Thursday, 28 August 2008

I love Bank Holidays

Why do a I love Bank Holidays? Quite simple really, switch the meter on and there's a lovely big red "3" glowing away on the left hand side. Saves having to stay out past 10pm at night.

Having got up to the garage to pick up the cab and having spent £20 on getting the train to London Bridge and then a cab to Three Colts Lane, I loaded up with fuel and started work. I wonder how it is that the bloke who has the cab before you always manages to work it so that the fuel light is shining away when he leaves it, yet I always leave a load in the tank.

Anyway, having been in for its 6 monthly inspection I was hoping that the cab would be in good nick. Turning away from the garage there was a clunking from the steering. At the first set of lights I put my foot on the brake and the cab came to a halt with an almighty juddering come from the front wheels.

Knowing how much of a fight it is to get the mechanics to even acknowledge the fact that you aren't actually invisible I decided to bear with it for the weekend and give the cab back with a note when I returned it on Tuesday. Hopefully everything will be done when I pick the cab up again on Friday week. That's right, more time off for me this weekend to go to Clapham in Bedfordshire to sit and listen to music and drink beer at the Rhythm Festival. With my brother doing the driving and me not having to work until the following weekend, I should have plenty of time to sober up.

One more thing about the cab on its pick up was that having gone away with adverts on the side I returned to pick it up with new ads for the company my wife works for. I have to say that their adverts are fairly effective since lots of people read the "capital knowledge" details on the side such as "You may face imprisonment if found drunk in charge of a steam engine or cow" and "It is illegal to get into a taxi if you are suffering from the plague".

Anyway, on to the weekend's work, and it was great to meet up for a cuppa with Steve, one of my mates from the knowledge who had finally got his badge after 4 years of trying. Well done mate. Congratulations also to Foz and Polish Chris who also got their badges and did their first work as London Green badge cab drivers in the past couple of weeks.

Right, really, it'll be about work now, honest, and not about my weekend off, music, or stopping for a cuppa. Things were fairly steady all weekend, what with the Olympic handover party going on in The Mall, and the Notting Hill carnival going on over at Ladbroke Grove. Luckily I wasn't forced over towards the carnival at all except for one lady who wanted to go from Edgware Road to Notting Hill Gate. I told her I'd get her as close as I could and headed along the Bayswater Road, where we abruptly came to a halt well short of Queensway. Nothing moving and four police vans blocking the road dealing with some sort of incident. With £10 on the clock she decided to bail and accept my apologies.

The weekend passed off fairly peacefully for me, with lots of people chatting about the Olympics, especially one family from Bahrain who were rightly proud of their country's medals. Sadly I picked up no Australians so couldn't join in with our new national sport of gloating.

Some of the better jobs were one French family going from the Victoria and Albert Museum, to their hotel, The KK George in Templeton Place, and then from there on to St Pancras. (One for all those knowledge boys and girls who question why we need to learn the turnarounds for places like that, although in the real world U-turns and the reverse gear help a lot).

From St Pancras I picked up a young lady who had travelled down from Leeds, wanting to go to Seven Sisters so that she could take part in the Miss Zambia UK competition. She was struggling to walk to the cab in front thanks to the high heels she had already put on, and as she reached out a young man reached the door before her. I fully expected him to hold the door open for her but no, he jumped in and left her standing on the rank. What a gent! I can only think he must have been in a hurry to get away from the station since there was definitely no shortage of cabs on the rank.

Another man and his young sons were picked up at the Holiday Inn Forum in Kensington wanting to do the Short trip to the Big Easy restaurant on the Kings Road. all were in a good mood, and they explained that they had spent the day doing the tour of Buckingham Palace. However, the staff weren't too happy since one of the boys wasn't feeling too well and actually threw up on the carpet in the banqueting hall. How about that for a story to tell your grandchildren later in life.

Having poodled around the hotel ranks for a while (and getting annoyed at the driver who picked up 20 feet behind me outside the Mandarin at Knightsbridge while I was on point at the rank - "Sorry mate I didn't see ya". Perhaps you shouldn't be driving without a bloke waving a red flag in front of you then.) I turned from St James Street towards the Ritz hotel in the hope that the rank might be moving. Nobody there, so I put on, switched the engine off and settled in for a wait. Before I could even find the page of the book I'm reading (Jupiter's Travels by Ted Simon) the doorman opened the rear doors and told me through the window "Whichever Heathrow Terminal does Aeroflot please". Lovely way to work towards the end of a day. Two passengers who don't speak English, a run straight up the A4 and £50 on the meter on arrival.

The bank Holiday Monday was fairly quiet, so thank goodness for the Rate 3. Lots of Station to Station stuff and not much traffic, but it would have been painful at one of the lower rates.

Tuesday was fairly slow and I was happy to drop the cab back at the garage at around 7pm. Not so happy that I had to walk as far as the East London Mosque before I found a cab that would take me to London Bridge Station for the journey home. Still, at least I'll save myself a few hundred quid in rent these next couple of weeks.

And so on to my weekend away at the Twinwood Arena. Can't wait!

Friday, 22 August 2008

Has it been that long?

Sorry everyone, once again all my good intent to regularly post on here has gone on holiday.

Talking of which, rather than take up space on here about the bike holiday planned for October one of my fellow travellers has set up a new blog which we hope to update now and then, and also from the trip itself if technology allows. The link is over there on the right.

Have had a quiet couple of weeks myself having been away for a week up to Mabelthorpe on the East Coast. A chance to mellow out, have a drink every now and then and not have to worry about driving anywhere the next day. With the school holidays still in full swing I've not had the cab for a couple of weeks, saving myself some money, but looking forward to picking it up again for the Bank Holiday weekend. Just got to hope nobody wants to go anywhere near the Notting Hill Carnival area or The Mall since both will be closed.

Once that is all over I'll drop the cab off again at the garage since I'll be away at Rhythm Festival for the last weekend of August. Three days of camping, beer and music. Can't wait. Should be fun, especially since my 12 year old daughter is coming with us, and there's not a modern "pop" band in sight. Hopefully she'll be educated so that she knows what REAL R'n'B is about, and not what is now being given the label that has previously graced such stars as Jerry Lee Lewis, John Lee Hooker and Bo Diddley.

Since it's been a month since my last post I won't give details of every job, more just the highlights (and a couple of lowlights) that have graced my own little part of the taxi trade.

I'll deal with the lows first so that I don't leave all those knowledge boys saying I'm one of the miserable old sods who tell everyone the game's dead. I'm only telling it how it really is out there sometimes. You've got to take the rough with the smooth. The first couple of weeks of the school holidays were slow. I mean REALLY slow. It wasn't just me, quite a few other drivers I spoke to said the same. However, some must have got lucky since they were saying it was OK. (Rough with the smooth, remember).

My regular cab also had to go in for its 6 month inspection so I had to spend the week before my holiday in a replacement. What a pile of crap. No air-con, bits falling off it and a radio that needs a degree in computer science to work out how to use it. Luckily, the taped on wing mirror passed an inspection by the PCO's licensing team when I stopped for a cuppa at the Astral cafe.

I was glad to give the bloody thing back, although had a run-in with the garage. They are open on a Saturday morning, so having worked until 2am from Friday night, I headed in to hand it over by 12. Unfortunately a van had broken its rear axle in the Blackwall Tunnel causing me to have to go all the way up to Tower Bridge to avoid too much traffic before I could get to the garage. I managed to get there by 12:30, but they had phoned me to say they shut at 12 (they don't, I've paid my rent at well gone 12 on other Saturdays) and that I had cost them money because they couldn't get it out to another driver. "So charge me for the extra day then" I said with less patience than Naomi Campbell waiting for her baggage at terminal 5. "I'm stuck in Lewisham trying to get round a problem that's holding up South East London, and unless there's a "Fly" mode on this thing, I can't get to you by 12." Them telling me I should have left earlier didn't help matters.

It only got worse when a couple of other cabbies refused to take me to Charlton on the way home because they didn't want to get stuck on the way back. (Should I grass them up to the PCO or not? Nah, probably not, but I was in the right mood to do it by the time I'd got to the pub.)

One thing I did notice during the last month is that there are lot of people coming into town and only taking short trips. I've even suggested to a few people that it would be quicker for them to walk than to sit in traffic. Some are happy to take the advice and directions, others say, no we'll still take the cab anyway. No problem. The best of these was two lads on Oxford Street. While sitting at a set of lights behind another cab, I saw two men go to the first cab, have a conversation with the driver and then come back to me. They wanted to go to a club called "Blush". I couldn't remember straight off where it was, but since i was talking to my old callover Partner Brian, he reminded me it was in Duke Street.

I told the two that all they needed to do was walk up Oxford Street, turn left and the club was a little way up, and that it would take them less than 5 minutes to walk it. "OK, thanks!" they said, and then got into the back. "Fair enough" thinks I. The traffic lights go green, we roll forward about twenty yards to the lights at the junction of Duke Street, and I suggest to the passengers that I can either take them all the way round the block, or they could get out and walk to the club from there, saving themselves both time and money.

They ask where the club is, and I point it out to them. Embarrassed, they get out. The meter is still only at £2.20, not even having travelled far enough for it to change from the "flag fall". The passenger offered to pay, but I laugh and tell him I was going in that direction anyway.

Have had a few nice jobs in amongst the little runs, one to Kingston Hospital from The Oval after the cricket. I asked if he worked there or was a student in residence. He told me that he didn't, but that his wife had had a baby the day before but he didn't want to give up his ticket for the match. Balls of steel or what?

Another was a job up to Friern Barnet from Great Portland Street. Having previously taken a job to Villandry in the same street this just shows what you can get if you take something that might only come to £3.

Looking forward to working again after a couple of weeks off. Just wondering whether the garage will have the cab ready for me by 12 though.

Friday, 18 July 2008

Holidays are coming... (Part 1)

Before I pop out to start another weekend of work I thought I might bore you all with my holiday plans.

My daughter doesn't really want to go away anywhere this year, so the summer will be spent having day trips out to places and maybe a long weekend up to Great Yarmouth or somewhere similar.

I didn't take a holiday last year so I really wanted to go somewhere overseas, so myself and three friends have decided on a trip to Southern France on motorbikes. I was tempted to start another blog on this but figured it would just provide more content for these pages, and maybe attract more visitors from the biking fraternity. (Of course, if you don't want to read about this you can always skip the page.)

The plan was originally to go in September but due to other commitments we've settled on leaving on 6th October, and travelling for around 10 days. The only plan we have so far is that we want to pay a visit to the Menin Gate at Ypres, as well as taking in some of the War cemeteries; then head south towards the new bridge at Millau, and then head down to Monte Carlo for a couple of days. The ride towards home will then take up towards the Swiss / French German borders and the Rhine Valley. Hopefully we'll be able to do the majority of the ride without hitting too many motorways. A couple of the bikes are getting on a bit so we're going to need to be fairly close to some sort of civilisation for most of the trip in case of breakdown.

And that's about it. I'll fill in more details as plans come into place, but any suggestions for touring in Europe would be very much appreciated by this particular novice.

Thursday, 17 July 2008

A new broom...

I've often picked people up who ask me "Is it OK for you to take me to...?" or "Will you go to...?". This is usually on the back of them having asked other drivers who don't want to go in that particular direction and drive off without accepting the fare.

A couple of days ago, my wife needed to go from the West end of Strand to Cannon's Health Club in Endell Street, Covent Garden. She was running slightly late, and as with a lot of people in the hot weather, any respite from walking anywhere in London is welcome. For those who don't know London, the job is probably less than half a mile, and would take no more than a couple of minutes, with the meter showing less than a fiver, she'd have handed over a "Lady" just to know that she'd got to her physio appointment on time.

She'd even crossed to the North side of the Strand so that the cab wouldn't even have to make a U-turn or fight his way round King Charles I island. She flagged a driver with his light on, who pulled over to pick her up.

She told him where she wanted to go and his reply was a curt "Don't know it".
She told him it was only up in Endell Street.
Cabbie - "Still don't know it".
Mrs P - "I've been there before, would you like me to give you directions?"
Cabbie - "No thanks", and with that he drove off leaving her waiting for another cab (after she'd taken the plate number).

This got me wondering about refusal of jobs as a cabbie. When we get our badge and bill we are given a copy of the Abstracts of Laws which tells us exactly what is expected of us, our vehicles, the PCO, TfL and so on. (I never received or signed my copy of these on the day I got my badge so perhaps none of the above applies to me.)

Reading through these it seems we are to accept a job if we are plying for hire. We're only allowed to do this at designated places and are not allowed to stop somewhere else and remain there to get jobs. Funny, nobody seems to mind the mini-cabs blocking Greek Street of a night. Oh hang on, it's OK, they're all pre-booked... aren't they?

Providing the cab is unhired the driver cannot refuse a fare providing it is not more than 12 miles or one hour duration (20 miles from Heathrow). This applies if the cab is on a rank or stand, OR if it is found unhired in the street but not in a parking place. (It all gets complicated, and I'm definitely no lawyer). There are some questions over whether a job should be accepted if you feel the cab, the passengers or the driver would be put in danger due to the passenger's lack of sobriety or an aggressive attitude. This isn't actually mentioned in the document.

An unhired cab is not obliged to stop and pick up a fare if it is in motion. In motion also means while sitting in traffic jams, stopped at traffic lights etc. If a cab is hailed and the driver and customer speak, the driver is then obliged to take the job with the limits since he is technically "found standing in the street".

And so there, you have it. If a fare is refused for no reason other than it being too short a job or not in the right direction, the driver is liable to a penalty of up to £200. Ouch! Of course, this leaves me open to abuse from other drivers for letting my limited readership know that they have cause for complaint, but perhaps they'll think before "brooming" another job. Especially if it's a cabbie's wife.

On the other hand, if people start to take these jobs and provide the service we're supposed to, people might not be so keen to take a mini-cab or rickshaw instead, and our trade will be looked upon with more favourable eyes. Remember that a complaint will travel a lot further than a good comment. If you listen to radio phone-ins about taxis and their drivers, you will generally hear and people will remember the nightmare stories. This may be because unsatisfied people will need to air their grievances more than someone who doesn't have a story to tell.

Enough of all that. Over to my own weekend of work. It started on Friday evening with Tom Tom directing me to a scout/guide camp in East Grinstead where my daughter and her patrol were to be staying for the weekend, taking in events such as abseiling (you wouldn't get me sliding down a rope when there are perfectly good stairs to use), canoeing (they were going to get wet because of the weather), archery (the new street weapon?) and so on.

Having dealt with the closure of the High Street in East Grinstead, Tom Tom finally got me to the destination, but I was distinctly uncomfortable relying on the machine rather than using a map to plan my journey. It did help me get back into town to do a short night's work though, although finding the M23 from East Grinstead isn't exactly the hardest of tasks.

Once into town I picked up in Brixton Road outside the Plan B bar. The customer asked for "Bread and Roses". I joked that I was neither a baker or a florist and that as a cabbie I'd take him to the pub of that name in Clapham Manor Street. A nice easy job to start the evening. It took me a while to get out of the SW postcodes with jobs from Vauxhall Cross to Lavender Hill, then from Beaufort Street to Stonehouse Street (back to Clapham again), and then from South Lambeth Road to the Sheraton Park Tower Hotel. I love it when it rains!!

I then headed into town and picked up in Dean Street, a customer wanting to go to Compayne Gardens in West Hampstead. Slightly tricky to end the job because of all the one ways in the area, but the customer was quite happy to tell me the route he wanted. Much better than any sat nav system although his route left something to be desired.

On the way back I picked up 3 fairly liquid cricket fans in Maida Vale, wanting to go to the Duke of Clarence in Old Brompton Road. All the way down I could hear them talking about various friends who were raking it in, and about how well they were all doing despite a looming recession. "Hang on" thinks I, "This fare's going legal."

I was wrong. They wanted to give me less than legal. We got to the destination with £18 on the clock. "£18 please sir". They all rummaged through their pockets and scraped together a couple of five pound notes and some shrapnel. "Is £17 OK driver?" "Err no, it says £18 on the meter. That's why I asked for £18 please sir". More rummaging, more shrapnel, and I end up with exactly £18 in various coinage. no wonder they're all doing so well, asking for discounts on everything. I wonder if when they bought the first round in the pub and the barmaid asked for £9, if they said "Is £8 OK?" Why do people think that cabbies are any different to any other service?

I only had a couple more jobs after that, one of them from Goodge Street to St Paul's Cathedral. Odd at nearly midnight, but it seems the young man was taking the young lady back to an apartment in Ludgate Square. Wish they'd waited until they'd got back before they started on each other. Don't know the point of putting five seats in cab for people who insist on sharing one seat. And she wasn't even facing forward. (If you don't get the picture... hard luck :) ) Honestly, it gets difficult to use your rear view mirror when there's a game of tonsil hockey being played out in your line of vision. Good luck to them both, hope they had a wonderful time.

Saturday was a steadily busy day. Not too many dead miles, and lots of work from the stations. Weekend Engineering works may be a pain to train and tube travellers but it does help some of us out on occasions. Nothing major in the way of long jobs during the day, but I ended up with a job from Tower Hill to Asda at Beckton at around 10pm. The driver in front of me was "in motion" so didn't stop for the three lads, so I was quite happy with a job straight along the Highway and the A13. From there I dropped through the Blackwall Tunnel to the O2 dome. I made my way to "point" after about 15 minutes and along came a family, a man in wheelchair, his wife, his daughter and their grandaughter in a buggy. This was going to be tough getting the chair and the buggy in, but I moved to get closer to the kerb so that I could get the ramps in position.

"Don't worry mate, I'll get out of the chair and fold it up for you". Nice and easy. The chair folded and fitted in the luggage compartment, the buggy stayed up and the baby slept through a nice journey back to my childhood hometown of Belvedere. It seems that they had intended to get a cab from Woolwich having taken a river trip, but the boat had stopped at the Dome and kicked everyone off without reaching the destination, leaving the passenger stranded some miles short of his pre-booked cab. We had a good chat about music and my old home town and I finished the night in the right direction towards Medway.

Sunday was a short but busy day, with more jobs to Lords, and luckily lots of work taking me back to Waterloo from Saint John's Wood. some days just fall nicely into place like that. A good weekend's work with a final job bailing taking a young female New Yorker to The Ledbury Restaurant from Queens Gate. A nice easy job but she was full of praise for London cabbies and their knowledge, saying that we're the best in the world. Don't it make you feel proud?

Eventually I had to bail to let Tom Tom direct me back to East Grinstead to collect my tired but happy daughter from camp. And so to the washing machine.

Monday, 7 July 2008

Show me the way to go home

Not quite to home, I already know my way there, but I must admit to using my sat-nav for the first time "in anger" this weekend. And for the second time...

The first was on Saturday night when I managed to pick up a family in Strand who first asked me to take them to Liverpool Street, and then as they were climbing in they asked how much it would be to Romford. I told them it would be around £50-£60 and he said, "Ok then, take us home". I already knew the route to Romford town centre, but it was just putting the finishing touches to the job that I needed. The passenger was quite happy to tell me the route, but I was keen to see if Tom Tom agreed so we tried to programme in the postcode but it didn't recognise it, but the address came up and the route was in.

To be honest I was more comfortable using the passenger's directions than sat nav but it got us there and more importantly, got me back onto the A12 after dropping them off.

I had another long job on Saturday night, from The Banker in Cousin Lane, down to Old Coulsdon ("How far south of the river is that?"). Again, I knew the main part of the route from the suburb runs at the end of The Knowledge, and the customers got me to their destination from there. After that it was back onto the A23, the M25 and head for home, a fairly busy night finished off with two £60 jobs.

The only major problem on Saturday was the lack of roads available for use through the West End. With the O2 Wireless Festival taking place in Hyde Park and the Gay Pride parade and events going on most of Soho and the West End were no go areas for any vehicles (presumably other than Pedicabs). Luckily, most of my work took me well away from the West End.

One of my first jobs was into Long Acre, an I.T. engineer on call for the weekend, and having dropped him off after a trip from Waterloo Station, I immediately picked up two ladies wanting to go to Rose Square on Fulham Road. Since Strand and Shaftesbury Avenue were both closed I warned them that I would have to get down to the Embankment and work my way in form there. There had also been warning that Knightsbridge traffic was heavier than usual so I asked if I could take a more southerly route than usual. They were happy, just so long as we didn't have to sit in traffic for too long. The only time one of them moaned was when we hit a little bit on Kings Road, but once we'd got into Anderson Street, it was plain sailing from there to the destination. Happy customers, despite a fare that was probably 50% higher than perhaps it would normally have been. They were quite understanding about the traffic problems and still gave me a nice little tip on top of the fare.

From there I had jobs pretty much without any down time going to Campden Grove, then Praed Street. From Praed Street I had two tourist wanting to go to Sussex Gardens. I told them it was a matter of no more than 1/4 mile to the hotel they wanted, but they insisted on taking the cab. I ranked up at Paddington after that and 10 minutes later I was on my way to Saint Johns Wood Park. From there I went to the rank at London Zoo and was asked to go to Soho. "Soho - Oh No!". I explained about the road closures and they were happy for me to get them to any point as close as I could get to Frith Street. A long journey to get to Cambridge Circus and then a short walk for them.

I picked up heading South on Charing Cross Road, a customer wanting to go to Regency Street, SW1. After 10 minutes we had moved about 50 yards because of the closure of Trafalgar Square, so I suggested it might be easier for him to walk. He agreed and I let him off the £3.40 that had clocked up up to that point, saying it wasn't fair that we'd gone nowhere. Another grateful customer.

From there I managed to get Eastbound along Strand and picked up a job to Euston Station. Since the rank was back in operation after some refurbishment work I decided to drive down the ramp to see how different it was. A bit cleaner and the island had been removed allowing you to get out of the rank if things re a bit slow down there. Wish I'd taken that option. Sat there for 45 minutes before getting a job to Gibson Square (my second to that famous destination - but never from Manor House Station). Everything after that seemed to keep me North and West with jobs to Crouch End Hill, Rutland Grove in Hammersmith, Chiswick High Road, Kensington High Street, until finally getting back into town for the two "roaders".

Sunday was just as busy, but with road closures still in place until mid-afternoon from the previous day's Gay Pride Festival, and that morning's London 10K run (Why would people want to run that far in London when there's a perfectly good cab network?) This caused some problems for one customer who wanted to get from Pimlico Road to Charing Cross Station. Road closures around Whitehall were causing horrible queues all around Victoria and Westminster. Luckily, chatting to the customer I found out he wanted to get the train to Woolwich so suggested that we cut across Lambeth Bridge and head for Waterloo East. Another changed destination, but another happy customer.

The Rail Air Freight Terminal at Victoria (RAFT) was particularly busy during the afternoon but only resulted in jobs to Tedworth Square, Royal Hospital Road and Fawcett Street. After that, most jobs kept me away from the centre of town and I found myself in some areas i hadn't been to in the nine months since I got my badge. I had a job that took me out to the Turnham Green area so made my way back to Hammersmith Broadway to see if there was anyone heading back into town. Two ladies approached the cab and asked for Maida Vale. I had the route in my head until one of them told me "It's not actually Maida Vale, it's Walterton Road". This threw me completely since I couldn't place the street at all. Now, I could have got the A-Z to see where the road was, but asked if they'd mind me cheating and switching on the sat-nav. "No problem".

So, I programmed in the destination and followed the route. Wish I'd used the A-Z since it would have shown me the final destination and made me think of the route. As it was I followed almost blindly, and when it took me along Great Western Road, right into Woodfield Road, Left Woodfield Place, Left Harrow Road, Right Elgin Avenue instead of just going straight over at the end of Great Western Road I had to apologise to the customers. I got them to the destination but knocked a couple of quid off the fare with which they were happy. And I've got one more area to report to the Tom Tom mapshare system.

All in all a good weekend, cab rent covered, a few quid towards my summer holiday wherever that takes me, and a lesson learned about not being lazy and relying on the sat nav instead of the three and a half years of training on The Knowledge.

Friday, 4 July 2008

An apology

Seems my last posting created a bit of a stir on the board of a well known knowledge school. It seems that because I mentioned the fact that the price of diesel fuel is on the increase and that I'd had a couple of shaky fares that things are not well in the cab trade. Sorry boys and girls, just stating facts. If however, you read other entries on these pages you'll see that most of the time, things are pretty good.

It seems that my view on the new Mercedes taxi-van are fairly similar to everyone but the people who are trying to sell them. It'll be hard to see too many people paying the same price for one of these things as a traditional cab, and with electric doors and a button to give rear wheel steering there's an awful lot more things that will need servicing and repairing. Think I'll continue with the rented TX2 with its brand new stickers advertising some financial service or another for now and leave the vans to the minicab boys.

Thanks to family commitments I was only able to get out on Saturday last weekend, starting off with a little job from Liverpool Street to Waterloo. From there I picked up immediately off the rank (lots of punters and no cabs) going to Greenwich Market. Nice start to the day. Didn't really have too many long periods of sitting around on ranks, other than at the Mandeville Hotel where three jobs came out, all with people and their luggage with LHR tags on. Sadly though, every one of them had a pre-booked mini-cab. In the past I've seen one of the doormen there running up the road to find one of the mincabs parked up in Manchester Square, so I know where I'll not be ranking up in future. Perhaps one of their "friendly" mini cab firms would like to take the jobs that are only going to Regents Park from now on.

Most of the jobs were fairly short after the trip to Greenwich, but it was fairly steady, especially with people going to the Hard Rock festival at Hyde Park. I picked up one couple from the Sanderson Hotel, going to the QEQM Gate on Park Lane. They were telling me that they had been at Glastonbury that morning and that it is one of the "Must do before you die" events. I told them "Perhaps a few years ago before it sold its soul". I've done festivals, indoor and outdoor, big and small gigs and I just feel that some of these events are now becoming a jolly for people other than those who really enjoy the music so that they can use it as one of their "I bought the T-shirt" fashion statements. And I told them that I thought that the whole thing has been hijacked by big money sponsorship to the exclusion of the people who were the lifeblood of the summer festivals.

Eventually it came out that they were one of the sponsors of the event, but we had a good chat about how sponsorship of these "fashionable" events is killing the smaller music venue. If people really care about music and not just "Greatness by association" then why are so many small pubs and clubs struggling to fill for live music events? The same thing happened with football in this country and it's all about the money. Some of the backing needs to be filtered down to the grass roots so that we can build up what was at one time one of our greatest industries.

Anyway, enough of that particular rant for now. I'm off to either WOMAD or the Rhythm Festival before they get too big for discomfort. (btw I went to see a singer/songwriter at the Troubadour in Old Brompton Road on Monday Night. Billy Franks has been around for a few years - previously with the Faith Brothers but is still turning out some fantastic stuff. Check him out if you get a chance, and look out for his new film "Tribute This" which is currently being premiered in the USA.)

I took the new Sat Nav system out with me in case of any long distance runs but it wasn't needed, other than as something to check some of my past lines where people have moaned about the routes. Most of the time the Sat Nav agreed with the routes I've taken (which doesn't necessarily make them right) or I've been fairly close. One thing I did find was that the planning of routes might be quite useful, except for where it sends you northbound along Tabernacle Street to go straight across Great Eastern Street and into Pitfield Street. I've supposedly got the most up to date maps but the top of Tabernacle Street has been paved over for at least a year, and would result in no small embarrassment for anyone trying to take that particular route. And it would have cost them a fortune in tyres and suspension to try to get over the two raised kerbs.

The only time I did consult TomTom was when someone asked for a particular number on Sussex Gardens. It gave me a rough location of the building (albeit on the wrong side of the road) and saved me the bother of having to drive up and down the whole length of the street to find it. Of course had I not quizzed the Sat Nav for the location I would have found my way to the centre and worked from there.

I had a short night out last night while my wife and daughter went to the Open Air Theatre in Regents Park. The Tom Tom stayed inside its little pouch all the time I was working, including the two long-ish jobs I had to Mortlake from Regent Street and to a little road off of Tulse Hill from Embankment Place.

I had to cut my evening short to pick up the family from Romeo and Juliet, a real shame since there were lots of people with their hands out as the gig at Hyde Park started kicking out, and then again as I got to The Inner Circle as the theatre finished.

At least I've got all of this weekend to ignore the Sat Nav again and rely on The Knowledge.

PS - I've just spell checked the document. There may be a few mistakes but having spell checked and proof-read the football fanzine I produced a few years ago it's a lot easier (albeit very lazy of me) to humbly beg you to ignore teh pedant in you when it comes to grammar, spelling and sense. This doesn't always work well, as with the poster by Rochester Bridge advertising the news that Medway's Charles Dickens festival is to improve. Surely a newspaper advertising hoarding should be spell-checked, especially when it comes up with words like this.

Sunday, 22 June 2008

In the long run

Two more weekends of work to report on.

Looks like I might just be doing weekends and nights for a while. With oil prices on the increase and everyone generally talking about tightening their belts my wife and I thought it might be an idea for her to hold off the plans for me to go full time in the cab.

My first fuel receipt for the cab only eight months ago shows that the price of diesel was 96.9 pence per litre. I filled up yesterday at one of the cheapest local garages to me and paid 128.9p per litre, an increase of about 33 per cent. Compare that to the 4.5% increase that we managed to get from Transport for London on the tariff and you can see that we're starting to suffer a bit. Perhaps I'll become a fuel tanker driver and look forward to the 14% increase on a salary of around £40K p.a.

I know there are plenty of other things that will be hit by this huge price increase (others in the transport industry and indirectly, anything else that relies on the price of oil - just about everything if you look closely) but how do we resolve the problem. Perhaps the government could see people in transport as needing a fuel price reduction and let us by fuel at lower rates. Some hope. We could have an extra price rise on the taxi tariff, but that could just kill the industry off. People already moan that London taxis are the most expensive in the world so any increase may see them turn away from us and go towards other forms of transport. Perhaps in times of recession we just have to realise that we've got to work that little bit longer to keep our takings on a par with the "good times".

There is also news of a new taxi for London. Not saying that we don't need something as competition for LTi's TX4 but to bring out a vehicle that doesn't look like a London Taxi (regardless of whether it meets the conditions of fitness - 5 passengers, 25' turning circle etc) is going to leave the trade open minicab drivers and others buying similar vehicles, fitting a light dome and coming in to take work from us. How will passengers know whether they are using a genuine London cab or a cheaper (the new Mercedes is reported to be about the same price tag as a TX4) version that externally looks the same. And will they care, just so long as they get to their destination. Let's hope they get to the destination safely.

That said, it's bad enough that we have to battle against the legal minicabs, illegal touts and the rickshaws that form rings of steel around theatres at kicking out time, but more and more cab drivers are putting two fingers up to their own by jumping queues at some stations, picking up insight of ranks where cabbies are already waiting for work.

I ranked up outside Hamleys yesterday and in five minutes two cabs picked up jobs right next to the rank while I was there with my light on. I tried to get the attention of the drivers but they didn't seem to care that they were nicking jobs less than 20 feet from a ranked cab. Perhaps it's getting more dog-eat-dog out there. Let's hope that the majority of drivers keep up the etiquette than go for the other option.

Following on from my moan about non-tippers I decided to see if I could figure who are the best and worst tippers. There doesn't seem to be any real pattern to the type of person who tips and who doesn't buty I've found that Londoners tend to tip more than foreigners, and that Australians didn't tip at all over the past two weekends. Women are more generous than men (but we all knew that they are more caring and sharing than us blokes anyway.... didn't we?), and couples tend to tip more if the bloke is drunk and trying to impress.

Other than the couple I picked up from outside Liberty in Great Marlborough Street, going to Denmark Road in Camberwell last night. Not sure that he would have impressed anyone unless he was in a How-many-times-can-you-say-"F***"-in-one-sentence competition. She was a bit wobbly as she got in, he was even worse. Before we'd even got to Regent Street, a distance of less than 100 yards he'd shouted "Put some f***ing tunes on!". He then wanted to argue about what was good music and what wasn't, so I eventually found a station with a song he liked and turned it up so I couldn't hear him. Once in Regent Street he banged on the glass partition and slurred something in his best Sauchiehall Street aggressive drunk accent. I wasn't sure what he said but it was well punctuated with expletives, generally aimed in my direction. I pulled the cab to the kerb and told him that he could either calm down or find another cab. One slurred apology later and we're off to Camberwell, music turned up and intercom switched off.

I heard more from him as the journey continued, particularly some really nasty racist comments as we hit Elephant and Castle. I was tempted to drop him off there and then but figured I'd lose out on the rest of the fare so continued down Walworth Road towards the destination. We eventually got to the drop off point with £25.20 on the meter. He handed me two tenners and started "F***ing let me out of the f***ing cab, you c***". Clearly his day job with the diplomatic corps was frustrating him, especially when I told him that I needed another fiver. Another string of expletives and he realised that I didn't have my foot on the brake so he could have got out of the cab at any point. His girlfriend gave me four two pound coins and an apology while he stood at the side window streaming it with abuse and spittle. Hopefully I'll not have to deal with him ever again.

Luckily most other couples were a lot more pleasant than Wayne and Waynetta as I worked my way through a fairly slow Saturday night. As usual when it came time to think about heading for home I managed to pull jobs heading in West rather than towards the wonders of the new tarmac on the Gravesend stretch of the A2. The weekend before last saw jobs to Acton and Ealing on both nights with some help on the way back into town at Shepherds Bush. However, as I was preparing to head towards the O2 dome for a last job on Saturday, I picked up a couple on Regent Street wanting to go to Northcote Road near Clapham Junction. After dropping them off I headed back towards the West End and picked up almost immediately, a fare going towards Wimbledon, even further away from home.

I was tempted at this point to switch the light off and head for home, but I though that the next job MUST take me back in the right direction. I got as far as the Clapham Grand before a hand went out ... on the proper side of the road as well...

"Chessington please". Then a pause after the female passenger got in while the male stood outside the cab looking at me, then looking at her.

"Are you getting in this cab or not?". No it wasn't me asking the question, it was the young lady already on board.

With a tiny rebellion going on he mumbled "I dunno, you tell me" as he stepped in the back and slammed the door. I was tempted to comment about not taking it out on the vehicle but thought better of it since he had gone quiet and the only sound from the back was the lady sniffing back tears.

Time for the radio to go on again, and before too long she was screaming at him about his mates, his work and who knows what else. Luckily the TX2 is quite a noisy beast above 40mph so all went quiet again once we hit the A3. And it stayed quiet as peace descended on the pair and I started praying that they would get home before they did the whole "best part of breaking up is making up" routine in the back of the cab.

On the way back into town I managed to pick up five passengers at Putney Heath on their way to Clapham Junction, and then I crossed the river and found four people on the Kings Road heading towards Amika on Kensington High Street. As soon as I dropped them four more people got in wanting to go to China White's in Air Street. To avoid waiting too long at Piccadilly Circus they jumped out at the bottom of Air Street on Piccadilly and I started to head for home thinking I should switch my light off so that I don't end up going back west.

As I reached the lights at the top of Haymarket a lady with a broad French accent asked if I would go to Newbury Park. "Hang on" thinks I, "that's out towards the East." I checked with her and she said "Zee one on zee Zentral line". "Climb aboard!"

So we set off for Essex with five French passengers, all chatting away. To keep things simple I took it straight along the river, up through the city then out along the Mile End Road, through Straftord and along the Romford Road. As we get to Ilford the passengers are being fairly quiet and whispering amongst themselves. The glass partition in the cab is nothing compared to the Bastille so I ask if everything is OK (Everything other than the £48 on the meter at this point). They say that they want to go to Newbury Park and show me a tube map with "Newbury Park" circled on it. I explain in my limited French that we are approximately "deux kilometres" from Newbury Park and point at the road sign confirming what I had told them.

A shrug of the shoulders and their hotel looms into sight over the rooftops. I drop them off and they manage to scrape together the £52.20 for the journey with an 80p tip. Personally I'd be happy paying out £10 per person at 1:30 in the morning to get along a tube line that had been out all day.

From there it was a short trip out to the M25, across Dartford Bridge and home with a happy feeling that I'd finally finished the day with a job in the right(-ish) direction.

Things could have been a whole lot different on the previous weekend. While waiting at The Island near Lancaster Gate, a young "lady" runs over to the cab and asks if I could take her to "Ssh-idcup". Lovely, a nice job in the right direction to end the night. That was as good as it got. She fell into the cab and quickly scrambled onto a chair saying "Go left, go left". Since going left would have seen me going into the face of three lanes of oncoming traffic I opted to let the knowledge lead me in the right direction. "Can you go round the block, my boyfriend's back there". So a couple more right turns later and we're back where we started.

"Keep going! I don't want to stop for that bastard", so I carry on driving, hopefully heading for the Bayswater Road and the route to Sidcup.

"Go round the block again", an instruction that I decline saying that it's all adding up on the meter. "Don't worry, I've got £20" she says. I tell her that at that time of night she'd be lucky to get to Shoreditch for £20, let alone "Sshidcup".

"But there's some mates of mine round the corner who have got my money." At this point I pull over on the Bayswater Road and suggest that she gets out of the cab, gets her money and finds another taxi. Surprisingly (or not) she doesn't argue and gets straight out of the cab. I suspect that it's not the first time she's tried to pull this particular trick. I end up only losing £3.80 on the clock and 5 minutes of my time. Could have been somewhere around an hour and £50.

These long trips got me thinking about longer runs out into the suburbs, maybe from town or even from Heathrow so today I invested in a ... dare I say it?... Tom Tom sat nav system. i've made a couple of short journeys around my home towns and have found it to be a pile of poop compared to my local knowledge, but it does appear to correct and learn fairly quickly. I'm sure that over the next few weeks it'll sit in the cab and not be used very much, but if it helps me on a trip to East Grinstead next weekend when my daughter goes to Guide camp, and on a poorly planned motorbike tour into Spain, then it will have been an experience. Don't think I'll bother with it in town since my fat fingers make so many mistakes on the small touch screen it would be quicker to walk than let me correct my errors. I might leave it on though and run it as a comparison. I'll let you all know how well it goes... or not.

btw, knowledge boys and girls. If you wonder why you have to learn things like how to get in and out of Cleaver Square in Kennington, I had a job to there last weekend. After the passenger had paid me he offered me the route out. I interrupted him say, "Bowden, Methley, Milverton". He smiled and walked away saying "Very Impressive". Not sure Sat Nav would have been as quick.

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Creatures of the night

Since my wife was working from home (albeit she was actually off sick with a bad back and should have been taking it easy) on Monday, I decided to head out in the evening to see if I could make a few quid. I'd been told that Monday night's are normally quiet, but I had quite a good run. Whether this was because some cabbies are staying at home to watch the European Championships or not, I don't know, but i was busy from the time I got into Canary Wharf til the time I got home in the early hours.

As I was approaching the rank at North Colonnade, I noticed two cabs. A passenger with some suitcases was talking to the driver of the second cab who pulled off the rank, forward about 40 yards, and then waited for the passenger to catch him up. he then got into the cab and they drove off. I pulled onto the rank and the driver on point got out of his cab.

"Did you see that b***ard do that? He nicked the job off me. Did you get his number?" Sadly I didn't so we had to let that one go, but there seems to be a lot of that sort of thing going on now. We understand that we all need the work when we can get it, but if people start taking jobs off the ranks while others are queuing, or cutting other drivers up just to nick a job off their toes, then there's a possibility that we lose any sort of etiquette between drivers.

After about 5 minutes we both got jobs at the same time and I was on my way to the Mayfair Hotel on Stratton Street in W1. Traffic along the Highway and East Smithfield was quite bad so the fare eventually ended up at just over £30. The customer was a young American student who was fairly good about the traffic. At least we managed to have a good chat about his favourite sport... Rugby! Top bloke.

I picked up almost immediately in Berkeley Street, a gent who wanted to go to Waterloo. Everything heading towards Piccadilly Circus was rammed so he was happy for me to take him up towards Hyde Park Corner and down past Buckingham Palace, quite a pleasant journey for a hot summer's evening.

There were no other cabs at Waterloo, so I picked up straight off the rank, two Geordie Lasses who had been to see the Paul O' Grady Show wanting to go to Kings Cross. Straight onto the pick up rank from there and took a couple via the Royal Scot Travelodge to the Carling Academy at Islington.

A short spell without a job and I picked up in Theobald's Road, heading down to Christies in South Kensington. Straight onto the South Ken rank and picked up an old boy wanting to go to the Chelsea Arts Club in Old Church Street. He insisted on telling me the route he wanted which confused the snot out of me and I nearly missed the turn into Neville / Selwood Terrace. We got the destination, but with cars parked on both sides of the road I had to drive past to set him down without blocking the road for the traffic behind me. Before I got a chance to stop the old boy was screaming and shouting at me that I'd gone past, so I explained that I didn't want to block the road. don't think he was too happy about having to walk that extra 20 yards or so, since he gave me a whole 5p tip on top of the £3.80 fare. I left it for the road sweeper.

I decided to head back up Kings Road to see if there were any shoppers on their way home, but picked up a couple on their way to Le Caprice restaurant in Arlington Street. The fare came to £8.80, he gave me a tenner and said "Make it £9.50."

I picked up fairly quickly in Piccadilly outside the Academy of Arts and headed off to Charing Cross Station. Just before we reached the circus the passenger handed me a set of keys and said he'd found them on the floor. Since it's not far back to Le Caprice I decided to see if they belonged to my last fare. Luckily, I recognised them as I walked in, and the grateful gent handed me a nice crisp 20 for my trouble. So much easier doing things that way rather than handing them into a police station and having the customer spend a couple of hundred quid at a locksmith's.

The rest of the night just muddled along with only a short stop for a sandwich and a cuppa at Great Suffolk Street. Into Rate 3 and a job from Liverpool Street to St Mary's road in Peckham / Nunhead nearly had me heading for home since I was that side of town, but I thought I'd give it a little while longer. Managed to get all the way to Strand before picking up again, three Japanese who wanted three different drop off in the North Ealing area. Well away from the direction I really wanted to be in, but a job's a job. After being shown round the back streets of Ealing after the first drop off on Queens Drive, I eventually made the final drop off just past Ealing Broadway station and headed off towards town £45 better off.

A job on the way back from Shepherd's bush Green to the 606 club helped things in the right direction. One of the passengers was in a wheelchair, and I was surprised to hear that he's had cabbies tell him that they couldn't take him because they'd have to get the ramps out... a job that takes no more than a couple of minutes at each end. Had a good chat about music and was invited to name drop if I ever wanted to get into the 606 club for a gig. Might just do that.

I decided to head back across town and ended up at London Bridge Station, hoping for someone who may have missed their train into Kent. After a wait of about 30 minutes I got a job. The passenger got in and asked for Peckham.

"Whereabouts in Peckham?".
"I don't know. Get me to the station and I'll show you. Do you speak French?"

Oh no! I've got a passenger going to somewhere in Peckham, who doesn't know the address, who doesn't speak English, and may not have any money. Even worse, as we get to Peckham Rye Station he tries to direct me through the no entry signs, so we're off of the route he knows, having probably only travelled it by bus. My 20-something year old O level French came in a little useful and I find out here's visiting a friend "en vacances". By now, we're in a badly lit street heading towards Nunhead, so I stop and try some more bumbling French. "Qu'est-ce que c'est, le nom de la rue que vous desiree?"

It must have worked since he got onto the phone and asked someone and eventually gave me "Wood Vale". Great, at last a destination. By now, I've already tucked notes in various hidey holes in the cab, fully expecting to get to the estate on Wood Vale and having a weapon pulled on me. I shouldn't be so paranoid, the passenger showed me exactly where he wanted to go and I dropped him off at the door he wanted, and we went our separate ways, him tired and late in a strange town, and me trying to remember where I'd hidden the money.

Hope I manage to find it when I take the cab back on Friday. It may be my last fling with the firm I'm with since having been with them less than two weeks, I've had two cabs that have had things wrong with them, the latest being that the replacement cab has some sort of fault that drains the battery (possibly and alternator problem, possibly the battery itself). But it's a pain in the backside when you need to get somewhere and the bloody thing doesn't start only 12 hours after doing a 10 hours shift. Thank God it didn't fail on me in Ealing. That's a long walk home.

The alternative is that the vehicle gets recovered back to Bethnal Green, and I've then got to find my way back to Medway from there at 1 o'clock in the morning. It would have to be a cab, and I know I wouldn't have been happy having to pay out a fare for that particular journey.

Monday, 9 June 2008

Why are we going this way?

Back from a full weekend of work, the first I've put in for many a month. Still looking forward to being able to go out full time, but still hanging on for my wife to decide when she wants to take over the household duties.

After the change of cab last weekend, I managed to get back up to the new garage and swap over for a 54 plate TX2... with working air-conditioning. And didn't I need it this weekend. Lovely weather, but just a little warm to be in a cab with no air-con and LTI's inability to design a heating system that actually switches off. After 60 years you'd have thought they'd have got it right by 2004.

Friday was a short day in town for me and it reminded me why I'm not going in to do the short days before having to get back in time to pick up my daughter from school. Started off at Liverpool Street Station - I just can't seem to get a starting job anywhere before there, despite a short stop at Royston Vasey (or the O2 Dome) and a couple of laps of Canary Wharf. Picked up a couple who wanted the Indian Visa application centre. "Down at the High Commission in The Aldwych?". Apparently not. they've moved from there to a place in Goswell Road. Off we go, having a good chat with the couple who were making the application for their son, and having a day in town. We arrive at Goswell Road, a nice little tip and as I start to drive off I hear a whistle and a shout. Seems the new system has failed and they need to go from there to Wilton Road in Victoria. Another few quid on the clock having fought my way through horrible traffic and they finally get to where they need to be. Having re-started the clock again, I let them off the flag-fall cost. "Are you sure?" asks the gent, who tries to pay me again and add another tip. I'm in a good mood so I insist that he pays me the lower price that I've asked. Instant Karma's gonna get me.

Well, it may have been instant Karma, or it may just have been the good weather putting people in a good mood at the weekend. My first three jobs of Saturday were all around the £10 mark, but all three gave me £15 and told me to keep the change. Nice!

The day carried on with people in good moods... until lunchtime. Having popped into the Royal Oak cafe for a quick sandwich and a cuppa, I jumped onto the rank at Paddington. Picked up a European gent with his suitcase (which I loaded into the cab for him) and he told (not asked) me to take him to Wandsworth Bridge Road. My mind clicks the route over in my head and since he wants the Kings Road end, I decide on going over the top of the park, down through Kensington and in from there. It's possibly a line through the park normally, but since Hyde park was hosting the Red Bull Flugtag I figured that my chosen route would be quicker and more comfortable without having to deal with the speed humps. (The park may have actually been shut anyway (South Carriage Drive definitely was).

As we get to Kensington High Street I hear the passenger saying "You do know we're going to WANDSWORTH Bridge Road, don't you?". I explain about the Flugtag and tell him the rest of the route that I planned to take. He then tells me that every other driver goes through the park and straight down Kings Road. So I explain again, but I'm pretty sure he wasn't listening. We reach the destination having been rolling all the way, not a traffic jam anywhere along the route. I offer to get his bag for him but he's already in the luggage compartment dragging it out, paying me off legal and slamming the door without a word. "Thank you sir. Enjoy the rest of your weekend." I might have muttered something under my breath by the time I got back to the Kings Road, but I was determined to not let it get to me.

Other customers included some of the most pleasant and politest Americans I have ever met. One gent who looked like Ed Straker from the old UFO television series was on his way from Piccadilly Circus to the Metropolitan Hotel at Old Park Lane who told me he was impressed with the clean cab, my neat appearance and my sharp wit. To be honest I can't remember saying anything comparable (or attributable) to Oscar Wilde, but I accepted the compliments (and tip) with good grace. The other Americans were four girls in their late teens, travelling from the Four Seasons at Park Lane to Regents Park. They were all chatting and asking about various places in London, but every question was opened with "Sir?". Perhaps I look older than I am. Older and wider, perhaps.

Sunday was even warmer and with everyone in a good mood, even the Irish-Canadian gentleman travelling from Paddington to Le Meridien at Piccadilly, whose journey was cut short at Sackville Street by the march by several thousand Sikhs trying to form their own independent state of Khalistan. Not sure that holding up the traffic through the West End of London will help them on that particular road, but I am now aware of another piece of social-geographical-religious news that I wasn't previously. And the passenger, despite having to walk the last couple of hundred yards of his journey still thought that London cabbies are the best in the World.

Going back to my posting about needing the knowledge, I was happy to have picked out a couple of "lines" that were frequently called during my long call-over sessions with my COP Brian (who didn't work the weekend after buying his children a Wii system. Rumour has it, he's still trying to beat anyone in his house at ANY of the games.)

Having dropped at South Kensington junction I ranked up and within a few minutes had pulled a job to Fernlea Road in Balham. The journey started well with me saying "Bal-ham, gateway to the south", a comment which received a cheer from both passengers. I knew the expression, but did not know from where. They explained it was an old Peter Sellers sketch, so thanks to YouTube it can now be shared.

As I started the journey, the passenger asked which route I was going to take, so I told her Albert Bridge, up behind Clapham Common and then into Bedford Hill from Balham High Road. She told me that she was in the one way section of Fernlea Road so I explained that I'd use Rossiter Road and Ethelbert Street to turn it round. Again, amazement at the level of knowledge that we London Cabbies have, knowing two small roads in the depths of SW12. We arrived at the destination without any problems and having driven a line that was dead "on the cotton". Shame really, the customer suggested that we go over Wandsworth Bridge, a line that would have seen me get a nice big D on my appearance card for the knowledge, but probably another tenner on the fare. I showed her the line in the A-Z, which resulted in a "Wow, that's pretty good! Keep the change". Anyone know what I can do with 40p?
It's funny how people have their preferred routes. Of course, as soon as they tell you which way they want to go you start to think "Perhaps I've been doing it wrong all this time." My last job of the day on Sunday was a pick up in Stoke Newington Church Street, going to a Vietnamese restaurant on Mare Street, Hackney, just opposite the end of Well Street. I was near the High Street End so had the route in my mind immediately, but the passenger insisted on asking me to turn round and head away from the destination. I explained what was happening but he insisted, much to his girlfriend's annoyance. "You always do this, we end up going all round the houses. The cabbie knows the best way, let him choose." I decided to stay out of the argument and do whatever was asked by whoever shouted loudest. Another "D" line took us down to Newington Green, and every time I suggested a cut-through, the passenger told me which line he wanted to take. "OK sir, thank you!" as I watched the meter ticking over nicely to about double the cost of what it should have been. Well, I did warn him.

One job that I knew wouldn't get me a tip was The Westbury Hotel in Conduit Street to The Langham at the top of Regent Street. One top destination to another. This was obviously going to be legalled off at £4.40. And the female passenger insisted on telling me which route to take... Blimey love, it ain't that difficult, get to Regent Street from Conduit Street and head North, set down on left. Should I have bothered with the Knowledge with all these good people knowing best? Yes I think I should.
I know I'm going on a bit in this update, but figure I should get this stuff down before I forget, or leave it another 8 weeks before another update.

I mentioned Chessington in my last update. A few years ago, my daughter was quite seriously ill, and during her treatment, she was taken on a few trips by various charity groups via the hospitals she was attending. I thought that I would "give something back" by helping out on the trips arranged by the London Taxi Drivers Fund for Under Privileged Children, and so signed up to drive on the trip to Chessington World of Adventures.

It was an early start, leaving home at 5:30am (I hadn't realised there was an a.m. version of 5:30) to meet up with 90 or so other cab drivers at Earl's Court. Bacon rolls and tea were supplied, as were vouchers for fuel, entry to the park and food once in the park. We also received a pack of balloons and string so that we could all decorate our cabs.

By the time the children had arrived and we were all ready to go the atmosphere had really picked up and cabbies were starting to look forward to the trip as much as the children from various local hospitals and schools. My charges were three 6 year olds from a school in Fulham, and one of their classroom helpers.

As we set off we were encouraged to make as much noise as we could so with the kids all screaming and shouting and drivers blowing horns we set off on the trip down Old Brompton Road towards Putney and onto Chessington.

The organisers had hoped for a police escort for the journey but that didn't appear, but local PCSOs held up the traffic for the exit from Earls Court and some RAC vans did the same for us at some of the major junctions en route.

By the time we got to Chessington some cabs had already lost balloons and the hot weather had seen off a few more. A little threadbare compared to the departure, maybe, but still well in the spirit of things.

What I hadn't realised was that the drivers were to stay with their charges for the day and be their hosts around the park. Of course, this meant that since some of the children were below the necessary height to go on rides unaccompanied, the drivers got to have some fun as well.

By the end of the day and the journey home, the children (and a few of the drivers) were exhausted, but there were smiles all around. The journey back to Earls Court was a little more subdued, but everyone seemed to have had a good time. I had considered switching the light on and doing a few jobs on the way home, but the early start had taken its toll and I was heading for home.

Anyone who hasn't been on one of these trips should really consider it. All you have to do is to give up a day of your time, and perhaps a little bit of fuel getting to and from the start venue. I had a great time, and hopefully, the kids will remember their day out for some time. I'm sure I'll do another trip in the future, just need to set the alarm clock for a sensible time though.

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

It's later than I think

In keeping with the nation's desire for a 5 week Easter holiday I've left it several weeks before writing again. not deliberately, just out of pure laziness.

Since my last update I've gone through the 6 month barrier since getting my badge and starting as a cabbie. I have to say that I'm still enjoying the job, but am still unable to get in as many hours as I'd like to. The customers are still pretty much OK, with occasional daftness, occasional rudeness and plenty of conversation.

One particular moment of daftness was the man who wanted to go from Whitehall to Tottenham Court Road. Nice easy run, but while he was on the phone I could overhear his conversation, questioning why someone was waiting for him at the airport when it clearly stated on his ticket that he wouldn't be arriving until the morning of the 19th. It wasn't until I pointed out to him that "today's the 19th", that he suddenly made lots of apologies and started struggling to find a number at Heathrow so that he could re-arrange his flight to Johannesburg. Thankfully the LTDA diary comes loaded with numbers for just about all the airlines to just about all destinations and I received a nice tip from the customer for this little bit of help.

The London Mayoral elections saw Boris Johnson win over all-comers, although it felt more like a vote to "get Ken out" rather than a "get Boris in" result. It'll be interesting to see if there are many changes now that Bo-Jo has made a mark in politics rather than as a bumbling, blustering TV presenter. The next four years will tell.

I finally got my cab running the way I liked it after 6 months, with little bits and pieces finally being put right over time. And then, like a comfortable pair of shoes something happens that means you have to say goodbye. I went in to pay my rent last week to see a scene reminiscent of the USA abandoning their embassy in South Vietnam with a small bonfire going on the forecourt and a shredder running pretty much non-stop.

"OK Kev, we need your rent and your cab. We're closing down the rental business." Luckily they'd arrange for all the drivers to be supplied by one of the other local firms with newer cabs. Unluckily, mine is a year newer, but has a rip in the driver's seat cover, a badly patched up hole in the driver's carpet, a clutch that slips for the first half mile, a steering system that makes more strange sounds than Tangerine Dream gig in a china shop, no mileometer or trip reading, several dents all over the bodywork, a windscreen wiper that only clears half the screen and an oil leak that is the REAL reason for Gordon Brown asking the Oil industry to increase production. Add to that the fact that the air-con system leaks and the heater is permanently on, and you can see why I'm getting it changed this Friday.

Rather than post a couple of months worth of updates in one go I'll try to filter them through over the next few days. Remind me to tell you about the trip to Chessington.

Thursday, 3 April 2008

Why we do the knowledge

Quite a few customers ask if it's still worth doing the knowledge with new technical innovations like Sat-Nav. The answer is simply yes. I'm sure that people asked similar questions when the A-Z map of London was first published, but still, it's just another tool that we can add to assist us in the job.

Of course we occasionally make mistakes like when I misheard the passenger wanting to go from Victoria to Adeline Place. What she actually said was Adelaide Street. So having driven past her intended destination and then all the way back to just opposite Charing Cross, I offered her the ride for free. "Nonsense," she said. "I would have still paid you and given you a tip, here's a tenner for you!". I tried to refuse but she was insistent.

Sometimes you also hear of stories about passengers not paying but how about a mate of mine who took a rather drunk American to one of the Mayfair Men's club (Didn't these used to be strip joints a few years back?). With a whole £4.80 on the clock the passenger gave my mate two fivers and got out of the cab, not waiting for his change. On reaching the door of the club he suddenly turned back to the cab and said, "Hang on, I haven't paid you" and promptly gave the driver another fiver.

Anyway, back to sat-nav. Similar to the coach driver who took a coach load of school kids to Hampton Court, near Highbury corner, instead of to Henry VIII's palace, a mini-cab firm got it spectacularly wrong when trying to get to Stamford Bridge to see Chelsea play.

Yes, I think we still need the knowledge.

Tuesday, 1 April 2008

And it's all gone quiet over there.

After another week off from doing weekdays I put some hours in over the weekend. I'd been told it had been quiet through the week so was hoping things would pick up for the weekend. Looks like a few people must have been away for the Easter weekend and the following week since Friday and Saturday was tumbleweed central.

First job on Friday was from Norton Folgate to the Bavarian beerhouse on City Road. From there it was Liverpool Street Station to the Barbican, dropping a lady there for a Jamaican film festival. Things did pick up after a little while but all the jobs were little short ones... especially when it started raining.

Was quite pleased with myself when i managed to "pull" a couple of points that I'd almost dismissed while on the knowledge as being insignificant. If I've learned anything, it's that customers will ask for everything from the biggest stations to the smallest bars and restaurants. Naturally we don't know them all. It would be impossible with so many closures, refurbs, takeovers etc. It's a really satisfying feeling when a customer says, "You probably won't know this but I need to go to The Builders Arms pub in Chelsea" and you reply, "the one on Britten Street?". I know some people treat us as just another taxi driver, but there are those who really do appreciate the hard work put into becoming a London taxi driver.

Friday faded out into a series of little jobs and I packed up at about midnight, knowing i was in for an early-ish start the following day.

I was going out to a quiz night (our team finished 2nd - if only they'd listened to me we could have won) on Saturday so figured I'd head into town to see what i could do during the day.

I arrived in town at about 9am, and managed to get all the way to Victoria Station before I got a job. A young family heading up to Lexham Gardens, just off the Cromwell Road. He pretty much ignored his wife for the whole journey until he finished his phone call with a whoop, saying how he'd just closed a massive deal and it was going to really pay well. I should have guessed.. heading to a big house in Kensington for someone who has just earned a big commission... yep, that's right... NO TIP!

Headed back into town and didn't get another job until I got to Covent Garden, a family going to Saint Pancras. From there I joined the St Pancras rank since the Kings Cross one was all the way back to Goods Way and took a job from there to the Cumberland Hotel.

I drove around for a bit and then decided it was time for lunch. Yes, three jobs in three hours. The afternoon was slightly better having joined a load of other cabbies in a rain-dance to see if it would bring in some more work, but by 4pm I'd had enough and headed for the A2 and home.

Thankfully, Sunday was much better, with lots of people returning from holidays, so it was hit the stations and go from there. I didn't manage to get anything out to the new West London Suitcase depot, or Terminal 5 as it is more commonly known. The only really short jobs were one from Paddington to North Audley Street, and another lady who needed to go from Regency Street to the Sainsbury's market on Wilton Road, via the Blockbuster Video shop on Warwick Way. First job of the day though was from Whitechapel High Street to the Melia White House hotel. Think I upset them by NOT picking them up at the traffic island they were standing on, but they still gave me a 20p tip.

All in all Sunday raised my spirits after the quiet Saturday, and I headed for home safe in the knowledge that I'd at least already covered my rent for the week and that the rest is just for me and the tax man.

Real world jobs for the knowledge boys and girls

Russell Square to The Loop Bar W1
Kings Cross Station to Wilton Road
Paddington Station to Luckhurst Gardens

Monday, 24 March 2008

Welcome to Royston Vasey

Good Friday. What's good about it? Other than it being the day we all teach our kids about the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ by telling them that a giant bunny is going to come round and lay chocolate eggs?

I'll tell you what... it's rate 3 all day. As one driver put it though "It might as well be rate 103 for the amount of work there is out here." Plenty of people in town although for the most part the weather was fine so lots of people out for a "bracing walk" and not many hailing cabs. That was until it started hailing on the cabs. Those tin boxes get really noisy when that happens. And I already had a fare from Victoria Station to Copeleston Road in East Dulwich. A lovely lady (I would guess was somewhere in her 70's) who had been in Torquay for the week. Came back complaining that she wouldn't go again because "It's full of old people".

My day started at The O2 dome. No real reason, it's just that it's on the way in for me, and occasionally a job comes in that will allow me to get into town without being empty all the way. Makes sense, don't you think?

Not to one of the Suburban drivers (or "Yellow Badges" ranked up there). As usual I got out of the cab at the back of a rank of about 7 cabs to stretch my legs and have a smoke. I've had some good conversations with some of the drivers over there, mulling over the price of fuel, the state of English football etc. Small talk.

I decided to strike up some small talk with one of the drivers "No extras today is there?" I asked with a smile thinking perhaps, like New Years Day we might get a little more per journey than just rate 3. Greedy I know, but every little helps.

The other driver looks at my badge and immediately sneers "Wot? Daan choo nar yer mee-aah oor summink?". Oh goody, I've just bumped into one of the only surviving donors in a brain transplant operation.

"There's nuffink fer yoo Awl-Londern drivers rand 'ere. Yood be be-aah off up taan. This is a suburban rank". Immediately I realise I'm in danger of being told "We don't like strangers round 'ere", "Keep off the moors during a full moon". He all but said in true "League of Gentlemen" style "This is a local rank for local drivers".

"Well mate I'm an all-London driver, and last time I looked, Greenwich was still part of London."
"Well, there's still nuffink for yoo 'ere".

Yeah right mate, with the Jubilee line and north Greenwich Station closed it was going to be dead there all day. I left the moonraker and his mates to their quiet day on the rank and headed into town after waiting about 10 minutes to see if anything was moving - other than his mouth while he read The Sun.

Of course The O2 does have plenty of work in and out, especially when the Eagles are playing there. I went in on my way home on Saturday night and as usual the queue of customers was longer than the line of cabs. I wonder if the local would have been happier to see all of those customers turn their attention to local mini-cab firms rather than let the Green Badge brigade help them out on nights like this. Somehow I doubt it.

I managed to get back there for four jobs, a couple into The Devonport in Greenwich, four people to The Novotel Excel, a family to Blackheath Village and a really friendly bloke to the Holiday Inn Express in Silvertown Way, who left his credit card in the back of the cab. Sadly I didn't find it until I'd got all the way home to Medway, and despite my best efforts to ask the hotel to get him to call me, he checked out the following morning presumable paying either by cash or by another card.

I did feel sorry for one driver on Friday. While the rest of us were working on rate 3, he was telling me he'd had some work done on his cab the day before which had meant the meter had lost its memory and needed re-programming. Poor bloke was scraping for work and when he did get it he was on Rate 1.

All in all it was a fairly successful weekend meaning I could spend Sunday and Easter Monday with my wife and daughter, both of them nursing a couple of colds between them.

Real world jobs for the Knowledge Boys and girls

Paddington Station to Sloane Square Hotel
Cranbourne Street to Lord of the Rings
Parliament Square to Tavistock Hotel
Coventry Street to Sanderson Hotel

and finally, I spotted this while stuck in a traffic jam on Saturday afternoon. Any ideas where?