Tag Archives: London

Norf v Sarf

Is London still a city of two halves, divided transversely by the Thames, are its two sides still fundamentally different and can you successfully move from north to south and vice versa?

First I have to declare an element of prejudice, I’m a London cabbie who was born in Fitzrovia and grew up in one of the city’s most northerly and leafy suburbs.

Historically, it’s easy to see why we are a city of two unequal halves both in landmass, wealth and transport. The South was easily flooded marshland, so was filled with factories and cheap workers’ homes. The North had hills and therefore attracted the rich, who love a vista.

With a measly 29 stations, compared with 241 on the other side of the Thames (at September 2020) southerners have slim pickings. The Northern line at least extends as far as Zone 4, but otherwise, the Jubilee, Bakerloo, District and Victoria lines all make half-arsed efforts at serving south London. It’s often said that the Underground didn’t venture into south London because of the dangers from digging up 17th plague pits or that the gravel beds made tunnelling uneconomic. The reason is far more prosaic. The majority of mass plague graves are north of the river and they proved no obstacle to the growth of the tube running far beneath them, the real reason comes down to cold, hard capitalism. When the first private tube companies began operating after 1863, they focused on north London, where there was more opportunity.

Naturally, the South has more pubs, but most of the theatres lie north of the River.

The accents of Londoners from either half are different, too, and their homes look different; shorter and squatter in the south, taller and of deeper red brick in the north.

But then it starts to get really complicated because the Victorians developed grander areas – Brixton and Clapham which had large semi-detached residences, but just as the south was taking off World War II caused housing shortages and created subdivided homes, which meant the larger properties got poorer.

And then it got really complicated, and bear with me on this one, because the north holds both the east and the west, not the south, and as the city’s core emptied out after the war, Londoners moved east and south but not west, which made it as expensive as the north.

In other words, you’re still either a north or south person. But looking to the future, the south has more potential. It has Bermondsey, Borough, Bankside and plenty of other wealthy enclaves, but is still straddled with vast swathes of social housing, while in the north, due to the paucity of two-up-two-downs prices for these Victorian terraces – even with more working from home – are going through the roof.

The ongoing tragedy for either side is that the areas that really need improving remain in a deplorable cycle of poverty, pulled back and forth by market forces, while prosperous roads have more builders’ skips outside than you can shake a stick at.

Reasons to live in London

Seventy-three years ago I saw London for the first time. Admittedly I wasn’t very attentive to the capital’s attractions then, being more interested in getting my first meal, and my first breath. Born in Fitzrovia, an area they once tried to rebrand as NoHo Square, probably the most senseless moniker imaginable, and as you might expect from a cabbie, I’ve always lived North of the River.

To mark my 73 years of living and working in London I give you 73 things I love about the capital and my 73 biggest gripes:

✅ The sense of history which is all around you
❌ Property developers trying to change an area’s identity
✅ The Underground which is the largest in the world
❌ Lack of investment in the Underground network causing delays and overcrowding
✅ The first black London mayor
❌ The last London mayor, who blamed everybody for his shortcomings
✅ The view from Greenwich Park, this protected view of St. Paul’s despite the plethora of skyscrapers is still one of the finest in England
❌ Idiots taking selfies have eroded the steps below General Wolfe’s steps in their desire to be seen with St. Paul’s in the background
✅ There’s always somewhere new to discover, yes I know cabbies are supposed to know everything
❌ Being asked by ‘the lost’ directions, cabbies are not a roving information bureau
✅ Cutting-edge architecture, The Shard just screams London leads the world
❌ Much of the 1960s buildings were just a clone of every other post-war office block
✅ The chimes of Big Ben, the multi-million restoration of the Elizabeth Tower is just stunning
❌ Those killjoys who obstruct ringing the chimes in commemoration of us leaving the EU/New Year/Remembrance Day
✅ World cuisine, once seen as the joke by tourists, today we have some of the finest restaurants in the world
❌ Pretentious chefs who can only charge the prices as most of their customers are on expenses
✅ Sunlight on the Thames, the evening light reflecting off Lambeth Palace standing beside the Thames as it sets below the river
❌ The setting sun shines into my eyes
✅ The museums of South Kensington, the perfect introduction for the young to discover everything from science to history
❌ Exhibition Road, by making it a ‘shared space’ it is dangerous, especially for the young and disabled, and how did it cost £22,000 per yard to lay?
✅ The wobbly Millennium Bridge, it is in the perfect location giving access to St. Paul’s and Tate Modern
❌ The Garden Bridge, it was designed to provide a means to cross the River amid a forest, but only for some days a year, and would have ruined the best view in central London
✅ Waterloo Bridge, built during the Second World War by women, its location on the River’s bend gives views of the Houses of Parliament in one direction and St. Paul’s in the other, thoughtfully its parapet is low enough to give unobstructed views
❌ Southwark Bridge, made much narrower with the introduction of cycle lanes ignored by lycra men, at its northern end it one gave access to the City via Queen Street, now blocked off, except for cyclists
✅ Tate Modern, the perfect use for a disused brick-built power station, full credit to be pressure group who saved this iconic building
❌ Tate Modern, almost everything inside, visited with an artist friend and we could distinguish between an ‘art installation’ and a group of builders swinging a ball and chain
✅ Godwin’s Court, this narrow gem of an alley was built in 1627, on its south side are enchanting Georgian bowed windows painted black, polished knockers and gas lamps, also displayed on the facing wall is a pre-London fire brigade fire plaque
❌ Detritus left in alleys by the drunk, addicted or just plain lazy, can’t they just deposit in a receptacle?
✅ Being able to choose from more than two local radio stations, LBC have gone from strength-to-strength over time, a demonstration, if one was needed, that London is really a world-class city, provincial radio, in contrast, sounds so well, provincial
❌ Driving in London takes concentration, so why do idiots drive cars with music so loud, it knocks out one of their senses?
✅ Banksy and Stik two great graffiti artists who have brought humour to the dark parts of London
❌ Generic graffiti with no merit or reason, a trip down the Regent’s Canal was ruined for me by the mass of paint daubed on every wall along the canal’s footpath
✅ Mudlarking, recently finished a book of the same name, describing this curious London-centric hobby
❌ Global warming, the Embankment has been built up to prevent flooding, it happened in the 1950s when Tate Britain was flooded, its only a matter of time before large areas are submerged
✅ The illuminated Embankment, for years bulbs, were blowing and not replaced, now we have LEDs which are longer lasting
❌ Not having the off-white glow from Edison bulbs on the Embankment reminding me of the cigarette advert ‘You’re Never Alone With A Strand’
✅ Eyeballing a famous person in the street, and you both choose to ignore the encounter
❌ Being asked by passengers if I have had any famous person in my cab, yes I have, but it’s none of your business
✅ Recognising where a film was shot/Watching a TV drama trying to identify the London location
❌ Irritatingly not identifying a London building in a film or TV drama
✅ 0° longitude at Greenwich, standing in two hemispheres, everyone has to do this once
❌ Finding out with accurate GPS the Meridian Marker is in the wrong place and the line is actually 112.1 yards east from its brass plate
✅ Mind the gap, the iconic announcement once made by an actor Tim Bentinck from The Archers now seen on tourist souvenirs
❌ Finding out that some of the Tube’s curves are the result of detours necessary to avoid plague pits
✅ Taking a shortcut down a back street I’ve never walked down before, realising that Dr Johnson was right, that you should: ‘survey the innumerable little lanes and courts . . . that the immensity of London consists’
❌ Finding those same little lanes and courts are now no through roads, courtesy of the local council stopping ‘rat runs’
✅ Waterloo sunset, it never fails to lift my spirits, whatever the day has brought
❌ Finding out Terry and Julie once walked near the Mersey before Ray Davies changed its location
✅ Ghost signs, showing that nothing is permanent in a vibrant ever-changing city, and anoraks who build websites showing these fading images
❌ Distracting modern advertising often so bright its blinds a driver
✅ Tracing a line on a Geographers’ A-Z map, the only way cabbies can learn the shortest route while studying for The Knowledge
❌ Passengers who don’t understand that the Thames doesn’t run in a straight line, so, therefore, its quicker, and shorter, to cross the river twice to reach your destination
✅ Decent mobile phone reception, go out into the ‘sticks’ to realise the complete coverage we have in London
❌ Numpties walking while talking on their phones oblivious of my cab bearing down on them
✅ Heritage Routemasters, there might only be one route, but these iconic vehicles remind me of my journey to school
❌ Too many buses driven along Oxford Street, you could walk the length of the street on their roofs, yet for London’s outskirts, a bus is a rare sight
✅ Blue plaques, discovering one these little notices just bring the building alive
❌ Did they really have to commemorate Sir Hiram Maxim, in Clerkenwell, the inventor of the machine gun?
✅ Watching the twin bascules of Tower Bridge rise, especially when you are on the river
❌ Watching the twin bascules of Tower Bridge rise, just as you are about to dive across in an empty cab
✅ Reading great blogs written for Londoners, like Diamond Geezer or A London Inheritance
❌ Reading blogs written for tourists telling them for the 100th time which side of the escalator to stand
✅ Reading Curiocity: In Pursuit of London by Henry Eliot and Matt Lloyd-Rose for the umpteenth time, just to enjoy its eccentric take on London
❌ Buying a book entitled ‘Things you didn’t know about London’, to find yes I did
✅ 24-hour bagel shops, these are a tradition, along with the all-night greasy spoons in Smithfield
❌ Driving down Brick Lane towards the bagel shops taking ages with the hipsters walking down the centre of the road
✅ The Ceremony of The Keys, tourists just love these old traditions
❌ Those Republicans who try to remove the Royal Family which will destroy London’s tourist industry
✅ Bette Midler observing “When it’s three o’clock in New York, it’s still 1938 in London”
❌ Those who try to remove London’s continuity with its past
✅ Far less fog than everyone imagines and occasionally now with global warming snow on terraced rooftops
❌ When snow does arrive, nobody clearing the pavements outside their house
✅ The sheer variety of Theatreland, in fact, you could see a different production in London for the rest of your life
❌ Tourists not wanting to be told by their cabbie ‘Who Did It’ in The Mousetrap
✅ Being one in nine million and part of a collective consciousness
❌ Everybody who forever complains about London
✅ Norway’s gifted Christmas tree
❌ After over 70 years we still can’t put up decent fairy lights on our Scandinavian gift
✅ The view from the front seat on the top deck of a bus
❌ Chopping down trees which overhang roads, which threaten to hit a passing bus
✅ London plane trees, those Georgians certainly knew what to plant, especially in Berkeley Square
❌ When plane trees are pollarded stopping them maturing to their full majesty
✅ The smell of bacon from a Cabmen’s shelter
❌ The Chelsea Embankment shelter is still closed because only 2 cabs can park nearby
✅ High streets that stay open after 5:30 in the evening and corner shops opening at 6:00 in the morning
❌ The Ugandan Asians changed our shopping habits, it’s a pity the supermarkets, with their ‘local’ shops, try to squeeze them out of business
✅ Free stuff-to-do every weekend, free museums and free art galleries
❌ The Royal Academy entrance prices
✅ The opportunity to pop into Parliament
❌ After working for the House of Lords, and knowing its value to enable legislation, filling it with hundreds of sycophants
✅ King’s Cross gasholders against a bright blue sky, and saving them for posterity
❌ Industrial sites left vacant because of the cost of removing pollution, when they could be developed they build on green belt land
✅ Open House weekend
❌ Open House is only for one weekend a year
✅ Garden square weekend, when over 200 unlock their gates to the public
❌ Many London squares are locked and only open for residents
✅ Standing under the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral
❌ Having now to pay for the experience
✅ Mad museums from sewing machines, empty packets and lady’s fans
❌ Not having enough time in one’s life to visit London’s 250 museums and art galleries
✅ Cosmopolitan coexistence
❌ Being accused as a Brexiteer that I don’t want immigrants in London
✅ Late-night openings at private art galleries
❌ Not being able to afford to buy the works on their walls
✅ Do not touch the walrus, do not feed the pelicans, don’t disturb the wolves – only in London
❌ Pedantic signs, don’t feed the pigeons, don’t walk on the grass, don’t whistle
✅ Burlington Arcade beadles, enforcing open umbrella ban and stopping whistling
❌ Paul McCartney has a whistling ban exemption in the arcade
✅ Falun Gong protestors outside the Chinese Embassy going through their meditation exercises
❌ The fact that they still need to draw attention to the 2,829 people that have been murdered by the regime
✅ Centre Point Fountains a modern masterpiece
❌ Centre Point Fountains removed to make way for Crossrail and not reinstalled in London
✅ Bus lanes
❌ Buses in bus lanes hindering a cab’s progress
✅ Post Office Tower, BT Tower to all Millennials
❌ BT Tower is now closed to the public
✅ Riding the green wave, trying to drive a cab from King’s Cross to the Westway without stopping
❌ Not ever managing to do it
✅ Knowing London’s 611 square miles better than most
❌ That it has taken a lifetime to learn
✅ Claridges Hotel, any hotel with a picture of Winston Churchill in the foyer gets my vote
❌ I can’t afford afternoon tea every week in the reading room
✅ Globe Theatre, probably the world’s greatest theatre
❌ That it took years, and an American to get it built
✅ Denis Severs’ House
❌ There are not enough people in London with Denis Severs’ eccentricity
✅ Suburbs pretending to be villages, don’t you just love their pretentious inhabitants?
❌ Being told for the thousandth time ‘London is a collection of villages’
✅ Kew Gardens, the temperate house is sublime
❌ I live at the opposite side of London and not next door
✅ Living in a city that tourists pay £150 a night to visit
❌ Some hotels are so bad they shouldn’t be charging £15 a night
✅ The 4th plinth
❌ I once saw a man practising his golf swing on the plinth
✅ The Geffrye at Christmas
❌ The Christmas light on Oxford Street are just adverts
✅ New Johnston font on London’s transport system
❌ Sorry, I’m a geek, but I prefer the original
✅ The Hoover Building
❌ Developers destroyed its companion, the Firestone Building and weren’t jailed
✅ The fact that London is not as scary as out-of-towners think it is
❌ Sometimes it is
✅ The city’s constant resilience
❌ Those who always like to complain about the world’s greatest city

and finally . . .

✅ Black cab drivers and their vehicles, OK I had to say it, but where else in the world do they enjoy the benefits of a professional driver taking them home by just raising their arm to flag one down?
❌ Uber, Transport for London have failed to remove this ‘digital disruptor’ from our streets, which undermines all legal private hire as well as black cabbies
Featured image: Birthday Cake by Will Clayton (CC BY 2.0)

My Favourite Things

[I]t is that time of year when the media is crammed full of trivia, so in the Christmas tradition, here is CabbieBlog’s London favourites:

Neighbourhood: Clerkenwell; I had my first job in London in this small district populated at the time by Italians giving us great delicatessens, a catholic church and an introduction to their beautiful language. The principle industries there were watchmaking and typesetting.

cardinals-wharf-st-pauls Building: St. Paul’s is obscured by other buildings, so the best place to see it is from Bankside on the other side of the Thames, then cross by Millennium Bridge and climb to the top, and don’t forget to visit the crypt.

Open Space: Hampstead Heath, the highest point in London, with its varied landscape and nutcases swimming in its famous ponds.

odcjxtbluspkxdpo_GetAttachment-23_odcjxtbluspkxdpo View: No problem choosing this one, Waterloo Bridge in the evening. Wordsworth got it wrong, when he wrote Upon Westminster Bridge:
Earth has not anything to show more fair:
Dull would he be of soul who could pass by
A sight so touching in its majesty:
This City now doth like a garment wear
Nice sentiment, wrong bridge. But to be fair to Will, Waterloo Bridge wasn’t built then, Ray Davis was right though.

32953 Bar/Pub/Restaurant: Bar Italia on Frith Street, Soho, for the best cappuccino north of the Alps, their espresso machine is over 50 years old and still going strong. Open 24 hours a day, they just kick you out into the street when they want to clean the place. Or for a slightly upmarket tea try Claridges, good value, superb service and no tourists.

London book/film/documentary: London Sight Unseen by Snowdon. I was bought this book a few years ago. Snowdon travelled all over the capital photographing anything unusual or fascinating that caught his photographer’s eye. Or watch the play ‘The Knowledge’ by the late Jack Rosenthal, a brilliant comedy about becoming a cabbie.

oldshop Interesting Shop: Pollock’s Toy Museum and shop in Scala Street near Goodge Street. A fascinating collection of toys from a bygone era.

London street/road/square: Queen Anne’s Gate. Unlike her statute outside St. Paul’s Cathedral, this exquisite little turning which takes its name from the aforementioned queen, encapsulates Georgian London, go there and be amazed that there are still places left in London like this, just don’t tell those modern architects, they’ll want to develop it.

200px-William_Hogarth_053 Londoner: Thomas Coram although born in Lyme Regis and spent much of his early life at sea he’s an adopted Londoner. He later became a successful London merchant, as a great philanthropist Coram was appalled by the many abandoned, homeless children living in the streets of London. In 1739 he obtained a Royal Charter granted by George II establishing a “hospital for the maintenance and education of exposed and deserted young children.” Visit the Foundling Museum near the children’s playing fields which take his name, just don’t go into the playground next door, you must be accompanied by a minor.

Period: 1650-1720 This is the time when London was brought to its knees after the Great Fire of London, yet within decades London was reborn as the greatest city in the world, in addition surviving civil war, plague, drought and bankruptcy. It’s a time when London gave rise to a generation of extraordinary men: Sir Christopher Wren, Robert Hooke, John Locke, John Evelyn and Nicholas Barbon.

Whingeing Smörgåsbord

[A] diversion from our usual bill of fare, mainly because I couldn’t be bothered haven’t written a more considered and longer post, I give you today a veritable smörgåsbord feast of whinges.

Sitting in my mobile tin box, I’m rarely accosted by these salesmen. They of course have no interest in the charity they purpose to represent, their sole purpose is to get you to sign on the dotted line and earn their commission. Who in their right mind would tell a complete stranger with a clipboard and wearing a dubious jacket their bank details? Are you going to give that information to a Nigerian who tells you via the internet he has won a fortune – well maybe you have.

Hands Free
No, that isn’t the name of a gay German rock band, it’s what every driver should have in their vehicle in London. It’s hard enough negotiating around all the hazards thrown up at you as you drive in London, without trying to steer with one hand while holding a phone in the other. White van man please note, your company should provide a hands free device if they want to contact you at work.

Electric Cars
359123912_3b568797d0 Uncharacteristically for me, but I’m beginning to get irritated at the sight of these miniature milk floats being driven around town. It’s occupants usually have a permanent smug look on their faces suggesting ‘look how green and clever we are’.

And have you noticed the free plug and park bays also have green lights on them when charging, just to show off their environmental credentials? Well it’s about time that they paid to drive in London like everyone else.

Women Gondoliers
Venice the waterborne city is undergoing a sea change (sorry about that). First it was adverts in St. Mark’s Square, followed by plastic striped mooring poles replacing the traditional wooden one. Now they are allowing women gondoliers, is nothing sacred?
The next thing London will follow suit with female cabbies; cabs with adverts; post offices closing; no bobbies on the beat; Routemaster buses withdrawn and no conductors; Mercedes vans purporting to be licensed taxis; allowing 400 rickshaws to ply for hire; and put 44 foot long bendy buses on London’s streets.

I’m getting indigestion just thinking about it.