Wednesday, 26 September 2007

What does it all mean?

No, I haven't decided to give it all up before I start and become a psycho-analyst. A couple of people have already mailed me or left comments wondering what different terms within "Cabbie slang" mean.

Well, here goes with an explanantion of some of them.

Bilker - Someone who tries (and sometimes succeeds) in avoiding paying the fare for a journey
Butterboy - Nothing to do with Marlon Brando and half a pound of Lurpak. A butterboy is a new cabbie, and since you're new in the job you are "but a boy".
Dirty Dozen - Twelve roads through Soho that get you from Regent Street to Charing Cross Road without having to sit behind several thousand double decker busses on Oxford Street
Flyer - A fare to one of the airports
Gasworks - The houses of Parliament
The Iron Lung - a bloody useful toilet in Horsferry Road SW1
Kipper Season - The time of year when business is a bit slack, supposedly from when cabbies could only afford to eat kippers instead of steak
Legal - The fare on the meter without a tip. You wouldn't do that to a poor hard working honest bloke would ya?
Musher - An owner driver, as opposed to a driver who rents his cab
On the cotton - The shortest distance between to points is a straight line (or at least it would be if you didn't have to drive round buildings and parks to get to your destination. To see whether the route you took is shortest (I'm sure there'll be discussions about "moving lines" later on) you hold a piece of cotton over the map between your start and finish points. If the route you took is close to the straight line, it's described as being "on the cotton".
Putting on foul - nothing to do with dressing up like a chicken, or acting like Christiano Ronaldo in the opposition's penalty area, but joining a taxi rank that is already full.
Roader - a long journey, normally to outside of the London boroughs (note that a cabbie can refuse a fare if it's over 12 miles, or if they think their safety might be compromised. However, if it's 12 miles towards my house at the end of a night shift, it's got to be worth considering)
Wedding Cake - The Queen Victoria Memorial outside of Buckingham Palace

It's just possible that I already use some others and have become a part of my everyday vocabulary, so I don't see them as slang, so let me know if I come up with some strange expression and I'll try to explain it. (Or I might just make something up to see if it gets into common usage - Maybe we could invent this year's "Borange")

I'm also looking forward to picking up new slang expressions, be it cabbie related or otherwise. Just not too much of that Mockney stuff though, please.

Tuesday, 25 September 2007

Starting Out

OK, a first attempt at writing on the web.

Actually, not really the first time, having published a football fanzine for a few years, along with its website. They say, there's a book in everyone. Well I certainly hope mine comes out soon. It's been really uncomfortable riding that scooter around London for the past three and a half years with that inside me.

Why ride a scooter for so long? Quite simple really.. the answer, not the author, although some might argue otherwise.

After having spent 7 years at home as a stay-at-home dad while our daughter grew up, I decided to think about a career for when she got a bit older. The prospect of going back into and office and selling things 9-5 (or for however many hour the job takes, as my last couple of contracts so quaintly phrased it) filled me with horror. To put all that work in for little return just didn't seem to suit me.

So, what job could I do where the hours are totally flexible and where I wouldn't have to be shut inside an office environment for the rest of my working life? I enjoy driving... yes, even in London... so why not think about becoming a cabbie.
To become a licensed hackney carriage driver in London, an applicant needs to demonstrate that he or she can find the shortest route between any two given places within 6 miles of Charing Cross Station in the centre of London. And all without the aid of map or sat-nav system.

The process of learning and demonstrating all this is known as "The Knowledge of London".

On average it takes a knowledge-boy or -girl, around three and a half years to complete the knowledge. All at their own expense, and all in their own time.

A list of 320 routes forms the backbone of The Knowledge, but is far from all you'd need to know. Once you've learned the routes, you also need to find places (known as points) on those routes. These can be restaurants, bars, museums, offices, stations, pretty much anywhere a passenger might as to go to.

The easiest way to find these points is simply to get out there and find them. It can be done on foot, or by car, but by far, the most popular way is to use a scooter or moped. You'll recognise a knowledge boy in town. Their bike usually has a perspex screen on the front normally with a map or a list of roads and points that they need to find.

And so for several years, in all weathers, a knowledge boy will be pounding the streets searching for somewhere that the examiners have asked in previous exams (known as "appearances"). Once all that bike work is done and you've worked your way through the appearance system you then have to learn 132 routes from the edge of the six mile radius out to the London Suburbs.

And that is the stage I am now at. I've managed to drive all of the routes adding another 1500 miles or so to the 24,000 I've already done (I suspect it would have been quicker and easier to have become the pilot of a 747). The next couple of weeks will be spent revising these runs before I go back up to the Public Carriage Office (PCO) where I will have to recite a few of them at the examiner's choosing.

Providing I'm successful, I'll then be given a final talk, presented with my badge and I can then start work once I've picked up my cab from the rental company.

And that, in a nutshell is what I've had to go through in the past three years. I'm sure these pages will tell you more about some of the details as I recall them once I'm in the job. Or perhaps it'll all just fall out of the already full dustbin that is my brain. Who knows?

Right! Revision beckons.