September’s monthly musings

🚓 What Cab News

Bilking, a funny name, for a not-so-amusing practice of running away without paying the fare. Website Taxi Point has collected bilkers who got their comeuppance. Alan Clark said: Had a lad run off, vaulted a 2ft wall and disappeared, he didn’t know it was about 20ft drop on the other side. Cabbie Jason Lake had a guy run on an £8 fare, he picked him up 16+ years later and told him. In all fairness, he paid me £20 plus the fare on the day. I asked ‘what’s the £20 for?… he said interest! Adrian Roberts had a similar scenario: I had a lad who paid me £20 upfront for an £8 fare but paid me as I started driving and said sort the change when we get there. We got to his house and he legged it shouting I’ve got no money!

🎧 What I’m Listening

For years I’ve been trying to get Suggs to submit a London Grill, but it looks like I’m going to have to satisfy myself with his Love Letters to London on BBC Sounds where he shares his fondest memories of the city with his unique wit, charm and musical highlights from his career, celebrating of what it means to be a true ‘Londoner’.

📖 What I’m Reading

Diamond Street: The Hidden World of Hatton Garden by Rachel Liechtenstein. For six years as an apprentice I worked a stone’s throw from this iconic street, home to diamond workshops, underground vaults, monastic dynasties, subterranean rivers and forgotten palaces, and before reading this book little did I realise what went on behind those unexceptional doors.

📺 What I’m watching

Passport to Freedom. Aracy de Carvalho was a young clerk at the Hamburg Brazilian Consulate. For two years during World War II she secretly issued passports to Jews without the dreaded “J” stamp, which not only wouldn’t allow them to travel but doomed them to the horrors of concentration camps. When newly appointed diplomat, João Guimarães Rosa, arrives the two fall madly in love. Loosely based on a true story, the parallel with today’s Ukraine is obvious. Why the BBC didn’t screen it not so plain, leaving its transmission to the niche Drama Channel. Aracy would later be honoured by the Yad Vashem with the Righteous Among the Nations Award. João would be known as the greatest Brazilian writer of the twentieth century.

❓ What else

One of my earliest memories is of my first year of primary school being given a ‘Coronation’ pen set. The pen’s bodies were deep red with a huge crown on their top. The trouble, in those pre-plastic times, was these heavy metal adornments ruined the balance of the writing implement. Today if I’d have found the now lost pen it could have been used to write in Her Majesty’s book of condolence, that’s if the ink hadn’t dried up and Her Majesty’s crown could be removed from the pen’s top.

Toilet Roll Turmoil

Something which is guaranteed to irritate me are toilet rolls. Go a an 3-star hotel owned by an international chain, and the underpaid room maids have been instructed to fold the paper in a triangle. Why? Another irritation is that when cretins replace a roll, they put a new roll onto the holder on the bathroom wall, arranging it so the paper does not hang in the air at the front, but is hung at the back, where it soon gets stuck to the wet bathroom wall. And while I’m on the subject I’ve noticed Waitrose are now selling for £9.50, Andrex Classic Clean Mega Toilet Roll XL Longer Rolls Big Pack12 after the manufacturer has been reducing the roll’s size for a decadeSeems like a sensible proposition to me.

Johnson’s London Dictionary: Hamleys

HAMLEYS (n.) Costermonger that doth purvey accoutrements designed to silence excitable children.

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

Three card trick

Running errands as an apprentice I would be amazed to see how many would try their hand at winning the Three Card Trick.

For those who don’t know, this is where three wide boys con people out of their money in a rigged card game, a scam also known as Find The Lady.

One person has three cards set up on a table or box (something they can fold up and run with should the need arise), you are invited to guess which one is the Queen of Hearts – The Lady.

The second wide boy poses as a punter, naturally, he is doing well at the game and winning lots of money, while a third accomplice will befriend people who stop to watch, pointing out how easy it is to find the Queen and win the pot, suggesting they might like to give it a go.

The card dealer expertly uses sleight of hand ensuring the punter loses as much of their money as possible. With the slightest accusation of the ‘game’ being fixed, the card dealer claims the police are coming and ups and runs.

It would seem human instinct was on the con man’s side, researchers from Goldsmiths, University of London asked 60 people to pick a card from four options and found 66 per cent of right-handed people (representing 9 out of 10 in Britain) chose the third card from the left.

Their conclusion is we have an aversion to ‘edges’ – such as taking items from the centre of the supermarket shelf. Also, we are just plain lazy, choosing the ‘path of least resistance’, being closest to our right hand.

Featured image: An early version of Find the Lady can be found at Tate Britain in part of William Powell Frith’s 1858 painting Derby Day where a version using thimbles is depicted. The man with the smart black boots and riding crop looks like the con man’s accomplice, while to his left, in the green coat the next victim is getting his money ready. The man to the left pointing is the other accomplice – showing how easy it is to make money. He looks like he has convinced the man in the brown bowler and the farmworkers smock, he looks like an out-of-towner who will shortly be losing all his money if he ignores the pleadings of his wife on the far left, the only person with any sense it seems! On the far right, a sheepish-looking victim realises he is now penniless! The Illustrated London news complained of tricksters at the Derby in 1860, who set up their stall at the edge of a wood, so they could melt into the trees at the first sign of trouble.

London in Quotations: Richard La Gallienne

Ah, London! London! Our delight, / Great flower that opens but at night, / Great City of the midnight sun, / Whose day begins when day is done.

Richard La Gallienne (1866-1947)