Thursday, 28 February 2008

Thank you for the days

Back into town again today. I really need to try to get some more night shifts in, or somehow talk my daughter into staying at school a bit longer so that I'm not having to dive back home just as the day gets going.

One thing that's noticeable about the days is that a lot of people don't talk quite as much as those who are out in their leisure time of an evening. Quite a few just get on their mobile and chat away, like the two blokes I picked up from Liverpool Street Station going to London Bridge. All the way down Bishopsgate, both of them were on their phones, holding different conversations, one having a go at his (presumably) soon-to-be ex-wife, telling her how he didn't want to discuss it with her and how he just wante dto sort her out with some money and not see her ever again, while the other was talking to a mate about football and arranging a good beer-up. Left me wondering whether the two conversations were linked at all.

The only decent job i had today was a nice straightforward run from Liverpool Street Station (again) out to City airport, which left me at the far East of town at about going home time. Everything else was just bitty jobs, all less than a tenner. One was a nice job from just West of Oxford Circus to "My mate's pub please, it's just this side of Edgware Road". We had a laugh about the destination so I replied with a wild stab in the dark. "The Larrick in Crawford Place?" brought an amazed "... Yeah, that's it... How did you know?" from the customer. It really was just a lucky guess, but I'll be having a go at The Lottery this weekend, just in case.

Everybody had the money to pay the fares today which was nice, all except one guy who could only pay me with a note from the Bank of Ulster since he had just flown in from Belfast and had no English on him. Another one to check out when I put some tax money into the account.

Forgot to mention another lost job from Monday. I had been on the rank in Liverpool Street for about 10 minutes and had finally made it to point when a couple came outof the Andaz Hotel further up and started talking to one of the cabbies further back down the rank. She then looks down towards me and waves a hand, at the same time that her partner starts walking down towards me. I figure I'd save them a walk so leave the rank and drive the 50 yards or so towards them. Every little helps in the battle for a nice tip... especially from the people who stay at the expensive hotels - i guess the only way they can afford to pay those prices is to not pay out big tips to people like cab drivers.

As I pull up she looks at me, I wind down the window expecting to be told her destination. Instead, I hear her telling me that she's already booked a cab but he hasn't turned up, and did I know where he was. of course I didn't but I can take you if you need a cab. "We've already paid for the journey" I'm told. So i tell her just how pleased I am that she's shared that particular story with me, and that I'm delighted she's just cost me another 10 or 15 minutes waiting in the rank that I'd just been at the head of. "Sorry". Yeah right love, "sorry" doesn't fill the fuel tank.

Another great customer from last week was a guy who was down from Scotland. He'd been working in London and had managed to get himself a ticket to watch Spurs playing their home leg of the UEFA cup match. However, he'd been watching Rangers playing on the big screen in The Cock at Smithfield before setting off for The Lane.

First stop, a cashpoint please. "No worries." Cashpoint sorted, we head north. We have a good chat about the state of British football, and surprisingly the architecture of football grounds. (any self respecting football anorak should already have read the excellent "Football Grounds of Britain" by Simon Inglis.) However, as we get closer to Tottenham High Road he's starting to tell me how he's full of beer and needs a toilet. I tell him we're not too far if he can hold on, so he holds on... and on... and on... until with £16 on the clock just north of Seven Sisters Road he throws two tenners through the partition and tells me, "it's no good mate, I gotta go".

With that, he jumps out of the cab in the middle of a traffic jam and he wanders off bent double towards (I guess) a convenient alleyway. My guess is he found a pub after that and then maybe saw about 20 minutes of the second half. Good luck to ya!

Real World job for the knowledge boys and girls

Marriott County Hall Hotel to National Gallery

Wednesday, 27 February 2008

Back in the swing

No, i haven't joined the ranks of cabbie golfers, but after having some time doing nights and having days off for half term, I'm now back into the routine of going into work during the busy days, then having another one off to sort out the ironing and to avoid the closure of the Blackwall Tunnel.
The nights weren't as bad as I thought they might be. Conversations with some of the people who had been out drinking made me realise just why I don't drink any more. It's a lot easier to talk a load of crap while you're sober, instead of endlessly slurring a load of crap while you're drunk. don't think I could handle the hangovers any more, and I sure as hell couldn't afford to drink at the prices some places charge.
The nice thing about the nights is that if you do get a long run, at least the roads are a bit clearer for the long haul back into town for your next job. It seems that geography plays a part in where people will get, or want to get a cab. Doesn't seem to be many people heading into town so most of the work radiates outwards.
What I have noticed about nights is the number of people who say that another cabbie refused to take them. one couple even said that he drove off as soon as they gave their destination. Perhaps the driver who gave them the broom was a little more sensitive than I but neither passenger seemed drunk or aggressive, and the journey wasn't going to be more than 12 miles or more than an hour, so one can only assume that he didn't want to go in their direction. To be honest, neither did I, but i had stopped for them in the early hours of the morning, so I was obliged to take them.
It can feel like you're being washed out to sea when you're trying to get home, since every job seems to take you further and further away from where you want to go. A mate of mine has suggested that cab's be fitted with some sort of colour coded light to say which direction they are going in. That way, everyone's happy. more ranks could also be set up to allow people and cabbies to go in a certain direction and head for home instead of way out of their way.
It would also leave people feeling a bit better about cabbies if they aren't just refused for no apparent reason. Enough of that, or I'll have some of the old hands having a go at me.
A couple of Saturdays ago was a no-go day as far as the cab was concerned. I was playing bass guitar at a charity gig in the evening with a couple of old mates including Simon Pinto who now plays guitar with The Latch (with Lee Latchford Evans, formerly of Steps) was playing drums. a night of various rock and roll and other covers was attended by a couple of hundred people who helped to raise something over 3 grand towards Capital Radio's Help a London Child appeal. A lot of fun was had, and it was great to do some work other than the grind of Headlong (who will be appearing at O'Neil's in Blackheath on the first Sunday of each month if anyone's interested.

For the Knowledge boys and girls
Gibson Square really does exist in the real world and not just as a part of Run number 1 of the blue book. Sadly the job was only from Kings Cross and not Manor House Station, but it was nice to go back there after last visiting all those years ago.

A real world run from Sunday afternoon
Charing Cross Station to Palace Gates Road - pick that one out

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

Another day another few quid short.

After last week and my intention of making sure people had the right money, I went out at the weekend and had more people without the proper means to pay.

The question now is how to sort this out? Do i ask for money at the beginning of the journey? Do I ask for something from them like their phone until they pay me? Do i report them to the police? Do I barter and make them wash the cab?

The threat of London tube workers going on strike might strike fear into the hearts of a lot of Londoners but i think cabbies will love it (apart from the extra traffic on the road of course). Problems on the line from Hammersmith proved fruitful for me last week, picking up two "flyers" from the rank at Hammersmith Broadway. However, like my job to Stansted one of the journeys proved to be interesting.

Halfway along the M4 to Heathrow I hear the passenger asking "Is it far?". With the meter already reading around £25 I can guess what's coming next! "I only have £22, will you take a credit card". Having already told him it was going to be around £40 CASH when I picked him up, he knew what answer I was going to give.

I figured that since he had a credit card he'd be able to get some money out a machine, so pulled into Heston Services. He ran in, and a couple of minutes later, ran out again. "No good", so I take him to the petrol station at the services where there is a cashpoint machine. He runs in, speaks to the shop assistants and then runs out again. "No good!". I pointed out that he didn't even attempt to use the cash machine, to which he replies that he doesn't know his PIN number. How exactly was he going to pay me, or anyone else with a credit card in these days of chip and PIN?

"OK sir, we seem to have a problem. Is Hammersmith OK for you instead of Heathrow?"
"What, wait, let me see if i have any other cash! Will you take Euros?"
"OK, how much have you got?"
"I have hundreds"
"Good, Heathrow it is then"

On arrival at Heathrow he proudly produces a 100 Euro note for a £44 fare (waiting time at the services).

"I'll have to give you change in pounds since I don't have any Euros", to which the passenger says "keep the change, I'm late for my check-in now". Nice! I'll have to wait for my next trip to Europe before I find out whether I've been given a moody note, but it looks real enough to me... not that I'd know.

Another job (and one for the Knowledge boys here). I pick up on the South side of Pall Mall on the corner of Waterloo Place.

"Stanhope Gardens please"
"South Kensington?"
"No, up by the big Homebase on Green Lanes"

Not a road I knew, but I know where the Superstore was so off we go. At this point of the evening Piccadilly was jammed and Shaftesbury Avenue was a nightmare because of the Chinese New Year celebrations so I ask if it's OK to head up through Camden and straight up the Seven Sisters Road to avoid the traffic in the West End... No problem.

Luckily, as I get to Portland Place I hear about the fire at the Hawley Arms pub in Camden Town so have a bit of time to divert and take a more southerly route up, again with the customer's permission.

As we approach the destination, having heard stories of the high class wedding they'd just been to, and how the suit, shirt and shoes the passenger was wearing would have cost me something like a dozen weeks of cab rental, they ask me to stop at a cashpoint. Luckily there's one at the end of the road hey live in, so I stop there and wait. He jumps back in and we drive the 200 yards or so to the house.

"£28.80 please sir"
"Sorry, we've only got £24.40"
"Hang on, you've just been to the cashpoint"
"I only got £20 out"
"But there was already more than that on the clock"
"OK, no worries, you can get into your house and get the cash from there"
"Oh, we don't keep cash in the house"
"What? Not even a fiver?"

Exasperated I bid them a not so fond farewell. I sit and sort the change into my dispenser and then turn round to check nobody has left anything in the back of the cab. They had! No, not an expensive Armani suit, or Jimmy Choo shoes, but loads of sweet wrappers, all over the floor and seat. Nice to know there are some really classy people in town! Of course, knowing where they lived I didn't need to take their property to a police station and returned it promptly to their home address.

I would just like to point out to all the knowledge boys and girls out there, that it's not all bad. The large majority of customers give you no grief whatsoever, most of the lines are second nature to you, and the hours are so flexible they could appear at a circus as a contorionist act.

You do also get a few odd moments. While ranked up on Pancras Road for Kings Cross, a woman in a 4x4 pulls up alongside me and asks if the road is 2-way. I explain that it's taxis and cycles southbound, and that there was a CCTV camera car watching for people entering from Goods Way. She then tells me that she'd come up from Euston Road and done a U-turn, so it must be OK. I then tell her she'll have to cross a set of double white lines and drive against oncoming traffic if she wants to go all the way back down, at which point she starts berating me about there being no signs saying it's taxis only and nothing saying one way only. I figure that whatever I answer I had given her she'd have continued on her way down to Euston Road anyway, so why ask in the first place. Maybe it was so that she could say that a taxi-driver had told her it was OK to do so. Or maybe she just wanted an argument. She didn't get one but the drivers around me all found it highly amusing that I hadn't put any signs up to let her know what was happening with the traffic.

Off out tonight for a long night-shift, and hoping that there aren't too many heaver drinkers around, and that everybody's got the right money. I can't be doing with any more of them.

Oh, and well done to my mate Paul who got his badge last Friday and has finally found his way out onto the road in a cab. Enjoy it mate.

Tuesday, 5 February 2008

Kippers for tea?

Working my way through January, I was beginning to wonder if the kipper season was just another "the game's dead" type comment from the old guard to discourage knowledge boys and girls from finishing.

Judging by February's work so far, it looks like it's not a mythical beast. It's quiet... very quiet.

Of course, it might be just the hours that i work that are giving me the grief, what with having to slide all the way up the A2 from the Medway Towns before even getting a sniff of a job, and then sliding all the way back down again for the afternoon school run. Hopefully a few longer days might give me a better insight as to how much work there really is. Perhaps I might even turn out for a few night shifts as well if it gets too quiet during the day.

The weather started to turn cold again with over zealous weathermen warning of blizzard-like conditions. Of course, the snow got nowhere near London, but it was great fun guessing which pedestrian's umbrella was going to be the next to turn inside out. And of course, cold weather means only one thing... that's right, the heater knob on the cab breaks off while switched to cold. Several customer complaints later and I'm back up at Nationwide getting it fixed. By fixed, I mean switched to permanently on! At least it's easy to open the window to cool things down.

Two gigs with Headlong at the weekend meant that I didn't do any cabbing. I really must think about changing priorities with the band and the cab. I still enjoy playing with the band, but I can feel it's starting to become a bit "samey", and the constant volume wars between the guitarist and the keyboard is annoying the arse off me. Let's see who can beat Spinal Tap and get to 12 tonight. Anyone in need of a bass player?

And so to this week's work. Nothing too testing for the grey matter, one or two into my grey areas (and I don't mean the hair growing at my temples) in north london, but the customers seemed happy on arrival. i have to admit to penning up a couple of lines when I got home though, wondering if I'd managed to take a wide line, but all looked as near as damn it "on-the-cotton".

No real daft jobs either, except perhaps for one bloke who during some delays on the trains out of Euston thought he'd get a cab to Birmingham International Airport.
"How much mate?" in his best Noddy Holder accent.
"It's gonna be at least £250" in my best Home Counties sales pitch.
"Bloimey mate, oi thought i'd be soomthing like £70".
"Only if you're going to 'eafrow".
He went back to wait for his train and i took a job to Marylebone instead.

Despite it being quiet and all the ranks at the Stations spilling over into the streets, there's some work out there. Just a case of finding somewhere to sit for a few minutes with the engine off instead of using diesel looking for a hand waving.

I'm beginning to like the O2 dome for first jobs of the day if the Blackwall Tunnel is busy. Occasionally jobs will take you into town so there's less dead mileage, but I had a nice one on Monday. The customer had travelled from UCH on the tube to North Greenwich tube having lost his keys, so he was going to the Queen Elizabeth hospital at Woolwich to pick up the spare set from his wife, before heading back to his house in South Kensington. We never made the whole journey though. With around £8 on the meter and not too far from QEH he gets a phone call from somebody at UCH to say they've found his keys in the changing room there. "Sorry cabbie, can we go back to The Dome"

"Of course sir!"

Two from the real world for the knowledge boys

Tea Building to Highbury Terrace
Guoman Tower Hotel to APT Nightclub ("Somewhere near Saint Paul's" - I didn't know where it was)