Category Archives: Previously Posted

Previously Posted: In Praise of the C90

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.

In Praise of the C90 (27.03.09)

So you’re thinking of starting The Knowledge and are making a list of essentials:
Map check;
Pen and paper check;
List of routes across London check;
Book of places to find check.

But there is one essential that no self respecting knowledge boy (or girl) can do without: A Honda C90.

Stick a clipboard on the handlebars, affix a map to it and you’re away.

So successful are these bikes that the Honda Cub is the most successful motorcycle model in history, with more than 60 million sold worldwide this little bike has made a huge contribution to Honda’s sales and profit. Honda used the slogan “you meet the nicest people on a Honda” as they broke into the English speaking world (say that to a Knowledge student on a wet Sunday afternoon). It’s hardly surprising so many have been sold, with its simple 4 stroke engine, and only the most basic of controls, Honda have produced a machine that’s cheap, reliable, and easy to repair. As long as you keep the oil topped up (as learned to his cost) this bike seems to go on forever.

But the beauty for your Knowledge student lies in the bike’s manoeuvrability. Stop anywhere while checking a particular place, you don’t obstruct the traffic. Hey! You don’t even have to worry about the gears, its automatic. With its neat little white box behind the seat for sandwich/thermos (you’ll certainly need that) and other essential paraphernalia.

Believe me, a day spent on The Knowledge you could easily travel 100 miles, all for less than one gallon of petrol.

These machines work everywhere: London in the rain, in Delhi sometimes with 2 or 3 passengers, and in the heat of the African desert.

Knowledge students sometimes put clipboards the size of a kitchen table on the handlebars; I have even seen some with reading lights attached to assist night study.

But these ubiquitous little machines have the road holding of a blancmange balanced on ice, brakes with the efficiency of a child’s tricycle and can go from 0-60 in about 5 minutes with a tailwind. But the worst fault of all is they are invisible to drivers of 4x4s. These cretins of the road think these machines are push bikes and pull out in front of you as you travel at 30mph towards them, and they do not hear you coming, as one courier with a 400cc bike once said to me “you need a bit of noise to wake up those bastards”.

But for all its faults, your humble C90 will be still in production long after other volume car manufacturers have consumed all the Government handouts thrown at them and then gone bust taking their debt with them. Just like DeLorean.

One last tip: Get some warm clothes its bloody cold on a C90!

Previously Posted: Is that Marble Arch TomTom?

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.

Is that Marble Arch TomTom? (24.03.09)

It looks like L’Arc de triomphe to me.

TomTom (so good they named it twice).

In order to earn your license to operate a London Black Cab, a taxi driver has to pass a gruelling examination known as “The Knowledge” which involves memorizing every street and location of public buildings within a six mile radius of Charing Cross railway station. On top of this, we have to know some 320 specified routes through the city that include all the points of interest within a quarter of a mile of the endpoint, and know this off by heart. Think that is tough enough, well there is more: all the major routes in and out of the London suburbs need to be memorized as well. And to pass The Knowledge, and get that coveted license, we have to pass a rigorous exam which includes reciting a precise route from any two points that the examiner fancies. No wonder it can take at least three years to pass, and often very much longer. If you see people on scooters with a clipboard and map attached to the handlebars driving around London, chances are they are doing The Knowledge which can involve travelling up 26,000 miles across the City on our Honda C90’s memorizing those thousands of places of interest, all the one-way streets, no right turns, landmarks and street names.

When I did The Knowledge little did I realise that as time moved on every postcode would also have to be committed to memory. It’s these SatNavs that are to blame you see we Cabbies are constantly given only postcodes as our customers’ destination. So why do we bother with The Knowledge? After all, GPS based SatNav systems are cheap and plentiful and know all this stuff without requiring us to look like the world’s oldest pizza delivery boy. The private taxi companies, known as minicabs in the London have long since realized this. The biggest and most successful firms all have SatNav in their cars, yet according to the London Taxi Drivers’ Association less than 5 per cent of Black Cab drivers are using these devices.

Yet I cannot help but think we London Cabbies have it right: we know the streets better than just about any SatNav device. We don’t try and drive the wrong way up a one way street, we don’t think we should turn left even when it’s obvious the car isn’t going to fit down that alleyway, and we don’t get stumped when a roundabout has been constructed that isn’t yet on the map. More importantly, and this includes even the new breed of device with traffic reporting built in, we know instinctively to avoid a certain street at a certain time because a different route will be quicker.

What’s more, we know that you can get from A to B quicker via C today because of all the road works and temporary traffic lights springing up everywhere (see previous blog).

The truth is that there is more to getting around a city like London than simply knowing the street map, local knowledge is King. And if someone produced a SatNav system with mapping that was up to The Knowledge standard I would not only buy it, I would invest in the company as well. As long as it does not start lecturing me about politics and sport along the way, that is.

Now TomTom take me to the Texas Legation Memorial please and be quick about it.

PS It’s in Pickering Place SW1 just in case you wondered.

Previously Posted: Only in England

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.

Only in England (28.07.09)

At the time of writing this post there have been 528 people standing on The Plinth in Antony Gormley’s One & Other. We have had among others Lord Lucan, Elvis Presley, a gorilla and a pigeon. So far they have braved thunderstorms, torrential rain, unseasonably cold weather and heckling from patrons of nearby hostelries.

In total 2,400 Plinthers (they now have a name) will stand 23ft above Trafalgar Square protected by safety netting or is the netting to stop the public climbing up to stop them? Four security guards and a cherry picker crane helping them to the summit, carrying what props they need for their “15 minutes of fame”.

When Sir Charles Barry designed Trafalgar Square in the 1840s he included four plinths. One carries a statue of George IV while two others have statues of the generals Sir Charles James Napier and Sir Henry Havelock.

The fourth plinth, in the north-west corner, was intended to hold a statue of King William IV on horseback but the money ran out. To this day no agreement has been reached on who should be celebrated there.

True to British propensity to compromise in the mid-Nineties, the Fourth Plinth Commissioning Group was set up to fill the gap with a series of temporary art commissions, the most controversial being Marc Quinn’s sculpture, Alison Lapper Pregnant. One & Other is the site’s most ambitious project to date, and will run until October 14.

Antony Gormley’s art always seems to depict the human body has struck a blow for the ingenuity and the eccentricity of the British. This is a glorious celebration of all things British.

Previously Posted: Old Father Thames

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.

Old Father Thames (30.10.09)

As I hope CabbieBlog highlights, there’s so much of and so many things in London, but only one river. When, at the start of Three Men in a Boat, George says, “Let’s go up the river!” nobody says, “What river?” Ray Davies felt no need to identify the Thames by name when, at the start of “Waterloo Sunset”, he peevishly enquires “Dirty old river, must you keep rolling . . .”.

Until the late 19th Century, the Thames was not quite the tranquil pleasure ground it largely is today. In fact, it was more of a traffic jam. By 1700, the London quays were handling 70 per cent of the country’s imports and, in 1799, for the purpose of bringing some order to the jumble of landing places, they started to build the docks.

Now, that word “dirty”, from Ray Davies’ composition is very accurate. From the mid-19th century, toilets began to be flushed straight into the subterranean sewage pipes that had originally been built to convey rainfall into the Thames. Then, in 1859, Joseph Bazalgette began building his intercepting sewers to carry the waste to a treatment plant. But the river remained stubbornly brown because, right up until the 1960s, factories along its banks were allowed to dump waste into it.

Although Bazalgette’s improvements denied Londoner’s from having the fun of Ice Fairs on the Thames, as a consequence of the river running faster after being narrowed with the construction of Victoria Embankment, the project was a resounding success.

Other projects did not far so well:

In 1796 Willey Reveley proposed to dig a new channel nearly a mile long in order to save ships the time wasted sailing round the Isle of Dogs.

Engineer Robert Stephenson dipped his toes into the waters of the Thames, approving plans for a giant latticework of steel, to enable trains to run down the centre of the river.

Several eminent Victorians favoured a scheme to dam the river at Woolwich, thereby making the Thames a giant inner-city freshwater lake.

A more recent proposal would have involved covering the river with a concrete deck and building a 6-lane motorway over it, which if completed, would have provided many hours of entertainment when London had the spring tidal surges, that the Thames Barrier was designed to minimise.

In the spirit of daft ideas Transport for London proposed removing the Thames entirely from its Underground maps.

John Beck’s innovative London Underground map that he designed in 1931, renders the vermicelli of the various lines in the form of a diagram: a circuit board as opposed to a scale map. And therein its lower portion the Thames shepherded into neat diagonals. The map is a model of elegance and simplicity that has been imitated the world over. Then, with one click of a designer’s mouse, the Thames was no more. As with so many River Thames “projects” common sense prevailed when London’s mayor, Boris Johnston told them that the great North-South divide must remain.

Today, that North-South divide is as strong as ever. North Londoners crow about the Heath, the civilised, literary atmosphere, while South Londoners boast about . . . well, search me (but then I’m North, you see). The antithesis has always been in place and it has always been of the same order: the North is salubrious, the South much funkier.

Already in Roman times, there was a red light area to the south of the bridge, and in medieval times, Southwark was fully established as an antidote to the moneyed pieties of the City. The brothels south of the river and close to the bridge were called stewes. These stewes were indirectly licensed by the Bishops of Winchester and existed in close proximity to the houses of various leading churchmen – a sort of News of the World reporter’s dream.

Between the 13th and 18th Centuries, there were houses on London Bridge, and it’s quite captivating to think that, somewhere around the centre of the bridge, there would have been a householder who lived in North London right next door to someone who lived in South London. Of course, they wouldn’t have got on. The one to the north would have always been talking about how going to Hampstead was just like being in the countryside (and he would have had a point in, say, 1400), and the one in the south would have been banging on constantly about how he could never get a cab to take him “South of the River”.

Previously Posted: No room at the bin

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.

No room at the bin (10.04.09)

I don’t know how it happened, but I used only to put out the rubbish once a week, a simple task which took but a few minutes.

Now I have been promoted by Cabbie Wife to Chief Recycler. I spend a lot of time every week recycling rubbish. Newspapers and plastic bottles have to go in one box, but yellow pages for some inexplicable reason are unacceptable, wine bottles to go to the glass bank, not to mention leaves, cut grass and other garden waste collected separately. In the busy life of CabbieBlog it eats up between half an hour and an hour a week spent recycling.

Apparently I’m only member of the household who can perform this important task. If asked to get rid of a carton or bottle, which seldom happens, they peer at it as though they have never seen such an object before.

Millions of us have to recycle and we live in daily fear of being fined by officious council representatives for getting our bins in a muddle, putting out rubbish on a wrong day, or just putting the bins in the wrong place.

I still harbour a distant hope that in doing so I may somehow be helping the planet by ensuring that too many nasty tins and bottles aren’t buried in Britain’s green and pleasant land and thereby stopping polar bears drown in the Arctic.

According to Peter Jones, an expert on waste, who advises the Mayor of London, “the global warming impact of putting material through an incinerator five miles down the road is actually less than recycling it 3,000 miles away”. So there you have it, fewer greenhouse gases are produced if you burn rubbish locally than if you sort it and send it halfway around the world.

Now as a result of the current precarious state of the world’s economy, there is a collapse in the market value of recyclable waste and many waste disposal firms are having to stockpile paper, metals and plastics in vast warehouses because they are unable to sell them on. This means that the rubbish I spend hours struggling to sort out every day may, in fact, never be recycled because it is not economic to do so.

The Government and local councils are fully aware of the shortcomings of recycling, and yet they do not share their reservations with us. They seek to impose ever more draconian penalties. We have to do what we are told, whereas many councils do as they choose by collecting kitchen rubbish once a fortnight, as opposed to once a week, as used to be the rule. So we are bullied and intimidated and threatened by the authorities who, meanwhile, have the nerve to set aside their own traditional obligations. I have recently received a letter with a veiled threat of prosecution under the Environmental Protection Act 1990. Yet they know that recycling is a very imperfect process, and use the law to ensure that we carry it out on pain of a fine, one can only conclude that they love ordering our lives to the tiniest degree.

Most of us would cheerfully give up our time to recycle if we thought it was beneficial to the environment. But it is impossible to respect a Government that privately acknowledges the shortcomings of recycling – and whose adviser openly expresses his doubts – while it treats a small infraction in our kitchens as a crime.