All posts by Gibson Square

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

Nowhere to go

First a confession. Those of you of a more inquiring mind will have spotted on the sidebar an advert for my ‘soon-to-be-published’ autobiography. In fact, those of you who have been good enough to become Patrons should, by now, have received a personalised copy.

That was before the pandemic struck

But first a few statistics. You would have thought with half the population sitting at home with little to do, book sales would have boomed last year. Alas, the sales didn’t reflect this. Global sales of printed books by British publishers plunged by £55 million in the first six months of last year, as schools and bookshops remained closed due to coronavirus. Conversely ebooks, after six years of declining sales were up by 17 per cent, boosted by the scrapping of VAT, and those staying at home have increased sales of audiobooks by 42 per cent.

The fall by 12 per cent of book sales has not been consistent across all genres. Write a cookbook, advice on healthy lifestyle (ironic with many lounging around at home in their pyjamas), or children’s books you were on a winner, especially if the title started with A Pinch of Nom, having two titles in the top five sales.

On the other hand, memoirs have faired rather badly, which leads neatly to Everyone Is Entitled To My Opinion. Michael Joseph, a subsidiary of Penguin Random House, had given me a publishing agreement; accepted the manuscript; spent some considerable time on the developmental edit by the same editor who worked on Jeremy Clarkson’s books, aided with input from a successful television scriptwriter whose credits include The Now Show and The News Quiz; before being copy-edited by myself. Only the final proofread was required.

Now the memoir has been given back to me with thanks and apologies, which leaves me with 80,000 words and nowhere to go, and more importantly nothing to give supporters of CabbieBlog.

So should you want a taste of Everyone Is Entitled To My Opinion here is a short extract:

The last outpost of the British Empire

Entering the old Public Carriage Office in Penton Street you might have just wandered into a 1960s police station, which it really was in all but name. A lady of advancing age was positioned at the entrance vestibule, her job was to check the visitors’ credentials, although her only concession to security was to occasionally ask to see the Appointment Cards of those destined to an Appearance. She was more likely to ask of Knowledge Boys how they managed to answer the questions than check on anyone entering the building. Upstairs, on the second floor, was a wall of reception desks with heavy wooden surrounds much like a railway ticket office in a 1930s black-and-white film, each of the windows with its designated use indicated by signs above in bold black type. At one, you were required to book-in, a minute late and you risked being turned away that day and directed to the adjacent desk boldly marked booking-out.

They say predators can smell their prey when it is nervous, well the waiting room had the brain chemical serotonin permeated into its walls. Inside chairs were placed around the edge of the room with a coffee table in the centre. Upon the table were publications waiting to be read, not that any in that room were ever in a mood to peruse this informative literature.

Each applicant carried their Appointment Card, known by many nowadays as a scorecard. On the reverse you were informed, should it have inexplicably slipped your mind: ‘Knowledge of London Appointments have been made as shown overleaf. This card must be brought at each attendance and presented at the Knowledge of London window, 2nd Floor, on arrival.’ Your Appointment Card contained the obvious information as to the time and date of your Appearance, in addition after an Appearance, scribbled in pencil in the upper right-hand corner was a series of three sets of letters each separated by a shilling stroke. These were the Rosetta Stone for Knowledge Boys, these hieroglyphs were the code as to who was likely to be your next inquisitor, but as in archaeology, the marks were hidden, having been erased by the booking-out clerk, so before making another appointment the more astute would quickly copy the code to be prepared for their next Appearance. If the letters OR were among those indicated, you stood a one-in-three chance of getting the frightening Mr Ormes. In fact, if Mr Ormes called another from the waiting room, a smirk could be detected on the face of any other who had seen those dreaded markings upon their card.

Once called you were expected to answer with “Yes, Sir”, before following the examiner along the ‘corridor of fear’, as it became known, to their office. The utilitarian decor, with its grey lino flooring, cream painted walls, now turning grey and heavy wooden doors, the building could have been used as the blueprint for the Stasi state security headquarters.

At this point, you are probably asking: “So what’s different from when I sat for exams in college, or being summoned to the master’s office at uni to account for an indiscretion?”

The Knowledge, of course, is a test of the applicant’s knowledge of London’s 22,000 streets and what is to be found upon those streets. It also is a test of character. According to research for the Discovery Channel’s 2006 Hard Labour programme, London cabbies top the list of the ten most ‘arduous’ jobs in Britain, even ahead of trawlermen and lumberjacks. The reasons given for putting cabbies at the top of this list were ‘the nightmarish state of London’s road network’, even worse now since the bike lanes arrived, and ‘the stress of dealing with abusive and frequently drunk passengers’. The problem is exacerbated by having to deal with these problems on your own, and if the situation starts to get out of hand the police are unlikely to come to your aid.

Each Public Carriage Officer, who had once served in the Metropolitan Police, had been very inventive in formulating their own tests of the applicant’s suitability, a polite way of describing how they intended to intimidate and humiliate any prospective London cabbie. Upon entering their office you sat on a small chair positioned in the centre of the room, moving the chair was forbidden, while the examiner sat at his desk behind a high sloped board so that only his upper face was visible. The board also had the advantage of obscuring from the applicant what the examiner was doing, this often was used to heighten the tension as he ignored his victim pretending to be engrossed in some important paperwork concerning the Knowledge Boy who was rapidly losing weight worrying about his fate.

Not for nothing has the Public Carriage Office been described as ‘The last outpost of the British Empire’. Strict discipline was enforced: a suit and tie to be worn by the applicant; never refer to a Carriage Officer by name, always calling him Sir; only speak when spoken to, and never to question, only obey.

London in Quotations: Arthur Conan Doyle

I do hate the City of London! It is the only thing whichever comes between us.

Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1900), A Duet with an Occasional Chorus, 1899

London Trivia: A handbag?

On 14 February 1895 Oscar Wilde’s most enduring play, The Importance of Being Earnest, was premiered at the St. James’s Theatre, in King Street on a really cold St. Valentine’s Day. With already three other successful productions currently being performed in London, it would go on to be his most successful and quoted play. Lady Bracknell, she of “a handbag”, was played by the gloriously named Miss Rose Leclercq.

On 14 February 1946 the Bank of England (‘The Old Lady of Threadneedle Street’) was nationalised with the signing of a 250-page bill by King George VI

‘Do not attempt to travel by taxi while suffering from the plague’. Extract from the Public Health Act 1985. Just so you know should the need arise

The City of London the historical core of the Capital, roughly matches the boundaries the Roman city of Londinium and of medieval London

London’s first traffic lights, situated outside the Palace of Westminster, blew up injuring a policeman and causing passing cavalry horses to stampede

Upminster Bridge station has a swastika motif on the floor of the ticket hall installed before the symbol took on its sinister reputation

John Stow’s monument depicting him writing his Survey of London, he is holding a real quill pen, the quill is replaced every 5 years by the Lord Mayor

The London Eye can carry 800 people each rotation, which is comparable to 11 London red double-decker buses

In 1891 Arsenal was the first London club to turn professional, called the Royal Arsenal when the club turned professional the name changed to Woolwich Arsenal

The first parking meter was installed in Mayfair with a charge of one shilling per hour (5p) today the same fee buys you 45 seconds

The ‘porter’ style of beer was officially invented at the Bell Brewhouse in Shoreditch by Ralph Hardwood in 1722

The guns of HMS Belfast are targeted on Barnet in north London, but with a range of 30 miles could destroy Scratchwood Services on the M1

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.

Don’t Touch the Walrus

Rules, regulations and by-laws, don’t they get you down? And London has more than its share.

Don’t touch the walrus or sit on the iceberg

The walrus has been on display at the Horniman Museum for more than a century. One of the most popular exhibits in the museum, probably due to its odd shape as it appears stretched and ‘overstuffed’ as it lacks the skin folds characteristic of a walrus in the wild. Over one hundred years ago, only a few people had ever seen a live walrus, so it is hardly surprising that ours does not look true to life. He sits on his own ‘iceberg’.

Don’t feed the pigeons

Ken Livingstone, as the first London mayor, dealt with the plague in Trafalgar Square of what he called “flying rats”. Those guilty of the offence can be punished with a £500 fine. When the square was pedestrianised Westminster Council realised the North Terrace outside the National Gallery was not covered by the ban and amended the law to prevent determined feeders from exploiting a loophole.

Don’t climb on the lions

Consultants conducted a survey in 2011 and discovered corrosion, scratches and ‘cracking’ on the lions in Trafalgar Square, and found litter pushed into their mouths.
The inspectors also discovered that the bronze on the south-east facing lion had been worn down to a thickness of just 0.2 inches, up to three times thinner than the same parts of the other lions. The same lion was seen to vibrate when visitors climbed on its back. They suggested that children stop acting out scenes from The Lion King./span>

Don’t touch a pelican

Pelican-touching is ‘expressly forbidden’ should you happen to find one in a London park, according to the Royal Parks and Other Open Spaces Regulations 1997. But should you have a desire to get your fingers bitten, you can pet one if ‘prior permission is obtained’. Presumably from the park, not the pelican.

Don’t mate with the Queen’s corgis

Apparently, you were once forbidden to allow your dogs to mate with one of the Monarch’s corgis. Presumably, this is to avoid any unwanted mongrel offspring, the dogs that is.

Don’t kill a swan

The Queen doesn’t own all the breeds of swan in England, but she does have first dips on mute swans. But she’s only allowed to eat them, as long as she and her diners are guests of St. John’s College, Cambridge. Mute swans are a protected species under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981 and killing them is punishable with a £5,000 fine.

Don’t handle a salmon suspiciously

Under the well-known Salmon Act of 1986, it’s illegal to handle salmon ‘under suspicious circumstances’. You’ve been warned.

Statistics 2020

Two days ago I received a message from WordPress informing me that: ‘Happy Anniversary with WordPress.com! You registered on WordPress.com 12 years ago. Thanks for flying with us. Keep up the good blogging.’ The missive reminded me that CabbieBlog has been publishing a minimum of two posts a week since its inception, and at the time of writing (January 2021) had over 1,629 posts published online and, remarkably 1,170 scheduled posts.

Starting with the defunct platform ‘Blog’, then moving to Google’s Blogger, after a year I changed my allegiance to WordPress. Although my remaining with WordPress is waning as they are turning over to Gutenberg Block Editor which obviates the need for coding, favouring a new ‘simpler’ system.

All this means that CabbieBlog in its various incarnations has been freely available for nearly 13 years.

Never content with CabbieBlog’s appearance, I’ve again changed the typeface to 13.5pt Lato, with a line-height of 1.6, described by its designer as “[the typeface has] a feeling of warmth, while the strong structure provides stability and seriousness”, which seems, in my mind, to describe a London cabbie. Lato is a sans-serif typeface designed in 2010 for a Polish bank by Łukasz Dziedzic. When it came to paying for it, the bank said it was too expensive and Dziedzic was left with a type family that he didn’t know if it was marketable. So he released it in 2015 under a SIL Open Font License. The name ‘Lato’ is Polish for summer, the name perfectly fits this warm-feeling sans-serif. As of August 2018, Lato is used on more than 9.6 million websites, including Starbucks and Miss Vogue, it is the third most served font on Google Fonts, with over one billion views per day.  CabbieBlog’s headings are now displayed in Raleway Extra Bold, which perfectly complements the text.

The site has also added extra content in the sidebar for those who quaintly still read CabbieBlog on a laptop. These include ‘In my opinion’ – weekly London quotes; ‘Frequent fares’ – CabbieBlog’s most popular posts; ‘Regular passengers’ – those of you who have checked out CabbieBlog the most; and ‘Blogs worth hailing’ – a basic blogroll. Also, I am uploading a weekly cabbie image to Flickr.

In addition, a donation ‘like’ button from Ko-fi should anyone feel the need to drop CabbieBlog and a couple of quid.

So with more information than is reasonably necessary, here are the annual blogging statistics for 2020. As before, with the data amassed over the last year, I’ve broken it down into bite-sized chunks with comparable figures for the previous year.


Blog visitors and page views

Difficult to gauge, for instance, CabbieBlog has 172 followers on Bloglovin’ so none of their views will be recorded, but according to my basic counter the numbers of visitors has increased, but those willing to loiter around have decreased.  CabbieBlog has attracted a number of regular readers, which, I suspect have found their way from BeetleyPete, which is very encouraging. (Average hit rate per visitor: 2019 – 1.8117; 2020 – 1.6118).

2019
Visitors – 22,994
Page views – 41,659

2020
Visitors – 28,403
Page views – 45,781


CabbieBlog’s readers from abroad

The different countries whose residents have viewed CabbieBlog again include Jersey (at 24) and Guernsey (at 25), as if they were sovereign countries in their own right and curiously the European Union with 11, a huge drop from the 497 visits last year, presumably the result of us being released from their clutches. The United States leads our curious cousins with 5,544 a rise since last year’s 4,773 hits.

2019 – 117 individual countries

2020 – 137 individual countries


Number of comments

The yardstick of a blog must be how many of its readers decided to metaphysically put pen to paper and comment, and this year, despite, or because of COVID-19, has seen exponential growth. I suspect my decision to become hosted by WordPress has also brought more contributors. To all of you, again a huge thank you for your encouragement or discouragement. Your comments keep me submitting regular posts for your perusal. Social media is increasingly reactive these days, and a much smaller proportion of people now write long-form posts providing the original material that everyone else comments upon. But at least the comments CabbieBlog receives are intelligent, relevant and insightful. I’m delighted, obviously.

2019 – 94

2020 – 169


Number of ‘Likes’

When you have a super, intelligent and engaging blog which is blessed with visitors that clearly repeatedly like to Like, you are in a favourable position. The Likes are on a huge upward trend, again a huge thank you for touching the ­­­Like button at the foot of every post.

2019 – 79

2020 – 359


Followers of CabbieBlog

My e-mail updates only include a brief description so many of you will have had to peruse the site to read the full post. I can’t calculate how many times you have taken the trouble to follow these notifications and read my inciteful posts, but thanks for following CabbieBlog.

2019 – 1,248

2020 – 1,315


Posts written

Most of this year’s output has been new material, although Wednesday’s Weekly Whinge first appeared on the Journal page. In addition to the total posts, 52 London in Quotations (which, of course, are not original) has been published amounting to more than 2,000 words.

2019– 156

2020 – 209


Most viewed and least viewed posts and pages

It has to be said that some subjects take on a life of their own, Goswell Street Road, for instance, was picked up by Reddit in early December, while others just sit in cyberspace minding their own business. At the bottom lie many posts with only a few views a year, and some I suspect just sit there patiently waiting to be noticed.

2019
Highest post
London myths debunked – 2,295
Lowest Post
Queen of Hell – 1
Highest page
The Knowledge – 4,536
Lowest page
Time Out – 12

2020
Highest post
London myths debunked – 2,282
Lowest Post
Site Unseen: Gwynne House– 15
Highest page
13 Survivors – 1,491
Lowest page
Privacy Policy – 15


Pages written

This year no new pages have appeared on CabbieBlog.

2019 – 0

2020 – 0


Number of words written

My average output of about 1,500 words written each week has been increased as a result of finishing my book, giving me more time for the blog.

2019
Words – 80,757
Characters – 468,385

2020
Words – 84,748
Characters – 489,994


Referrers

If you ignore the search engines, with Google clocking up an impressive 20,200 hits, social media referrers are Twitter at 513 and, surprisingly, as I havn’t an account, Facebook at 740.

2019
Spitalfields Life – 46
The Hackney Hack – 12

2020
Diamond Geezer – 162
The Telephone Box – 12


In conclusion

This post is, of course, my highlight of the year. Unfortunately my readers don’t share my enthuiasm. Last year only 46 of you bothered to click on Statistics 2019, with not one person viewing this incisive post from June to August.