Tag Archives: London life

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.

Bizarre requests made of London Cabbies

Cabbies in London get to see all walks of life. In fact, you never quite know who you’ll get in the back of your cab or how they’ll behave. Some passengers ask very little of you as a taxi driver, just to be taken from A to B safely and within good time. However, there are others that are just a little more demanding or at times, outright bizarre.

Leading taxi insurance broker, insureTAXI asked 220 London cabbies to reveal the strangest requests they’ve ever got from passengers and they came up with these fantastic tales. From transporting budgies to visiting the crematorium at midnight, these taxi drivers truly went beyond the call of duty.

Can I bring my budgie?

“Had a customer ask me if she could bring her budgie, told her that she could as long as she kept hold of it. Well, she didn’t and when I broke hard for a car that pulled out in front of me the cage went flying. The door flew open and the bird was flying around my car with her daughter screaming her head off!! The customer had to climb in the back to try and catch it.” Steve (St Albans, Hertfordshire)

Have I just bought a black cab?

“On my way home but with my light still on and the early hours of the morning a guy waves me down and asks if I would take him to somewhere in deepest Kent (forget now exactly where) after 45 minutes he asks: could I in any way slow down the meter; or could I drive slower? I say to him that would make no difference to the metered fare. He was I think just happy to be getting home, after about 50 minutes or so his phone rings and it was his wife asking where he was: “Be home in about 20 minutes Luv” he says and, “Oh, by the way, take your car out of the garage, I think I’ve have just bought a black-cab”. By Colin (now in Thailand)

I need my charger . . . it’s in my car!

“Had a lad ask me to take him on a 40-mile round trip just to collect his phone charger from his car. This was a £50 fare from the bar he had been drinking at! When I explained the cost he insisted that it was important and that he didn’t mind. I’m sure he could have waited to make some other arrangement the next day” Ali (Central London)

Quick! I’m live on air in 9 minutes

“I once was asked to take an MP to a TV broadcast 9 minutes before he was live on air with Paxton on Newsnight! No pressure I thought. We made it with less than a few seconds to spare.” Anonymous (Central London)

I want a divorce!

“I once took a couple of arguing newlyweds home from their night do and the bride asked to be dropped off at her parents as she did not want to go home with her new husband and wanted a divorce.” Tahir (Croydon, East London)

Secret midnight cremation

“Back in the 80s, I was asked to take a male and a female, dressed in Gothic fashion to the local Crematorium late at Night. I said, hesitantly, “what actually inside the grounds?!”I mean I’m sorry to ask but why do want to go there this late at night?” “Yes!” she said. Nervously, I drove into the grounds of the Crematorium, shaking, fearing I was going to face some ritualistic ceremony…it was getting darker and darker until suddenly I saw the lights of a house and breathed a great sigh of relief. The female passenger explained they’d been in a timepiece having a laugh and been invited to a friends’ party whose house happened to be inside the grounds of the crematorium. The man, whose identity is still a complete mystery, paid the fare, and wrote “thank you for a great ride, love Alf” in my notebook.” Rasheed (Chelmsford, Essex)

This is a Guest Post by Tim Crighton director of taxi insurance specialists Taxi-Insure.

A version of this post was published by CabbieBlog on 14th March 2014