All posts by Gibson Square

Previously Posted: Shaggy Dog Story

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.

Shaggy Dog Story (25.02.09)

“Sorry Squire, I’m not going South of The River”.

I can now say that with impunity after a recent judgment by magistrates in Bolton. Last week they cleared taxi firm boss Mustak Bhuta, accused of discrimination against a blind woman, Toni Forest. The court heard that Miss Forest accompanied by her guide dog was told that the cab firm was not taking her because of hairs from her dog.

But the court accepted the taxi bosses’ version that two of his drivers on duty had problems in the past, one of which was the dog being unhygienic in licking the gear stick. The remaining available driver was scared of dogs.

So now I have a whole plethora of excuses for refusal; you’ll drop hairs, licking my gear stick (is that a euphuism?), and a phobia of South London.

Lost and Found

“You would lose your head if was not screwed on”, so I was told when young. The same could be said about cabbies’ passengers. A recent survey by Credant Technologies has found that over the last six months, 55,843 mobile phones and 6,193 other devices including laptops were forgotten by London black cab passengers. Thankfully, about 80 per cent of surveyed taxi drivers claimed that owners were reunited with their missing item once found, but having your hand-held device in someone else’s hands still poses a huge security threat for the owner. These devices are usually not owned by the people using them; either they are supplied on a contract or owned by their employer, so maybe that’s their excuse for not being so careful.

The same can’t be said for the high profile security breaches by losing data devices left in public areas, to be conveniently reported by the media. Am I being just a touch cynical when I think some of these lapses are helping to destroy the Government’s reassurance that they are safe with our personal data for ID cards?

Apart from the mountain of iPods, drivers have also found a sawn-off shotgun, 12 dead pheasants, two dogs, toilet seats, a casket of funeral ashes and £2,700 in cash in the back of their cabs. If all these were found on the same cab run, I wouldn’t be going south of the River again.

Leaving the Monopoly board

Having shut Grosvenor Square to vehicular traffic for the best part of four months, while installing the most elaborate anti-terrorist devices this side of Iraq, the United States Embassy has now announced it’s moving to Wandsworth.

Did we pay for these elaborate rising bollards, traffic lights, anti-car bomb devices, and if so will we get any compensation?

But at least the local residents won’t mourn the passing of the Americans; they cannot get anti-terrorist insurance cover for their valuable art collections.

But it won’t look so romantic for the great unwashed to demonstrate in Wandsworth, home of the Arndale Shopping Centre.

All together now:
What Do We Want? America Out!
When Do We Want It? Now

No Fireworks

So what did you think of London’s New Year’s fireworks? I thought Sydney and Dubai were pretty good. Can’t say I liked London’s much.

Johnson’s London Dictionary: Speakers’ Corner

SPEAKERS’ CORNER (n.) Refuge from Park Lane bridleway enabling pseudo intelectuals to congregate and harangue those so inclined to listen mainly on religion and politics

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

The London Grill: Roy Reed

We challenge our contributors to reply to ten devilishly probing questions about their London and we don’t take “Sorry Gov” for an answer. Everyone sitting in the hot seat they will face the same questions ranging from their favourite way to spend a day out in the capital to their most hated building on London’s skyline to find out what Londoners really think about their city. The questions are the same but the answers vary wildly.

Roy Reed is a web designer and co-author of Ghost Signs: A London Story. He has been photographing ghost signs (the fading advertisements painted on the sides of buildings) since 2006. He studied documentary photography at the London College of Printing in the 1970s and then worked as a landscape and architectural photographer. His photos have been featured in exhibitions at the Hayward Gallery, the Royal Academy and many other places. His interest in writing on walls dates to the 1970s, when he began documenting political graffiti.

What’s your secret London tip?

Don’t drive. Get the tube, or better still, get a bus. And look up! It’s depressing seeing everyone walking around heads down just staring at the pavement.

What’s your secret London place?

It’s not that secret, but not many people seem to go there. It’s the Wallace Collection. It houses such an amazing collection of paintings and other artefacts.

What’s your biggest gripe about London?

People who drive into the city (unless it’s part of their job). It’s insane. Why would anyone want to drive in London? It costs a fortune to park – if you can find it anywhere – and makes the air taste foul. I used to cycle in London, but not anymore. I hate the toxic atmosphere between motorists and cyclists – and I am getting on a bit.

What’s your favourite building?

I have two, St Olaf’s House next to London Bridge which I was lucky enough to photograph inside and out for the Thirties exhibition at the Hayward Gallery in 1979 and All Saints, Margaret Street, the most amazing Victorian Gothic church just north of Oxford Street. At one time I would have included Battersea Power Station, but it’s been ruined by the new development that now surrounds it on three sides

What’s your most hated building?

St Paul’s Cathedral. I’m sorry, but I just don’t like it. It seems such a grandiose monstrosity. One of my greatest wishes would be to travel back in time and see the old Gothic St Paul’s from before the Great Fire of London.

What’s the best view in London?

The best view I ever had of London was on a flight coming back into Heathrow on a very clear evening on 5th November in the 1980s. The whole of the city was lit up with bonfires and fireworks from horizon to horizon.
But for something that you can see any day, Ray Davies had it right:
As long as I gaze on Waterloo sunset
I am in paradise

What’s your personal London landmark?

Postman’s Park – a small public garden just north of St Paul’s. It houses a series of memorial plaques to people who have sacrificed their lives to save others. I used to go and sit there for a few minutes peace and quiet when I was working around the City photographing the new developments around Broadgate.

What’s London’s best film, book or documentary?

My favourite films based in London would have to include Blow Up, My Beautiful Launderette, Babylon and Passport to Pimlico. Books would be Peter Ackroyd’s London: The Biography and Tom Harrison’s Living Through the Blitz. I was born in Brixton just after the war and the bomb sites were our playground.

What’s your favourite restaurant?

It’s very sad, but they’ve all closed.

How would you spend your ideal day off in London?

Flying kites on Parliament Hill. I’ve been flying kites on and off since I was 10 when my next-door neighbour’s Indian grandfather taught me how to make them. I can still remember the feeling when the first kite I’d made myself just flew out of my hand and sat against a blue sky instead of spinning and crashing like all the shop-bought ones I’d had before.

Four-Three-Two-One, Happy New…

Typically, London’s horological icon has four names, so nobody knows what to call it: St Stephen’s Tower, the Elizabeth Tower or Big Ben (correctly its The Elizabeth Tower incorporating The Great Bell), and for a city whose time, both past and present, features so heavily, you’d have thought we’d got it right.

After all, London is the home of time itself, with the Greenwich Observatory setting Greenwich Mean Time (even that is now incorrect see the previous post).

Big Ben is not even the largest clock in London, that place belongs to number 80 Strand (note typically that lacks the definite article). Shell-Mex House faced a height restriction problem when it was built in 1930, but the restriction only applied to inhabited parts of a building, so a clock tower was exempt. It has two faces, best seen from the Golden Jubilee Bridges (even they have a time and date element).

All of us carry very accurate timepieces we use every day, obviating the need for the clocks that decorate the city, whose function has now become obsolete, but remain quite impressive.

Caledonian Market Clock Tower. The park in which it stands once housed London’s largest cattle market and the tower was supposedly built to stand the force of a bull charge. It’s now open to the public.

Sold off as part of a modernisation programme the clock above St. Pancras’ concourse has a fascinating history. During removal, it was accidentally dropped from the crane and the fragments, no longer fit for its new owner, were destined to be scrapped. Enter a British Rail guard with a passion for Victorian architecture. He was granted permission to salvage everything, which he painstakingly reassembled onto the side of his Nottinghamshire barn. Thirty years later, the heritage movement that had witnessed the loss of the old clock and almost the destruction of the whole station now saw its rebirth as the 21st-century international terminus. High Speed 1, the new owners, wanted the original reinstated but it was too fragile. E Dent & Co who had built the clock, and the Big Ben clock, commissioned Smith of Derby to partner with them to build a replica. Were it not for the original, which the owner who was now well into his 90s allowed them to inspect and measure, such a project would not have been possible.

I’ve always liked the art deco clock on Cambridge Circus, with four women balancing a clock like a beach ball, and the grand Queen of Time double clock that stands above the entrance to Selfridges, but Fleet Street and Holborn have an array of clocks, some hidden. St Dunstan-in-the-West has a clock installed five years after the Great Fire which features London’s great guardians Gog and Magog hitting the central bell with hammers.

The church of St George the Martyr in Southwark has its celebrated three-sided clock, with the fourth face blacked out because the residents of Bermondsey were not prepared to contribute to the church, so the church denied them time. Eventually, they capitulated and put the clock face in, but blacked it out as a reminder that it wasn’t paid for.

The bird clock of the London Zoo which squawks and swings and automates toucans, much like the Guinness Clocks of old did.

Churchill’s astronomical clock at Bracken House, said to have been named after Churchill’s illegitimate son, has Churchill’s face at its centre, it measures time by the heavens and is set in pink to reflect the colour of the newspaper it housed until the 80s. Since May 2019 the Financial Times has returned to this building and its iconic clock.