Category Archives: Thinking allowed

Anorak Alert

Today I came across Transport for London’s licensing information. The website promises to keep me informed about ‘How licences fees are invested, weekly licence issues, vehicles inspections and licence checks’. With a heading like that, I could hardly resist checking it out, and for me if nobody else, it makes for interesting reading.

But first the data:

Licensed
Cabbies
Black
Cabs
Public Hire
Drivers
Public Hire
Vehicles
Year
201024,91422,44559,19149,355
201125,07022,55861,20050,663
201225,33623,09964,06353,960
201325,46022,16866,97549,854
201425,53822,81065,65652,811
201525,23222,50078,69062,724
201624,87021,759101,43478,139
201724,48721,300117,71287,409
201823,82621,026113,64587,921
201923,15920,136106,77788,113
202022,33718,504111,76694,712
Transport for London: For the week ending 1 November 2020

Unfortunately I could not find any licensing figures before 2010.

Commendably, even during these testing times, this information is updated every week, informing me that 28 cabbies, for various reasons, surrendered their Bill (licence), while only 4 gained their driver’s licence. This means that seven times more cabbies are leaving than joining the ranks.

More significantly taxi vehicle licences (ie the number of cabs that could be driven around London plying for hire) decreased by 280 on the previous week, probably due to the 15-year rule, while there were only 9 new licences issued for cabs.

Conversely, private hire vehicle licences decreased by 819, but 199 decided their car could become a ‘cab’, far less of a reduction in the number of black cab vehicles.

Unfortunately, I could not find any statistics earlier than 2010, and I couldn’t be bothered to raise a Freedom of Information Request.

Looking at the decade’s figures you find that in 2010 there were 1,111 more vehicles than cabbies to drive them around London. By 2020 this has been reversed with more cabbies than there were vehicles by almost the same number at 1,138. Now, this could be drivers ‘doubling up’ to share a vehicle, this can be discounted as 10 years ago renting a cab at ‘half flat’ was a common practice. My unscientific conclusion is that the Mayor’s scrapping of older vehicles has left many retaining their Bill, but not working or wishing to rent or buy.

Another obvious comparison is with the rise of private hire drivers compared with a decline in cabbies. Twenty-fifteen saw an explosion in private hire licenses being issued from 78,690 to 101,434. That same period witnessed the first decline in cabbies, from a high of 25,232, just short of the all-time high the previous year, to 24,870.

This decline in the number of cabbies plying for hire in London coincided with Sadiq Khan becoming the Mayor of London four months later on 9th May 2016. From that, you cannot prove causation, but his appointment does coincide with what could prove to be the start of the Black Cabbie’s terminal decline.

Shades of Grey

Writing earlier this week about my Mission Statement and blogging in general, it occurred to me that this form of writing and communicating has become a generational malarkey.

But first, let me take you to the halcyon days of blogging when we would get invited to anything from book launches to private viewings to places not normally open to the public.

One such invite (in fact twice to this location) was to the BT Tower. Once to witness the launch of BT’s new home modem. Quite what that had to do with CabbieBlog I’ve never understood.

The other invitation was for bloggers (or influencers in their parlance), to listen to a talk by Leo Hollis author of The Phoenix: The Men Who Made Modern London.

Now, here’s the thing. Having been shot up by lift to the top of the BT Tower, the organiser stepped forward to ask if I was the speaker. I realised later his mistake was due to my age. I was, like Leo Hollis in my 50s, while everyone else was in their 20s.

And this is how blogging has changed. In the nascent years of blogging, much of this fraternity had just left university. Now many good blogs, and plenty of crap ones, by this group have fallen by the wayside, I suppose they now have more important demands on their life.

Today the Millennials don’t want to write long-form posts when a Facebook or Instagram picture is sufficient, as they say, a picture is worth a thousand words.

Now many who take the time to respond to my twice-weekly missives are – how shall I put this? – Not in their first flush of youth.

Now, this could be that my sedentary posts appeal to others of my age group. Writing such riveting subjects as ‘Just where was London’s first door number?’ probably wouldn’t appeal to many under 40.

With a little research (checking out the internet) I’ve discovered that 10 years ago, when I was ascending the BT Tower, the average age of bloggers fell in the 21-35 range, uploading over half of all posts. Conversely, those between 51-65 of age accounted for just 7.1 per cent of posts.

Today with a new post uploaded every 0.5 seconds, the same body of researchers found those over 60 now account for 20 per cent of uploads, nearly three times those of 10 years ago.

From which you can extrapolate that somewhere in the world, every 2½ seconds (or 34,560 times a day) someone in carpet slippers, wearing comfortable, sensible clothing, is peering through their bifocals uploading a post.

Mission Statement

When I started blogging in the summer of 2008, Twitter was only months old, few read Mark Zuckerberg’s status updates and TikTok hadn’t ticked.

At that time, and using a now-defunct platform, I was curious as to what all the talk was about, thinking it was just publishing words on the internet. And it turns out I was right, except today there are 500 million blogs, with over 2 million posts each with words in them uploaded every day. In fact, one-third of websites in the world are blogs and the Merriam-Webster dictionary even proclaimed blog ‘Word of the Year’.

No-one is listening

But if you want your blog to have influence, then I’m afraid you are sadly deluded. Your blog is nothing but an insignificant pebble on the online beach, casting an unnoticed ripple across the face of the internet. No blog ever single-handedly overthrew a government (some have tried), spawned a successful TV series, or stopped London’s cabbies expressing their opinion. Blogs with ten thousand visitors a day or their book deal go unnoticed by the rest of the human race. My wife has never read my blog, and my next-door neighbour doesn’t even know it exists.

The one thing that most bloggers crave is recognition, even if that is from a niche audience. Write about fashion for female millennials and your name could be on the lips of the world’s media by the middle of next week. It’s all just a matter of your raw talent being noticed, your opinions heeded and your creative skill recognised, but usually only amongst your peer group.

Original content

Now, if you want your blog to be recognised, you need to provide original content. It’s no good just regurgitating funny stories from the newspapers, or linking to all the same new gadgets like everyone else, or endlessly mouthing off about your journey to work. You need something fresh, something new, something different. This is quite difficult to achieve. Virtually every blog post that could be written already has been covered. How many times have you read a post about the Noses of Soho, London’s narrowest alley or how Pall Mall got its name? But there’s always a new angle if you look hard enough, and originality always shines through.

If you want your blog to be recognised, you need to write regularly. This doesn’t necessarily mean several times a day, or even several times a week, but you do need to post new content often enough to ensure that potential readers don’t walk away. If they’re going to make the effort to come and see you, you need the dedication to communicating consistently. They’ll forgive you a fortnight’s holiday incommunicado. They won’t desert in droves if you fail to post a 1,000-word essay tomorrow morning. They’ll even come back after a month of nothing much while you concentrate on having a life, as long as the break generates a unique post. But start apologising for your long breaks, or announcing that you’re off on a ‘hiatus’ until the muse returns, and there’ll soon be nigh nobody left reading.

Regular posts

I try exceptionally hard to blog regularly. I like to post every Tuesday, Friday and Sunday. It’s a ridiculous self-imposed target I know, but I like a challenge, regular blogging isn’t for everyone, but for me, it’s the perfect motivational tool.

Eclectic posts

You’ll need your own niche. It really helps if people can sum up your raison d’être in a single short phrase, CabbieBlog’s prosaic strapline is ‘Taxi Talk Without Tipping’. That blog about Arsenal, the one by the ambulance driver, the girl who writes about rampant sex, the outpourings of a single-minded political pedant all know and write for their often limited audience. If you have your own niche, like-minded souls will gravitate towards you. Be distinctive, and you’re more likely to get yourself noticed. It’s much harder to make a name for yourself if your blog is more of a scattergun affair – a bit of family life one day, a news review the next and then a week of holiday photos. If being popular matters to you, prepare to make a tough decision about which of your diverse interests you should focus on and which can be safely sidelined. I’m always willing to try something new. London Trivia’s embryonic life started in July 2009 as a series of tweets and found its way to Sunday’s regular post. At the start of the year, I started to whinge every Wednesday but inevitably ran out of complaints, so that post will be dropped at the end of the year.

My blog isn’t easily pigeonholed. Sure I write a lot about being a cabbie, but actually, I write about London as well.

Counting visitors

My first blog had a ‘hit’ counter which pleased me greatly until I realised it was counting my incursions onto the site. But who was the other visitor, and why had they come, and importantly where had they come from? I was hooked already. And, you’ll not be surprised to hear, I’ve been keeping a careful eye on my daily number of blog visitors ever since. It’s yet another method of gauging feedback on what I write (never mind the comments, count the footfall), and I smile so long as the general trend remains slightly upward, which since returning to WordPress hosting has put CabbieBlog in a promising trajectory.

Tracking statistics are also an extremely useful way of discovering where one’s visitors are coming from. Maybe a direct hit from another blog that’s linked to your latest post. Maybe the occasional arrival from another blog where you’ve just been added to the sidebar, although blogrolls are regarded as rather passé these days. But most likely a random appearance via a Google search. Ah yes, how we love to see what strange combinations of words have been leading Googlers to our door. But it’s not so useful for the Googler. They’d been trying to track down Oval to Paddington by cab and unsurprisingly they ended up on CabbieBlog instead, disgruntled and unsatisfied. Search engines may bring visitors, but they rarely deliver long-term readers.

Stats trackers therefore vastly overestimate the number of readers your blog is getting. And this can be quite depressing. There you are celebrating getting 50 hits on your blog, but it turns out that 40 of them never meant to be there in the first place and didn’t hang around when they arrived. Proper readers, ones that keep coming back for more, are like gold dust.

But there’s been a change recently, and I’m left wondering whether stats tracking sites might instead be seriously underestimating the number of viewers that blogs are getting. It’s Bloglovin’, Feedly and The Old Reader, RSS feeds that’s to blame – the cunning technology whereby people can read your posts without reading your blog. My viewer numbers almost double if I add in the number of people subscribed to my blog feed and in addition, CabbieBlog has over 140 Bloglovin’ followers. Once subscribed, viewers don’t have to keep checking the blog to see if anything new they want to read has been written, they can find out remotely. It’s very convenient, but it can be a bit annoying for the blogger. Just spent ages tweaking your blog’s layout and design? RSS readers won’t notice, because they’re only reading your individual posts. Just updated your blogroll? They won’t spot that either, nor all of the incisive comments that others are making on your posts. Hell, there could even be a photo of a naked vicar in your sidebar and they’d never notice. Which is a shame. RSS brings enormous opportunities, and I’ve become a keen user of this new functionality. But reliance on blog feeds also cuts social ties and has started to diminish hard-won feelings of an online community.

Blogging is becoming a conveyor belt churning out content, which is then reassembled and reproduced elsewhere. You may have control over what you write, but you no longer have control over how it’s read. Your latest post might well reappear inside Facebook, or within some other portal. It might be shamelessly stolen by a spam blog and reproduced without credit. Much too much to read, far too little time, your blog is almost certainly being viewed, but is it actually being read?

It’s good to talk

The first blogs were one-way affairs where the webmaster wrote something and others read it. Sometimes they wrote a little and sometimes they wrote a lot, but it was always just bunged up on the screen for others to digest. If you wrote a polemical post about, say, the London Mayor, its something I find hard to resist, you’d not really have much of a clue about what people thought of it. Neither would your readers get the chance to add their voice to your thoughts.

The ability to comment has made a huge difference in blogging. Blogging need not be one-way traffic, it can be a two-way conversation. It’s content plus comment.

Every post I publish is, in some way, an experiment in feedback. Will this post get any comments at all? If I ask my readers about Facebook, will they ever shut up? And if I accidentally make a factual error, who will be the first to chip in and point it out? I love the fact that my readers might, or might not, make comments on what I write, and give constructive criticism. Often the comments are the best bit of the blog, adding depth and additional facts that I never knew, and that you probably didn’t either.

Of course, just because a blog invites comment doesn’t necessarily mean that anybody will. Lack of comments doesn’t necessarily equate with lack of interest, as I’ve found out when I wrote about Welsh dairies. At first, nobody bothered to write, now years after publishing I’m still receiving communications. Commenting requires effort on behalf of the reader, and readers aren’t always known for their effort. Commenting may require reloading the page (“can’t be bothered”). It may require typing in some nigh illegible validation script (“can’t be bothered”). It may require registering (“really can’t be bothered”). And it always relies on someone being motivated enough to think of something worth commenting about in the first place. Only a tiny proportion of a blog’s readership ever get round to commenting, which can be a bit of a problem when readership is low. There’s little more dispiriting on a brand new blog than month after month of posts reading 0 comments – because it’s the comments that will (one day) tell you what people really think.

I’ve been lucky – I’ve managed to build up a veritable army of regular and semi-regular commentators over the years (and only a very few of them have been nutters spouting irrelevant drivel). My commenting community has evolved as readers arrived, lingered and moved on, and it’s very different now to the group it was three or four years ago, they are more regular and I suspect more older. But this blog wouldn’t be half as interesting without you, so thanks, because every comment, or just hitting the ‘like’ button counts.

(And yes, I know, I really ought to comment on your blog more often. We all should.)

When I started blogging over a decade ago, I had no idea what I was letting myself in for, I thought I’d have a go at starting one of those new-fangled bogathongs, signed up to the defunct Blog platform, using the name ‘Cabbie’, which transmogrified into Cabbieblog. Later I moved to WordPress and adopted Gibson Square as my pseudonym and later the domain name CabbieBlog.com came on the market, which I snapped up.

Long term commitment

I sometimes wonder how different the last 13 years might have been if I hadn’t started a blog that day. I’d have had a heck of a lot more spare time for a start, probably adding up to thousands and thousands of hours by now. I suspect I’d just have sat at home and surfed the internet wondering why there was so much crap there. But I didn’t. I joined in, I got involved.

Blogging, done properly, enhances your life. If there’s something you desperately want to tell the world you can get it out of your system, even if nobody’s listening. It’s a particularly cathartic tool for cabbies fed up with giving their opinion to their unresponsive passengers. Blogging gives us an outlet, with the ever-present possibility of feedback. It’s also somewhere to show off one’s literary talents, such as they are, under-practised since your English teacher used to set your essays for homework many moons ago. And a blog is a useful foothold in cyberspace, an online headquarters from which to reach out to others. If they ever want to communicate with you, now they know where to come.

And there have been a few other unique experiences I’d never have had without blogging. I’ve had some articles published in Time Out, appeared on BBC2, written for an in-house cabbie magazine and am now in the process of writing a book, which hopefully will be published by Michael Joseph next year.

I’m glad I started CabbieBlog, and wish I’d started it earlier. I’ve discovered so much more about London that even The Knowledge didn’t show me. I’ve constructively filled time that I’d otherwise have frittered away. And I’ve found a way of being creative online that other people actually appear to appreciate Blogging’s not just publishing words on the internet, oh no. It’s so much more than that.

Early days

The first post I wrote was ‘Make a cuppa and do The Knowledge’ it was 442 words long and I knocked it off in a few minutes. Today I try to change the length of posts, the last – Red and Dead – was completed in under an hour and comprised 689 words. This piece by contrast amounts to 2,618 words long, changing the length of posts gives the site a kind of vibrancy.

The best blogs reflect the thoughts and interests of the author. They muse on life’s daily struggle and cultivate grand ideas. They’re written for the love of it. And they take time and effort to produce. Quite a considerable amount of time, in some cases. Never, under any circumstances, should a blogger ever tot up the total amount of time they spend blogging because it’ll be out of all proportion to any returns gained. All those hours, or even days, spent tapping away on the keyboard to produce interesting content. And for what?

Blogging isn’t worth it, materially speaking. It might get you noticed in the media, briefly, but it probably won’t. It might make you some money, but probably only peanuts. It’s something you should always do for yourself, and not for others.

I try hard to keep as much of my blog as original as possible. I research the topic, form an opinion and use my experience of driving a cab to produce an – hopefully – informed post. I don’t sit around waiting for speculative press releases to arrive in my inbox and then copy them. My voice cannot be bought, although I publish clearly marked guest posts. I enjoy being experimental, and I love playing around with the conventions of presentation and formatting. I always reply to those who have taken the time to write a comment. I could drone on and on about the problems of being a cabbie. But why bother? There are plenty of message boards out there to have a whinge.

So there you have it, CabbieBlog’s Mission Statement.

Pseudonyms and Me

The concept of anonymity has always held a special enchantment for some people, and, for others, it is purely practical. London authors J. M. Barrie, George Orwell, E. L. James and Charles Dickens all were or used pseudonyms, in fact, the literary world is full of nom de plumes.

Suspicious minds

Yet while author pen names are an accepted reality of the literary world, blogging under a pseudonym often garners criticism and suspicion.

Blogging pseudonomically is often regarded as being secretive and hiding oneself behind a shield of cowardice, whether you write polemical pieces or not.

Some of London’s most informed bloggers write anonymously. Going Underground’s Annie Mole is an underground writer in more than one sense of the word; William Wallace at London Is Cool is hardly a revolutionary bent on self-rule; as far as I know, Diamond Geezer doesn’t work in Hatton Garden; conversely the Tired of London blog is written by the real Tom Jones, while the Welsh Warbler started life with a different moniker; Scarlett London would have been very fortunate to be so named for someone writing a London lifestyle blog; Brian Pigeon flies off the odd humous piece about our avian friends; the Gentle Author lives up to his name writing with authority about Spitalfields; and your humble scribe’s pseudonymous identity Gibson Square owes its origin from the first run on The Knowledge.

Lost in space

Using a memorable name has a real impact on the blogs themselves. A blog that has built up a brand name will normally be easier to find if you search online for that brand, but difficult to find if you search for the human name of the writer, who could forget Annie Mole rather than Mecca Ibrahim?

Depending on your desire to write publicly will determine whether you disclose your real name. Looking through Feedspot’s ‘Top 100 London Blogs & Websites by London Bloggers in 2020’ a curious list that puts Diamond Geezer at 41, while many dormant sites are ranked higher. Of those ranked (CabbieBlog is at 66), more than 35 are ‘lifestyle’ bloggers written by young women eager to put their name out on the bloggersphere.

So why does the media always need our persona whenever they write about bloggers or surround our blog names in single quotes.

Material girls

As far as I’m concerned those using their identity do so for several reasons: to produce an income; a motivation to become ‘famous’, hence the lifestyle sites; the blog connects to another part of their lives, or they are writing to build more connections with friends or influence their boss; they can also reference their blog in conversation: “Did you like my last post?” “Did you see how many ‘likes’ I’ve accumulated?” “Just look at my blog’s ranking.”

When I’m 64

I think it must mainly be age-related, millennials are accustomed to the social media and having their lives out in cyberspace, while anyone born before the turn of the century is more reluctant to be noticed.

 

 

Annie Mole
Brian Pigeon
Diamond Geezer
Scarlett London
The Gentle Author
Tom Jones
William Wallace

I’ve lost my Trust

Returning from a break in Dorset, surely the most quintessential of English counties, on the doormat was my annual subscription to the National Trust. I have been a member for at least 40 years and this year is the only time not one of the Trust’s properties has been visited by us.

The letter magnanimously informed me that due to COVID-19 the subscription had remained at last year’s rates (£126), but valued members were essential to ‘keep on caring for the places, collections and nature that unite and sustain us all’.

Over the years a trip to an NT property, with a scone for lunch, has been a regular day out. London alone has dozens worth a visit from the beautifully restored Ightham Mote to Churchill’s Chartwell.

But I’m seriously considering leaving my favourite charity, as far from being run, as in the past, by the Women’s Institue Countryside Diaspora, it is now been overtaken by the urban elite – all but one of its council members live in towns.

First, they spent our subscriptions on encouraging ‘ethnic minorities’ to visit the countryside owned by them. Patronising in the extreme. Not content they persued what historian Sir Roy Strong described as “being obsessed with ticking the boxes of the disabled, the aged, LGBT and ethnic communities”.

Now the Trust has inaugurated what they call ‘Re-Set’, a programme to offset the £200 million loss due to the COVID-19 pandemic and have made what they describe as a ‘Curation and Experience’. This has entailed the removal of all senior curatorial posts and their lead curators in the regions, thus dropping the Trust’s excellence in scholarship and conservation at a stroke. In total 1,200 staff are being made redundant, and how many volunteers have been told their services are no longer required has not been disclosed.

However, the Trust has found the resources to have a year-long audit on all its 300-odd properties to find which were built using the proceeds of slavery or colonialism. Incredibly they are also to examine the source of each of the Trust’s 1.5 million antiques, artworks and artefacts, a daunting and pointless exercise at the best of times.

They have form for moving away from the original motive of their founding fathers and the National Trust Act of 1937, which gave the explicit aims of ‘preservation of buildings of national interest along with their furniture and pictures, and the preservation of beautiful landscapes’. This Act has, in the past, given the Trust special privileges which now seem to be abandoned in favour of a ‘woke’ ethos.

Guides at Felbrigg Hall staged a revolt after being ordered to wear rainbow-coloured lanyards to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the legalization of homosexuality, in fact, I met with NT volunteers when holidaying in Jersey, who had resigned after a lifetime of service to the Trust due to a similar edict.

Avebury Manor decided that Christianity might be offensive to their ‘target’ audience and dropped the abbreviations BC and AD from their signage.

Cadbury’s Easter Egg Hunt has now been downplayed to become just an egg hunt, should the most important date on the Christian calendar be mentioned.

All this is what they call a repurposing to remove the outdated mansion experience and being British. It’s just a pity none of this relates to their core members, be they white middle-class or ethnic minorities wanting a pleasant day out with their children.

One of its senior curators announced that it should stop emphasizing the role of families in the history of stately homes because this: ‘privileges heterosexual lives’. So will many families now be discouraged from entering their sacred portals, whatever their religion, gender, sexuality or ethnicity?

Featured image: Detail of the South front of Southwell Workhouse owned by the National Trust by Richard Croft (CC BY-SA 2.0).

Built in 1824 as a union workhouse for the villages around Southwell, it was originally known as the Thurgarton Incorporation Workhouse. Southwell had its own smaller workhouse at that time (now the Baptist Chapel), but joined in 1834 when it became the Southwell Union Workhouse.

The design was based on the ideas of the Rv. J.T.Becher, a local man, with segregation of the various classes of inmates, and it became the model for the hundreds of workhouses erected as a result of the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act.

In the latter part of the 19th century, many workhouses developed into Hospitals. At Southwell, a new infirmary wing was built in 1871 to house the sick and infirm, with the original building continuing to provide residential accommodation for the poor. This function continued in the modified form right up until the 1980s, and as a result, the interior remained remarkably little altered. As such it provides a remarkable example of an early 19th-century workhouse. It is currently run by the National Trust.

The main building is Listed Grade II*, and the range of outbuildings on the northern side is Listed Grade II. The gardens to the front of the building have been partly restored to their original use as a vegetable garden and are also Listed Grade II*.