25 x 25 x 25

[T]hirty years ago a friend of mine took our son and his lad for a Sunday afternoon stroll and in the days when civil engineering was not carried out 24-hours a day, he decided, for reasons best known only by himself, to walk along the part constructed M25, thus making our son one of the few 10-year olds to have walked down the middle that motorway.

Our friend was of the opinion that this part constructed road, being so far out from central London, was a waste of money and would in all likelihood remain as empty as it was on the day they took their motorway ramble. It was I suppose his way of showing the future generation the folly of politicians with £1 billion of our money to spend.

Now I give you this illuminating if rather prosaic story of our family because on Saturday the motorway which inspired Chris Rea’s 1989 hit Road To Hell is 25-years-old, and our friend’s original prediction was soon proved wrong for less than two years after its opening by Margaret Thatcher on 17th August 1988 a 22-mile long queue of stationary traffic grew between junctions 9 and 10.

So here are CabbieBlog’s 25 fascinating facts after 25 years of the M25:

2nd-cabThe construction was originally proposed in 1911, by the time Margaret Thatcher opened it in 1986 fourteen different Prime Ministers had been in office.

2nd-cabIt runs for 117 miles (that is nearly 200 kilometres) and was the world’s biggest city ring road when it was built, now it is only surpassed by Berlin’s Ring at 121 miles.

2nd-cabFor anyone who drove a car made in Britain at the time it will not come as a surprise to learn that the first breakdown on the M25 occurred at 11.16am on 29th October, 1986, just hours after Margaret Thatcher declared it open.

2nd-cabHead of the old Greater London Council and a leading lobbyist for the M25, Sir Horace Cutler, discovered to his dismay on the day the route was announced that it would pass through the grounds of his home near Gerrards Cross, Buckinghamshire.

2nd-cabThe original design proposed four ring roads around London, but for political expedience in the 60s London County Council tried to keep quiet about their radical plans to build the four ring roads. The truth came out when Battersea Borough Council had a request for a new swimming pool rejected because one of the roads would have been built over it.

2nd-cabMore than two million tons of concrete and 3.5 million tons of asphalt were used to build it and at junction 15 the M25 is now 12 lanes wide.

2nd-cabIt has 10,606 lights and 2,959 illuminated signs along its length.

2nd-cabClacket Lane Service Station is the largest service station in Europe, but despite its length and the volume of traffic the motorway has only two other service stations – Thurrock and South Mimms.

2nd-cabDesigned with a capacity of 100,000 vehicles per day it now is used by 250,000 vehicles per day. At its busiest part 196,000 vehicles a day were measured in 2003 between junctions 13 and 14 near Heathrow Airport.

2nd-cabIt has 33 junctions some of which are four levels high.

2nd-cabThe highest speed recorded by police on the M25 was 147mph, in 1992 by Leslie Coe in a Porsche 911 – he lost his licence. Last year there were 793 accidents and eight deaths.

2nd-cabIf you were able to drive at a constant 70mph, it would take an hour and 40 minutes to complete a full lap of the route.

2nd-cabOne of the strangest items found on the motorway was a table tennis table amongst the tons or rubbish the Highways Agency maintenance crews have to clear off the hard shoulder each year.

2nd-cabAccording to the AA, the question most frequently asked by motorists on its online route planner is: “How can I avoid the M25?”

2nd-cabThe Orbital road lent its name to a series of raves in the late eighties and early nineties. This in turn gave house duo Orbital their name.

2nd-cabNovelist Iain Sinclair walked anti-clockwise around the motorway in 2000 for his book “London Orbital”.

2nd-cabExplorers Alastair Humphreys and Rob Lilwall spent eight days walking the entire M25 route last year. Fans followed their progress via Twitter, with many locals offering beds for the night.

2nd-cabLast August Northern Irish fundraiser Trevor Sandford golfed his way around the motorway, covering 31 courses in 31 days, in aid of charity.

2nd-cabThe tiny village of North Ockendon is the only settlement in Greater London outside the M25, while Watford (population 80,000) is the largest town outside Greater London to lie inside the M25.

2nd-cabEpping Foresters Cricket Club plays on a pitch directly above the M25’s Bell Common tunnel.

2nd-cabSince 1996 a man called Gimpo has spent a day each year driving around the M25. In fact, a day and a bit, as he takes 25 hours and he plans to do it until 2021. That’s a 25 year circumlocution spending 25 hours at a time on the M25. He calls it the M25 Spin, and it’s quietly becoming one of the most intriguing art projects out there.

2nd-cabIf you drove round the M25 clockwise in the slow lane, you would travel 600ft further than if you drove round the motorway anti-clockwise in the slow lane.

2nd-cabThe clockwise off-slip at Reigate is the longest slip-road in the world, outside of America.

2nd-cabIts north sections follow a similar route to the Outer London Defence Ring which was the defences built around the city for the Second World War.

2nd-cabAnd finally just in case you are reading this while stationary on the M25, a report this year revealed that roadworks had caused 118 years of hold-ups in 18 months between junctions 16 and 23 alone . . .

Staying Erect

Big Ben

Samuel Johnson’s friend James Boswell had an interesting experience on Westminster Bridge. He recalled: “I picked up a strong jolly young damsel and taking her under the arm I conducted her to Westminster Bridge, and there in amour complete did I engage up in this noble edifice. The whim of doing it there with the Thames rolling below us amused me much.”

Boswell might not have had trouble in staying erect but for Big Ben it seems a case of erectile dysfunction. I have looked at it through one eye, aligned it with a lamppost, I’ve even tried viewing it upside down, but try as I might I just cannot see the list, but according to a report by London Underground Big Ben is leaning to such an extent that the tilt can now be clocked with the naked eye. The 316 ft. tower on the north side of the Houses of Parliament correctly is called St. Stephen’s Tower but is known colloquially as Big Ben – the name given to the great bell that it houses, the clock is the largest four-faced chiming clock in the world and surmounts the tower which is founded on a 49 ft. square 9.8 ft. thick concrete raft sunk to a depth of 13 ft. below ground level.

[Y]ou would have thought with foundations like that the tower would be stable but it is sinking unevenly into the ground, causing it to lean toward the northwest, and as a consequence the movement has resulted in the formation of cracks in the walls and ceilings of parts of the House of Commons.

The engineers claim that if you stand on Parliament Square and look east, toward the river, you can see that the tower is not vertical. As with so many things it’s the MPs that are to blame, the construction of their underground car park in the early 70s started it and an extension of the London Underground Jubilee Line didn’t help matters either. But what has accelerated the movement to 0.9mm per year was the digging of the deepest hole in Britain during the construction of the new Parliament Square tube station and the construction above it of Portcullis House, again building work for the benefit of our MPs.

If the tower continues its slide towards the river in about 4,000 years it will compete with the Leaning Tower of Pisa which lurches 12ft from the vertical. By then anyone who should feel the desire to follow James Boswell’s example of amorous exploits upon Westminster Bridge would be well advised to find an alternative hunting ground.

Worst face in the world

[T]he 2012 Olympics have a lot to answer, being told we can’t travel to work next August, cabs banned from Olympic Priority “Zil” Lanes, and Lord Coe’s self-satisfied face on television every night of the week, but its biggest affront is about to be unleashed on Londoners in the next few weeks, namely:

2012 Headline

Soon every bus, taxi and billboard will be advertising the 2012 Olympics. Avenues of lampposts will have hanging from them banners written in a font called 2012 Headline, and as if to rub salt into the wound they will also be displayed in . . . French. Every lamppost in the Capital looks to have hung from it what the International Olympic Committee call pageantry, and because French is the Olympics’ second language expect the “pageantry” to appear in England and French.

Why should be present ourselves in such a fashion? Thirty years ago London was regarded as a culinary desert offering only meat and two veg or fish and chips in most of its restaurants, now because of the brilliance of its chefs London can claim to have some of the finest restaurants in Europe. In the world of fashion – so they tell me – we have surpassed New York and Paris as the place to show the work of cutting edge clothes designers.

So what have we given the world to advertise London’s Olympics and to place it yet again at the forefront of design? A font that looks like a group of primary schoolchildren has designed it during a wet lunch break, but don’t take my word for it. In a list of the world’s worst typefaces Simon Garfield in his recent book Just My Type placed it at number one, that despite some very strong competition. Simon Garfield claims that the public were so outraged by the London 2012 Olympic logo that the Games typeface will just go unnoticed. At the time of its unveiling some accused the logo as looking like a swastika, unfairly in my opinion, at least the swastika has symmetry, others rather bizarrely saw within its jagged shapes Lisa Simpson having sex, but gave no thought to the logo’s typeface.

Some might think that the choice of typeface is unimportant amid the enormity of London’s Olympics, but we identify companies, institutions and events by the advertising used to promote them. If amongst all the other crazy things that Transport for London does they one day should choose to “rebrand” our Underground by getting rid of the familiar roundel and Johnson’s typeface, petitions would be at every station in protest within days.

I know that the Olympics were started in Greece, but did we have to brand London’s contribution to the Olympic heritage with a typeface that wouldn’t look out of place above a dodgy kebab takeaway down the Mile End Road?

Spooked on Millbank


I think I must be getting like my mother, she would only watch a television programme if she could recognise the locations. I now find myself watching Spooks on the BBC trying to guess where it was in London that particular scene was shot.

My mother once told me she worked at Thames House during the war as a secretary – she certainly didn’t look like a Mata Hari – and would, as a consequence of the bombing, have to struggle home on a disrupted tube network every night back to north London – a bit like today.

Anyway while watching Spooks they kept showing a front door with the caption Thames House SW1, now I’m pretty certain that the building featured is the headquarters for various news organisations, and not our ultra secret service. I might be wrong, we didn’t learn on the Knowledge where it was, they were hardly likely to ask us the location of Smiley’s organisation.

[S]o on impulse I googled MI5 and they have their own website which shows potential suicide bombers the front door should they choose to pay MI5 a visit. Not only that, to my surprise they have a recruitment section giving details of their requirements for a variety of jobs within the service.

They are recruiting what they euphemistically describe as “Mobile Surveillance Officers” that’s spies to you and me. Now I’m old enough to remember the Burgess/Phil by/Maclean debacle and rather assumed recruitment was through an old boys’ network with links to an Oxbridge College, and a prelicton to, shall we say? – unusual sexual appetites.

There is great deal on the MI5 site about extended working hours, multitasking, thinking on your feet and the need not to have facial tattoos (they make you too noticeable, apparently!), but nothing about getting shot at, being stabbed with trick umbrellas or being irradiated. Should MI5 not be your cup of tea (or vodka martini), there are links to the sites of MI6 and GCHQ, so surely there is something in there for everyone?

I’m not surprised that they are recruiting if [Spooks] – why is the title always in brackets? – is anything to go by. Only six people seem to work out of Thames House and have to do everything: surveillance; computer checks and tracking; chasing around London in a top of the range car (another chance for me to spot the landmark); and be the only person who tails a suspect and finally eliminates him. I’m surprised the series isn’t sponsored by our security services and it all looks such great fun that I’m thinking of applying myself.

Oh dear! I think I’ve just blown my chance to have an alternative, if potentially short, new career from being a cabbie. The small print reads: “Owing to the sensitivity of our work, we do not publicly disclose the identities of our staff. Discretion is vital. You should not discuss your application, other than with your partner or a close family member”

The whole world now know that I’m considering applying . . . but at least the super sleuth in me can track down MI5’s front door.

Some of this information was based upon an original post by Malcolm Edwards at London Ramblings.

4,821 can’t be wrong


I drive the world’s best taxi giving a level of service that is second to none. How do I know? Well, the annual survey of 4,821 respondents from 23 countries by Hotels.com has revealed that London taxis polled 28 per cent of the votes putting us way out in front of our nearest rivals in New York who only polled
9 per cent. London Cabbies came first in five out of the seven categories including safety, friendliness, and cleanliness, quality of driving and knowledge of the area. Our famous chat and banter wasn’t so popular with 37 per cent of Korean and 30 per cent of German visitors who said that they hated “chatty drivers”. No matter, group hug chaps.

[B]ut wait a minute, what empirical evidence was used to reach this conclusion? Precisely none. Every contributor used their own judgment of what they wanted from their taxi experience. And that is the problem; all these sites on the World Wide Wait provide a means to express one’s own opinion. Mister Angry to Miss Supine all have a chance to express their view. And who are these people? I don’t know, and nor do you, they could be genuine or one of my colleagues’ brother-in-law.

It is the modern curse, this information overload. A guide book, written by professionals can at least be relied on to be consistent; but these sites rely almost solely on user-generated content- and there is plenty out there in cyberspace – I should know, contributing more than my fair share of personal opinions which my Korean and German customers seem to abhor.

One of the biggest sites is TripAdvisor who boast 45 million users, who once claimed on its homepage that it had “reviews you can trust”, but following from an allegation that up to
10 million reviews of hotels, restaurants, and holiday businesses could be fakes, possibly posted by the proprietors of these services, which prompted an investigation by the Advertising Standards Authority, TripAdvisor has dropped their claim of trustworthy reviews. Presumably now you should only use these comments as a rough guide.

So I decided to do a little research of my own in relation to the London taxi service and tripped over, so to speak, to TripAdvisor:

Moi0606 asked, quite reasonably I thought: “Can anyone tell me how difficult it is to get a cab from Marble Arch to [Natural History] Museum and then return at end of the day. Your advice is very much appreciated”. To which ajeleonard gave this valuable advice: “About as difficult as sticking your arm out and hailing one with its light on”.

Linet wanted to know: “We will need to take a 5-10 minute cab ride in London, when we visit in May. Approximately how much would this cost?” CheshireCat helpfully writing from Chester some 170 miles away gave this answer on London cab fares which should leave Linet in no doubt as to the cost: “Assuming you hail a taxi in the street or pick one up from a rank, my best guess is budget for about 5-7GBP. But . . . this isn’t a straightforward question. Depends on lots of things as fares are a combination of distance and journey time plus a whole lot of “extras” (e.g. how many people, how much luggage, time of day). Also if you pre-order one expect to see 1.50-2.00 GBPon the meter before you start your journey. Fares are regulated so see: londontransport.co.uk/pco/taxi_fares.shtml for details of how they arrive at a figure.

Clearly concerned by being ripped off Rickamandog inquired: “I was reading a recent posting that said that the cabs [fares] in London were outrageous.” TexasEllen replied: “Black Cab drivers are a whole lot better than they used to be and generally are very appreciative when you tip them. Unfortunately we came across one of the old school who took us to London Bridge Station, his technique was to get out of the cab walk around the back of the cab and accept the fare on the kerbside, the fare was 7GBP I only had a 10GBP note as he walked back around I heard him say “I guess we will call that even” yeah like a tip of 40%whatever percent is even, I would have given him a pound coin, I’m a pretty good tipper but 3 pounds on a 7 pound fare was an attempted rip-off. I have never come across this before and don’t expect to again. We have found them to be knowledgeable and if you treat them well you get the same back. We even had one sing The Yellow Rose of Texas, after we told him we were from Texas.

Well thanks Ellen, your review is obviously genuine.

So there you have it, you pays your money and takes your choice, or in the case of the internet don’t pay your money and take your chance.