Category Archives: Puppydog tails

Underground alphabet

Here are six almost random Underground stations and their related trivia.

Belsize Park
Don’t believe the signs telling you how many steps there are, a lot of them are wrong: the biggest discrepancy being at Belsize Park, it has a sign claiming that the stairs have 219 steps, but there are actually 189. It’s not clear why they lie about it.

Chalk Farm
Chalk Farm is not named after some old chalk farm, but rather a more boring corruption of ‘Chalcot Farm’, called ‘Chaldecot(e) in 1253 the name probably derives from ‘cold bleak cottages’ that dotted the slopes of a hill here.

On Comic Relief Day 2014, supporting the charity, staff at Oval station put up a special Underground roundel in the shape of an oval, it was also the first railway station to employ electrified tracks on the London Underground.

Named Queen’s Road originally because Queen Victoria was born nearby, but people thought that ‘lacked distinctiveness’, so was changed. Its entrance is in Bayswater and Bayswater’s entrance is it Queensway.

St John’s Wood
Is the only station on the London Underground which does not contain any of the letters in the word ‘mackerel’, though that is only because Saint always appears as St, and because Hoxton is on the London Overground but not the Underground.

Uxbridge used to have three railway stations – Uxbridge Vine Street (originally just called Uxbridge Station), Uxbridge High Street, and Uxbridge Belmont Road, all these have now closed, replaced by the Underground. Being the final or first station on the line, depending on your direction of travel. It has a tunnel designed to mirror the one at Cockfosters at the opposing end of the line.

If you haven’t already guessed these six tube station names include every letter of the alphabet.

CHalk FarM
ST. John’s WOoD

Ten things Londoners never do

As we start the season of ‘budget tourism’ here are some hints of how not to look like you’re a visitor to London. Well, apart from that old chestnut of what side to stand when travelling on an escalator.

Converse with a cabbie

If you decide to take a ride in a black cab, don’t ask the driver’s opinion of that precocious Swede Greta Thunberg. At £55,000 the electric cab is near twice the price its predecessor was a few years ago. In an attempt to make London the world’s greenest city, perfectly serviceable cabs are being ‘retired’ and replaced by luxury electric limousines.

Join the queue

That popular tourist hot-spot, the waxwork emporium on the Marylebone Road where thousands queue outside waiting for a chance to take a selfie with Michael Jackson or David Beckham, not with Rolf Harris who curiously is now absent. Those possessed with forward-planning have even stumped up extra to bypass the queue, little do they realise the highlight of the visit is mingling with others while standing in the most polluted place in London. This busy road has three-and-a-half times the EU limit for nitrogen dioxide, a toxic gas linked to asthma, lung infections and other respiratory problems, in fact, the Baker Street/Marylebone Road junction has no equal, it’s a chance to really take home a long-lasting London souvenir – emphysema.

We’re just are not interested

Don’t ask what the Royals are up to, where they live or ask if they have met. The newspapers talk of little else, as Harry and Meghan changed their domicile to the cooler climes of our colonial cousins, insisting we don’t mention them, or their Instagram posts.

Eat 1960 culinary delights

Described in the Guardian by David Mitchell as “rarer than the Siberian tiger, all that we have left of a proud heritage of serving shoe leather with béarnaise sauce to neon-addled out-of-towners”. Only tourists would be wooed by that red light district-esque glow, order a very OK ribeye and have the whole of Leicester Square ogle you through your floor-to-ceiling glass cage, followed by that perennial favourite, Black Forest gateau, go there to experience the last vestige of the British tradition of culinary incompetence.

Enjoy the authentic London climate

Queue up to get an upper seat on a tourist bus. Sit in the rain in your complimentary, and monogrammed, thin plastic cape, whilst advertising the bus operator, enjoying the bracing rain driven by the latest hurricane with a curious moniker.

Experience Magnificent Desolation

Buzz Aldrin’s description of the moon could be a metaphor for the Emirate Air Line, that Boris vanity project offering overpriced cable car trips from one deserted east London location to another wasteland. But tourists can use it to get away from the crowds.

Walk on the wrong side of the street

Look, Londoners never walk down the east end of Oxford Street. Most locals probably don’t know about the pop-up shops that proliferate this end of the street. Bootleg counterfeit perfume, Union Flag suitcases, Beatles condoms and Harry and Meghan mugs, or for the less discerning, Prince Andrew pizza cutters.

Take selfish selfies

Whatever do not try to have your picture taken beside the Queen’s Guards. They have a job and tradition to maintain. At the most inappropriate moment could start walking over you should you impede their progress. At Trafalgar Square, there are floating Yodas just waiting for the hapless tourist to be photographed for the price or their next beer.

Be taken for a ride

So you’ve been to see Mama Mia! Now you need to get back to your hotel. There are a plethora of choices: cab; bus; tube; walk; or a Boris bike. But there is one Londoners would never use – rickshaws. These Chinese takeaways have absolutely no regulatory checks, but I suppose these would be of little use when experiencing fission of fear being transported up a one-way street against the traffic flow.

Enunciate correctly

Cockneys might be famous for not having an ‘H’ in their vocabulary, but for everyone else its ‘CE’ that’s absent. All the words that contain it: Leicester Square, Gloucester Place, Worcester Park. Nope, those two letters don’t really exist.

London’s Number One Cabbie

James ‘Jimmy’ Michael Howe entered his profession in 1884, driving horse-drawn vehicles, better known as Hansom Cabs, around London. He had the distinction of being the regular driver for Leopold Rothschild, whose home in west London is now the Gunnersbury Park Museum.

He was been very successful, this could have resulted from his association with Lord Rothschild. Howe had been one of the first proprietors (someone who owned a vehicle and not just rented) to engage with petrol vehicles, in addition at one time he owned a fleet of 13 Hansom cabs and 33 horses.

In 1904, the Metropolitan Police licensed the first motor cab, a French-built Prunel, this vehicle was driven by 34-year-old James Howe. In 1933, now in failing health, in recognition of becoming London’s first motor cab driver, he was given badge number 1, presented to him by police commissioner Lord Trenchard at the end of his illustrious career.

Following his death on Christmas Day at his home in Hammersmith, aged 64 his obituary in the Daily Mirror erroneously stated that he was London’s first taxicab driver, but as his Prunel had no taximeter installed, this clearly was not the case. The taximeter, installed today in all of London’s legal cabs, had been successful in Berlin. It would be a recession, caused in part by the Boer War, and the advent of the petrol-driven vehicle, that it was felt, could give customers greater confidence in using a vehicle that had the fare metered.

Although electric cabs had been trialled a few years earlier, these proved impractical. Howe’s cab was the first to be powered by petrol, and the only one in London for several months. Soon the London Cab Driver’s Trade Union were embracing the new technology and running classes for horse cabmen and teaching them the basics of motor car driving from their premises in Gerrard Street. Two years later Jimmy had been joined by 18 others.

Today, all 24,000 licensed cab drivers carry a green badge with a unique number.

Apart from his success, Jimmy Howe seems to have led an eventful life. His wife left him in 1913, taking all the furniture, after falling for a man who had placed a ‘wife wanted’ advert in the local newspaper. Jimmy did not see his wife again until 1920 when Mrs Howe appeared in court on bigamy charges.

Three years later, Howe was sued for damages after his taxi cab plummeted into a hole on the Uxbridge Road.

Dozens of fellow cabbies drove to the funeral to pay their respects. “We called him ‘Up-Hendon’,” one of them told the press, “because if you asked him where he was off to, he’d answer ‘just going up Hendon-way'”.

Taken from London’s First Taxi Driver published by the Londonist with additional information from Abstracts of Black Cab Lore by Sean Farrell.