Thursday, 25 October 2007

A short week.

With it being half term week, it's a little difficult to get out working, so despite still having the cab at home it's not earning me any money this week (unless I manage to get out at the weekend). I did manage to work on Monday after my daughter took a trip into London with one of her friends, but only after I'd taken my mum out for a little drive.

That did give me a chance to practice putting the wheelchair ramp and step into place, the first time I've done it since having to take the DSA Hackney Carriage driving test. All London cabs have to be wheelchair accessible and a driver needs to demonstrate how to do this (and secure it in the cab). The ramp itself is a fold out flap built into the floor of the TXII, unlike some older models where two ramps are stored in the boot.

The rest of the driving test is pretty much the same as a normal driving test. Around 45 minutes of driving an examiner around, performing the same sort of manoeuvres that you'd do in any other driving test; reversing round corners, parallel parking, emergency stops etc. My favourite "taxi assessment" has to be the U-turn. With a 25' kerb-to-kerb turning circle it's really easy to make the cab face the opposite direction, something that's already been useful several times while out working.

Of course, U-turns don't exist on The Knowledge, and we need to learn which roads will get us facing the opposite direction, known as "turnarounds". Some of these are still useful when picking up in one way streets or streets with barriers or no U-turn signs, but are nowhere near as much fun as giving it full lock and spinning the cab round on something smaller than a sixpence.

Most of Monday's jobs were straightforward enough, and again, the stuff I'd learned on The Knowledge just kicked into place, apart from one side street in Fulham which I'd never heard of, and one hotel which I knew but couldn't find once I'd got into the right street. In the first case, the passenger gave me the main road I needed and then told me where to turn off. The second one was a hotel near Paddington which doesn't even have the name on the outside, and is in a road that is made up of three separate parallel roads. I drove past it three times before getting onto the phone to my old callover partner Brian to see if he could give me a fix on it. As usual with these things, as soon as I'd got through, I found the hotel. The passenger was very understanding about the situation once he saw how badly lit and badly signed the hotel was, even having a joke about "how good the knowledge is". I offered to knock a couple of quid off the fare because of the stuttering end to the run, but he declined and gave me a nice tip on top, saying with a smile that he'd just tell the people he was meeting that "the bloody cabbie didn't know where he was going".

On the subject of my callover partner, he's finally got his badge and done his first couple of nights work. It seems he's enjoying it as well, so we're planning to meet up some time next week for lunch... that's if we can tear ourselves away from the travelling public who insist on giving us money.

Sunday, 21 October 2007

Another day, another several dollars

And so, to the weekend and my first Saturday working in the cab.

A bit of a slow start to the day. Managed to get up to town by about 9am, with no hands going out on the way in at all. Don't you just know that the one I'd get on the way in will take me back out again.

Of course, the A2 is much better on a Saturday morning without the levels of traffic and fewer accidents to hold things up. Headed for the Iron Lung just to shake off the cup of tea that comprised my breakfast, and to get a another cup in the cafe opposite. It should have been coffee to help me wake up after a long night out with the band on Friday.

Playing classic rock covers in pubs is OK, but when you look at the hours it takes to earn the small amount that you get paid as a band member, and the time that you get home, you sometimes wonder if it's worth it. It must be, I'm back out at Earl's in Maidstone tonight with the band. At least it's an early finish tonight.

After chatting a while with a knowledge boy I switched the light on and moved off in search of a first fare for the day. It was nearly an hour before I got my first job. Having driven up and down Oxford Street for a while I eventually got flagged by the concierge of The Kingsway Hall Hotel in Great Queen Street for a job to County Hall. No problems with the job except turning into a one way street (the wrong way). Luckily nothing was coming the other way, and I realised my mistake before making use of the cab's 25' turning circle and carrying on with my journey. Here's hoping it's not a junction monitored by CCTV, otherwise I can kiss goodbye to a chunk of my earnings and possible add 3 points to my (so far) clean driving licence. I guess that mistake proves how distracting it can be to be chatting while driving, even if it's to someone in the cab and not on the other end of a mobile.

After that first job, there was very little time without anyone in the cab, apart from when stuck in jams. Nobody is going to get into a cab in traffic when they could walk to the front of the queue quicker than they can do it in a vehicle.

Most of the work was arounf the West End, with a few short trips between Oxford Street and Covent Garden, out to Harrods, then a trip back to the Langham Hilton for a couple of New Zealand tourists. Of course the conversation turned to the Rugby World Cup final. The couple had been planning to go to Paris for the game, but gave up their tickets once New Zealand had been knocked out of the competition (It was brave of them to even consider buying a ticket if they were hoping to eee the Kiwis in the final).

More work out of Oxford Street, including a job to Crouch Hill, my first job taking me outside of the comfort of the centre of town. The passenger was a young lady who told me she had to be back by 4:30 because she was being picked up by a car to take her to some studios for a show. Since she said she'd be missing the rugby (a regular topic of conversation throughout the day) because she'd be working, I guess she'd be taking part in the show. I have no idea who she was, or what she'd be doing, but it was to be a chat show of some description. Suppose I'll never find out. Still, someone's only a celebrity to me if I recognise them. (I did recognise Chris Eubank's truck parked in a side street in Brompton. Someone told me it had been there for 2 days and had a ticket on it. Guess it's hard to get a wheel clamp that big.)

At least the traffic was moving nicely and the job didn't take too long. I even managed to get out of the area and back into town before the crowds started pouring out of Arsenal's Emirates Stadium on Hornsey Road.

After a few more jobs in the West End I was asked to take a couple to Canary Wharf. Since it was getting towards 6 o clock I decided to head home for an evening in front of the box after that job to see England's glorious defeat at the hands of South Africa and a doubtful decision by and Australian television referee.

All it'll take now will be for Lewis Hamilton to spin off on the final lap of the Brazilian Grand Prix to make it a week of English sportsmen getting so close but yet so far. (Not that I'll be able to watch the race since I'll be getting ready for the gig tonight.

I wonder if I can afford to employ a roadie to set up my gear for me. A few more weeks in the cab will see if that's the case.

Thursday, 18 October 2007

It's been a while...

yeah yeah, I know, these blog things are supposed to be a running record of what's going on.

Well, since I last posted, quite a lot has happened.

I was calling over the suburb runs leading up to my final appearance last time I wrote. Well, that is now all well behind me. I managed to get up to the PCO in plenty of time for my traditional pre-appearance cuppa and bacon sandwich. Funny how superstitious you become about these things and I kept the same routine that I had done throughout my time on the knowledge. (Lucky pants, lucky tie, left sock on before the right one.. you know, the usual Cup run stuff that football fans go through.)

Well, it must have worked... that and a lot of calling over all the runs til I was sick of them. Was called in by one of the senior examiners and rattled off four runs before being given the congratulatory handshake. That was it. After nearly 3 and a half years I had finally completed The Knowledge of London and could call myself a London cabbie. Well, after parting with my license fee and returning to the PCO later that morning for the presentation of my badge and cab license.

A nice talk from the senior examiner about what to expect once we get out onto the streets, and then off to Bethnal Green to pick up the rented cab.

By the time I'd sorted all that out I was hoping to be able to get on with my first job, but time was pressing and I had to get back towards home to pick up my daughter from school.... IN THE CAB of course! So the first job had to wait until the following day.

That also gave me the chance to get used to driving a cab as well, since I hadn't done that since passing my driving test a couple of months previously.

And so, to Friday morning, and a still-wet-behind-the-ears butterboy was dragging his rented silver TXII towards London, still worrying about what would happen when his first fare came along. (well , that and worrying about getting the cab changed since the first one had no headlights, a heater that wouldn't switch off and an intercom that crackled louder than a pan of bacon with a loudhaler. (eh?)

Cab changed and off I headed towards the city. I tentatively pressed the button on the meter that switched the light on, and almost prayed that nobody would stick their hand out. (What if I don't know the destination? What if I take the wrong route? What if the customer tries to do a runner?)

And then, the moment came. Outside the Hoxton Hotel, and hand goes out and I'm the only cab around with a light on. Guess that's me then. Over I go and in climbs passenger number 1. "Paddington Station please". Yes! I know the destination and I know the route.

Off we go and after a little while we strike up a conversation. Turns out the guy is heading back to Ireland after some business in London, but he lives in Scotland. He's a musician. Not just any musician though, he's the bass player from Snow Patrol, so he's been Chasing Cars before (geddit?). I apologise for not having bought any of his discs and for not recognising him. He's sort of pleased about that anyway, it means that they can get on with a normal life, but still have all the fun of playing in a successful band.

The traffic's bad and the fare soon clicks into double figures, but I tell him of the tradition among new drivers where the first ever fare is given away. He's shocked and seems quite happy that he's somebody's first ever fare, but tells me he will still pay me. I tell him again about the tradition and he offers to pay the value of the fare (and some) to Save the Children.

We eventually get to Paddington and with a handshake and good luck wishes all round my first job is over! Not only my first job, but also my first "guess-who-I-had-in-the-back-of-my-cab" story. A really nice, down to earth guy (he must be, he's a bass player) and a pleasure to chat with.

I rejoined the Paddington rank and picked up an Australian couple who were heading to Waterloo to catch the Eurostar train to Paris. By the time we get to Waterloo International (via a long stop outside Buckingham Palace while a military band marched past) it's sweltering in the cab. Clearly I've got a problem with this vehicle as well so it's back to Bethnal Green to change it over again.

Finally I end up with a cab that doesn't seem to have too many problems and hit the road again to finish off my first short day. All the jobs were fairly short and well within my capabilities so a nice easy day to start my new career.

I've now been a cabbie for one week and I must say that I'm loving it. Apart from all the roadworks that seem to have sprung up in the six weeks since I stopped my bike work. Traffic in town has been awful all this week and the passengers have all been understanding, if a little pissed off the the meter keeps ticking over even though we're going nowhere. I know I would be as well, and must admit to a few pangs of guilt at some of the prices that have to be charged for some relatively short journeys, but I'm sure they'll disappear before too long.

Looking forward to the weekend since I won't be able to do much work next week due to half term holidays, so it'll be a case of see what I can do with the time available between my band's gigs, the Rugby World Cup final and Lewis Hamilton trying to win the F1 title.

Be lucky!