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.’

A bridge [repair] too far

“Sorry Gov’nor, I’m not going south of the River” could be a cabbie’s response you will hear more frequently in the future, but blame the Highways Agency/TfL not us, for perversely they seem to be trying to divide London as never before since Roman times. Consider this, if you want to cross the Thames by road there are 11 bridges, 2 tunnels and a ferry crossing to choose from, you would have thought that was adequate.

Boris has already said that he is cancelling the building of the East London Thames crossing, presumably to free up more money for bike hire, and now we find ourselves in the position of having but one unobstructed bridge to cross the Thames.

So indulge me if you will, while I list the possible River Thames crossing points in central London:

Woolwich Free Ferry
Opened in 1889 and was the first successful attempt to cross the Thames for eastern districts. Existing boats started operating in 1963. This was probably the last time both boats worked; usually one is now out of action.

Blackwall Tunnel
The northbound tunnel was built in 1891-7 and was only the second tunnel to be completed under the Thames. The northbound tunnel will be closed from 9pm to 5am on Sunday to Friday, with traffic diverted to the southbound tunnel and southbound traffic forced to go elsewhere.

Rotherhithe Tunnel
This narrow tunnel is only suitable for a car was built in 1904-8. The top of the tunnel is 48 feet below the high water mark to allow ships to pass overhead. The tunnel is closed one or two nights a week for maintenance.

Tower Bridge
The first stone was laid by the Prince of Wales in 1881 after which its architect, Sir Horace Jones promptly died; it was then finished with detailing changed from original design in 1894. It is in fact a steel frame clothed in stone in order to support the great weight of the bascules. The bridge is currently being painted in patriotic colours for the 2012 Olympics with temporary traffic lights.

London Bridge
Positioned approximately on the site where the original Roman crossing stood. The current incumbent was completed in 1972 and replaced the elegant Georgian bridge which ended up at Lake Havasu City, Arizona. Extensive road works at the southern approach mean that all traffic going to Elephant and Castle is wasting it time using bridge.

Southwark Bridge
The current bridge was opened in 1921 replacing the original cast iron bridge, which was in its day the largest ever Cast Iron Bridge built in the world. The iron manufacturer went bankrupt in the process. After just completing the cycle lane (see Diary 31 July 2009), this was promptly dug up before the cement was dry and remains so to this day with roadworks and no northbound cycle lane.

Blackfriars Bridge
Opened by Queen Victoria in 1869 the same day she cut the ribbon for Holborn Viaduct. So unpopular was she at the time, while travelling along the Strand that day she was hissed at, she must have been exhausted after all that effort. Extensive road works and diversions due to new railway station being built across the river alongside the bridge.

Waterloo Bridge
Londoner’s favourite bridge for it affords one of the finest views of London at its centre point, was built during the last war mainly by women. A complete no go area, with road works and the Strand Underpass closed all year.

Westminster Bridge
Charles Barry (of Houses of Parliament fame) was architectural consultant when this bridge was being built in 1854-62; its 84ft between the parapets was exceptional for the time. After the renovation of this bridge, which seems to have been on-going since the old King died, has now been completed, and remarkably this bridge is now fully open.

Lambeth Bridge
Originally a horse-ferry operated here; hence the approach road goes by the name of Horseferry Road. Oliver Cromwell’s coach and horse sank on the horse ferry in 1656. The bridge was built in 1929-32 and it is painted red to denote that it is at the House of Lords end of  Parliament with their red benches, Westminster Bridge is painted green reflecting the green leather of the House of Commons leather benches at the opposite end of The Palace of Westminster. This little bridge of single 2-way traffic will have to accommodate those motorists unable to cross alternative means.

Vauxhall Bridge
This uninspired structure replaced the original bridge which was the first cast iron bridge to cross the Thames. Built in 1895-1906 the only redeeming feature is of the bronze figures on its piers depicting Pottery, Engineering, Architecture and Agriculture upstream and Science, Fine Arts, Local Government and Education downstream, view them by peering cautiously over the parapet. It remains the only major bridge in London fully open.

Chelsea Bridge
When the previous bridge was being built many human bones and Roman weapons were found while digging the foundations. The current suspension bridge was opened in 1934. How long will this pretty bridge be able to take the strain before it too has to have restoration work?

140px-Albert_Bridge_tollhouse Albert Bridge
This the most elegant and fanciful of all London’s bridges, was started in 1864 then abandoned for six years while the Government dithered about the route the Thames Embankment would take. It was finally opened in 1873. The architect Rowland Mason Ordish designed it as a rigid suspension bridge to his own patent design, but it had to be strengthened by Sir Joseph Bazalgette in 1884 when he was building the Embankment. After the Second World War the London County Council wanted to pull it down but the whole of Chelsea, led by Sir John Betjeman protested vigorously, and it was reprieved. The bridge remains as fragile as it looks, and was only open to light traffic, notices still famously demand that all troops must break step when marching over it. Two small tollbooths were built at either end by the Albert Bridge Company. The bridge is now closed for 18 months while a complete refurbishment takes place.

Battersea Bridge
Replacing an earlier wooden bridge depicted by the artist Whistler this structure designed again by Bazalgette, the engineer who also designed London’s sewer system (did that man ever sleep?) was built between 1886-90. Road works scheduled to last until October.

I’m not going to continue up river it’s just too depressing, I’ll just say that Hammersmith Bridge is also closed at weekends.

Just the ticket

[L]ike any petty crook, London Councils traffic enforcement departments don’t miss a trick for turning over the law-abiding public. Their latest wheezes have a touch of inspired genius in their simplicity.

Not content with waiting by a vehicle whose allocated time is about to expire so a penalty notice can be imposed at the first opportunity, or penalising a disabled driver for displaying their badge with the wrong orientation, they have gone one further.

They have trawled through their by-laws to find a legal loophole to penalise motorists who have paid but simply forgot to remove a previous stub from their dashboard or window.

For if after your allotted time has expired and the driver leaves the spent ticket displayed they can be penalised, for if a busy mother should drive off with the offending ticket in full view either on her windscreen or on the dashboard the Traffic Taliban can charge for that offence.

Prior to that of course the ticket had to be displayed in an “appropriate” place as designated by the parking authority, failure to so do . . . well you know the score.

And don’t forget your vehicle must be positioned parallel to the kerb (God forbid that it is found to be at an acute angle of 10°), and must not be more than 19.6in from the kerb. Presumably those guardians of traffic enforcement, whose total revenue last year was £328million, carry the appropriate measuring equipment on their person to make a judgment.

Now two councils have joined to perpetrate an even more audacious crime, this loose association of the Notting Hill Cosa Nostra has split Ledbury Road down the middle, with each protecting their own ‘manor’, one side falls within Westminster’s authority while the other side is The Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea.

If you park your vehicle on the east side of the street but cross the road to buy a parking ticket on the opposite pavement, the ticket you buy will not be valid for parking on the opposite kerb, you will have contravened Westminster parking regulations, as Harvey Cass found when returning to his car to find penalty notice on his windscreen. So little time had elapsed between buying the ticket and having the penalty notice issued the traffic warden must have watched him cross the road and buy his ticket incorrectly from Kensington & Chelsea’s machine.

Westminster’s spokesman, a Mr Kevin Goad (a man whose name could not be more appropriate in the circumstances) said “We are working hard to improve motorists’ understanding of the rules and provide clearer signs and lines.”

If you should park in the centre of the road would that mean you could receive two tickets, one from each council? So there you have it, its not old-fashioned greed to line the council’s coffers, quite the contrary, we motorists have to be educated in the “rules”.

For more information (and entertainment) about parking tickets go to

A Gated Community

“What have the Romans done for us?” asked Michael Palin in the film The Life of Brian.

[W]ell, for us Londoners the Romans have given us Londinium one of the earliest of their settlements on the banks of the Thames and no doubt gave us a Latin version of Estuary English [Estuario Latino]. The Romans also gave us a rather fine wall with four gates and a fort to protect Londinium which nestled within, and which was surprisingly small measuring approximately 330 acres.

They built their city on the north bank of the Thames and judged they wouldn’t need a defence along the river’s edge, as who would want to come from Sarf London, so the wall was more of a two mile curve than an enclosure.

It was probably Queen Boudica who made up their minds to build a defensive wall after she razed Londinium to the ground in AD60, after they assaulted her daughters and stole her land, anyway after much discussion, much like councils of today, they had the wall completed by about AD140.

Walking anti-clockwise from where the Tower of London now stands it ran north from the river and as they feared Essex Man more than any other at least 20 bastions were added at a distance of about 60 yards apart along this section and after about 600 yards where the wall makes its first turn you would have come to a gate.

Aldgate This gate is Aldgate (“Old Gate”), as its name implies was one of the earliest to be built, leading as it did to the Roman road to East Anglia, via Colchester and beyond to the feared Essex Man. The wall heads off in a north-westerly direction and the deep ditch which protected its outer flank had a rather novel use along this stretch and became known as Hounds ditch from the number of dead dogs left there to rot, only the street of Houndsditch marks this rather quaint custom.

Bishopsgate At the end of the ditch for dead dogs was Bishops Gate, built across Ermine Street by Erkenwold, the Bishop of London, it’s purpose was to allow travellers a route to Norfolk, Suffolk, and Cambridge.

This saintly prelate used to exact a toll of one piece of wood from all the carts loaded with timber coming into the City by way of his gate, God knows what he did with all that lumber.

The wall was about 6-9ft wide and about 18ft high, with probably a catwalk along the top. It is obvious from the different bondings used in the various sections which remain that a number of building gangs were used in the erection of the wall. As London had no quarries of its own, the materials used had to be brought in from outside “squared-off” Kentish ragstone formed the inner and outer faces of the wall while concrete and rubble filled in the centre. Every few feet in height one, two or three rows of Roman tiles were used as a bond before proceeding with the next 3 or 4 feet, the manner in which this bond was constructed shows us that different gangs were used.

A small section of the wall between these two gates can be found at the end of London Wall showing the upper part of the Roman wall at the bottom, surmounted by medieval walling and capped by Tudor brickwork.

Cripplegate We now encounter a dog leg at Cripplegate which led into the fort which stood on the site before the wall was built and which necessitated the need to build around it. Although it was called a gate, it only went into the fort about this time.

The gate lasted until 1760 when the materials were sold to a carpenter, Mr Blagden paying £91 for the right to cart the whole thing away.

Moving off in a western direction, but somewhere near there was an underground passage. For the name cripplegate is derived from crepel, an Anglo-Saxon word for den or underground passage. Once the City gates were closed for the night, after the curfew bells had been rung, it was impossible to get into the City through any of the gateways. So after a night out on the tiles you could stagger into the City after proving your identity through this tunnel, just don’t bump your head if you have had a few .

Newgate We have now reached the most famous of all gates; Newgate which has become synonymous with the prison that started at a later date in the rooms over the entrance. This was the entry from the important Roman road that ran to Silchester and Bath.

Incidentally the last public hanging took place here in May 1868, after that Londoner’s had to entertain themselves. Newgate was the last of the City gates to be lost, it was removed in 1767.

Ludgate The wall now leads south towards the river and half way along its length is Ludgate. In old English ludgeat means “postern” or “back doorway”, so presumably this was the City’s back door. The Roman did not, as a rule, bury their dead within the precincts of a city, but almost invariably by the side of a road. So beyond this last section of wall on the City’s western flank was a cemetery about where Fleet Street heads away from the Square Mile.

Oh yes in answer to the original question, among other things the Roman gave us:


Illustrations courtesy of Barryoneoff, check out his site if you feel like having a City of London walk.

Taxi Talk Without Tipping

%d bloggers like this: