All posts by Gibson Square

Previously Posted: Just the ticket

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.

Just the ticket (12.03.2010)

Like any petty crook, London Councils traffic enforcement departments don’t miss a trick for turning over the law-abiding public. Their latest wheezes have a touch of inspired genius in their simplicity.

Not content with waiting by a vehicle whose allocated time is about to expire so a penalty notice can be imposed at the first opportunity, or penalising a disabled driver for displaying their badge with the wrong orientation, they have gone one further.

They have trawled through their by-laws to find a legal loophole to penalise motorists who have paid but simply forgot to remove a previous stub from their dashboard or window.
For if after your allotted time has expired and the driver leaves the spent ticket displayed they can be penalised, for if a busy mother should drive off with the offending ticket in full view either on her windscreen or on the dashboard the Traffic Taliban can charge for that offence.

Prior to that of course the ticket had to be displayed in an “appropriate” place as designated by the parking authority, failure to so do . . . well you know the score.

And don’t forget your vehicle must be positioned parallel to the kerb (God forbid that it is found to be at an acute angle of 10°), and must not be more than 19.6in from the kerb. Presumably those guardians of traffic enforcement, whose total revenue last year was £328million, carry the appropriate measuring equipment on their person to make a judgment.

Now two councils have joined to perpetrate an even more audacious crime, this loose association of the Notting Hill Cosa Nostra has split Ledbury Road down the middle, with each protecting their own “manor”, one side falls within Westminster’s authority while the other side is The Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea.

If you park your vehicle on the east side of the street but cross the road to buy a parking ticket on the opposite pavement, the ticket you buy will not be valid for parking on the opposite kerb, you will have contravened Westminster parking regulations, as Harvey Cass found when returning to his car to find penalty notice on his windscreen. So little time had elapsed between buying the ticket and having the penalty notice issued the traffic warden must have watched him cross the road and buy his ticket incorrectly from Kensington & Chelsea’s machine.

Westminster’s spokesman, a Mr Kevin Goad (a man whose name could not be more appropriate in the circumstances) said “We are working hard to improve motorists’ understanding of the rules and provide clearer signs and lines.”

So there you have it, its not old-fashioned greed to line the council’s coffers, quite the contrary, we motorists have to be educated in the “rules”.

Previously Posted: A gated community

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.

A gated community (09.03.2010)

“What has the Romans done for us?” asked Michael Palin in the film The Life of Brian.

Well, for us Londoners the Romans have given us Londinium one of the earliest of their settlements on the banks of the Thames and no doubt gave us a Latin version of Estuary English [Estuario Latino]. The Romans also gave us a rather fine wall with four gates and a fort to protect Londinium which nestled within, and which was surprisingly small at about 330 acres.

They built their city on the north bank of the Thames and judged they wouldn’t need a defence along the river’s edge, as who would want to come from Sarf London, so the wall was more of a two mile curve than an enclosure.

It was probably Queen Boudica who made up their minds to build a defensive wall after she razed Londinium to the ground in AD60, after they assaulted her daughters and stole their land, anyway after much discussion, much like councils of today, they had the wall completed by about AD140.

Starting from where the Tower of London now stands it ran north from the river and as they feared Essex Man more than any other at least 20 bastions were added at a distance of about 60 yards apart along this section.

The first gate is Aldgate (“Old Gate”), as its name implies was one of the earliest to be built, leading as it did to the Roman road to East Anglia, via Colchester and beyond to the feared Essex Man.

The wall heads off in a north-westerly direction and the deep ditch which protected its outer flank had a rather novel use along this stretch and became known as Hounds ditch from the number of dead dogs left there to rot. Now only the street of Houndsditch marks this rather quaint custom.

At the end of the ditch of dead dogs was Bishop Gate, built by the Bishop of London. This saintly prelate used to exact a toll of one piece of wood from all the carts loaded with timber coming into the City by way of his gate, God knows what he did with all that lumber.

The wall was about 6-9ft wide and about 18ft high, with probably a catwalk along the top. It is obvious from the different bondings used in the various sections which remain that a number of building gangs were used in the erection of the wall. As London had no quarries of its own, the materials used had to be brought in from outside “squared-off” Kentish ragstone formed the inner and outer faces of the wall while concrete and rubble filled in the centre. Every few feet in height one, two or three rows of Roman tiles were used as a bond before proceeding with the next 3 or 4 feet.

A small section of the wall between these two gates can be found at the end of London Wall showing the upper part of the Roman wall, with the medieval walling on top capped by Tudor brickwork.

We now encounter a dog leg at Cripplegate which led into the fort which stood on the site before the wall was built and which necessitated the need to build around it. Although it was called a gate, it only went into the fort about this time.

We now head off in a western direction, but somewhere there was an underground passage. For the name cripplegate is derived from crepel, an Anglo-Saxon word for den or underground passage. Once the City gates were closed for the night, after the curfew bells had been rung, it was impossible to get into the City through any of the gateways. So after a night out on the tiles you could stagger into the City after proving your identity through this tunnel, just don’t bump your head if you have had a few.

We have now reached the most famous of all gates; Newgate which has become synonymous with the prison that started in the rooms over the entrance at a later date. This was the entry from the important Roman road that ran to Silchester and Bath. Incidentally the last public hanging took place here in May 1868, after that Londoner’s had to entertain themselves.

The wall now leads south towards the river and half way along its length is Ludgate. In old English ludgeat means “postern” or “back doorway”, so presumably this was the City’s back door.

The Roman did not, as a rule, bury their dead within the precincts of a city, but almost invariably by the side of a road. So beyond this last section of wall on the City’s western flank was a cemetery about where Fleet Street heads away from the Square Mile.

Previously Posted: Top 10 Worst Places to Catch a Taxi

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.

Top 10 Worst Places to Catch a Taxi (05.03.2010)

I have recently found the site where travellers can relate their experiences, as it’s coming up to deciding your travel arrangements for this year I would suggest that you check it out, it’s a great source of information and frankly very funny. At the risk of being accused of plagiarism, although the author’s consent has been given, I think this post is worthy of inclusion in CabbieBlog.

Well, maybe not the absolute worst, but a catalogue of experiences around the world which explain why a taxi is always my last resort for getting from A to B, and why I’d rather walk, take public transport or a bike just about anywhere.

Disclaimer: Many taxi drivers are polite, courteous, professional and very honest. It’s the others that give you a bad rap, which are the ones I am complaining about…

BANGKOK: Don’t expect taxi drivers to know the way – particularly if there has been a bad crop recently in the countryside, since in these times your taxi driver is likely to be an out of work farmer who is unlikely to find his way home, let alone that restaurant you just asked for. In fact, it may take 2 or 3 different attempts before you find a taxi driver that knows where your destination is; let alone how to get there.

If you are lucky the driver will tell you that he has no idea where the destination is in advance, otherwise he’ll just drive you around for a little while.

Having somebody write the destination down for you (or learning how to pronounce words in Thai) can help, but not always, as can calling the place where you are staying and asking them to talk the taxi home for you.

NEW YORK: Not that bad actually. Relatively inexpensive and efficient, but smells horrible and don’t expect much in the way of courtesy – either from the driver or other passengers competing for the same cab.

New York cabs win a prize for being the largest vehicles with the smallest passenger space, but definitely count as one of the world’s better taxi experiences.

It could be said that there is not much difference between driving a cab in London than driving one in New York – except that we speak in English and have to rely on our brains to get us from one part of the city to another and not rely on a numerical grid system.

LONDON: Encyclopaedic knowledge of London’s streets, spacious cabs, polite drivers (to passengers at least – comments made to other road users are part of the entertainment) and cheap fares. London is Taxi heaven. I can’t disagree with those fine words.

Until midnight that is, when the black cabs go home and unlicensed mini-cabs take over to fill the demand. Beware of these guys: people tell of drivers rolling joints whilst driving with their knees, whilst others talk of drivers who’ve obviously had several already. A phone call followed by a quick detour to help a friend of the driver escape from a crime scene is also not unheard of. Police reports describe far more sinister doings, particularly concerning women travellers.

ZÜRICH: If your hotel isn’t one of the five biggest in Zürich then bring your own map, or chose a driver with a GPS. English is rarely spoken and German or other Swiss languages are not guaranteed. And bring plenty of cash – that number on the meter really is the cost.

Definitely the most expensive and most often lost taxi drivers in the world. On one occasion I spent 30 minutes while a taxi tried to find my (rather large) hotel, asking for directions from several pedestrians on the way. We eventually found it, and a long argument ensued over the expectation that I pay the meter fare for the whole duration. Which I won only narrowly.

ROME: If you manage to actually find a cab in Rome then please comment. I’ve given up each time as taxis are scarce in Rome, and drivers tend to strike (whilst blocking traffic in the city) every time the city tries to increase the number of taxi licences.

In a blog post, Pauline relates to an experience where a driver busy taking a phone call made them wait outside before allowing them in, in the rain, with the meter running (including the approach fare), for 10 minutes. That’s service.

PARIS: Generally professional, but basically rude. Can make a bit of a fuss when asked to take you somewhere that’s not totally convenient for them – consider this when choosing destinations such as out of the way places where they won’t pick up a huge fare right after.

I once spent 15 minutes in a taxi being complained at by the driver because he ‘claimed’ he would lose money driving to my destination (near the airport). I paid him 1/3rd more than the fare as a good-will token, but it didn’t make him happy and he drove off refusing to give a receipt.

INDIA: Finding a taxi or auto rickshaw is easy. Just wait by the road and they’ll soon be fighting over you. The family member’s shop or restaurant that they recommend is never as good as the place you originally wanted to go to, so be persistent and insist that you want to go to your original destination. Like many attempted transactions in India it comes down to a war of attrition.

Taxis are cheap enough to rent for the day in some cases, so make sure you enjoy the unique spectacle of road transport in India, complete with sleeping cows in the middle of the carriage way, oncoming trucks in the wrong lane, constant use of the horn, etc.

CAIRO: Similar to India, except they continue to fight over you after you’ve arrived. In fact, Taxi drivers will follow you around all day, stalking you. The family member’s shop or restaurant is also never as good as the place you actually wanted, but in many cases they will take you there anyway and just pretend that’s what you asked for.

Don’t be alarmed by the fact that obeying traffic signals are optional in Cairo, meaning that they are always ignored, and on a three lane carriageway there will be at least four cars abreast.

However, if you can find an honest one (and don’t rely on a hotel concierge for this) then they can make excellent tour guides.

Don’t expect the negotiated price to remain the same for the entire journey; it usually has doubled when you get to your destination. If you are unlucky to have a driver who speaks English, a warning, they will talk to you whilst driving as you sit in the back seat, but face to face.

CHINA: Don’t lose the piece of paper with your destination written in Chinese, unless you are good at charades, as you shouldn’t count on being able to pronounce your destination no matter how much you practice. Otherwise Chinese taxis are honest, professional and courteous, if a little erratic in their driving style.

WARSAW: Very keen to get going to the extent that over eager drivers can slam doors shut before all appendages are inside the taxi. It can really hurt.

Speeds on wet roads defy the laws of physics (or at least common sense).

Generally, taxis in Warsaw are very reasonable and honest providing you take a licensed taxi, not one of the private taxis that lurk around airport arrivals and on popular streets.

Previously Posted: Moving targets

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.

Moving targets (26.02.2010)

I’m beginning to suspect that London cabbies are reviled with the same vigour as bankers, estate agents and MPs (well, maybe not as much as MPs).

Recently a colleague of mine had his rear window smashed by local children as he sat waiting in a traffic jam in East London. Previously like me he’s had stones thrown at his cab, and had pedestrians hitting his vehicle with their hands as they cross the road.

It also makes you wonder why some Lycra louts of the cycle world get their kicks out of spitting at cab drivers. This Lycra-clad posers cycle up beside cabbies and spit in their face before peddling off, which I personally consider it the most offensive assault possible and rather cowardly when you realise how difficult it is to pursue the obnoxious assailant responsible, I now find myself asking the question, is it a new craze?

The whole practice has me wondering whether they only target cab drivers, like to young vandals who throw stones. Do they maybe mark up their hits on their bike frames, like World War II fighter pilots? Or perhaps it’s an individual avenger who was once wronged by a cab driver who refused to go south of the River and is now wreaking his revenge.

I suppose we could try fitting spittoons on the side of the cab – but well away from the driver’s window of course!

Are we all really so bad? Poison pen letters are invited to the comments section at the bottom of this post.

Previously Posted: A tale of two cities

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.

A tale of two cities (23.02.2010)

Our first city is at the cutting edge of information technology providing multi-lingual customer services to the world, while the second is struggling to provide high speed broadband access for its customers. One is taking its population out of poverty with the Globalization and World Cities Study Group ranking it as an “Alpha world city”, while its counterpart has a rising unemployment rate of 9.4 per cent of the workforce with increasing numbers are reliant on the State.

The first city was placed seventh in the list of “Top Ten Cities for Billionaires” by Forbes magazine and first in terms of those billionaires’ average wealth. The other’s economy is not so rosy with the government forecasting its debt will soar to an eye-watering £1.1 trillion by 2011.

The emerging city’s transport has 11 million passenger movements a day on its rail and bus services, in comparison with about half of that number who have to endure delay and breakdowns with the other city’s aged transport infrastructure.

With 24,000 cabs providing transport for the older city’s 7 million population the emerging city’s population of 14 million inhabitants are having their aging fleet of 55,000 cabs replaced, unfortunately in the older city, whose cabbies have been licensed for over 350 years, they have to provide a service with much older vehicles due to their extortionate replacement prices.

Similarly both provide a rickshaw mode of transport. One regulated by price and service provided by operators who know their city like the back of their hand, the other’s rickshaws are vastly overpriced, unregulated (charging what they think they can get away with) and, driven by foreign “students” who’s inability to speak the native tongue is match by their navigational skills around a city founded by the Romans.
Drivers in the city of the sub-continent sound their horn at every opportunity and in some ways this is where there are similarities with drivers in the older city following suit.

As the excellent Channel 4 series of programmes entitled Indian Winter showed, Bombay (or as the BBC insists on calling it, contrary to what it’s known to the inhabitants, Mumbai) has many lessons which we Londoner’s could learn. Could it be that Bombay’s emerging dynamism has positioned it in a far more advantageous place in the world’s economy?

With London appearing in a downward spiral and Bombay’s pulling itself up by their bootstraps it’s only a matter of time until the former colonial power is overtaken by its former colony.

We Londoners consider ourselves to be citizens of the world’s most influential city, true it still has a lot to offer its residents but is now under threat from emerging economies as never before, but at least we have recently adopted the curry as our favourite meal.