might even help raising London cabbies’ profile, possibly changing the view held by many that we are greedy and self serving.

Sponsorship from a body like the London Chamber of Commerce, could offer prizes for the cabbie who gave the most discounted rides and the most frequent passenger who availed themselves of the service. Corporate sponsorship of the scheme could be extended to a tie in with the London Olympics.

Another idea suggested by the Chairman of the London Taxi Driver’s Association is that with London’s transport bursting at the seams in the morning and evening rush hour, TfL could introduce an online system to marry up empty cabs travelling to and from London with commuters. With again a discounted fare balancing what the passenger would normally pay on the train with the convenience of being picked up locally and having a seat for their entire journey.

While Tweet a London Cab the fledgling (sorry about that) no booking fee service, who allow people to book a cab via Twitter should also have wider coverage, possibly incorporating that morning and evening commute suggestion.

As a footnote; TfL pay some of their staff over £100,000 a year to think up these incentives, and I offer them gratis, so you see we cabbies can be altruistic.

Now boys, do you still want to tie me to a stake and roast me?

An Open House

85 Swains Lane 220px-St_Pancras_Old_Church_2005

[A]rt can be expressed in many ways; painting, drawing, sculpture, but none have the visual impact more than architecture. Done badly it can blight people’s lives and ruin neighbourhoods. One only has to look at some of the housing estates designed in the 60’s by trail brazing architects to see its impact. Conversely good architecture can capture our imagination, change the way we relate to our community, create employment, revitalise a neglected part of London and improve our physical and mental health.

Good design will produce a more attractive environment, stronger communities with a sense of ownership and pride in their local area. Well designed buildings and public spaces are therefore vital in creating and sustaining a vibrant London.

The obsession to design glass boxes has rightly been criticised by Prince Charles, who it seems has continued his one man crusade against these hideous un-English buildings being forced upon us. Hardly a week goes by without one architect or another attacking him for his interventions against this ugliness.

Well, as an antidote to all that is ugly, this weekend sees the annual Open House event where a range of buildings open their doors for free public viewing. From the newly constructed Royal Institute of British Architects 2009 Award Winner; 85 Swains Lane to St. Pancreas Old Church believed to be one of the oldest sites of Christian worship in England. The owners of these properties are proud to show the contribution they play in the shaping of this great City.

CabbieBlog derives some satisfaction reading this year’s programme to find that many of the buildings criticised previously on CabbieBlog have not had the courage to open their doors to the public.

Rules of Engagement

You know that sinking feeling. You’re at a party and the village bore sidles up and wants to discuss his collection of beer mats.

What do you do? Enter into an earnest conversation on the merits of square versus round or oblong, praise the durability to withstand liquid, and discuss their post-modernist designs.

As I see it your have three options:

  • Engage in an earnest and meaningful conversation, and listen to his discourse for three hours
  • Suggest sex and travel might at this juncture be appropriate in his case
  • Stare over his left shoulder at that cute girl across the room while trying to not let your eyes glaze over

[S]tuck inside your cab you regularly have the village bore, with the maxim ‘the customer’s always right, even if he is a complete prat’ ringing in your ears you have that same dilemma. Well a recent study might have the answer to my problem.

Social researchers have studied the interaction between hairdressers, dentists or cabbies with their clients. They call this ‘The rules of conversational engagements for everyday encounters’, and interestingly it would appear that we have the upper hand in driving the conversation, even though you are employing us.

We have all sat in the dentist’s chair while he conducts a conversation about your holiday while filling your mouth with implements. But it would seem that my customers also know their place when sitting in the back of my cab as much as in the dentist’s chair.

It would appear that the driver starts the conversation choosing the subject, and, sorry about this, drives the conversation forward. You, of course, reply to my discourse not wishing to be confrontational, as you regard conversation with a stranger to be on a different level than, say somebody you met in the pub or a casual acquaintance.

So the next time you are in the back, take this little bit of advice, and know your place.

Thank you for letting me shout at you.