Moving targets

I’m beginning to suspect that London cabbies are reviled with the same vigour as bankers, estate agents and MPs (well, maybe not as much as our Members of Parliament). Recently a colleague of mine had his rear window smashed by local children as he sat waiting in a traffic jam in East London. Previously like me he’s had stones thrown at his cab, and had pedestrians hitting his vehicle with their hands as they cross the road.

[I]t also makes you wonder why some Lycra louts of the cycle world get their kicks out of spitting at cab drivers. This Lycra-clad posers cycle up beside cabbies and spit in their face before peddling off, which I personally consider it the most offensive assault possible and rather cowardly when you realise how difficult it is to pursue the obnoxious assailant responsible, I now find myself asking the question, is it a new craze?

The whole practice has me wondering whether they only target cab drivers, like the young vandals who throw stones. Do they maybe mark up their hits on their bike frames, like World War II fighter pilots? Or perhaps it’s an individual avenger who was once wronged by a cab driver who refused to go South of the River and is now wreaking his revenge.

I suppose we could try fitting spittoons on the side of the cab – but well away from the driver’s window of course!

Are we all really so bad?

Poison pen letters are invited to the comments section at the bottom of this post.

A tale of two cities

Our first city is at the cutting edge of information technology providing multi-lingual customer services to the world, while the second is struggling to provide high speed broadband access for its customers. One is taking its population out of poverty with the World Cities Study Group ranking it as an ‘Alpha world city’, while its counterpart has a rising unemployment rate of 9.4 per cent of the workforce with increasing numbers are reliant on the State.

[T]he first city was placed seventh in the list of ‘Top Ten Cities for Billionaires’ by Forbes magazine and first in terms of those billionaires’ average wealth. The other’s economy is not so rosy with the government forecasting its debt will soar to an eye-watering £1.1 trillion by 2011.

The emerging city’s transport has 11 million passenger movements a day on its rail and bus services, in comparison with about half of that number who have to endure delay and breakdowns with the other city’s aged transport infrastructure.

With 24,000 cabs providing transport for the older city’s 7 million population the emerging city’s population of 14 million inhabitants are having their aging fleet of 55,000 cabs replaced, unfortunately in the older city, whose cabbies have been licensed for over 350 years, they have to provide a service with much older vehicles due to their extortionate replacement prices.

Similarly both provide a rickshaw mode of transport. One regulated by price and service provided by operators who know their city like the back of their hand, the other’s rickshaws are vastly overpriced, unregulated (charging what they think they can get away with) and, driven by foreign ‘students’ who’s inability to speak the native tongue is match by their navigational skills around a city founded by the Romans.

Drivers in the city of the sub-continent sound their horn at every opportunity and in some ways this is where there are similarities with drivers in the older city following suit.

As the excellent Channel 4 series of programmes entitled Indian Winter showed, Bombay (or as the BBC insists on calling it, contrary to what it’s known to the inhabitants, Mumbai) has many lessons which we Londoner’s could learn. Could it be that Bombay’s emerging dynamism has positioned it in a far more advantageous place in the world’s economy?

With London appearing in a downward spiral and Bombay’s pulling itself up by their bootstraps it’s only a matter of time until the former colonial power is overtaken by its former colony.

We Londoners consider ourselves to be citizens of the world’s most influential city, true it still has a lot to offer its residents but is now under threat from emerging economies as never before, but at least we have recently adopted the curry as our favourite meal.

A Turkish Delight

2912242032_11bf239b44 If ever a building proclaimed its original function, this is it. Standing in Bishopsgate Churchyard is this Ottoman Hamam in the heart of the City dedicated to Mammon.

The fashion for Turkish baths was petering out a decade after this little curiosity was constructed in 1894 for the king of Turkish baths James Forder Nevill who owned nine Turkish baths in London.

Built on a site so constricted that its entry is via a small kiosk, it was modelled by the architect Harold Elphick on the 19th century shrine at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem. This Moorish gem of blue faience, brick, and terracotta, surmounted by an onion dome (to house the water tanks), continued the Alhambra theme inside with three hot rooms, shampooing room, shower bath and plunge bath, all with mosaic floors, tiled walls, marbled seats and stained glass windows.

2912239456_217c4a008d Against all the odds, it survived Hitler’s valiant attempt to destroy it and every other redevelopment scheme, continuing as a Turkish baths until the 1950s. Fighting a lone battle against the pressures of surrounding developers and encircling demolition work a Turkish gentleman; Mr. Mourat saved the building and converted it into the Gallipoli Turkish restaurant.

It is now an Italian restaurant and bar, and at last years’ Open House had Londoners queuing to view this rare surviving Moorish temple in the heart of The City.

Rear View Mirror

I bet you, like me thought the sole purpose of the iconic London Black Cab was to transport its driver and his passengers with a measure of comfort from point A to point B.

Well, how wrong can we be? I’ve had Batman and Robin getting changed in the back in preparation to go to a ‘Fools and Horses’ fancy dress party, and girls constantly risk serious eye damage by applying mascara while in the back of my moving vehicle.

[I]n an idle moment you might have Googled on the internet an ‘adult art movie’ filmed in the back of a cab, while The Mail on Sunday in their You supplement regularly purports to interview stars in a weekly feature entitled: In a taxi with . . .

London cabs are a great choice for city tours (well I should know) and what better place to use a London cab than Christchurch, not that rather genteel town on the south coast, but on the other side of the world, New Zealand.

Another company utilising our vehicles are Justsofilms who over the past two years have filmed dozens of musicians, performing in the back of a London licensed cab. Brian Wilson, Ryan Adams and the Doves are among the clips to be found on their site blackcabsessions. If you dig deep enough you can find a duo entitled The Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs playing while one wears a glittering cardboard box on his head, being driven by a very embarrassed cabbie around London.

White cabs make rather good wedding cars, just a few months ago at my daughter’s wedding a rather splendid cab took us to the church.

As a footnote Will Self has written a novel entitled The Book of Dave about a London cabbie, click the link to watch him using the back of a cab to promote his book.

Mythical Creatures

[T]his Sunday is the start of the Chinese New Year when we enter the year of the Tiger; it is the sign of courage, a fearless and fiery fighter revered by the ancient Chinese as the sign that wards off the three main disasters of a household: fire, thieves and ghosts.

The Chinese have a culture seeped in animal mythology from nine headed birds to numerous dragons, so for today, to wish you Happy New Year and CabbieBlog gives you London’s mythical creatures, starting with a dragon for fire:

dragon The City of London – Dragon or Griffin?
There is some confusion in identifying dragons and griffins in The City of London. Certainly both are mythical winged creatures. A griffin is the offspring of a lion and an eagle, it has the head, shoulders and legs of an eagle, while the body is that of a lion, so think beak and talons on a large cat – with wings. Traditionally, griffins have kept watch over hidden treasure, not much of that left in The City. While a dragon is a ‘winged crocodile’ or scaled creature with a serpent tail, capable of breathing smoke or fire, so for this one think teeth, flared nostrils, scales and a snaky tail – with wings. Symbols of these creatures can be found at: The boundary to the Square Mile either standing or on plinths; at Temple Bar on the top of the Bar; Holborn Viaduct has them incorporated in the bridge spans; while Smithfield Market’s Grand Avenue they are breathing fire; at the entrance to Guildhall, Bank Underground Station and Leadenhall Market; at the Monument and on the weathervane atop St Mary-le-Bow Church – scary.

Cadiz Memorial cadiz Cadiz Memorial
This French mortar mounted on a cast-iron dragon can be found on Horseguard’s Parade. It was a gift of the Spanish government to the Prince Regent in memory of the lifting of the siege of Cadiz following the defeat of the French forces near Salamanca in July 1812 by the Duke of Wellington’s army.

Chindit Memorial Chindit Memorial
At Embankment Garden there is another strange looking beast. The Chindit Memorial statute depicts the Burmese mythical beast Chindit who is the guardian of Burmese pagodas and temples. The statue commemorates the Burmese campaign during World War II in 1943 and 1944 with the Chindit Special Force, their motto features on the plinth ‘The Boldest Measures Are the Safest’, a lesson they should have put into practice in Afghanistan.

CleopatraSphinx Cleopatra’s Needle Sphinx
Having nothing to do with her at all, but still called Cleopatra’s Needle, carved in 1475 BC over 1,000 years before London was named, is by far the capital’s oldest man-made attraction. Standing over 60 feet high and weighting 186 tons. Presented to the British in the early 1800s against its wishes. It was loaded onto an iron pontoon and showed its obvious displeasure at being moved from the shores of the Mediterranean by nearly sinking off The Bay of Biscay. The obelisk was saved but six seamen died in the ferocious storm. We eventually erected it in 1887. It is now the most popular suicide spot on this stretch of the Thomas, come here at night to witness two ghosts who are seen jumping into the river. You cannot help but feel that the needle is waiting for the day when it can return home to stand proud under the hot Egyptian sun.

Crystal Palace Sphinx Crystal Palace Sphinx
The Great Exhibition of 1851 was the expression of a society at the zenith of its prosperity and power. Paxton’s Crystal Palace was a huge iron goliath with over a million feet of glass, containing such industrial exhibits as the jacquar loom, courts depicting the history of art and architecture from ancient Egypt through the Renaissance as well as exhibits from imperial territories like India and Australia. Major concerts were held in the Palace’s huge arched Centre Transept, which also contained the world’s largest organ. The central transept also housed a circus and was the scene of daring feats by world famous acts such as the tightrope walker Blondin. The Crystal Palace itself was almost outshone by the park in which it stood, which contained a magnificent series of fountains (the water pumped through a set of towers designed by Brunel) and the park’s original trees. Today, it is a rather different matter, moved to Crystal Palace after the exhibition it burned down in the thirties; all that remains are a set of empty terraces, with headless statues gracing the steps and Sphinxes guarding the entrance way to nothingness.