Goodbye Piccadilly

180px-Simpsons_of_Piccadilly_2005 When was the last time you had your inside leg measured? Or for that matter you were asked rather discreetly “and on what side does Sir dress?”

One of the last bastions of sartorial elegance is hanging up its tape measure for the last time at the end of the year.
Baron of Piccadilly one of London’s quirkier outfitters is to close, as Crown Estates their landlord plans to pull down their block for re-development.

Further along the road was Simpsons of Piccadilly, now a Waterstones book store. Simpsons opened in 1936 in what is now a listed building, the Art Deco design was the first shop in Britain to have an uninterrupted curved-glass frontage. This new style was made possible by arc-welding a wide-span steel frame, rather than earlier techniques which involved using bulky bolted joints.

[T]he company built as a quality clothing store specifically for men had the ethos that Simpson of Piccadilly was to be a purveyor of ‘quality clothes for the well-heeled’. Indeed, the store regularly attracted the ‘tweed set’ including Royals, MPs, dignitaries and country landowners.

During the early 1950s, scriptwriter Jeremy Lloyd was employed as a junior assistant at Simpsons; he drew on his experiences to come-up with the idea for the highly-popular television sitcom Are You Being Served?

At least Fortnums are still in Piccadilly, the store that gave you such exotic foods as Harts Horn; Gable Worm Seed; Saffron and Dirty White Candy, and incidentally were the first in 1886 to stock the entire output of a Mr Heinz’s newly invented canned food.

Blue Badge Blues

[A] multiple choice question starts this post today.

Which council is so poor it cannot afford to give unrestricted free parking for the disabled?

Is it:

  1. Corby (struggling to survive without its steelworks)
  2. Doncaster (having lost much of the engineering)
  3. Merthyr Tydfil (now coal mining has ceased)
  4. Westminster (one of the wealthiest places on earth)

The answer is to be found at the bottom of this post.

380_Image_disabled_parking_big You see I was reading the information booklet about using a disabled Blue Badge for parking restrictions. Most councils waive their parking charges for the first 2 hours as a concession to the disabled.

The cost in lost revenue must be miniscule when compared to their total revenue. But for some authorities it would appear that the financial burden is too great.

Statistics show that Westminster Council now collects more income from parked cars than from ratepayers, so they are hardly likely to reduce this income stream. They do, magnanimously, provide a number of bays for Blue Badge holders, and provide a leaflet showing where these bays are located.

The answer is: The London boroughs of Kensington and Chelsea, the City of Westminster, the City of London and part of Camden, just hang your heads in shame.

Electric Ink

Sitting in my garret chewing the end of my proverbial pencil composing this post for your erudition, it occurred to me that electric ink has empowered all us wannabee authors. With the passing of the brilliant columnist and author Keith Waterhouse recently, he who rejected all electronic devices to write and used a trusty manual typewriter, it’s time to look at the digital revolution which has enabled amateurs to publish their work.

[A] blog (a contraction of the term ‘weblog’) is credited as being started by Bruce Ableson who launched Open Diary in October 1998, which soon grew to thousands of online diaries. Open Diary was innovative, inventing the first blog community where readers could add comments to other writers’ blog entries.

Why blog? As a London cab driver I spend an unhealthy amount of time on my own, in a space smaller than a telephone box. The mental exercise of writing posts keeps me sane and I also enjoy the creativity of designing a website. In my cab I have ample time to ruminate on London’s shortcomings and virtues, which I hope to share with you, dear reader.

I’ve started reading Claire Tomalin’s Samuel Pepys The Unequalled Self a biography of the great diarist who wrote with astounding candour and perceptiveness in the 10 years from 1660 at a time when England was undergoing momentous changes.

Do you fancy yourself as a 21st century Samuel Pepys and want to start writing or are you happy to be one of the 98 per cent of web surfers who are just voyeurs and not publishers?

If you want to join the Band of Bloggers I recommend Matthew Stibbe’s Bad Language to get you started with some sound advice and Neil Patel, Quick Sprout who’s so prolific a writer on all things blogging I wonder if he ever sleeps.

A quotation attributed to Robert Louis Stevenson author of Treasure Island sums up the desire to blog perfectly: ‘I don’t enjoy writing, I enjoy having written.’

Oh! And thanks for taking the time to read CabbieBlog.

Backward Cabbie

A London taxi converted to look like a bumble bee taking part in an insect-inspired festival on London’s South Bank.

Raising awareness of the collapse of bee colonies around the world, one of London’s iconic black cabs has been transformed into a bumblebee in full flight, complete with a working beehive in the front seat. Keep a look out for this spectacular sight, which will be travelling around London.

Backward Cabbie
[H]arpreet Devi, 30, a cab driver in Punjab, India, was forced to drive his car in reverse for months because of a faulty gear box. The cabbie became so skilled at whizzing around in reverse he decided to modify his motor to drive backwards permanently.

Harpreet’s reversing skills have become so famous in his homeland, he has even been issued with a special government licence to drive in reverse anywhere in the state, located in the county’s north.

His Fiat Padmini, has painted ‘Back Gear Champian’ on the side, and the gear box is reconfigured to have four gears in reverse and one forward. Watch the video.

He can now reach speeds of up to 50 mph while driving backwards.

Mr Devi is a regular sight and sound around the area’s dusty streets, as he uses an ambulance siren to warn unsuspecting drivers, and pedestrians, to avoid him.

“After five years of practice I have perfected the art of reverse driving,” he said, adding that he took “all the care I can to protect other drivers on the road”. I always wanted to do something different, something unique. In simpler terms I reversed the complete gear mechanism of the car so that I get maximum speeds while driving backwards.”

But his somewhat bizarre practice has had one side effect – he has now begun suffering severe neck and back problems.

“I do have pains in the neck – frequent pains in the neck – and I have had severe vomiting in past, I have got a severe backbone problem from driving so fast in reverse, because my whole body gets contorted.”

But he insisted it was worthwhile.

“Achieving something special is never easy, it’s not giving that counts,” he added.

He has even tried to break the Guinness Book of Records for driving in reverse, after searching on the internet and finding a UK resident, John Smith, had achieved such a feat.

“Unfortunately I couldn’t break the world record because the Guinness Book authorities demanded non-stop video footage of my whole reverse driving and I was unable to produce that,” he said.

He was also thwarted a few years ago attempting to drive in reverse from Rajasthan, in the country’s north-west, to Lahore in Pakistan in a bid to promote peace.

He failed because he didn’t have permission to cross the border.

Preaching Heresy

As you read this they are already stacking the kindling wood for me in Smithfield, but I feel it has to be discussed. London is experiencing the worst decline in its core business for a generation and cabbies not renowned for being stoical never stop complaining about the loss of business. With so many cabs available companies have in some cases stopped pre-booking them, telling their employees to hail from the street.

[W]e now have the opportunity to become the first city in the world to have a completely integrated transport system (excluding rickshaws).

By allowing cabs to accept Oyster Cards while at the same time drivers should offer an appropriate discounted rate for the journey (say 20 per cent) for using the card.

At the same time TfL runs a promotional campaign spearheaded by Boris Johnson and offering tokens in the Evening Standard, I believe could be of mutual benefit to all participants.

By promoting the fact that we are helping London’s struggling businesses by keeping down their costs might even help raising London cabbies’ profile, possibly changing the view held by many that we are greedy and self serving.

Sponsorship from a body like the London Chamber of Commerce, could offer prizes for the cabbie who gave the most discounted rides and the most frequent passenger who availed themselves of the service. Corporate sponsorship of the scheme could be extended to a tie in with the London Olympics.

Another idea suggested by the Chairman of the London Taxi Driver’s Association is that with London’s transport bursting at the seams in the morning and evening rush hour, TfL could introduce an online system to marry up empty cabs travelling to and from London with commuters. With again a discounted fare balancing what the passenger would normally pay on the train with the convenience of being picked up locally and having a seat for their entire journey.

While Tweet a London Cab the fledgling (sorry about that) no booking fee service, who allow people to book a cab via Twitter should also have wider coverage, possibly incorporating that morning and evening commute suggestion.

As a footnote; TfL pay some of their staff over £100,000 a year to think up these incentives, and I offer them gratis, so you see we cabbies can be altruistic.

Now boys, do you still want to tie me to a stake and roast me?

Taxi Talk Without Tipping

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