Driving Lessons

Ten things you learn when learning to drive and passing your test in London

If you live here and want to learn to drive, London’s probably where you’re going to do it. A word of warning – don’t it’s not for the faint-hearted. I know my son is a driving instructor.

1. You’ll need a master of the ancient Buddhist practice of meditation to mentor you

Navigating London by car takes the patience of a saint, everyone, and I mean everyone, drives like an idiot. Shop around online for instructors with reviews that include keywords like: ‘calm’, ‘understanding’, ‘relaxed’ and ‘didn’t swear at me when I did an emergency stop in the middle of Hyde Park Corner’.

2. Don’t take someone sounding their horn personally

You’ll get beeped for pausing three seconds to let a little old lady slowly cross at a pedestrian crossing, just relax into that. In plenty of situations, your fellow motorist will helpfully second guess what you’re about to do wrong and honk you before you’ve even done it. Driving a cab I would be disappointed should I not be reminded of any hesitation or transgression.

3. Don’t expect to travel faster than 15mph (or should that now be 24.14016km/h?)

The fact is, if you manage to travel at the blistering speed of 20mph for more than 60 continuous seconds in central London, you’re probably in the bus lane, thus giving the London Mayor £80 to waste on bike lanes.

4. Use Zipcars to practice

The trouble with passing your test, if you don’t have your own car, is staying street-wise, once in a while it makes sense to go for a quick spin. While Zipcar et al aren’t thrifty, they’re still far cheaper than advanced lessons by the hour and there’s no faffy paperwork/credit card nonsense that comes with many car hire companies.

5. Manuals are very . . . well manual

If you don’t fancy changing gear more times than the government changes Covid advice, an automatic transmission is for you. You’re not likely to get into third gear, let alone fourth, fifth or sixth in central London. So instead of contemplating which gear you last selected, concentrate on that cyclist about to commit hara-kiri beneath your wheels.

6. You’ll suddenly feel an affinity for drivers

As a dyed-in-the-wool pedestrian, it’s easy to badmouth cars for little things like blocking zebra crossings, mounting the pavement and giving off a general air of wanting to mow you down. With your sudden transformation into a driver, prepare to experience the other side of the story: Low Traffic Neighbourhoods are tougher to escape than the Crystal Maze; Pedestrians idly strolling out in front of you like they’re at the Chelsea Flower Show; E-scooters falling out of the sky; and taxis deciding to show off their tight turning circle as you approach. Nobody is your friend, it’s a jungle out there.

7. If you can drive in London, you can drive anywhere

Except maybe Rome, Buenos Aires, Mumbai and Hanoi . . . hang on, let us rephrase that. If you can drive in London, you shouldn’t have any problems in Guildford, just give Glasgow a miss for the moment.

8. There are one or two ‘magical moments’ to compensate for the rest

Driving’s often a chore, and in London’s rush hour you probably identify with Edvard Munch’s painting of The Scream. But being behind the wheel does bless you with one or two magical moments. Like driving over the Albert Bridge at night, tourists looking surprised you’ve stopped to let them cross or seeing the BMW which cut you up is now stuck behind a tipper truck.

9. Don’t tell your friends of your brilliant achievement

Bragging about your life skills and qualifications can suppress most conversations. Admitting you can drive in London will qualify you to be the ‘nominated’ driver for the next few nights out.

10. Expect wear and tear

So you have ill-advisedly taken the plunge, or been persuaded by Rylan Clark-Neal to purchase a vehicle. Don’t expect it to remain pristine, despite the Clean Air Act, crap falls from the sky like snow. London has some world-class potholes, holes and humps proliferate Islington, drive faster than 8mph at your peril. Also, London drivers take pride in their ability to pass a vehicle leaving barely room for a cigarette paper between them.

And as a bonus: You don’t really need to drive in London

Being able to drive is a life skill, doubly so being able to drive in London. But the latter should be used sparingly like driving a pregnant woman to the hospital. Otherwise, London has one of the best transport networks anywhere, so as soon as you pass your test, reserve a car for your next countryside getaway, then celebrate by taking the tube, thus rewarding Sadiq Khan with the price of the fare, and not the congestion charge.

Image courtesy: Styles-Steering Driving School

No litter matter

Imostly write about London as any regular – or casual – reader of CabbieBlog would have realised. I’m also in the fortunate position to be able to walk every day in suburban London and have reached an age to be categorised as a ‘grumpy old man’.

My greatest bugbear, in a closely contested long list, is litter. Brought up in post-war suburbia when any waste was considered a crime, dropping anything in the street was punishable by the loss of privileges.

During lockdown I’ve taken to walking around the local roads, only to be greeted by the overly familiar sight of litter-strewn streets. This has been exacerbated by our local London authority’s inability to source brooms, at best once a month they now stroll around brandishing a grabber and plastic bag which enables them to remove any large items.

Once it took over two weeks of correspondence between me and a local councillor and then a direct notification that I instigated to the refuse department to remove rubbish [ pictured below]  which clearly couldn’t be lifted using a hand grabber.

Bottles and wrappers lie but feet away from bins – the extra few steps it would take to throw the rubbish away being evidently one step too far for many.

Beyond simply ruining my walks, and allowing my dog to supplement his diet, should I not be looking, it has had many grave environmental, economic and social repercussions.

In my opinion, the worst outcome is the damage done to animals, LitterGram claims that 70,000 animals are killed or injured annually by litter in the UK, whilst the RSPCA receives 14 calls a day regarding animals affected by litter.

Out of a total of 7,200 sites surveyed by Keep Britain Tidy, 14 per cent were found to be at an unacceptable standard for litter. While 48 per cent of respondents admitted to dropping litter, this number is only increasing, with a new incident of fly-tipping occurring every 12 seconds.

Beyond the cost to life, the financial cost is also shocking. Litter-strewn roads on average have been found to decrease the value of a property by 12 per cent, although looking at the rubbish in front gardens of many who have bought a house around here, rubbish-strewn streets seem to be an attraction.

Picking up litter is estimated to cost local authorities in the UK on average £1 billion a year, but certainly not by my council.

Another piece of research has found that if a company’s product is often seen on the street as litter, it is estimated that this can result in a 2 per cent drop in the company’s turnover, clearly McDonald’s where not included in the findings.

As was espoused by Rudolph Giuliani, New York’s mayor in the late 1990s, litter can be attributed to a lack of general safety. Dealing with minor crimes like dropping litter helps to reduce larger crimes and improve public safety, in addition, litter can damage a local sense of pride and worth, resulting in further anti-social acts.

So there you have it. Is dropping litter an ageist propensity, cultural trait or just my geographical location?

London in Quotations: Joseph Hatton

London’s like one of the flash women at Frisco – fine to look at, cruel as the snow.

Joseph Hatton (1837-1907), Cruel London

London Trivia: First doctor

On 25 July 1865 Dr James Barry, former Inspector General of Hospitals, died, it was affirmed that Dr Barry was a woman. If this was the case, then technically Barry was not only the youngest, but the first woman to graduate in medicine.

On 25 July 1914 W. G. Grace battled for the last time for Eltham Cricket Club, he was the first English captain to surrender the urn when England lost in 1891/2

Shoddy axeman Jack Ketch who bungled the execution of the Duke of Monmouth lives on today as the hangman in the Punch and Judy puppet shows

The Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea is the most densely populated area in the UK-13,200 people per sq. kilometre (London average 5,000)

When Polly, resident parrot of Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, died in 1926 her obituary appeared in numerous Fleet Street papers

The British Legion introduced the first artificial poppies in 1921 raising £106k. The Poppy Factory has been at Richmond for almost 90 years

Billy Elliot rehearses dance moves at a youth centre not in the north-east but at Hanwell Community Centre, Hanwell

Kew Gardens is unique on the Underground being the only station with its own pub The Railway which has a door that leads out onto platform 1

West Ham home ground once formed part of Anne Boleyn’s grand manor house known as Green Street House, which was demolished in 1890

Edgware Road is London’s oldest road 2,000 years ago it was a grassy track, the Romans incorporated it into their major road, Watling Street

The Post Office Research Station, Dollis Hill, built the world’s first programmable computer known as Colossus Mk 1 the size of a small room

The Fairlop Oak one of England’s most famous trees was blown down in 1820, it was used to carve the pulpit in St. Pancras Church, Euston

CabbieBlog-cab.gifTrivial Matter: London in 140 characters is taken from the daily Twitter feed @cabbieblog.
A guide to the symbols used here and source material can be found on the Trivial Matter page.

Amy Winehouse

It seems hardly possible that it’s been 10 years to the day that Amy Winehouse died.

She was one of the most talented singers of her generation. The daughter of a London cabbie, himself also a musician, she went to the local Susi Earnshaw Theatre School before attending the famous Sylvia Young Theatre School.

Her debut album Frank, mostly co-written by her was released on 20th October 2003, with the record going on to be nominated for the Mercury Music Prize and achieving platinum sales.

She was subsequently nominated for the Brit Awards in the categories of British Female Solo Artist and British Urban Act. In 2004 she and her co-writer Salaam Remi won the Ivor Novello Award for Best Contemporary Song, for their first single together Stronger Than Me.

Three years later, she released her album Back To Black, featuring the singles Rehab and You Know I’m No Good, and it went on to become the biggest selling album in the UK in 2007 and to win the Grammy for record of the year for Rehab.

In the early hours of 23rd July 2011 her bodyguard found her unresponsive in her London home in Camden Town, she was pronounced dead at the scene, having, it was subsequently discovered, more than five times the legal drink-drive limit. A shocking waste of a colossal talent.