Category Archives: A window on My World

Debrett’s for Cabbies

Bertie Wooster awoke with a start from his afternoon nap. The copy of Horse and Hound which previously had been covering his eyes gravitated down his nose to land painfully in his lap. “Yes, Jeeves, what is it?”

Jeeves removed the pain inflicting magazine from his employer’s lap and replaced it with a cutting from that morning’s copy of The Times “I’m sorry to break into your afternoon labours, but one feels that Sir’s attention should be drawn to a recent publication which might provide some assistance to Square”.

“Who the duce is this Square fellow when he’s at home?” Bertie exclaimed.

“Square, you might recall is your chauffeur of some 20 years standing”, replied Jeeves and left His Master to read the following article:

Debrett’s that manual of all things appertaining to manners have tacked the subject of drivers and have come to the conclusion that white van man and cabbies when put behind a steering wheel are, how can I put it politely, downright rude.

It is hard to believe now, but once upon a time going for a drive was seen as something of a treat and in those days motorists would wave to each other and politely nod as other cars gently overtook them.

With road rage on the increase Debrett’s, the authority on etiquette, has published a new 48-page guide to courteous in-car behaviour, entitled Thoroughly Modern Motoring Manners it aims to re-acquaint drivers with the “right and proper way to behave behind the wheel”.

Among the advice for men is to not make clichéd jokes about female drivers (I’ll remember that when a lady is in the back) and respect all women behind the wheel, while both sexes are also advised to avoid too much perfume or cologne.

Debrett’s etiquette adviser Jo Bryant said: “We felt driving is an area where people forget their manners and display aggressive behaviour they wouldn’t show in their everyday lives.”

Among its pearls of wisdom are:

The chivalrous male driver will open the door for a female passenger and close it behind her. ‘He should offer to take her coat, check her seat is adjusted and be sure the temperature’s to her liking.’

Women should not apply make-up or preen themselves in the mirror, but should keep a pair of flats for driving instead of high heels. There’s also a step-by-step guide on how women should exit a vehicle and retain their dignity in a ‘ladylike’ fashion.

Clearly laying down ground rules all too often ignored by today’s celebrities, it advises: ‘Smooth down your skirt. Keeping your knees together, swivel your body and swing your legs outwards. Place one foot down, keeping your knees together. Dip your head and shoulders forward and slide and glide out of the car.’

Debrett’s insist that a true gentleman is never a backseat driver. The guide states: ‘She’s in the driving seat. A chivalrous passenger is as well-behaved and polite in the car as he is when he’s out and about.’

Transporting dogs is another area where etiquette is crucial and Debrett’s lays down strict guidelines for ensuring one’s pets do not impinge on other passengers. The book suggests dogs should be carried on blankets, in the foot wells or in the boot of an estate car. But if a dog is kept on the back seat the book warns: ‘Forcing a non-animal lover into close proximity with a drooling dog is the height of bad manners.’

One piece of advice appertaining to cabbies has to be: In order to be ‘the perfect host’; drivers are encouraged to choose only music that meets their passengers’ approval and are advised to ‘keep conversation light and refreshing’.

The book also makes it clear that courteous drivers will refrain from singing along to their favourite tunes unless they are a ‘karaoke pro.’

And the book warns: ‘“Blowing your horn is just rude. Remember the white van man whose inner gentleman has lost his way.’

The new guide offers advice on a range of topics as diverse as ‘chivalry’; ‘fragrance fundamentals’; ‘forecourt manners’; ‘passenger etiquette’; and finally teaching drivers the ‘right and proper way to behave behind the wheel’.

It encourages a return to the days when chivalry among male drivers was commonplace and provides advice on how to avoid a litany of embarrassing faux pas.

Priced at £5.99 I’ll have to keep a copy in my glove compartment.

Boys from the Blackstuff

I think that I’m in the wrong game, for according to the trade body for road menders, the average cost of filling in a pothole in London is £71, those guys that you see out in all weathers drive Porches when not behind the wheel of a tarmac truck; No I don’t believe it either.

The Asphalt Industry Alliance, who publish the racy magazine title, yes you’ve guessed it Asphalt Now claim that’s the cost for each pothole which has to be filled, with an estimated 1.6 million of them in England and Wales they extrapolate a total cost will be equal to the Gross Domestic Product of a small African state to get our roads back into the 21st Century and has written to the Department of Transport seeking £100 million of emergency funding.

Unless you drive a very robust off-road vehicle, negotiating the speed humps and potholes in London compares with a skiing slalom, worthy of the winter Olympics.

The worst icy conditions for 30 years have increased the condition known as ‘freeze thaw’. As soon as water gets inside a road surface and then freezes, it expands, thus widening the crack. When the ice melts, even more water seeps inside the crack and the problem worsens during the next freeze. When the crack is wide enough, the surface collapses and you have a pothole. Record lows in temperature mean record numbers of potholes.

And why does water get beneath the surface? Aside from old age, the most frequent cause is road works, usually caused by the utility companies, who it is estimated perform two million ‘utility openings’ on our roads each year For however well a road is mended, its old and new surfaces will have inconsistencies. Experts say that by opening up a road just once, you can reduce the life of a road by up to 60 per cent.

But here is an interest thing, have you noticed that speed humps are never affected by this phenomenon?

If the councils had spent as much money and loving care on the road surface these past 25 years as they have on ‘traffic calming measures’ we may now not have a pothole every 120 yards that is estimated to be the case on London’s roads. The best solution is to resurface all roads on a regular basis, unfortunately for London a fresh topping is applied on average every 37 years.

Unfortunately having roads akin to Zimbabwe is not just an inconvenience to CabbieBlog, these holes are deadly, indeed a friend’s father died when his motor bike’s front wheel hit a pothole catapulting him headfirst into a lamppost. The local council belatedly rectified that particular hole within hours.

The cyclist’s organisation CTC logs reported potholes on its website, and unbelievably the number in one year has rocketed from 699 to 3,508.

London depends on its visitors, so we don’t want them to go the same way as Dr Foster in the children’s rhyme:

‘Dr Foster went to Gloucester in a shower of rain,
He stepped in a puddle right up to his middle and never went there again.’

A bridge [repair] too far

“Sorry Gov’nor, I’m not going south of the River” could be a cabbie’s response you will hear more frequently in the future, but blame the Highways Agency/TfL not us, for perversely they seem to be trying to divide London as never before since Roman times. Consider this, if you want to cross the Thames by road there are 11 bridges, 2 tunnels and a ferry crossing to choose from, you would have thought that was adequate.

Boris has already said that he is cancelling the building of the East London Thames crossing, presumably to free up more money for bike hire, and now we find ourselves in the position of having but one unobstructed bridge to cross the Thames.

So indulge me if you will, while I list the possible River Thames crossing points in central London:

Woolwich Free Ferry
Opened in 1889 and was the first successful attempt to cross the Thames for eastern districts. Existing boats started operating in 1963. This was probably the last time both boats worked; usually one is now out of action.

Blackwall Tunnel
The northbound tunnel was built in 1891-7 and was only the second tunnel to be completed under the Thames. The northbound tunnel will be closed from 9pm to 5am on Sunday to Friday, with traffic diverted to the southbound tunnel and southbound traffic forced to go elsewhere.

Rotherhithe Tunnel
This narrow tunnel is only suitable for a car was built in 1904-8. The top of the tunnel is 48 feet below the high water mark to allow ships to pass overhead. The tunnel is closed one or two nights a week for maintenance.

Tower Bridge
The first stone was laid by the Prince of Wales in 1881 after which its architect, Sir Horace Jones promptly died; it was then finished with detailing changed from original design in 1894. It is in fact a steel frame clothed in stone in order to support the great weight of the bascules. The bridge is currently being painted in patriotic colours for the 2012 Olympics with temporary traffic lights.

London Bridge
Positioned approximately on the site where the original Roman crossing stood. The current incumbent was completed in 1972 and replaced the elegant Georgian bridge which ended up at Lake Havasu City, Arizona. Extensive road works at the southern approach mean that all traffic going to Elephant and Castle is wasting it time using bridge.

Southwark Bridge
The current bridge was opened in 1921 replacing the original cast iron bridge, which was in its day the largest ever Cast Iron Bridge built in the world. The iron manufacturer went bankrupt in the process. After just completing the cycle lane (see Diary 31 July 2009), this was promptly dug up before the cement was dry and remains so to this day with roadworks and no northbound cycle lane.

Blackfriars Bridge
Opened by Queen Victoria in 1869 the same day she cut the ribbon for Holborn Viaduct. So unpopular was she at the time, while travelling along the Strand that day she was hissed at, she must have been exhausted after all that effort. Extensive road works and diversions due to new railway station being built across the river alongside the bridge.

Waterloo Bridge
Londoner’s favourite bridge for it affords one of the finest views of London at its centre point, was built during the last war mainly by women. A complete no go area, with road works and the Strand Underpass closed all year.

Westminster Bridge
Charles Barry (of Houses of Parliament fame) was architectural consultant when this bridge was being built in 1854-62; its 84ft between the parapets was exceptional for the time. After the renovation of this bridge, which seems to have been on-going since the old King died, has now been completed, and remarkably this bridge is now fully open.

Lambeth Bridge
Originally a horse-ferry operated here; hence the approach road goes by the name of Horseferry Road. Oliver Cromwell’s coach and horse sank on the horse ferry in 1656. The bridge was built in 1929-32 and it is painted red to denote that it is at the House of Lords end of  Parliament with their red benches, Westminster Bridge is painted green reflecting the green leather of the House of Commons leather benches at the opposite end of The Palace of Westminster. This little bridge of single 2-way traffic will have to accommodate those motorists unable to cross alternative means.

Vauxhall Bridge
This uninspired structure replaced the original bridge which was the first cast iron bridge to cross the Thames. Built in 1895-1906 the only redeeming feature is of the bronze figures on its piers depicting Pottery, Engineering, Architecture and Agriculture upstream and Science, Fine Arts, Local Government and Education downstream, view them by peering cautiously over the parapet. It remains the only major bridge in London fully open.

Chelsea Bridge
When the previous bridge was being built many human bones and Roman weapons were found while digging the foundations. The current suspension bridge was opened in 1934. How long will this pretty bridge be able to take the strain before it too has to have restoration work?

140px-Albert_Bridge_tollhouse Albert Bridge
This the most elegant and fanciful of all London’s bridges, was started in 1864 then abandoned for six years while the Government dithered about the route the Thames Embankment would take. It was finally opened in 1873. The architect Rowland Mason Ordish designed it as a rigid suspension bridge to his own patent design, but it had to be strengthened by Sir Joseph Bazalgette in 1884 when he was building the Embankment. After the Second World War the London County Council wanted to pull it down but the whole of Chelsea, led by Sir John Betjeman protested vigorously, and it was reprieved. The bridge remains as fragile as it looks, and was only open to light traffic, notices still famously demand that all troops must break step when marching over it. Two small tollbooths were built at either end by the Albert Bridge Company. The bridge is now closed for 18 months while a complete refurbishment takes place.

Battersea Bridge
Replacing an earlier wooden bridge depicted by the artist Whistler this structure designed again by Bazalgette, the engineer who also designed London’s sewer system (did that man ever sleep?) was built between 1886-90. Road works scheduled to last until October.

I’m not going to continue up river it’s just too depressing, I’ll just say that Hammersmith Bridge is also closed at weekends.

Just the ticket

[L]ike 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.”

If you should park in the centre of the road would that mean you could receive two tickets, one from each council? 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”.

For more information (and entertainment) about parking tickets go to AppealNow.com.

Navigation Master

They say good things come in twos, and this has proved to be the case for me over the Christmas period. After spending a decade denigrating SatNavs I’ve received two in as many weeks.

The first was a TomTom Live gadget, an Christmas present from my wife, bought I suspect to stop me getting lost in every town outside of London, I’ll just have to swallow my pride and use it when we’re exploring England, no more blaming the wife now, when I get lost, it’s TomTom who will get it in the ear now.

[T]hen the next week a received a telephone call and after a short conversation to tell me the news that I had won a Navigation Master SatNav from Stuart Pessok the editor of our trade newspaper (with the imaginative title of TAXI) a package arrived the next day.

Navigation Master’s screen is large measuring about 4½ inches across; much larger than my TomTom, robustly built with its own cradle and basic instructions (a full detailed instruction book is available on their website. With Bluetooth, address book, storage for music, video, photos and even e-books it doesn’t lack facilities.

My charger for use in the cab did not work, but after finding a help line number on the downloadable information sheets a simple call to arrange a meeting meant that I had my replacement charger within 30 minutes, that’s what I call customer service.

The map section is split into two with the A-Z London mapping giving three maps; A-Z Great Britain, A-Z Greater London and the iconic A-Z Central London which shows one-way streets, places of interest and all manner of information, as I have written about in this blog A-Z is among the best mapping available for cabbies, and Navigation Master with its search facility has an enormous database of thousands of entries.

When we do the Knowledge the student has to call all the roads from one point to another and the method we use to see if you’ve taken the correct route is to string a piece of cotton between two pins. If you have taken the correct route without deviation it’s said to be “on the cotton”. Similarly Navigation Master will draw a blue line between your start and finish points. It is just a matter of following the blue (or should that be yellow) brick road to your destination. The system by this simple, but effective charting of a route is only of assistance to somebody with an intimate Knowledge of London, a black cabbie in other words.

The second part of the mapping is a standard SatNav system developed by Smart to Go and produces visual and audible directions as any other SatNav. Supplied in map form, and rather over reliant on menus it’s not as easy to use as my new TomTom and traffic alerts and 3-D mapping come at an additional price. Rather disappointingly the keyboard does not follow a standard QWERTY layout unlike the A-Z section making it far more difficult to use.

But for the A-Z London map with its traffic alerts and vast database (I’ve yet to ask for one it didn’t know) this little gizmo is worth the £300 price tag. Given there are only about 14,000 possible users and already 800 devices have been sold, I would recommend that you use one as your working day will be so much easier.