Previously Posted: Wish you were here

For those new to CabbieBlog or readers who are slightly forgetful, on Saturdays I’m republishing posts, many going back over a decade. Some will still be very relevant while others have become dated over time. Just think of this post as your weekend paper supplement.

Wish you were here (08.05.09)

If you go on holiday to London don’t, I repeat, don’t buy me a souvenir as a memento of your visit. The poor tourists who come to these shores face a bewildering array of souvenir crap to purchase.

But it doesn’t end with the legitimate shops which proliferate on our capital, walk across Westminster Bridge and you are confronted by the delights of figures made from bent wire, a busker playing the bagpipes or whistles to imitate birdsong, being sold in full view of the police outside Parliament.

Do you want a T-shirt with the worn joke on the front “my Dad went to London and all I got was this lousy t-shirt”? Well, if you received that, thank your lucky stars. You could receive a cardboard policeman’s helmet, or how about a Union Jack umbrella. If you really want to stand out in the crowd try wearing a fur top hat in red, white and blue.

If this is not to your taste, go upmarket to the Buckingham Palace gift shop there are expensive reproductions of the Queen’s china, just like she uses at 4.00 every day for afternoon tea.

There is something to be said for receiving a tea towel, naff, but useful, if only to mop up after the cat, and admittedly some Buckingham Palace gifts are tasteful, even if of dubious practicable value. They at least have the virtue of giving one a warm Regal glow, when partaking of one’s afternoon tea.

But who would treasure a gift of this rubbish. Forget receiving a postcard of Big Ben; send them a 20 year old picture of a spotty punk rocker.

These shops are so revered by the middle classes; they even had a competition instigated by The Institute of Architects to design a replacement souvenir shop when Hungerford Bridge was being improved.

But London isn’t the worst, not by a long shot, I recently went to Italy, and coaches have to pay over £100 just to park for a few hours in these tourist traps. At Pisa (of leaning tower fame) you run the gauntlet of dozens and I mean dozens of Africans selling fake designer goods, and the authorities had the temerity to put up a sign that read “it is illegal to purchase fake goods; offenders are subject to a €1,000 fine. Maybe London isn’t so bad after all, anyone want a die cast model of a taxi, going cheap.

April’s Monthly Musings

Cab News

Tomorrow taxi fares are set to increase by 5.5 per cent in a bid to stem the number of drivers quitting the profession. The changes will apply to journeys made between 05:00 and 22:00 and go some way to cover increased overheads for drivers. Transport for London claims this is the reason for the first rise for two years, but the regulating body is starting to panic at the shortfall of cabbies, after undermining the profession for a decade, by March 2020, there were 18,961 taxis, as of this month that number fell to 13,461, a drop of 29 per cent, also the number of drivers has fallen by 2,693, a decrease of 12 per cent. To retain drivers TfL is going to do a lot more than raising some fares by a fraction.

What I’m Listening

The History of English podcast by Kevin Stroud. At the moment I’ve got to episode 157 and we’ve only reached Elizabeth I’s reign. If you are interested in our mother tongue this podcast is a must.

What I’m Reading

Just reread Tom Hutley’s The Knowledge: How to become a London black cab driver, yes I know I’m a bit of a nerd, but I would recommend anyone contemplating The Knowledge to give it a read at £4.99.

Not watching much

I’m completing the final line edits to my book: Everyone is entitled to my opinion which I’m hoping to publish on Amazon in Kindle and paperback on 1st June.

What else

Getting into Tai Chi after a short hiatus. David-Dorian Ross produces some great videos to improve your 24-form technique in mirror view, making the benefits of internal body strength, balance (something I need of late) and mental calm are achievable. Working cabbies take note.

The City is slowing down

The City of London Corporation’s most senior decision-making body, the Court of Common Council, has voted to make the Square Mile the first area in the UK with a 15mph speed limit, subject to government approval. This means the fastest form of transport in the financial centre of London will be an electric scooter.

Johnson’s London Dictionary: Kew Gardens

(n.) Botanical spectacle that is ill-named as ingress doth seems unhampered by those waiting at entrance

Dr. Johnson’s London Dictionary for publick consumption in the twenty-first century avail yourself on Twitter @JohnsonsLondon

A pedant’s guide to London

Are you the sort of person who tut-tuts whenever tourists describe the Elizabeth Tower as Big Ben? Correcting their error by knowingly stating: “Big Ben is the bell, not the tower”.

If so, read on…

Following is a paragraph filled with similar errors of London nomenclature, things that we pedants police with zeal.

I think there are 11 such ‘errors’ in the following text. How many can you spot, and have any others inadvertently crept into this American’s letter home?

We booked a Uber cab from the Rubens Hotel opposite Buckingham Palace, which has been the home of the Royal Family since the Georgians, just think Jane Austen could have visited the Palace. The Uber dropped us in Convent Garden with its quaint cobbled streets. We walked down The Strand, passing Savoy Court, which is the only street on which vehicles drive on the same side of the highway as we do back home. Charing Cross was then reached which I wanted to see as we were told by the Uber driver it was London’s actual centre. A walk down Whitehall took us to the Houses of Parliament, we then crossed south over Westminster Bridge and here was the South Bank Lion, a statue of Coade Stone, the formula lost in the mists of time. Finally, we took a ‘flight’ on the London Eye, and we could see as far as the Post Office Tower in Fitzrovia.”

Answers below…

Keep scrolling…






1. Only Licensed London Cab Drivers are allowed to call their vehicle a ‘cab’, in fact, any private hire driver advertising or putting signage on their vehicle purporting to be a cab is breaking the law.

2. Buckingham House only became a palace when Queen Victoria ascended to the throne in 1847, the building at the time was in a dilapidated state. Jane Austen died in 1817.

3. Covent Garden isn’t spelt Convent Garden although it should, land where the market building and the piazza now stand was referred to as ‘the garden of the Abbey and Convent’, hence its name. It’s the only spelling error in this puzzle… but I couldn’t resist.

4. Covent Garden has many stone-clad streets, but none are cobbled, they are setts (regular-shaped blocks). A favourite “I think you’ll find” of pedants.

5. The Strand is officially called just ‘Strand’ without the definite article, remember that any would-be Knowledge students.

6. Contrary to the common perception, even by cabbies, Savoy Court is not the only street in London which you must drive on the right. Hammersmith bus station, whose entrance and exit also force drivers to the right. All very confusing for pedestrians.

7. The centre of London is actually the Charles I roundabout, with the statue of the deposed king at its centre. Charing Cross is a very short street between Trafalgar Square and Northumberland Avenue, a stone’s throw away.

8. The Houses of Parliament is not The Gasworks as cabbies are wont to name, but is formally known as The Palace of Westminster.

9. Westminster Bridge aligns east-west, not north-south as often assumed. The counter-pedant could argue that it leads to an area known as the South Bank, which leads us to number ten.

10. When Eleanor Coade died in 1821, her business making stone decorations that were hard-wearing and resistant to London smog, just wasn’t the same. Her death coupled with a declining fashion for Coade stone meant by 1840 the company closed and the recipe for her famous stone was lost. It was only in the 1990s that the recipe for Coade stone was rediscovered, but thanks to the durability of this 18th-century invention, there are plenty of examples left to be found on London’s streets. The most famous is the South Bank Lion which actually faces south, guarding the South Bank to the north behind him. Confused?

11. The Post Office Tower should now be BT Tower — a name change that’s been in place for decades, but is still widely ignored. Oh, and in case you were musing whether the tower is not visible from the London Eye, yes it is.

A nerdy bonus. There is no pod labelled number 13 on the London Eye because 13 is seen by some as an unlucky number and so that number is missed out entirely. The pods go straight from number 12 to number 14. This means the whole idea to make 32 pods to represent the 32 London boroughs is a bit confusing when there is a pod numbered 33.