Digital Disruption

It has been argued since the Luddites
that man has been in opposition with machines. They were going to: run our lives; lose our jobs; or just control us. This dystopian view perpetuated by George Orwell’s 1984 has filtered down to London’s Black Cab trade.

A simple question: Have computers obviated the need for The Knowledge and are they the latest assault on the trade’s traditions?

[T]he minute you fire-up a sat-nav or use a navigational app on your smart phone the Capital’s 25,000 streets and many of its places of interest are available at the touch of a digit.

And yet in contrast cabbies have spent 4 years learning how to get from A-B and learned all the points of interest along the route.

Do passengers feel more confident being driven by someone who’s invested time, and money, to ensure he – or she – knows where they are going; rather than a driver who takes machine-based directions?

The first point to recognise is that for most cities in the world cabbies are transient (a job undertaken before something better turns up) often undertaken by people with a limited grasp of the local language or geography.

The time it takes to complete The Knowledge ensuring those gaining that coveted green badge not only know their way round London, but have had ample time to gain a comprehensive grasp of the local lingo.

We are now steeped in a world of technological wonders: Uber, Maax, Hailo, Get-Taxi, and Navigation Master. But passengers often give the wrong destination, confuse street names, have preferred routes, or just change their minds.

More probably a street-hail just doesn’t give you time to input the relevant destination data.

The threat to what we regard as the world’s finest cab service comes, not from clever algorithms written by geniuses in California, apps and the like promote and give us work, the threat is lack of enforcement from the very authorities set up to protect cabbies and public alike.

Thirty-years ago it was predicted that machines would do all the work enabling man to work shorter hours and retire early. In reality it had had the opposite effect. We just have more tools at our fingertips.

Photo: London Black Cab by James Barrett (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Pull and let go

His most famous sermon, took as its central theme ’Cleanliness is next to Godliness’, John Wesley the father of Methodism would spend his winters in London.

Known as a circuit preacher he would spend his summer time riding around the country on horseback preaching to communities the virtues of Methodism, returning when travel along the byways of rural England became impossible.

[H]is first Methodist chapel operated out of an old cannon factory – a strange choice for those that extol pacifism – just behind the existing site of Wesley’s Chapel in City Road, which gives a fascinating insight of Victorian piety.

In Wesley’s house adjacent to the Chapel there is a fascinating contraption. To strengthen his legs during his time in London Wesley had a chair made especially to replicate the sensation of being on a horse, to ensure the muscles in his legs, important for horse riding didn’t deteriorate.

In keeping with his philosophy of cleanness Wesley had a splendid gent’s toilet installed in the chapel manufactured by the pioneer of water closets, George Jennings.

Dating from 1899 this immaculately preserved shrine to cleanliness is still in use. Designed to the highest standards, Jennings is less well known as his memorably named counterpart, Thomas Crapper, a man who has since stolen the lavatorial limelight.

Gleaming hand basins dressed with red mottled marble, ceramic urinals (which thoughtfully include bull’s eye targets and marble modesty screens) and an array of well proportioned wooden cubicles not unlike a row of confessional boxes.

The instruction to ’Pull and Let Go’ on the cistern handles would have appealed to the congregation’s high principles as this simple action released the water to cleanse away the body’s impurities.

Further parallels are to be found. Waxed cedar wood seats (not unlike pews) lift to reveal the proud lettering: The Venerable.

Curiously these are the exact words carved on John Wesley’s tomb behind the church.

Tunnel vision for cyclists

London has a labyrinth of disused tunnels. In this Guest Post from Taxi Leaks the licensed taxi trade’s leading website.

Dave Davis has come up with a novel way of protecting cyclists while freeing up some much needed space on the capital’s overcrowded streets.

Could abandoned Tube stations and tunnels be solution to cycle safety?

[T]hey are the subject of fascination for many Londoners, but disused Tube stations are set to be sold off for more lucrative purposes.

Transport for London (TFL) is planning to invite companies to bid to convert the abandoned spaces into tourist attractions including hotels, shops and museums, the London Evening Standard reported.


There are at least 40 derelict Overground and Underground stations, as well as hundreds of old horse tunnels snaking deep below the capital.

Dave Davies has come up with a fantastic idea.

TFL and The Mayor are planning to create cycle routes by closing off lanes to traffic which will increase congestion and therefore increase pollution.

There are many miles of disused tunnels in London; surely, if these were converted to cycle routes it would provide a clean, warm, dry and safe environment for cyclists as well as keeping roads clear for traffic?

Apparently TFL own 750 tunnels according to the article below

TFL, who owns 750 of the tunnels, is said to be in talks over whether it should invite construction firms to bid for a single site to begin the project, or for a group of the vacant subterranean spaces.

Tube stations have been closed for a variety of reasons over the years, ranging from low passenger numbers to re-routing. One of the most famous locations is Aldwych, which was used to hide the National Gallery’s collection during the First World War and then British Museum artefacts during the Second World War.

The rejuvenation idea was first proposed in 2009 by former banker Ajit Chambers, who estimates that an untapped £3.6bn is harboured by the network.


Chambers came up with the idea after finding a map detailing the 26 “ghost stations” concealed within the Tube network. He identified several that could potentially be transformed and formed start-up The Old London Underground Company.

After meeting with London Mayor Boris Johnson in 2011, Chambers identified 34 sites suitable for his project. The first stage encompasses 13 of these, with plans to convert them into arts galleries, nightclubs and, potentially, a National Fire Brigade museum.

However, TfL has said there is “no affiliation” with the Old London Underground Company.

A spokeswoman for TfL said: “We cannot show any prejudice ahead of a public tender.”

This idea is now being discussed in Parliament Taxi Leaks gives us an update.

Finding Filofax

One of the symptoms of age seems to be cynicism. As a cabbie you get to see the best in people and unfortunately their worst side. Some fares don’t pay, these we call ’bilkers’; others treat you like an idiot; and others are just plain rude.

So after decades of dealing with the public, often against your better judgement world weariness and scepticism unavoidably just creeps in.

[S]o when recently I lost my Filofax (yes! I still own one), my reaction was to assume it was inevitably gone for good – that is to say stolen – never to be seen again. I resigned myself to having to stop my credit cards and re-writing my diary, notes and other ephemera picked up over the years.

By a simple deduction in Hercule Poirot mode I narrowed the loss to the counter at Waterstone’s in Bluewater.

Now if you have ever tried to contact a store by phone you will appreciate my trepidation. Usually you are kept on hold, cut off or redirected to the wrong department. My personal experience is that the phone just remains unanswered.

What a surprise, answered on the 3rd or 4th ring, by a person who listened to my tale of woe and then went off to make enquiries.

The Filofax was soon located deposited in a secure place at the back of the store.

“Would you like to pick it up, or should we leave it with the concierge?” was the polite enquiry.

I drove back to the store in a delirium of joy. Was reunited with all my possessions intact and treated with civility. Well done Waterstone’s.

Just one thing keep the apostrophe in the name when you re-vamp your stores, will you. Thanks!

As a footnote: 12 years ago I was ‘mugged’ in Bow Common Lane and had my bag snatched. The next day I received a phone call from a warden of the adjoining estate to say he had found my Filofax – devoid of money of course. We searched the estate and just as we were leaving somebody called out to us from the first floor to say that a bag was on the roof above the entrance. Both the warden and the kind woman who allowed us into her flat to retrieve the bag had little money that I could see. It just goes to show there are many decent people out there.

The London Grill: Ian Kelly

We challenge our contributor to reply to ten devilishly probing questions about their London and we don’t take “Sorry Gov” for an answer. Everyone sitting in the hot seat will face the same questions that range from their favourite way to spend a day out in the capital to their most hated building on London’s skyline to find out just what Londoners really think about their city. The questions might be the same but the answers vary wildly.


[I]an Kelly is an award winning actor and historical biographer, with a specialist interest in the history of London. His roles have ranged from Hermione’s dad in the Harry Potter films to the art teacher in Lee Hall’s Pitmen Painters at the National Theatre and on Broadway. His recent work, a biography of one-legged comedy superstar Samuel Foote, Mr Foote’s Other Leg, was picked by The Sunday Times and Sunday Telegraph as one of 2012’s Biographies of the Year. His work can be found on his website.

What’s your secret London tip?
More than 15%.

What’s your secret London place?
40 Winks, Mile End. Boutique hotel. Also hosts literary events in night-wear – ‘Bedtime stories.’ Another London.

MrFootesOtherLeg What’s your biggest gripe about London?
Chewing gum
What’s your favourite building?
The London Library

What’s your most hated building?
The London Eye – only good from the inside looking out.

What’s the best view in London?
See above – or my kids, and my dog, in Hyde Park

What’s your personal London landmark?
The Flask, Well Walk – the first beer I had the first time I came to London.

What’s London’s best film, book or documentary?
Either Beau Brummell, by Ian Kelly, or Mr Foote’s Other Leg, by Ian Kelly. . . or Mary Poppins

What’s your favourite bar, pub or restaurant?
La Belle Epoque on Newington Green or the terrace bars at the National Theatre in the summer.

How would you spend your ideal day off in London?
In bed. Ideally not alone.