Boris Broadcasts

Installing the device in one of my colleagues’ London cabs would probably record a diatribe relating Boris or Capello’s ability to manage England.

But our nearest neighbouring city – Oxford – has brought in legislation which requires its 107 black cabbies and 545 private hire drivers to fit two CCTV cameras into their vehicles at a cost to each driver of £460 per vehicle.

The requirement comes into force next April for newly licensed vehicles and all existing vehicles have until April 2012 to comply. The cameras will begin recording sound and vision from the moment the ignition is turned on and continues recording for 30 minutes after the engine has stopped running. Fully encrypted the images will remain on the CCTV hard drive for 28 days before being erased.

The move towards ‘Little Brother’ in your cab follows a rise of complaints in the city forcing Oxford City Council’s general purposes licensing committee to have the devices installed and when fitted they claim the images will protect drivers and passengers alike.

I can envisage Endemol will soon be requesting footage to feature in their new reality programme ‘You’ll never guess who I just had in my cab’; following close upon the heels of the Inland Revenue who no doubt will be taking a keen interest in cab driver’s working patterns.

After Oxford it can only be a matter of time before we get Boris Broadcasts in London. In 2009/2010 the last reported period 143 sexual assaults were recorded committed by “cabbies” according to TfL an increase of 54 per cent over the previous period. Installing this system into London’s cabs TfL could argue would protect female passengers in London at night.

The only weakness in that argument is that almost all assaults in London hired vehicles are committed by unlicensed vehicle drivers. Spreading like a virus since the downturn of the economy and TfL’s inability to monitor satellite offices, these minicabs can be found outside almost every club in London. Many are not licensed so any legislation to introduce cameras into cabs would be pointless until they rid the streets of these dangerous individuals.

Will passengers have a choice of travelling in a CCTV vehicle or one without the equipment installed and what would happen of two politicians or members of the security services returning from a couple of drinks started discussing important classified information, not realising they’re being recorded.

CCTV in buses and trains in one thing, but my passengers pay a privacy premium for travelling in my cab; I won’t even strike up a conversation with them unless they should speak first. The back of a taxi should be regarded as a private place, and there is something distinctly wrong, almost menacing, about them having internal surveillance. Saying if you’ve done nothing wrong you’ve got nothing to worry about has never been a good enough argument for such attacks on our civil liberties.

Taking sides

In an age when it’s hard to get a cigarette paper between the ideology of the leaders of our three main political parties, it’s hard to imagine a time when views were so much more polarised and one’s political allegiances were very much more manifest 200 years ago. The Whigs (who transmogrified into the Liberals or anyone else they could form a coalition with) would belong to Brooks’ Club, while White’s was, and still is, for your blue blooded Tories.

[P]art of this ritual of taking sides was played out at Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, now celebrating two centuries since it was rebuilt in 1811. The theatre is the fourth to have been built on the site, and I suppose the original actually was in Drury Lane unfortunately Knowledge students these days are surprised to find that the theatre’s main, and only, entrance is facing away from Drury Lane in Catherine Street.

Two hundred years ago when a new play opened there, the great and the good would attend the first night, but here was their dilemma: King George III and his son the Prince Regent hated each other and would refuse to sit in the same room, let along speak to each other.

In the days when Royalty would attend a first night (they hardly do now when for instance the theatre’s current offering is Shrek: The Musical) the theatre’s staff ensured that the King and his son would sit at opposite sides of the auditorium.

The problem for their acolytes was to make sure they were seen to go up the correct staircase according to whether they supported George or Prinny. They needn’t have bothered to follow either; the King was going mad and in the year the theatre opened he had given up most of his powers to his eldest son but not before he had lost us most of the American colonies in the War of Independence, while the son’s extravagant lifestyle including the building of the Brighton Pavilion did little to endear him to the public.

This tradition of taking sides continues to this day as theatregoers are directed up ‘The King’s Side’ or ‘The Prince’s Side’. It’s just a shame they didn’t manage to put the door in the correct place.

Must break wind

CAB is one of the many acronyms learnt on The Knowledge; this one is the aide memoire for three bridges spanning the Thames at its wealthiest location: Chelsea, Albert and Battersea, and one – Albert – is arguably London’s prettiest and most feminine. Except for Tower Bridge, built in 1894, Albert Bridge is the only Thames road bridge in central London never to have been replaced.

[B]uilt by R. M. Ordish in 1873 Albert Bridge (note: it’s never referred to as The Albert Bridge) is coming to the end of a major restoration project. As well as structural damage caused by traffic, the timbers underpinning the deck were being seriously rotted by the urine of dogs crossing it to and from nearby Battersea Park. Now re-painted pink and strung with fairy lights the adjacent cabbies hut must be one of the most romantic locations in London for a Cabbies Green Shelter greasy spoon cafe.

The unusual construction, and you are going to have to bear with me on this one, has three spans and what’s known in engineering circles as a straight-link suspension system. Each half of the bridge is supported by wrought iron bars attached to the top of the two highly ornamental towers. Meanwhile the side girders along the parapets are suspended, making the bridge an odd mix of cantilever and suspension.

170px-Albert_Bridge_tollhouseOn the south side is evidence of the bridge’s early revenue stream, a small hexagonal toll house, a rare survival and the only bridge left with one anywhere in London. But for me the best thing about this, my favourite bridge, is the sign affixed to the toll booth.

Suspension bridges have an alarming tendency to sway to synchronised movements, known as “synchronous lateral excitation”, a modern example was a little over a decade ago when the Millennium Bridge opened and a pronounced wobble was produced by pedestrians when they walked across the newly opened bridge, nicknamed the wobbly bridge this was rectified by dampers. For Albert Bridge the only modifications has been the suspension members which were overhauled by London’s sewers architect Sir Joseph Bazalgette who in 1884 overhauled the suspension members.

170px-Albert_Bridge_noticeWhich brings us neatly back to the sign which local well educated wags have altered giving generations of schoolboys hours of mirth.

“All troops must break step wind when marching over this bridge”.

Tea for Two


Nearly three years ago I wrote a post about the closing of the Savoy Hotel for refurbishment, at the time the new owners had expected to a 17-month closure costing £100 million but so many problems were encountered the work eventually took nearly three years. At the time of its closure I expressed the opinion that as many of the antique furnishing and historic artefacts had been auctioned off the quaint faded opulence of the hotel would be lost and replaced with the glitzy look so beloved by the Middle East. As it turned out during the refurbishment the owners received the classic sad shaking of the head, so beloved of builders when they see extra work to be done, accompanied with the words “I think you’d better have a look at what we’ve found”.

[B]ut for the Savoy’s new owner it was more than a little problem, in fact the original hotel had been poorly built and the riverside elevation needed extensive underpinning to prevent it falling into the water. Lucky for London the hotel’s owner had very deep pockets for the extra work put another £120 million on to the final buildings costs, as well as losing estimated £500,000 revenue for every extra week and the final bill made it the most costly hotel refurbishment in history.

After watching a two-part documentary on the hotel’s makeover, it was with some trepidation that I joined Mrs. CabbieBlog for afternoon tea at the Savoy, a birthday treat from our son and daughter-in-law. On arrival a small army of doormen greet you, for here they seem to have more doormen than any other hotel in London. The Art Deco canopy above them has been retained and a beautiful glass fountain replacing the rather austere black marble one, which forms a small roundabout in the hotel’s forecourt.

You walk across a huge foyer with a beautiful marble floor, and for those staying as guests you don’t have the inconvenience of reporting to reception here, but are guided to their room personally by a member of staff, which means the entrance is mercifully kept free of queues of those wishing to book in or out.

A trip to the toilet is a must, it usually is at my time of life, but this is CabbieBlog’s tip to get the measure of a hotel’s standards. Immaculate is the only word to describe the loo for my attendant had had many years service at London’s top hotels before taking on the new Savoy. While for Mrs. CabbieBlog her toilet was so beautiful a group of women while in there asked to have their photograph taken.

A brief wait before being taken to our table gave us time to admire the bowls of fresh orchids and an adjacent shop selling pastries, just in case you feel like taking the odd cake home.

The tea room, called the Thames Foyer, for no other reason than it sounds better, is stunning, a young lady dressed in a cocktail dress plays a piano under a stained glass dome, walls painted a muted light grey and golden capitals surmounting the pillars. The only note a criticism would be they have commissioned copies in oil of famous pictures, Gainsborough among others, and they look, well flat after you have seen the originals.

Exemplary service, with clean linen, Wedgwood pale blue bone china, and discreet service, unlike the Ritz where the waiters seem to hover in the background awaiting your slightest whim. This level of service hardly surprising as the Savoy is a member of the Tea Guild and received a 2011 Award of Excellence.

Just don’t eat anything before you arrive. Over 40 blends of tea are available, you are given four types of finger sandwiches replenished if you want more, two scones both plain and fruit, strawberry jam, clotted cream and a subtle Savoy version of lemon curd the best I’ve ever tasted, this is followed by a selection of small pastries and if that wasn’t enough a slice fruit cake of your choice to round off high tea. At this stage I would have preferred a sorbet or crème brûlée, which I was once offered in the Ritz.

As her birthday was celebrated Mrs. CabbieBlog received – accompanied by happy birthday on the piano – a small cake with a candle, and written in chocolate on the plate in beautiful script was Happy Birthday, a fitting end to two hours of indulgence.

The cost for the basic tea is £40, which when you consider what you get for your money as a tourist in London has got to be a bargain – Tower of London, Madame Tussaulds forget – head for Strand and a taste of the England of Yesteryear.

As a footnote, what is wrong with some cabbies? The cab driver who took us to the Savoy had a cab nearly as old as him, he could only grunt and gave the sort of personal service that you could have expected once in Communist Russia. Our return on the other hand was in a new Mercedes immaculately clean driven a friendly cheerful younger man, but maybe after a few more years driving around town he will become a miserable old git.

Road to Hell

[T]he emergency services have waited years for it but it has taken among others the chief executives of Coca-Cola and McDonald’s as well as £12 million of public money to improve the deployment of the Split Cycle Offset Optimisation Technique (“SCOOT”). The SCOOT system uses pressure sensors built into the road to monitor the volume of traffic on specific busy London routes. The sensors send information to traffic signals placed just yards away to decide the timings between light changes depending on congestion.

TfL could be congratulated for developing an integrated traffic management system that has the potential to save lives. Unfortunately this major upgrade was made for one specific purpose – the 2012 Olympics, or more precisely for the 240 VIPs who will be given exclusive use of a 520d BMW complete with their personal driver to whist them unimpeded from their 5-star West End hotel to the Olympic venue. One would have thought that the iconic London black cab would have been used, but the journey through London must be completed within a stipulated 25 minutes using the 30 miles of Games Lanes which are part of the Olympic Route Network, and so the black cab has probably proved to be too slow.

Should the automatic system be unable to cope with the congestion staff monitoring the VIP’s progress on computer screens from their Canary Wharf base can take the further step of instructing a team of 30 TfL engineers in South London to manually change lights along the Games Lane to green if the convoy is in danger of not arriving on time, giving the VIPs priority over all other motorists.

The only other users of these Zil Lanes will be 2,800 Olympic officials who each have the use of a pool car to transport them to the venues, but quite how we have over 3,000 Olympic officials when most of the planning, development and implementation of London 2012 was done by Seb Coe’s small London based team.

Some roads including Constitution Hill and Birdcage Walk will be completely closed to the public, providing sole access to the VIP vehicles and further disrupting journeys for ordinary motorists who will be forced to take alternative routes. In addition bans on parking and right turns which cross the Games Lanes, in addition the suspension of pedestrian crossings should they be deemed to impede the journey of the Olympic dignitary. Along the Olympic routes all non-Olympic traffic, including private cars, lorries, buses and taxis, will have to use the bus lane, the outside lane will be reserved for Olympic officials. Organisers are still deciding whether to enforce these restrictions during a 15-day break between the Olympic and Paralympics Games from the 12th until 29th August even though very few dignitaries will be still in London.

Olympics VIP Lane PermitA great fanfare was made when we were all promised that London 2012 would be the most inclusive Games in history which would enrich the city. In reality, thousands of International Olympic Committee members and a host of big-money sponsors with their entourage will be turning up in town expecting to be waited on hand and foot at the expense of everyone else.

If like me you will be stuck in the 18 hours of traffic jams during the 100 days that the Olympic event will last, make your own little protest, cut out the “Don’t you know who I am?’” logo kindly donated by PK Monroe and stick it on your windscreen, we might be stationary but were could be moving forward together.