Train your Brain

I’d like to express my sincere thanks to CabbieBlog who have invited me to discuss my first book, The Knowledge: Train Your Brain Like A Cabbie which is now available both in shops and online.

I’ve always enjoyed writing but it wasn’t until I picked up one particular fare on an autumn evening some years back that I decided to take it seriously.

[T]HE PASSENGER in question was a wonderful, friendly woman who worked in publishing and, after discussing my own background with her (I’d originally trained to be a secondary school English teacher), she suggested that I should start a blog in which I detailed my experiences as a cabbie.

Taking her advice I created my website, View From the Mirror which quickly morphed into an exploration of London’s rich history and the many secret nooks in which the capital’s fascinating stories lurked.

Just before Christmas 2016 I was approached by Ben Brock, an editor at Quercus Publishing, who’d hit upon the idea of producing a unique book; a guide to London based upon the routes (or ‘runs’ as we cabbies call them) which appear in the ‘Blue Book’; the Bible-like guide which provides apprentice cabbies with the basic framework for learning the infamously brain-wrenching ‘Knowledge of London’.

Ben asked if I’d be interested in writing it – naturally, I leapt at the chance! After the details were hammered out, it was decided that, as well as history and trivia, the book should also feature a strong element of ‘brain training’; an apt inclusion given how London cabbies are renowned for their powers of memory recall.

Consequently, the book features 50 authentic Blue Book runs which I’ve handpicked to cover as much as The Knowledge area (i.e a six-mile radius around Charing Cross) as possible.

These routes are divided into groups of 10 which come under five sections, each of which showcases a certain brain training technique and encourages the reader to give their grey matter a workout. These are:

  1. Acronyms and mnemonics.
  2. Short stories in which the names of streets and roads are transformed into characters and events with surreal results.
  3. Common historical threads – such as the run Parliament Street to Golden Lane which traces the flow of the Thames and the river’s key role in helping the city grow
  4. ’Memory Champion’ techniques- specifically the ‘Method of Loci’ (the use of which can be traced back to the days of Ancient Greece) and the ‘Memory Palace’ which is also many centuries old but has been made famous in recent years thanks to the BBC’s modern adaptation, ‘Sherlock’.
  5. The final 10 runs are ones with which I feel a personal connection – for example, Golborne Road to Pennine Drive which involves roads closely connected with my own family history. In other words, as well as the common shared Knowledge of London’s roads and places of interest, these runs demonstrate how each cabbie also harbours their own personal map of the capital.

There’s plenty of history and trivia to discover along the way and each run is beautifully illustrated by the artist and cartographer, Jamie Whyte (who, amongst many other projects, also created the maps for ‘Young Winstone’; a memoir by the legendary Londoner and actor, Ray Winstone).

Readers will also find a glossary of cabbie’s terms and an introduction detailing the history of The Knowledge and my own account of the process; something which I hope will give the public something of an insight into this scantly documented and very much misunderstood process.

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