Tag Archives: London life

London predictions

This year is CabbieBlog’s fifteenth year in the cyberverse and a lot has happened in the intervening years. Gone are fax machines, Nokia phones, VHS and many diesel cabs. So what will change in London this year?

Bike Lanes: These were the poster boy during the lockdown, with dozens created, seemingly without thought to their consequences. Euston Road has been modified so traffic may flow again, others will meet their demise this year.

Delivery bikes: There was a time when most of what we ate was prepared at home. Then came the sandwich shop and the ubiquitous coffee outlet. Businesses then persuaded us we would be better off staying at home with your friendly underpaid delivery boy dropping the stuff off at your house, as a consequence driving in London was a slalom dodging bikes. With a recession on the horizon don’t plan to work for Uber Eats as a job for life.

Paying your way: Contactless is only a decade old – it was an exciting novelty at the 2012 Olympics – passengers in my cab at the time invariably paid by cash, even though I had a card reader. Cabbies now are obliged to install an approved machine. With interest rates rising to 1970s levels expect the adage ‘Cash Is King’ to return.

The moral high ground: When walking along the Embankment have you noticed the benches are perched on a platform? Thought not. Some years ago, to compensate for rising sea levels, the river’s wall was heightened. As the weather conditions become ever more extreme prepare to have your environmental conscience judged. “Oh, you actually flew on holiday this year did you?” “You used a black cab?” It’s only going to get worse, and the wall is going to get higher.

Engineering The Word: You just know where online communication is going, it’s going visual. TikTok is the flavour of the month, forget WordPress, Blogger and Substack, who wants to plough through acres of prose when you can watch a pubescent teen doing something stupid? Grandad, nobody wants to read those 500 words that you’ve lovingly crafted, not any more. Expect more social media apps designed for watching cute kittens.

It’s tough at the top: Four Chancellors of the Exchequer; Three Prime Ministers; Two Met Commissioners; all in one city in one year. Blame who you like – energy companies, bonus-stuffed bankers or global retail companies not paying local taxes, our immediate future is financial depression. We can expect a year with less financial security, lower aspirations and reduced support from the State. There’ll be pressure to cut services which will be fine until some service you rely on is scaled back, made chargeable or deleted altogether. Due to the fallout expect more political chaos at the top.

I’m not leaving any time soon

Groucho Marx might not be happy here when he quoted: “I’m leaving because the weather is too good. I hate London when it’s not raining.” But I’m staying put for the time being for many reasons.

In the early 1970s, I watched a play at The Ambassadors Theatre in West Street, at the time thinking it was pretty prosaic and unlikely to run for much longer. I’m still waiting for The Mousetrap to fold.

I still have £17.14 unused on my Dartford Crossing account, they charge enough without giving them more.

Sadiq Khan hasn’t banned my ageing Volkswagen Golf yet with his ULEZ scam for those of us who don’t want to replace our vehicles every 24 months.

I’m still waiting for Crossrail to open.

I’ve yet to take a thrilling ride on the Emirates Cable Car, it has yet to get a new £36 million sponsor when on 29th June the Emirates deal expires, then it will be renamed, after much thought, The London Cable Car.

I fancy asking a policeman on foot patrol the time. One day when the Met’s chief thinks of returning police to our streets, I can test the urban myth of asking the time, while conspicuously holding my phone.

My postcode might come up on the Postcode Lottery after I move house (I had better buy a ticket first).

I’ve yet to relinquish my license even though 1,551 London cabbies have already stopped working this year.

I have a Freedom Pass (if only we had public transport which went to where I want from near my house).

Postcard: London 1963

Today marks the 59th anniversary of my commencing a six-year composing apprenticeship in Clerkenwell, at the time an area populated by Italians behind delicatessen counters, greasy spoon cafes. Opposite the factory was the huge Old Holborn tobacco factory on the corner of Leather Lane market and just down the road the beautiful St. Peter’s Italian Church which was commemorating 100 years of welcoming worshippers.

This wasn’t the Swinging Sixties beloved of writers, but old badly maintained Peabody social housing, wide-boys selling hookey gear from suitcases in the market and huge bomb sites.

This great photograph from Christopher Fowler’s excellent blog via the postcard archives of London, shows Piccadilly Circus in 1963, emerging from the austerity of the fifties, but minus the huge snowfall we endured earlier that year.

What surprises me is the vividity of the circus-like colours (forced, obviously, but still very jolly – click to enlarge). Buses each manned by a clippie, only one person sitting on the Eros steps (I’ve never seen that even at night). I rather liked the bright lime green minivan and notice the majority of adverts were for booze and fags.

The number of cars equalled cabs, you’re not likely to see that today, also the nearest cabs were ancient FX3s and note the absence of nearside doors leaving the driver open to the elements.

But most of all I like how the vehicles look like Dinky Toys.

London’s first cuppa

With the mention of a diary today most Londoners would give Samuel Pepys as the most famous of diarists, but this narrative by an obscure civil servant lay undiscovered for nearly 200 years.

The story of the diary’s discovery came from a rather unexpected quarter. In 1812 Scottish historian David Macpherson was researching his prosaic account: The History of European Commerce in India, and for reasons lost over time while working in the Bodleian Library, Magdalen College, Oxford, came across the passage in Pepys’ diary:

And afterwards, I did send for a cup of tee (a China drink), of which I never had drunk before’.

It was the first mention we have in English of anyone drinking a cup of tea.

Today anyone researching life in the 17th century London would do worse than check out this famous (and infamous) diary. But here’s the extraordinary thing, Pepys’ six volumes of dense and secret scribblings had lain untouched for nearly two centuries.

What gave Macpherson the idea of checking out the work in the first place, how in its hundreds of pages did he stumble to the correct entry, let alone managing to crack the code.

Another lucky break was that the Reverend George Neville, Master of Magdalen, saw Macpherson’s passing reference to Pepys’ diaries and decided they needed further investigation, as they recorded some of the momentous times in England’s history.

He commissioned John Smith, a clever but poor student, to decipher the code and transcribe the entries.

It took Smith three years of research to bring us the most celebrated diary in the English language. From that single sentence about an unknown beverage, when everyone was drinking coffee in London’s coffee houses; had Macpherson not mentioned it in his dry account; the Master of Magdalen not taken a keen interest of the History of European Commerce; and had John Smith been less intelligent and not so tenacious, we wouldn’t have Pepys’ detailed account of the coronation of King Charles II, the Great Plague, the Great Fire of London and the minutiae in the life of a middle-class Englishman.

I don’t Adam and Eve It

The Oxford English Dictionary claims that the first use of the word cockney as a reference to native Londoners was in 1521 and since I did The Knowledge I’ve been telling anyone who cares to listen that I’m a cockney, blithely ignoring the fact that I was brought up in a leafy North London suburb.

For to be a cockney you have to have been born within the sound of Bow Bells, and contrary to the widely held belief the bells in question are not from Bow Church in East London, but St Mary-le-Bow on Cheapside in the City of London. Being born in Fitzrovia, I thought, erroneously, I easily came within its audible catchment area.

A church has existed on the site since Saxon times, and the subsequent Norman church was known as St Marie de Arcubus or Le Bow because of the bow arches of stone in its Norman crypt. The current building was built to the designs of Christopher Wren, 1671–1673, with the 223-foot steeple completed in 1680. It was considered the second most important church in the City of London after St Paul’s Cathedral and was one of the first churches to be rebuilt by Wren for this reason.

On 10 May 1941, a German bomb destroyed the Wren church including its bells made famous in the children’s nursery rhyme Oranges and Lemons.

The restoration was begun in 1956 and the bells only rang again in 1961 to produce a new generation of cockneys, a full 14 years after my birth.

Now according to research at Lancaster University a cockney accent will soon no longer be the hallmark of Londoners. The distinctive accent now known as Estuary Speak is more likely to be found in the Home Counties of Essex and Hertfordshire. The linguists claim that ever-increasing numbers of people in the capital are speaking Jafaican. The hybrid speech, created by successive waves of immigration is a mixture of cockney, combined with Bangladeshi, African and West Indian.

The London dialect could have disappeared within another generation and cockneys in their 40s will be the last generation to speak like stars from the BBC soap. Now the dwindling ranks of cockney speakers are being asked to record their voices for posterity.

Noise consultants 24 Acoustics, produced a sound map of London showing how far the sound of the bells reached in 2012 compared with 1851. Back then, the bells could be heard from the City of London, across Islington, Hackney, Tower Hamlets and into parts of Camden, Southwark, Newham and Waltham Forest. By 2012, on the other hand, the bells could only be heard in a small patch covering just the City and Shoreditch. They concluded that given that there are no maternity units in this area, the likelihood of any “true” cockneys being born is reduced significantly.

24 Acoustics used precision sound level measurements taken while the bells were tolling, taking into account Britain’s prevailing wind, which comes from the southwest. It is this wind that causes the sound from the bells to travel eastwards, they found that the reach of the bells is affected by the ambient noise levels, which was significantly lower 150 years ago.

Without roads or aircraft, ambient noise levels in London would have been similar to those in a rural location — between 20 and 25 “A-weighted decibels” in the evening. A-weighted decibels, or dBA, are an expression of the relative loudness of sounds in the air as perceived by the human ear. This means that the decibel values of sounds at low frequencies are reduced to account for the fact that the human ear is less sensitive at low audio frequencies below 1,000 Hz.

By 2012, ambient noise levels in London vary across the city, but were generally higher than 55dBA, thanks to busy roads, aeroplanes and noise from air conditioning units. Even with the recent lockdown, it’s unlikely that sound levels were at 1851 levels.