Category Archives: Thinking allowed

Electric Ink Stained Fingers

I started the CabbieBlog more than 13 years ago. Over the years, it has had over a million visitors and I’m very proud of it. Nobody told me the whole thing would be so much fun.

This post, on my approach to blogging, was originally published in September 2009 and I have updated it to reflect current practices and fix outdated information.

Write often

When I started, I tried to write twice a week. Nowadays, with more time on my hands, I now post every day.

Keep a notepad handy

I use the Pocket to capture links; ideas, to-do items get updated to Google Tasks. When I actually sit down to write, I’ve usually got two or three ideas to hand and a bunch of links to explore. It’s useful to have a few stub posts ready to expand or edit in case you don’t have time to write a long piece.

Have time to write

For me, that’s most of the day.

Variety, variety

I prefer to do posts of different lengths and styles to give CabbieBlog a degree of energy. I like to run longer, more formal articles and interviews as well as more personal observations, London trivia and quotes along with ‘humourous’ Dr Johnson’s London. One of the pleasures of the blog is that I don’t have an editor who tells me what to write or how to write it. To this extent, blogging is a playground for me.

Contribute to the conversation

There are an awful lot of sheep on the Internet. With nearly 600 million blogs in cyberspace, comprising 2.5 billion posts with 7 million uploaded every day (up from 60m when I started), you really want to try and be a sheepdog. In my opinion, it’s important to say something new and something interesting to contribute that the conversation.

Just be yourself

Some of the best blogs are the ones that are unique, idiosyncratic, and highly personal. The extraordinary thing about the blogosphere is that whatever you write about, there is an audience for it.

Show your face

I think it’s good to put a picture of yourself (see my caricature), your e-mail address, or at least a means to contact, and a little bit of biographical information about yourself on your blog. Sometimes a nom-de-plume is preferred but turns your blogging alter ego into a ‘real’ person too. Might I direct you to Diamond Geezer, The Gentle Author and Bug Woman?

Get the technology right

If you’re serious about blogging, you need to have a proper website address and not one from a free blogging company. I use WordPress software. Consider using WordPress as a host, for self-hosting you have these additional expenses: domain name, web hosting, WordFence to protect from hacking, yearly costs of a digital certificate, WP Rocket to improve speed optimization and a decent Theme.

Plug into the blogosphere

The easiest way to build traffic is to comment appropriately on other sites of similar interest. The blogosphere is a reciprocal sort of place. Link their blogs and they might read and link to yours. Critical to all this is a good newsreader like Newsify with a good selection of sites.

Linking and loving

I’ve always been impressed by people who reply when I comment on their blogs. Surprisingly, the blogs that I am ‘closest’ to in terms of mutual sympathy and mutual linking are also the ones who are, on the face of it, my ‘competitors.’ They write about the similar stuff I write about. Actually, though there’s no real competition and finding your online community is a good way to start building a reader base.

Regular readers rule

Occasionally, you’ll produce a post that goes ballistic. I’ve had nearly 2,000 visitors a day on occasion. Reddit or some other site picks up a post and you’re away. Only a fraction of those people stay and subscribe. It’s very exciting when it happens but what matters is the number of people who keep coming back, who comment, who link to your site and who enjoy what you write. Write for yourself first, the harder you try to get the traffic monster, the more elusive it becomes so I sort of forget about trying and they keep happening.

Use pictures

Pictures, cartoons and illustrations are essential. Just imagine reading your favourite magazine if there were no pictures.

A good picture illustrates the point you are making and draws in readers. You can use your photos but, failing that, pick good stock photography from sites like my go-to for Creative Commons Images Geograph.

Write for the screen

Be conscious of how people read on computer screens. The use of a theme that can cope with mobile phone screens is essential.

Write strong headlines

Headlines are important because most people read blogs using RSS readers and use headlines to decide whether to read the whole post, hence today’s splash – Electric Inky Fingers. (My favourite: man bites robotic dog).

Give people different ways to read

Make the online visit easy to read – don’t go for crazy colours or unreadable fonts. I use 13.5pt Lato, with a line height of 1.6, described by its designer as “[the typeface has] a feeling of warmth, while the strong structure provides stability and seriousness”, which seems, in my mind, to describe a London cabbie. Lato is a sans-serif typeface designed in 2010 for a Polish bank by Łukasz Dziedzic. When it came to paying for it, the bank said it was too expensive and Dziedzic was left with a type family that he didn’t know if it was marketable. So he released it in 2015 under a SIL Open Font License. The name ‘Lato’ is Polish for summer, the name perfectly fits this warm-feeling sans-serif. As of August 2018, Lato is used on more than 9.6 million websites, including Starbucks and Miss Vogue, it is the third most served font on Google Fonts, with over one billion views per day. CabbieBlog’s headings are now displayed in Raleway Extra Bold, which perfectly complements the text. Many bloggers overlook email but try to offer an email subscription option if you can. For personal blogs, WordPress give a perfectly efficient free email subscription.

Avoid detritus

I would avoid the icon clutter that some blogs display when they try to accommodate every single blog reader and every single news aggregator. It’s your site, not a billboard for other people’s.

Schedule blog upgrade days

Maintaining a blog is not just about writing content. I try to dedicate a day every two to three months to upgrading the site itself. This means recategorising posts, checking for broken links, updating plugins, implementing new features and other engineering stuff. I know just about enough HTML and coding to tinker with a site’s template but not enough to build a new template. However, there are plenty of people who can help with this stuff and one way to stand out from the crowd is to have a unique site design as well as unique content.

Market your blog

Occasionally people ask me to contribute to their sites, perhaps with by-lined articles or interviews. For example, I used to write a weekly post for Radio Taxis and have contributed to numerous magazines, books and podcasts. This brought in a nice stream of new visitors who are interested in London, and London’s cabbies. I also make an effort to comment on sites and posts that are relevant to my readers and my areas of interest. This is probably the main form of blog marketing. It takes time but it pays long-term dividends. I still get new visitors from comments I wrote six months ago. However, the comments have to be appropriate, useful and link to a relevant page on my site. Comment spamming is naughty.

And finally . . .

Then there is the old fashioned kind of discipline, writing regularly posting at regular intervals and enjoying the ride.


To try to garner votes for the upcoming local elections they intend to have a blitz on litter. After leaving our streets untouched for three months they will be cleaned in the run-up to May. They must think we’re daft to fall for that one.

Lack of cabs

After the murder of Sarah Everard, London’s Mayor vowed to protect women when travelling around the city. At the same time, Sadiq Khan has taken 9,000 perfectly serviceable cabs off the road. By my calculations that means nearly half-a-million fewer available journeys per week. Just saying.

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.

Norf v Sarf

Is London still a city of two halves, divided transversely by the Thames, are its two sides still fundamentally different and can you successfully move from north to south and vice versa?

First I have to declare an element of prejudice, I’m a London cabbie who was born in Fitzrovia and grew up in one of the city’s most northerly and leafy suburbs.

Historically, it’s easy to see why we are a city of two unequal halves both in landmass, wealth and transport. The South was easily flooded marshland, so was filled with factories and cheap workers’ homes. The North had hills and therefore attracted the rich, who love a vista.

With a measly 29 stations, compared with 241 on the other side of the Thames (at September 2020) southerners have slim pickings. The Northern line at least extends as far as Zone 4, but otherwise, the Jubilee, Bakerloo, District and Victoria lines all make half-arsed efforts at serving south London. It’s often said that the Underground didn’t venture into south London because of the dangers from digging up 17th plague pits or that the gravel beds made tunnelling uneconomic. The reason is far more prosaic. The majority of mass plague graves are north of the river and they proved no obstacle to the growth of the tube running far beneath them, the real reason comes down to cold, hard capitalism. When the first private tube companies began operating after 1863, they focused on north London, where there was more opportunity.

Naturally, the South has more pubs, but most of the theatres lie north of the River.

The accents of Londoners from either half are different, too, and their homes look different; shorter and squatter in the south, taller and of deeper red brick in the north.

But then it starts to get really complicated because the Victorians developed grander areas – Brixton and Clapham which had large semi-detached residences, but just as the south was taking off World War II caused housing shortages and created subdivided homes, which meant the larger properties got poorer.

And then it got really complicated, and bear with me on this one, because the north holds both the east and the west, not the south, and as the city’s core emptied out after the war, Londoners moved east and south but not west, which made it as expensive as the north.

In other words, you’re still either a north or south person. But looking to the future, the south has more potential. It has Bermondsey, Borough, Bankside and plenty of other wealthy enclaves, but is still straddled with vast swathes of social housing, while in the north, due to the paucity of two-up-two-downs prices for these Victorian terraces – even with more working from home – are going through the roof.

The ongoing tragedy for either side is that the areas that really need improving remain in a deplorable cycle of poverty, pulled back and forth by market forces, while prosperous roads have more builders’ skips outside than you can shake a stick at.