Tuesday, 13 November 2007

It's good to be back

Happy New Year everyone.

Sorry to those of you who regularly visit hoping to see an update. What with being back out on the road and still having to find time to fit in all the usual domestic chores and a couple of gigs with the band it's been a bit of a struggle to put pen-to-paper (or fingers-to-keyboard or whatever the modern equivalent is).

I've now been in the job for just over a couple of months, and happily, I'm still enjoying it. It's nice to get a feel for which areas to work at which times of day, and much more fun if you can figure which parts of London are particularly crammed and avoid them. That said, some customers still insist on telling you the route they want to take, even if you inform them that the route they want will leave them sitting in traffic for at least 20 minutes while the good folk of the City set out barriers and seating for the Lord Mayor's show. I did warn you! Two bridges would have definitely been the route for that one, even on a day when several tons of metal were being placed in the kerbs of Bank Junction.

The day of the Lord Mayor's show was a complete nightmare traffic-wise. With the city closed to traffic from London Bridge to Waterloo, every vehicle was seemingly forced in the Cabbie badlands of "Sarf o' the River". I did manage to pick up a job from Strand to the City Inn Westminster that evening. Sometimes people don't chat, sometimes they do, but this couple chatted all the way through the traffic, explaining how they had taken part in the parade itself, the gentleman being one of the Aldermen of the City of London. I was encouraged by him to join the Worshipful Company of Hackney Carriage Drivers. I'm not entirely sure what benefits I'd get from the organisation, but the trip to DisneyLand Paris for sick and underprivileged children sounds like something I'd like to get involved in at some stage.

I've managed to work a couple of long Saturdays over the last month, and have found it to be much more enjoyable than weekday working. This is possibly because people are generally out for shopping, theatre, or days out, rather than the business people who seem to be a lot more stressed.

Theatre trips are generally quite short, but with the passenger in a good mood, makes for some great conversation. A nice ice-breaker for the conversation is to ask the passenger if they are going to see the show or if they are starring in it. Most people will have a laugh at this and explain that they couldn't carry a tune in a bucket, or comment that they'd only be used to empty the theatre at the end of the show. However, Cabbie Tourettes is a dangerous thing. One mother and daughter asked to go to the Victoria Apollo. "You watching or starring?" asks a chirpy cabbie, before realising that the show at the Apollo is "Wicked" the story of the witches of Oz. Too late, I've already started saying it and nothing's stopping me. Luckily they saw the funny and idiotic side of this particular cabbie and had a laugh.

Had a nasty incident a couple of weeks ago. 4 drunken girls wanting to go from a pub to a nightclub. As we're heading to the destination a guy stepped out from between two cars to flag a cab coming in the opposite direction. Luckily I managed to miss him with deft use of the emergency stop. Unluckily two of the passengers weren't wearing seat belts and ended up in a heap on the floor of the cab, one of them saying she'd hit her face on something. Fortunately she wasn't too badly hurt and we continued on to the destination.

It's surprising how many people don't wear seat belts in the back of a taxi (I would say 8 out of 10 don't), despite the law and a sticker in the back saying that they should make use of them. I don't know whether it's the comfort factor of being in a London Cab, but the incident above shows why you should. In a saloon car you've got a seat and a headrest in front of you to stop you flying forward. In a cab you would fly through 6 feet of clear air before hitting either the rear facing passenger, or the plastic partition.

I've now got into the habit of ensuring that any children are strapped in, so at least they will be a bit safer. The adults are then using their own judgement as to whether they then wear a belt.

I managed to get a few days off over the Christmas period, only working the weekends to cover the costs of the cab rental and fuel. The weekend between Christmas and New Year was quiet. (Over an hour in a 7 cab rank at Euston on the Friday night using up too much valuable rate 3 time - luckily got a job up to Muswell Hill to make it almost worthwhile. The cabbie on point at one stage was asked to go to the Ibis Euston, a job which he refused on the basis that 90 minutes on a rank for a job that is no more than 200 yards wouldn't have been the best for his bank balance or his patience.

New Years Day was fun, with everything at Rate 3 and £4 extra per journey. Quieter than normal but had a nice job to finish the day. Picked up at Harrods just after closing time. A nice Kuwaiti couple who needed to go to the Sheraton Park Tower Hotel, a journey of no more than a few hundred yards, but they wanted to go on a tour of the sights first. So a nice tour down to Parliament, along the Embankment to The Tower of London and Tower Bridge, back along through Trafalgar Square to Buckingham Palace, then Piccadilly Circus, through Soho to Oxford Street to see the lights, then back down Park Lane and on to their hotel. Managed to get in all the bits they wanted to see and throw in a few bits of useless information about the buildings and the streets in the process, all thanks to stuff I'd learned while on The Knowledge and from a couple of books I received as Christmas gifts. ("The London Compendium" by Ed Glinert and "London Street Names" by John Wittich) - another book well worth a look, and completely non-taxi or knowledge related is "The Bumper Book of Bunny Suicides" by Andy Riley.. twisted, sick and eye-wateringly funny.

School holidays are nearly over and it'll soon be time to get back out in the cab for my first kipper season. If it really does get as quiet as people say it will then I may well find myself putting in a few more hours to try to cover my costs. Oh well, weekends are more fun than weekdays.

btw, my New Year's resolution is to try to update this blog a bit more often. :)

Thursday, 1 November 2007

Cabman's holiday

At last, half term is over and I'm back out working.

While it's nice to have some time without having to suffer the rolling road-block that is also known as the Blackwall Tunnel Southern Approach each morning, I've really been looking forward to having the travelling public donate towards whatever it is I decide to buy when I've got enough money in my wallet.

I didn't have a holiday in the summer this year, figuring total concentration on getting through the knowledge would be a better option while Mrs and Miss Headlong went away. It obviously did the trick since both Brian (my callover partner) and I managed to get through our final appearances, and get our cab licences within a couple of weeks of each other.

With half term looming I had hoped that the family would be able to get away for some well earned rest and relaxation. A few days in Spain, or the Canaries, just to get some late sunshine before the autumn darkness settled in. Unfortunately a couple of gigs for the band meant that we wouldn't be able to get a package deal and get our daughter back in time for the start of Term 2.

Instead we just had a few days out with me doing all the driving... Thorpe Park one day, Calais (sadly more Cite Europe via the tunnel than Calais) the next, Southend another day. With the weekend sorted with various odd-jobs and domestic chores, even the A2 in rush hour was very tempting.

Most of the week's jobs so far have been more of the basic sort of stuff that The Knowledge automatically prepares you for. Unfortunately several road closures, including those for the King of Saudi Arabia and his entourage, the preparations for the State Opening of Parliament (can they not just use a key like everyone else?) and sadly for an accident involving a white van and a now ex-) motorcyclist in Baker Street today have seen a lot of the capital come to almost complete standstill.

This is OK if you've got someone on board but a nightmare if you've got the light on. Nobody is going to climb into your cab with the clock ticking when they can walk to the front of the traffic jam quicker than you can drive it. It's also a bit embarrassing for the driver, since the passenger generally needs to get somewhere within a certain time. I've been asked to "get me out of this jam" on several occasions. It makes the route longer, but can sometimes get you to the destination quicker.

At the moment though, all it seems to do is get you out of the frying pan, and into another bigger, even hotter frying pan. Still, when the water board have finished replacing all the Victorian water mains in ten years time the roads will all be clear again... YEAH RIGHT!

We've got Crossrail coming, whatever roadworks will be involved with routes to and from the Olympic site in Stratford, and who knows what else.. probably the installation of rubberised pavements so that local councils can avoid compensation claims from people who have worn their shoe leather out.

Best and worst job of the day was taking a lady from Liverpool Street station to Paddington Station for the Heathrow Express train. She was travelling eventually to New Zealand on business from her home in Essex and had decided to avoid the jams on the M25 by taking the train into town and getting across to Heathrow that way. While it was nice to have the fare from her (paid for by her company expenses) it's not good when such a relatively short part of her journey takes over 40 minutes sitting in unavoidable traffic jams. Still, she was happy to eventually arrive at Paddington so that she could start the onward part of her journey.

I'm planning to go in a bit later in the day tomorrow and work into the evening, just to see if there's any difference in the traffic and the amount of work that comes up. Knowing my luck though I'll get a job back to Dartford or somewhere just as the evening rush hour starts.

Perhaps the curse put on my cab by the windscreen washing beggar at Park Crescent involved lots of slow motion traffic.