All posts by Gibson Square

A Licensed Black London Cab Driver I share my London with you . . . The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

Escape to the Country

Now retired, I’m able to sample the delights of afternoon television, and what a feast for the eyes.

Take one random Friday afternoon’s fare from the BBC, consisting of four quiz shows and a diet for avarice: Bargain Hunt; Money for Nothing; Antique Road Trip; Street Auction; and Coast and Country Auctions. Clearly, all designed to show my fellow Baby Boomers the value of their tat or alternatively an attempt to stave off dementia.

The most successful of these formats is Escape to the Country, shown every afternoon, with one satellite station showing almost wall-to-wall repeats of the programme.

This is hardly surprising, for apart from watching the goggle box, the oldies other preoccupation is considering leaving The Smoke.

While the population of England as a whole is ageing (primarily brought about by better health care), recent figures from the Office for National Statistics suggest that London has become a turn-off for the over-65s.

At the beginning of Escape to the Country, the featured couple is asked just why they are considering leaving their urban home. Predictably, being screened by Auntie, the pair don’t cite graffiti, litter, the proliferation of fast food outlets, mugging, teenage stabbing, or their new neighbours which hail from a different ethnic or cultural background, it’s always traffic, accompanied by a location shot of a few cars passing their front door.

Well, back to those statistics geeks. For they have found only 11.9 per cent of Londoners are now oldies, a decline of 3 per cent over the last 30 years; in fact, 25-34-year-olds make up 24 per cent of inner London’s population.

A professor from that hot-bed of youthful protest, The London School of Economics, blames high property prices (something the BBC fails to mention featuring couples wanting to cash in their accumulated property wealth), and the Prof. elaborated for we simpletons, asserting that youngsters flood into the capital from around the world. Let’s face it if you want to work and/or get laid there are more opportunities in London than say, Nether Wallop.

Assuming that I’m in possession of a winning Euro Millions ticket (will they be available after Brexit, no one says), what is the right choice for this old codger?

My choice would be a small house near the coast for weekends, while a low-maintenance apartment in the Barbican with easy access (and free travel) to theatres, museums, galleries and the inevitable hospital visit.

So should the nation’s broadcaster start a new afternoon slot featuring those wishing to return, my suggestion, to paraphrase Samuel Johnson, would be: ‘When a man is tired of Life, he is also tired of the Countryside’.

Featured image: Cows in a beautiful green field by Fir0002 (CC BY-NC)

London Trivia: Religious zealot

On 17 November 1558 England’s first Queen, Mary I died. She is best known for her aggressive attempt to reverse the English Reformation. During her five-year reign, Mary had over 280 religious dissenters burned at the stake in the Marian persecutions, in her pursuit of the restoration of Roman Catholicism in England and Ireland which led to her denunciation as ‘Bloody Mary’ by her Protestant opponents.

On 17 November 1750 at midnight Westminster Bridge opened to pedestrians and horses to the sound of drums, cannons and trumpets

In 1961 after crashing his Rolls-Royce in London Lord Derby successfully escaped prosecution claiming the long bonnet obstructed his view

The last thatched cottage in inner London survived in the Paddington area until 1890s when it was demolished for St. David’s Welsh Church

Captain Thomas Coram appalled by the number of abandoned babies set up the world’s first incorporated charity in 1739 the Foundling Hospital

The world’s oldest military corps is the Queen’s Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard officially founded in 1485

The Cranbrook Estate, Bethnal Green was used as a location for Lew and Andy’s flat on TV show Little Britain

Peach Melba created at the Savoy for soprano Nellie Melba used her favourite ingredients to reduce the cold of ice cream on her vocal cords

Wembley London’s largest stadium’s roof covers 90,000 spectators during match days, at other times remain open giving sunlight for the turf

On 17 November 1876 Aldgate tube station opened, the station features in the Sherlock Holmes’ mystery The Adventure of Bruce-Partington Plans

Cabbies face a daily £1 fine should he take two consecutive days off ‘without just cause’ according to The London Hackney Carriages Act 1853

Fleet Street hack Woodrow Wyatt when asked by a French hotelier to spell his name replied Waterloo-Ypes-Agincourt-Trafalgar-Trafalgar

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.

Pulp fiction featuring cabbies

I have been thinking of how many novels have been written using a Black London Cab Driver as its main protagonist, and the answer as far I could ascertain is surprisingly few.

The Devil’s in the Detail by Matthew S. Wilson

David Shepherd awakes in a cell. The middle-aged London cab driver has vague recollections of attempting to protect his female passenger from a gang of drunken youths. Patchy flash-backs of blood and screams leave him with the ominous feeling that he may have done something rather quite rash. Did he kill one of the attackers?

This question is answered by the matter-of-fact Olivia, who assures him that this isn’t jail and that David hasn’t murdered anyone. His relief is short-lived when Olivia also reveals herself to be an Angel and that David is, in fact, in Purgatory. It appears that there was one fatality the previous night: him.

And so begins the Trial of David Shepherd in the Court of Saint Peter. A court that is presided over by Angels prosecuted by Demons and ultimately judged by a soul’s adherence to the Ten Commandments.

The Devil’s in the Detail is a religious satire, for atheists, agnostics and believers alike. It poses questions that we will all one day ponder: How are the actions we take in this life, ultimately judged? What constitutes a good life? What does it really take to pass through the Pearly Gates? As David tries to answer these questions he will discover that sometimes . . . The Devil’s in the Detail.

Black Cabs by John McLaren

John McLaren has sold the film rights to Black Cabs. Using three London cabbies as his protagonists, the uncompromising picture of London life on both sides of the river is idiosyncratic and astringent.

When three cabbies attempt to make a killing on the stock market by eavesdropping on the plans of a corporate magnate to engineer a huge take-over, they find they have taken on the sinister might of international banking community. The beleaguered heroes, Len, Terry and Einstein, soon find the sharp suits they are up against have no scruples about using extreme violence to protect their interests – a top financial executive is discovered dead in the back of a cab, and the boys are forced to investigate a monumental cover-up. A further turn of the screw is provided by Len’s desperation for the money–on which his daughter’s life depends.

That Angel Look by Mike Ripley

This is Mike Ripley’s eighth novel featuring itinerant trumpet player Fitzroy Maclean Angel who despite being bright, articulate, University-educated and a worldly-wise musician, spends most of his time driving a black cab. Welcome to London in the 1990s on the cusp of the Internet revolution.

When Angel is asked to assist in a leg judging contest, unlike most of the gawking men that surround them, Angel proves to be a smart strategist and lets the right one win as he tells her on the way home. Angel starts a relationship and is soon taken on as her driver (he owns his own de-licensed black cab). Angel tries to help the business, and impress his new girlfriend, by setting up a photoshoot but this ends in disaster when the photographer is found stabbed in the brain. This puts Angel on the receiving end of a barrage of questions from detectives Stokoe and Sell who, when not trying out their sub-Abbot and Costello patter, are content to point Angel in the wrong direction and see what emerges from the troubles he will stir up. This turns out to be considerable as the story combines illegal sweatshops, a witch’s coven, the kidnapping of a drug dealer, blackmail, resurgent European fascism, turf warfare between Turks and Bangladeshis as well as the solution to just who killed the sleazy photographer.

The Book of Dave by Will Self

When cabdriver Dave Rudman’s wife of five years deserts him for another man, taking their only child with her, he is thrown into a tailspin of doubt and discontent. Fearing his son will never know his father, Dave pens a gripping text–part memoir, part deranged philosophical treatise, and part handbook of ‘The Knowledge’. Meant for the boy when he comes of age, the book captures the frustration and anxiety of modern life. Five hundred years later, the ‘Book of Dave’ is discovered by the inhabitants on the island of Ham, where it becomes a sacred text of biblical proportion, and its author is revered as a mighty prophet. Rising sea levels have turned Britain into an archipelago. Small, isolated communities struggle with nature and ideology, their lives a harsh idyll mediated by the Book. The inhabitants of the tiny island of Ham grow wheat and harvest gulls’ eggs from the stacks in the bay. The men, or ‘dads’, live on one side of the village, the women, or ‘mums’, on the other. The children stay with their mums for half the week, and with their dads for the other; after each Changeover it’s as if the kids are ‘other people altogether’. The dads pass on the Knowledge, and along with it their maleness, which consists of screwing the ‘opares’, or teenage girls, and abusing the ‘boilers’, women wrecked by childbirth. The women don’t get much chance to pass anything on, being too busy pulling the island’s only plough. The language of the Book mediates this savagely satirical transfer of taxi-driver values. Dads wear ‘bubbery car coats’; the generic word for food is ‘curry’; when you make an opare pregnant, the bargain you enter into is known as ‘child support’. Language also constructs the Hamsters’ natural world: the young of the motos are known as ‘mopeds’; by day the ‘headlight’ rules the sky, while at night, when the headlight is dipped, you see the ‘dashboard’ laid out in stars. Such conceits are worked into the text with obsessive care.

The Great Satan by David Black

The author David Black was a part-time SAS Special Forces soldier working as a London Black Cabbie, ready to be called into action in times of national emergency. In the Great Satan his main character, Pat Farrell, is so close to the author as to be synonymous. The principal difference is that the author is now retired from the forces, while his fictional counterpart is left to content with the real world with direct relevance to the grisly global horrors being perpetuated today. In the bitterly divisive aftermath of the Iraq War, the former political leaders of the UK and USA were condemned as deceitful and mendacious, allegedly fabricating excuses for their martial actions. In the Great Satan, the first of his new SAS Shadow Squadron series, David Black takes their rationale to its logical conclusion to produce his own fictional nightmare scenario: What if the Iraqi weapons that were said to be dismantled in the late 1990s included the ultimate weapon of mass destruction, a nuclear bomb? What if the deposing of Saddam Hussein left one of his most ruthless military leaders at large, to profit from the weapon’s sale? And what if his buyers were the terrorist ideologues of al-Qaeda, and home-grown British Jihadists?

A version of this post was published by CabbieBlog on 5th March 2013

Barging Around

Despite atrocious weather, with high winds and driving rain, entering the Prince Regent, a floating restaurant on the Regents Canal (where else?) was a welcome, and warmer, relief.

Moored just yards from Paddington Station the two-and-a-half-hour cruise in the converted barge takes you from Little Venice, through the Maida Hill Tunnel, past a large community of barges moored behind the Lisson Grove power station. At this point we were apparently gongoozlers, meaning bystanders who enjoy watching the activities of boats as they pass them.


We were gongoozlers

The trip skirts around the London Zoo, where you can see the wild dog enclosure, and finally ending at Camden Town, where the Prince Regent turned around and retraced the route back to Paddington.

I have spent nearly 30 years discovering London, whilst studying for The Knowledge and later driving a cab, thinking I knew most secret places, but this trip was a revelation. The very large number of people living on well-maintained colourful and not so ship-shape vessels on the water, palm and banana trees at the water’s edge, and barges with deck chairs and plants upon their roofs, one even had a play area with an arbour of wisteria, none of which I’ve ever seen in central London.

Light at the end of the tunnel

As for lunch, just how can you produce an exceptional 5-course meal for 10 diners (more apparently in high season) in a galley measuring 6ft by 15ft?

Not the cheapest meal (it was a gift), with four fish-based courses: oyster in batter; smoked salmon and horseradish; mackerel and tomatoes; and Cornish cod with a stunning raisin and chicken jus. This was followed by pear and caramelised mousse. Highly recommended.

London Trivia: Lady Chatterley’s Lover

On 10 November 1960 after a six-day trial at the Old Bailey in which the prosecution was unable to make a substantial case against Penguin wishing to publish sexually explicit Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D. H. Lawrence, Foyle’s sold 300 copies in just 15 minutes taken orders for 3,000 more copies; Hatchards in Piccadilly sold out in 40 minutes and also had hundreds of orders pending; and Selfridge’s sold 250 copies in minutes.

On 10 November 1913 John Richard Archer was elected as Mayor of Battersea, the first mixed-race man to become a mayor in London

The Seamens’ and Soldiers’ False Characters Act 1903 makes it an offence to walk London’s streets in military fancy dress – fine £500

The Savoy was the first hotel with electric lifts known at the time as ascending rooms – it boasted en-suite rooms with hot and cold water

Postman’s Park near the site of the old General Post Office has a memorial to those dying – many of them children – trying to save others

On 16 September 2010 the Pope visited London and became only the second Pontiff to have visited England since the Reformation

In 1925 George Gershwin’s premier performance of Rhapsody in Blue was broadcast from the Savoy Hotel by the BBC

Princess Elizabeth (before becoming Queen) was first seen with Philip Mountbatten in public at the recently re-opened Savoy Hotel in 1946

Battersea Park was one of the first to have a grass tennis court, by 1963 there were 2,918 tennis courts across London, today 1,000 remain

North End (nicknamed Bull and Bush) Station on Northern Line between Hampstead/Golders Green closed in 1907 before seeing a single passenger

Horse drawn Hansom Cabs gained a renaissance in the Great War as petrol cabs slumped by 60% due to petrol shortages – 1947 saw the last horse

When opened in 1928 the owners of the Piccadilly Theatre claimed that the bricks used if laid end to end would stretch from London to Paris

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.