Cabbies to receive quiet training

The only means of communication I will be allowed soon is via CabbieBlog if John Mason, Transport for London’s head of taxi regulation, get his way. The London official has said we may be required to take courses on how to remain quiet while transporting passengers, for among the potential course subjects for improved customer service would be how to recognize when a passenger would enjoy a quiet cab ride or how to transport disabled passengers.

Have you ever heard anything so preposterous, a London cabbie talking to his customers?

[A]pparently under the new test, we will not only have to memorise the routes of up to 25,000 different roads in the capital, along with places of interest, important buildings, and other assorted miscellanea, but now we must also show we can suppress the desire to lecture our passenger about politics (well, Labour’s shortcomings), the England midfield or the day we picked up whatsisname from East Enders.

This might seem the modern way, but has Mr Mason considered London tradition, the prospect of the silent cabbie, what next are we going to have to go south of the river?

Mason acknowledges that London’s famed cab drivers have earned a reputation as outspoken and entertaining individuals; he has said “There is always room for improvement.” Going on he said, “It’s a world-renowned service, the drivers are always perceived to be some of the great characters you come across in London, perhaps it is good sometimes to keep your mouth shut if you sense vibes from the customer that perhaps they are having a bad day.”

He also feels that London cabbies need training to interact with the disabled, and to show how out of touch he is, I had a blind man and his dog in the cab recently. When reaching his destination, locking up the cab and helping him into the building via the few steps, a process which took two minutes, my customer said to me “You won’t get a ticket for helping me will you?”

So much for John Mason’s additional mandatory courses to improve taxi services, maybe he should talk to London’s councils so when we do provide that extra service we, and our customers are not expecting a parking ticket.

“It is good sometimes to keep your mouth shut”, I couldn’t have put it better myself Mr. Mason, or was it April first yesterday?

Too romantic to survive

What have these two men got in common? The first was a founding member of the Victorian Society and a passionate defender of Victorian architecture, after failing his degree at Magdalen College, Oxford, he started his career as a journalist and ended it as one of the most popular British Poets Laureate to date and a much-loved figure on British television beloved by generations; the second a security guard.

[D]ubbed ‘The Most Romantic Building in London’, the Midland Grand Hotel is on the cusp of returning to its original purpose after closing its doors three quarters of a century ago. The bubble is nothing new and so it was when this Victorian gothic revival building was nearing completion. It was the last of the great railway termini hotels of the Victorian era and by far the most expensive, costing 14 times as much to build as it near neighbour the Great Northern Hotel.

During its construction in an effort to cut costs a floor was shaved off the original plan and the lavish ornament cheapened, oak was substituted with cheaper deal and for the completion of its interiors, its celebrated and workaholic architect Sir George Gilbert Scott was replaced with a more malleable practice. Upon opening the Midland Grand was the epitome of luxury and one of the most spectacular gothic revival buildings in the world, boasting among other “luxuries” a Ladies’ Drawing Room which later gained notoriety as the first Ladies’ Smoking Room in London, the room was equipped with an electrophone, linking guests to the Queen’s Hall and other London halls and churches.

grand3 But within 20 years its clients were expecting what the Grand lacked, for the hotel was built before the time of en suite bathrooms, requiring an army of servants to scuttle around the 300 rooms, laden with tubs, bowls, spittoons and chamber pots. After struggling on for a few more years the hotel finally closed in 1935, going the way of all large buildings in London and became offices for its owners the railway company, its interiors were enhanced with partitions, suspended ceilings and fluorescent lights.

In the Sixties attempts were made to demolish it with its current owners describing it as “completely obsolete and hopeless” preferring the simpler lines of its neighbour at King’s Cross.

At this stage in the Grand’s life our poet laureate in the shape of John Betjeman led a campaign and only stopped its demolition at the 11th hour, later gaining a Grade I listing in 1967.

By 1988 the building was declared unsafe, and remained unloved and forgotten by the public as they rushed past along the Euston Road, and frozen in time the haunt of film makers and pigeons. 1995-5 saw £9 million of public money spent on restoring its interiors, but from the exterior it was for all the world unloved.

Enter now the hotels most unlikely supporter a security guard employed for 30 years to protect its empty shell, Roydon Stock. So captivated was he by this building that he is now the major authority on its heritage, giving tours into its dark interior, correcting historians and even debating with English Heritage on its restoration.

Now after £200 million spent by a consortium of developers which have against all the odds converted its upper floors into 67 rooftop flats, and soon next year the Old Lady of Euston Road will reopen for business as a Marriott Renaissance Hotel.

If people like John Betjeman and Roydon Stock hadn’t fought for its survival we would probably have a modern monstrosity in its place as with Marathon House further along the road.

I’ll finish with the words of Rowan Moore the Architecture Critic for the Evening Standard who has put it much better than me:

The building is also a rebuke to all those who wanted to demolish it in the name of efficiency and modernity. Fifty years ago they were many, but the idea now seems inconceivable. There are currently similar mutterings about a work of George Gilbert Scott’s grandson Giles, Battersea Power Station. Anyone who doubts the wisdom of preserving the latter should go to St Pancras and see what an awkward pile of old bricks can do.

On location in London

[L]ondon has always been a producers dream when looking for locations for their latest project. If it wasn’t for the weather, which of course is why Hollywood was originally chosen, many more cinematographic delights would be shot here in London.

So today I give you CabbieBlog’s top 10 films shot on location in London.

Brannigan Brannigan (1975)
John Wayne as Jim Brannigan who is sent to London to bring back an American mobster being held for extradition, but when he arrives, the prisoner has been kidnapped.

I think the producers of this film were the London Tourist Board, for every time Brannigan steps out of his flat in Prince of Wales Drive, Battersea we are treated to views of London. The speed of the cars is remarkable, one minute we are crossing Chelsea Bridge and seconds later Tower Bridge has miraculously appeared ahead of us. I wish driving in London was that easy, but there again I’m not “The Duke”.

Notting Hill Notting Hill (1999)
A tousled haired tosser living the life of a simple bookshop owner has his life changed when he meets the most famous film star in the world, he’s in love but will she fall for him?

Richard Curtis wrote this script around his own neighbourhood and in the process substantially increased the value of his own house and focussed attention on what is one of the most overrated districts of London. In the film Hugh Grant lived at 280 Westbourne Park Road, sadly, the blue door has now been replaced.

The_Lavender_Hill_Mob The Lavender Hill Mob (1951)
Filmed at a time when Clapham was not regarded as South Chelsea, it was then just a working class area with chirpy London crooks. Looking at it now you realise just how grim London looked after the war.

Alec Guinness plays a bank transfer agent who has overseen the taking delivery of gold bullion for the past 20 years. One day he befriends Pendlebury (Stanley Holloway), a maker of souvenirs and together they plan to forge the stolen gold into harmless-looking toy Eiffel Towers and smuggle it out England into France.

Ealing Studios while planning the bank-robbery film, asked the Bank of England to devise a way in which a million pounds could be stolen from the bank. A special committee was created to come up with an idea, and their plan is the one used in the film.

10 Rillington Place 10 Rillington Place (1971)
Based on the true story of British mass-murderer John Reginald Christie, (played brilliantly by Richard Attenborough), who drugged, raped, and strangled eight women (one of whom was his wife) between 1940 and 1953, hiding their bodies in the garden as well as in a large cupboard, which he then covered up with wallpaper inside his home.

A place of such great infamy that following the John Christie murders (and Sir Ludovic Kennedy’s book) the road was renamed Rushton Close before being pulled down completely. Today part of Bartle Road occupies the site.

Alfie Alfie (1966)
With the Sixties in full swing and London the centre of the Universe, Michael Caine shot to stardom as a callous Cockney womaniser.

Filmed around King’s Cross with the famous Victorian gasometers much in evidence in the background the gasometers  are now being reinstated behind the station. Alfie’s seedy bedsite at 29 St Stephen’s Gardens hasn’t really changed at all, apart from the inevitable gentrification Notting Hill.

My-beautiful-laundrette My Beautiful Laundrette (1985)
Writer Hanif Kureishi deliberately spelt launderette incorrectly but we can forgive him with this feel good film set within the Asian community in South London during the Thatcher years. Displaying those values expounded at the time of money, hard work and “anybody can make it”. The young Asian entrepreneur employs his school friend Daniel Day Lewis (before he became a Mohican) to help run his business.

Set around Wandsworth it depicts this area of south London area perfectly in the 1980s and of Londoners attitude towards the growing Asian population.

Shaun-of-the-Dead Shaun of the Dead (2004)
Hold on, a British comedy that’s smart, not by Richard Curtis and funny? Based on the simplest of premises: In a city packed with blank-eyed wage slaves and whacked-out club heads, how long would it take us to notice the arrival of George A. Romero’s lumbering, flesh-chomping undead? Filmed around north London with extras looking like some of my passengers on a Saturday night.

Mona Lisa Mona Lisa (1986)
With Bob Hoskins and Michael Caine in a film of London gangsters how could I leave it out of my top ten? A sad and sensitive portrayal of a small-time crook trying to fit into a world that simultaneously rejects and baffles him following his belated release from prison. He takes the only job he can get to ferry high-class hooker Simone (Cathy Tyson) between assignations in a melancholically sleazy London. Avert your eyes in the torture scenes.

Shakespeare in love Shakespeare in Love (1998)
This is multi-Oscar winner one of my favourite films of all time. Young aspiring playwright William Shakespeare (Joseph Fiennes) struggles to write Romeo and Ethel, The Pirate’s Daughter and aristocrat Viola de Lesseps (Gwyneth Paltrow) defies the convention by wanting to act. Although the drama takes place in London the “Rose Theatre” is a set built for the movie. The real Rose, where Shakespeare’s earlier plays were first performed, was actually uncovered during building work in Southwark in the late Eighties, and a massive campaign was launched to preserve it. The property developers eventually agreed to preserve the theatre in the basement of the new building. The Rose Theatre site is now operated by the Exhibitions Department of Shakespeare’s Globe who offer tours of the site with their guides.

Elephant Man Elephant Man (1980)
Based on the true story of Joseph Merrick, played by John Hurt (once a passenger of mine), a 19th-century Englishman afflicted with a disfiguring congenital disease. The film captures our idea of Victorian East London; monochrome, foggy and extreme poverty. Filmed at the old Eastern Hospital on Homerton Row, Lower Clapton which has now been replaced by the spanking new hospital. The Eastern stood in for the “London Hospital” on Whitechapel Road where Merrick ended his days.

Other films with London places in their title:

Balham Gateway to the South (1971)
Les Bicyclettes de Belsize (1968)
A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square (1979)
The Bermondsey Kid (1933)
Imelda Marcos of Bethnal Green (2004)
The Britannia Billingsgate (1933)
The Blackheath Poisonings (1992)
Tilly of Bloomsbury (1921)
Bond Street (1948)
84 Charing Cross Road (1987)
Chelsea Girls with Andy Warhol (1976)
Joe Brown at Clapham (1965)
The Courtneys of Curzon Street (1947)
Deptford Graffiti (1991)
The Girl from Downing Street (1918)
Duchess of Duke Street (1976)
East End Hustle (1976)
Greek Street (1930)
Greenwich Mean Time (1999)
The Lonely Lady from Grosvenor Square (1922)
Half Moon Street (1986)
The Foxes of Harrow (1945)
The Monster of Highgate Ponds (1961)
Hyde Park Corner (1935)
No. 5 John Street (1922)
The Kensington Mystery (1924)
The Lambeth Walk (1939)
It Happened in Leicester Square (1949)
A Murder in Limehouse (1919)
East of Ludgate Hill (1937)
Murder in Mayfair (1942)
A Park Lane Scandal (1915)
Die Ballade von Peckham Rye (1966)
Piccadilly Playtime (1936)
Passport to Pimlico (1949)
Fly a Flag for Poplar (1974)
Horace of Putney (1923)
The Duchess of Seven Dials (1920)
Siege of Sidney Street (1960)
Emmanuelle in Soho (1981)
Soap Opera in Stockwell (1973)
The Stratford Adventure (1954)
Victoria (1995)
Waterloo Road (1945)
Mr Palfrey of Westminster (1984)
The Black Sheep of Whitehall (1941)
The Wimbledon Poisoner (1994)
Barretts of Wimpole Street (1956)

Though these images may subject to copyright, the author of CabbieBlog believes they may be used on this post because: they’re a low resolution copy of a film poster; it doesn’t limit the copyright owner’s rights to sell the film in any way, in fact, it may encourage sales; because of the low resolution, copies could not be used to make illegal copies of the image; the image itself could be a subject of discussion in the article; and the image is significant because it was used to promoted a notable film. For further clarification click this link.

Drivel to go

I nearly uttered the phrase beloved by Americans, and consciously I had to stop it forming on my lips;”“latte to go please”, from the assistant (or should that be barista) in Starbucks the other day.

Located opposite the Globe Theatre, with good service, clean toilets (unless the English language students haven’t been there first) and boasting one of the best views in London from its ‘al fresco’ tables, there I’ve said more drivel.

[A]ll the time these inane phrases are replacing perfectly adequate English. One you’ve heard and seen them enough they get into your brain circuits, just like songs they’re called ‘ear worms’, and remain in your memory and are impossible to remove.

I know our greatest gift to humanity is English and that its strength is it being an open language adapting itself to incorporate foreign words, but do we have to have these inane sayings?

I swear that if I reply to a group of American tourists with “Have a nice day”, I’ll commit Hari-Kari, God there it is again, another foreign phrase.

Or if I’m addressed by a passenger as “drive”, I’ll lose my cool, what am I, the tarmac connecting my garage with the road?

And if that’s not bad enough, when I listen to the bastion of the England language, the BBC it refers to measures as ‘litres’ or ‘metres’, leaving the rest of us to make a mental calculation into English equivalents.

When driving around London, and my passenger needs extra help do I ‘go the extra mile’ for him announcing “no worries, mate”? Note he is my passenger not my ‘fare’, for that’s what I charge.

Well, I’m off to grab a sandwich at Prêt a Manger, Catch you later!

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.’

Taxi talk without tipping

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