Tag Archives: the knowledge

Memory Men

Lord Winston moustache

[Y]ou have to feel sorry for high achievers like Lord Winston. They work hard all their lives and reach the top of their respective professions. Then they find themselves sitting down to dinner with a London Cabbie, possibly sharing a table on a cruise or at a hotel.

The conversation around the table goes something as follows:

Table Chatterbox: turning to Lord Winston “and what do you do Bob”?

Lord Winston: “Well I am a Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences, an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering and Fellow of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, I am also a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians of London, and an Honorary Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons, Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons, and the Institute of Biology. I also hold honorary doctorates from fourteen universities. In addition to being British medical doctor and scientist, I’m a television presenter, and sit on the Labour Party benches in the House of Lords.”

Table Chatterbox: stifling a yawn, “Oh, really”. With that he turns to me. “Do you have an interesting career Gibson?”

Gibson Square: “Well actually I’m only a London Cabbie.”

Table Chatterbox: “Well how very interesting, I’ve always wanted to know, just how is it you manage to remember all those roads?”

Just what is the fascination with the Knowledge? I notice you are among the wordpress visitors
who have chosen to read this blog on all things cabbie.

We are not as well educated as many graduates, and contrary to popular opinion we’re not as erudite as we would like to think ourselves. We are reputed, incorrectly, to have narrow Right Wing views, with a propensity to favour the British National Party.

Yet I have shared a table with a nuclear physicist, a director of Unilever and a National Health Service consultant, but all the other diners want to know is, just how it is that I could have done the Knowledge.

If I were clever enough to remember 11,500 roads in central London plus all the theatres, hospitals, clubs, public buildings and all manner of miscellanea and could then take the shortest route between any two of them, I would have the brains to be a barrister and wouldn’t be pushing a cab around London.

If you are reading this Lord Winston, and you find yourself in CabbieBlog’s vehicle, just to help your self esteem I’ll donate the fare (with a generous tip) to the charity of your choice.

Got to go now, I’m halfway through reading Blackstone’s Criminal Practice 2010, it’s a riveting read.

Cabbie’s aide-memoiré

London’s licensed black taxis have been voted by a very large margin, the best cabbies in the world, according to a poll published recently. We are famed for our knowledge of the city and our ability to recall a large amount of information.

At this time of the year when cramming for exams is on the agenda, I give you CabbieBlog’s tricks of the trade when learning The Knowledge.

[A]cronyms: By taking the first letters we have created: WASP – the four streets that go from St. Leonard’s Terrace to South Kensington Junction; Walpole Street, Anderson Street, Sloane Avenue and Pelham Street; CAB – Chelsea, Albert and Battersea Bridges and COB- the three respective roads they lead into said bridges: Chelsea Bridge Road, Oakley Street and Beaufort Street.

It was fortuitous that when they renamed the old Globe Theatre in Shaftsbury Avenue to the Gielguid it didn’t spoil the mnemonic: Little Apples Grow Quickly Please; five theatres on the north side of Shaftesbury Avenue: Lyric, Apollo, Gielguid, Queens, Palace, and if you prefer, with a greengrocer’s apostrophe ‘s at the end you get the Shaftsbury Theatre.

The Dirty Dozen the twelve streets from Regent Street to Charing Cross Road that get you across Soho.

Our brain would seem to be the opposite of a computer, we have trouble storing large amounts of data, but an inexhaustible capacity for storing images. Therefore when trying to remember the location of Frankie Howard’s blue plaque (27 Edwardes Square, Kensington, London W8 6HH, if you’re interested), just visualise Up Pompeii in that square.

In Praise of the C90

So you’re thinking of starting The Knowledge and are making a list of essentials:


Map check; Pen and paper check; List of routes across London check; Book of places to find check.

But there is one essential that no self respecting knowledge boy (or girl) can do without: A Honda C90.

Stick a clipboard on the handlebars, affix a map to it and you’re away.

So successful are these bikes that the Honda Cub is the most successful motorcycle model in history, with more than 60 million sold worldwide this little bike has made a huge contribution to Honda’s sales and profit. Honda used the slogan ‘you meet the nicest people on a Honda’ as they broke into the English speaking world (say that to a Knowledge student on a wet Sunday afternoon). It’s hardly surprising so many have been sold, with its simple 4 stroke engine, and only the most basic of controls, Honda have produced a machine that’s cheap, reliable, and easy to repair. As long as you keep the oil topped up (as cabbie.blog learned to his cost) this bike seems to go on forever.

But the beauty for your Knowledge student lies in the bike’s manoeuvrability. Stop anywhere while checking a particular place, you don’t obstruct the traffic. Hey! You don’t even have to worry about the gears, its automatic. With its neat little white box behind the seat for sandwich/thermos (you’ll certainly need that) and other essential paraphernalia.

Believe me, a day spent on The Knowledge you could easily travel 100 miles, all for less than one gallon of petrol.

These machines work everywhere: London in the rain, in Delhi sometimes with 2 or 3 passengers, and in the heat of the African desert.

Knowledge students sometimes put clipboards the size of a kitchen table on the handlebars; I have even seen some with reading lights attached to assist night study.

But these ubiquitous little machines have the road holding of a blancmange balanced on ice, brakes with the efficiency of a child’s tricycle and can go from 0-60 in about 5 minutes with a tailwind. But the worst fault of all is they are invisible to drivers of 4x4s. These cretins of the road think these machines are push bikes and pull out in front of you as you travel at 30mph towards them, and they do not hear you coming, as one courier with a 400cc bike once said to me “you need a bit of noise to wake up those bastards”.

But for all its faults, your humble C90 will be still in production long after other volume car manufacturers have consumed all the Government handouts thrown at them and then gone bust taking their debt with them. Just like DeLorean.

One last tip: Get some warm clothes it’s bloody cold on a C90!

Make a cuppa and do the Knowledge

When I started the Knowledge 17 years ago you got yourself a bike, some warm clothes and set off most days to explore London whatever the weather.

One anecdote at the time was of somebody buying a Travel card and attempting to gain that coveted green badge from studying the Knowledge from the top of a double decker bus. Nowadays I suppose the lazy use Google Maps.

[B]ut for most of us it was the humble Honda C90. Along the way you first experienced Cabbies Scrotum a condition caused by sitting down for too long. The verbal exams also would be a challenge to your resolve, I was once asked to describe a journey from two places on opposite sides of the same road. When I queried it with the examiner he said “it’s raining, I’m pregnant and I’ve got a wooden leg so I need a cab”.

Now these clever people at Google have come up with a service which some lazy Knowledge students will want to try, make a cuppa and sit in the warm, call up Google Street View and bingo.

Google has spent almost a year collecting these images, with a fleet of specially modified cars, and the resultant images provide a snapshot of a bygone era before the recession hit the British high street. With many of the pictures were taken last summer, they show stores that have since gone bust, including Woolworths.

As well as the logistical challenges of taking tens of millions of individual pictures along Britain’s roads, Street View has also suffered intense criticism from privacy campaigners since it launched in the US two years ago. An American couple even went as far as to sue Google over invasion of privacy although they subsequently lost the case.

The resolution of Google Street View is amazing and you can examine every recess. Alright you still have go to Knowledge School to revise with other students, and yes, you don’t get some of your senses stimulated, like smelling the urine on the Paddington slip which for some perverse reason is used as a toilet by some cabbies.

But pursuing the Knowledge can be much more interesting than looking at images and studying a map all day, and you need a reasonable intellect to achieve your badge, but it’s a pity you’re not told how boring driving a cab all day it can be.

But how good is Google Street View at locating some obscure ‘points’ like the Texas Legation Memorial. So what will we have soon, a generation of cabbies who have strained their index fingers using a mouse?

I tell you what they’ll miss the smell of the urine!