Wish you were here

If you go on holiday to London don’t, I repeat, don’t buy me a souvenir as a memento of your visit. The poor tourists who come to these shores face a bewildering array of souvenir crap to purchase. But it doesn’t end with the legitimate shops which proliferate on our capital, walk across Westminster Bridge and you are confronted by the delights of figures made from bent wire, a busker playing the bagpipes or whistles to imitate birdsong.

[D]o you want a T-shirt with the worn joke on the front ‘my Dad went to London and all I got was this lousy “T” shirt’? Well, if you received that, thank your lucky stars. You could receive a cardboard policeman’s helmet, or how about a Union Jack umbrella. If you really want to stand out in the crowd try wearing a fur top hat in red, white and blue.

If this is not to your taste, go upmarket to the Buckingham Palace gift shop there are expensive reproductions of the Queen’s china, just like she uses at 4.00 every day for afternoon tea. There is something to be said for receiving a tea towel, naff, but useful, if only to mop up after the cat, and admittedly some Buckingham Palace gifts are tasteful, even if of dubious practicable value. They at least have the virtue of giving one a warm Regal glow, when partaking of one’s afternoon tea.

But who would treasure a gift of this rubbish. Forget receiving a postcard of Big Ben; send them a 20 year old picture of a spotty punk rocker.

These shops are so revered by the middle classes; they even had a competition instigated by The Institute of Architects to design a replacement souvenir shop when Hungerford Bridge was being improved.

But London isn’t the worst, not by a long shot, I recently went to Italy, and coaches have to pay over €200 just to park for a few hours in these tourist traps. At Pisa (of leaning tower fame) you run the gauntlet of dozens, and I mean dozens, of Africans selling fake designer goods, and the authorities had the temerity to put up a sign that read ‘it is illegal to purchase fake goods; offenders are subject to a €1,000 fine’. Maybe London isn’t so bad after all, anyone want a die cast model of a taxi, going cheap?

A Festival of Litter

With this deepening recession I was talked into going ‘South of the River’ recently, times really are that hard these days. Just imagine my surprise after passing the hinterland of Vauxhall and Stockwell when eventually we reached Brixton to find them celebrating a Festival of Litter. Citizens had taken time off from their busy activities to add crisp packets, empty cigarette boxes, and carrier-bags to this otherwise bland and neglected landscape. They fluttered gaily in the bushes and brought colour and texture to pavements and gutters. And to think that elsewhere we stick these objects in rubbish bins.

[T]he city fathers of Brixton must have puffed out their collective chests with pride as their town hall was officially opened by King George V and Queen Mary on the 29th April, 1908 becoming one of the grandest town halls in London. Victorian Brixton was the epitome of suburban living. Fine houses abound, some with servant’s quarters, with grand doorways proclaiming their owner’s wealth and influence.

The fine late Georgian church of St. Matthew’s was one of the four new Lambeth parish churches built in response to the growing population in the early 19th century. Consecrated in 1824, and has an imposing façade created by its architect C. F. Porden and sits opposite the town hall. It also has the ubiquitous Victorian cast iron monument donated by the most prominent family in the area.

So how has this fine borough come to the sorry state? The green outside, what was once a prestigious cinema, the Ritzy, in strewn with drunks and a fine collection of empty cans.

The gutters are gaily decorated with yellow and red McDonald’s boxes.

Don’t any of the residents of Brixton have an iota of their Victorian forebear’s civic pride?

Brixton Town Hall, London
© Copyright Stuart Taylor and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

Pooh and the pig flu


Save Little Green Street

I recently had a job up to Highgate and it gave me the opportunity to see the folly of local council planning departments. Not content with allowing a vast expanse of ugly housing at the end of this gem of a street, developers in their insatiable greed now want to build 20 houses, 10 flats and an underground car park on derelict land behind Little Green Street. Little Green Street has found itself, through no fault of its own, turned into the only access road for the developers.

[D]espite its size, the developers insist that this Georgian street is big enough to carry all the cranes, diggers, and lorries they need to carry all the waste away from the forty foot deep excavation they need to dig to build their underground car park. Some of the lorries and cranes weigh up to 49 tonnes and some are 2.9m wide. It’s a pity they didn’t measure Little Green Street, because the carriageway of the road is just 2.5m wide.

The street remains a very real threat of being turned into a truck route which would see a vehicle pass within inches of the front doors of these homes every three minutes, all day every day for up to four years down this delicate cul-de-sac.

So a little history is required at this point of the blog:

Little Green Street off Highgate Road in Kentish Town is one of the oldest streets in London.

It’s not very big, just eight houses on one side and two on the other. The houses were built in the 1780s are Grade ll listed and remain one of the few intact Georgian streets in London. They have stood unharmed through train crashes, the London Blitz, and survived two hundred years of wear and tear from the generations who have raised their children in the narrow cobbled terrace.

Although, after eight years of campaigning by more than fifteen thousand people, many visitors to their site, planning permission has lapsed, Camden Council are still vacillating about whether the construction work on a gated community with an underground car park should continue.

Little Green Street Mad, isn’t it? I made the mistake of driving my cab down this cul-de-sac and had to do a 9-point turn at the end in a vehicle famed for its 25 foot turning circle.

ArseBook a new anti-social networking site

[W]hat do you think; it has a certain ring about it? I am thinking of starting a new networking site as an antidote to these social networks. My creation would have the purpose of discouraging anybody from joining my group.

As Groucho Marx once said “I don’t care to belong to a club that accepts people like me as members”.

So this is now it works, you post all your disagreeable faults:

  • Picking toe nails in bed;
  • Describing where your spots are;
  • Disgusting eating habits;
  • And any others I won’t be able to write about here.

If you are a trainspotter, fine sign up; change your underpants weekly, great; enjoy talking interminably about some obscure sport, come on down.
facebookThe original social network site, Facebook is now five years old and nothing sums up this shallow world more than a group of people chatting away to each other in cyberspace. I realise as the author of CabbieBlog I might have committed social suicide by shunning social networking, but have these people nothing better to do?

Although Facebook has been a runaway success it has its darker side. The site is increasingly being seen as a boon to scores of identity fraudsters, as you have to use your real name when you sign up, anything you reveal on your site can be used by sophisticated criminals to open bank accounts and secure credit cards in your name. On your page you could include where you live, your birthday, your e-mail address and your mobile phone number.

British public say they are not in favour of ID cards, storing the details of our phone calls, emails and texts, and they claim it would be invasion of their privacy. But on Facebook, millions regularly communicate with total strangers, telling them all about their movements and where they work.

Did you know that one in five bosses now check potential workers’ details on social networking sites in case they reveal unsuitable social habits like drug use or weird hobbies?

Another worrying aspect is that it enables men to groom children and young women via these social networking sites.

And if you’re still not convinced consider this; recently a company called Greylock invested $27 million in Facebook – and one of their senior partners, Howard Cox, sits on the board of In-Q-T, the division of the CIA which invests in new businesses.

Clearly, the CIA has fully realised the value of personal information collected on internet sites such as Facebook – so the chances are Big Brother may be monitoring you as you make new contacts online.

“Arsebook is an anti-social utility that connects you with the people YOU HATE.”

A big warning be careful out there Twittering, Big Brother may be watching your movements.

Taxi Talk Without Tipping

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