A plug for Boris

Boris’s dream of making London as quiet and clean as a convent during vespers drew a step closer recently.

With the disclosure that London now has 17,000 electric and electric hybrid vehicles registered in the capital it makes London the country’s leader with some 23.5 per cent of the nation’s total.

The experts predict that by 2020 over a half million of these vehicles will be registered.

[I]t hardly is surprising with a 100 per cent discount on the congestion charge and nil-rate vehicle excise duty and that their use in London can only go northwards.

OK! I’ll put up my hands; I drive one of London’s worst polluters, even with expensive conversions and the phasing out of 15-year-old vehicles, London’s taxis still pollute far more than any electric vehicle ever would, and as someone with mild COPD I have more than a passing interest in improving London’s air quality.

Whilst London’s air might seem one of the best amongst capital cities around the world, the technocrats in Brussels have deemed that it’s not doing enough to meet EU-wide standards. As a city without any polluting industries or manufacturing, the vast majority, some 80 per cent, of London’s air pollution comes from road transport (with presumably the other 20 per cent from City Hall). Of this 80 per cent, it is estimated that emissions from London’s iconic black cabs make up 20 per cent, and this is the group that Boris is targeting in his Air Quality Strategy to help him meet strict emission targets.

To go down the electric taxi route taxi drivers (and Boris) have to overcome a number of problems, which you could call the four “Pees” no make that five Pees.

Price – Unlike London’s bus fleet we don’t receive any subsidies, being self employed, we naturally don’t enjoy the generous benefits bestowed on other fleet operators. Current estimates for the price of an electric taxi are in the region of £60,000.

Plugs – In May of this year Boris switched on the Capital’s new Electric Vehicle Scheme, making it simpler for electric vehicle owners to charge their vehicles, and he is promising a total of at least 1,300 charging points by 2013. This is designed to overcome the major problem for any electric vehicle driver which is “range anxiety”, the term used by drivers of these vehicles when they need a charge. In the lead for long distance running without needing a charge is the Smart fortwo, with a potential range of 84 miles – far shorter than the average cab is driven in a day.

Parking – No Londoner needs reminding of the parking restrictions and its draconian enforcement by local authorities. If London’s 24,000 cabs have to stop half way through their working day to recharge provision must be made away from the parking restrictions imposed by London’s Stalinist councils. You wouldn’t expect buses in a bus garage to incur parking enforcement, so why cabs?

Passengers – These have of late become an endangered species, making the cost of electric vehicles even more uneconomic for cabbies. But should paying customers return one day they might find that because of an electric vehicle’s limited range journeys cannot be undertaken, and as they say refusal can sometimes offend.

Spending a Penny – An additional requirement now sadly lacking in London is the provision of toilets, and while parked and recharging your own and the vehicle’s batteries, proper provision should be given for eating and as the American’s call it a comfort break.

A start Boris, but a lot more work is to be done before you reach your clean air El Dorado.

Fluffers, harlots and herb-strewers

250px-Herb_Strewing_at_the_1793_Coronation_Procession_of_King_James_IIPeople are always asking about what it’s like to be a cabbie and how we did “The Knowledge”; even Londoners ask it would seem the public’s appetite for enquiring into our fellow’s jobs is undiminished.

But not matter how unusual a London cabbie’s profession might be, it has nothing comparable to some very strange ways to earn a living in the capital.

[T]ake the Constable of the Tower of London who for 600 years has been officially authorised to extract a barrel of rum from any naval vessel using the river; any livestock falling from London Bridge he has the right to claim as his own, and should your pig stumble into his moat he will charge you 4d an old penny for each leg. One of his staff – The Ravenmaster – is charged with preventing the ravens from leaving the Tower, as tradition dictates that England’s crown will fall should they so to do. An unlikely event as he rather cheats by clipping their wings.

James Donalson is commemorated by a 17th century memorial in St. Margaret Pattens Church, Rood Lane, as being the man who specialised in selecting spices – The City Garbler.

In the 1860s with London’s population one third of today’s size, 80,000 prostitutes touted for business giving the decade the nomenclature “the heyday of the whore”. During the Profumo Affair, Harold Wilson was quoted as complaining of a society which pays harlots 25 times as much as it pays its Prime Minister.

In the days when London’s streets were not as clean as today’s, Lady Herb-Strewers [pictured] were employed to scatter sweet-smelling petals wherever the monarch processed within the royal apartments as well as outside in the streets. Today the Fellowes family, which Julian Fellowes – director of Gosforth Park – is a member still claim that hereditary right on behalf of their eldest unmarried daughter to be the official lady herb-strewer.

Now replaced by machines Fluffers were employed for years on London’s underground to walk the tunnels each night collecting waste material, the largest component of this waste left behind by the passengers – human hair.

Cracking the Code

With the news that the Olympics site has been designated with its own postcode, my question today is:

Does anyone understand postcodes in London?

Until now, the E20 postcode of Albert Square in BBC’s soap Eastenders (no I don’t watch it either) was merely fictitious, but Olympic bosses applied for premises on the Stratford site to use the iconic postcode.

[T]he move, due to be take effect for the start of the Games next July, has been made despite the next available East London code being E19. Postcodes it would seem have no obvious logic to their designation and no relevance in relation to the adjoining areas.

To complicate life for a cabbie house numbers sometimes have even and odd numbers on opposite sides of the street, while on others the numbers run sequentially up one side and down on the opposite site, in addition some houses are designated a street and number even though their front door actually opens onto an adjacent road; the lowest number on any street is supposed to be the house closest to Charing Cross or is that an urban myth?

If London’s postcodes are allocated alphabetically why is it that E2 is Bethnal Green; E3 Bow; E4 Chingford; E5 Clapton; E6 East Ham; E7 Wanstead; and then arbitrarily E8 Hackney?

Conversely if the postcode number denotes its position away from the centre of London why is NW1 near Mornington Crescent but NW2 miles away in Cricklewood; and Sloane Square SW1 while Brixton Hill is SW2 and Scotch Corner just yards from Sloane Square near Harrods SW3? How does that work?

You have to ask yourself, just why it is necessary for Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens to be in five different postal districts unevenly divided between W1, W2, W8, SW1 and SW7, with the lines curving and twisting through the parks.

It all started out so simple; during the 1840s the number of letters being sent in London was increasing rapidly, with many localities having similar street names, letters were often misdirected. So in the 1850s a committee was instructed to find a way to stop the confusion. They originally planned to rename the streets, but many residents objected, so they decided instead to split the city into various sectors. The two central sectors were EC and WC (East and West Central) and the outer ones were named N, NE, E, SE, S, SW, W and NW after the points of a compass. A scheme which involved people adding these letters to their addresses was implemented during 1857 and 1858. In 1866 in author Anthony Trollope, then a surveyor, who also introduced our red pillar boxes, suggested that NE be merged into E and then S vanished two years later, after being split between SE and SW.

While it is immensely helpful for the Post Office in locating addresses, without a vast knowledge of the postcode system it is of little use to the man, or cabbie, on the street, except to perhaps point people to a general area, say within 10 miles from their destination. If you want to find where you are going don’t rely on a postcode; use a map or better still jump in a cab and let him figure it out.

Some notable postcodes:
SAN TA1 – Father Christmas
GIR OAA – Girobank
RM1 1AA – Royal Mail Customer Service
E20 – Walford (Eastenders) or the Olympic Park
SW1A 1AA – Buckingham Palace
SW1A 0AA – House of Commons
SW1A 0PW – House of Lords
SW1A 2AA – 10 Downing Street
SW1A 2AB – 11 Downing Street
W1A 1AA – BBC Broadcasting House, Portland Place

From silken riches to rags


Possessing one of the largest number of early Georgian buildings in London, Spitalfields, dominated by Christ Church, a masterpiece of baroque designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor which featured in Peter Ackroyd’s novel Hawksmoor, this small enclave of London has over the past 400 years had numerous waves of refugees escaping persecution. The elegant houses in Wilkes, Fournier, Princelet, Hanbury and Elder Street are some of the oldest buildings in London.

French Huguenots arrived in 1685 bringing with them the skill that still bears their name: Spitalfields Silk. Wealthy silk merchants and skilled master weavers, escaping persecution following the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes, set up shop here and protected by specific laws prohibiting the importation of silks from France produced what is still today some of the finest cloth that Europe has ever seen; figured silk brocades, damask and velvets, that were worn by both the men and women of the 18th century.

[W]ith the end of the Napoleonic Wars, the silk weavers lost their protection from French imports and while the work continued in Spitalfields it was produced in attic-level sweatshops [pictured], with their large windows designed to allow the maximum amount of daylight for the unskilled labouring away inside.

The Huguenots left to be replaced by poor Jews from Amsterdam which bought with them the skills to produce cigars and cigarettes. The next to arrive in 1845 were Irish labourers fleeing the potato famine, these men were put to good use increasing London’s prosperity by building the emerging docks.

Next to arrive in the 1880s were Jewish refugees fleeing the pogroms in Russia, who brought with them the skills of tailoring and cabinet making, the last of those industries can still be found along Hackney Road today. Now Bengali’s have established themselves here with their ability to give us Brick Lane’s curry houses.

A ‘Spitalfields Breakfast’ was the 19th century slang for having no breakfast so deprived had the area become, which ultimately led to a rise in prostitution and the rich hunting ground for London’s most famous serial killer – Jack the Ripper.

No building demonstrates the changing identity and fortunes of Spitalfields more than one built in 1743 in Fournier Street as a Huguenot chapel, becoming a Methodist chapel, then a synagogue and is now the local mosque.

To experience Spitalfields through the ages Dennis Severs’ House at 18 Folgate Street is a time capsule attraction in which visitors are immersed in a unique form of theatre. The 10 rooms of this original Huguenot house have been decked out to recreate snapshots of life in Spitalfields between 1724 and 1914. An escorted tour through the compelling “still-life drama”, as its American creator Dennis Severs described the experience. The tour takes you through the cellar, kitchen, dining room, smoking room and upstairs to the bedrooms, with hearth and candles burning, smells lingering and objects scattered apparently haphazardly, it feels as though the inhabitants had deserted the rooms only moments before.

Also check out Jane’s London where she shows details from Huguenot houses and an interesting tale of a lost synagogue.

The Write Stuff

To paraphrase Cecil Rhodes: To be born an Englishman is to have won the Lottery of Life; and for much of the second half of the last century, Englishmen must have felt that they had won on a double roll over week, for unlike most of the third world at the time we had the freedom to speak our mind without fear from the military, the State or lawyers.

Evidence of that can be found in a quaint English custom performed every Sunday at the north-east corner of Hyde Park, just yards from the site of Tyburn’s triple tree, where 21 persons could be hung at a time, many for trivial offences or for just criticising the great and the good of the day.

[O]n this small paved area a motley band of speakers are to be found exercising their right of free speech, a practice dating from 1872. Two decades before the citizens of England right of assembly and free speech was tested by civil disobedience when in 1855, in defiance of the law prevailing at the time, some 150,000 people assembled and various scenes of disturbance took place protesting against Lord Robert Grosvenor’s Sunday Trading Bill.

Now a 21st century right of assembly has occurred in cyberspace in defiance of a “super injunction” imposed by an English court. The case as it happens is just a trivial matter; dog bites man, so what? A young fit athlete, with a healthy bank balance and an army of fans plays away from home, nothing new here; stop starting and more along please.

But when the man having an affair happens to be a senior politician, for journalists reporting the story, it could be a man bites dog news item. And so it proved in 1963 when the Secretary of State for War was reported to be having an affair with the Uxbridge born model and Soho showgirl Christine Keeler. The Cabinet member assured the House of Commons at the time that those reports in the newspapers at the time were groundless. Had John Profumo, been able to slap a “super injunction” on the story to prevent the media reporting his infidelity, we might have never known that Miss Keeler was also the mistress of the Soviet Assistant Naval Attaché, Yevgeny Ivanov, working from within the Russian Embassy in Kensington Palace Gardens.

Much of the news media is working itself up into a lather over a footballer having an affair, they really should be saving their angst for a man bites story.

Now if I told you who was in my cab recently and she wasn’t his wife . . .