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?

Monday, 17 March 2008


In my last post I mentioned a single called "Frustration". This was by a band called The Purple Hearts during the second coming of the mods in the early 80s.

Having taken a couple of passengers from the rank in Cranbourne Street all the way out to Richmond on Saturday night, I was expecting an empty cab all the way back. Luckily, Twickenham Station had been closed earlier in the day so a lot of the celbrating English rugby fans had made their way into Richmond for a quencher before heading for home. Just as I was heading back through the town centre two lads looking worse for wear thanks to beer and rain flagged me.

"Where to lads?"
"Clapham Junction please"

Lovely! At least I'd get something for the long haul back along the Upper Richmond Road. We got chatting, first about the rugby and football results and then onto music. When the big question came up of "Who is the best band you've seen" I agreed with one of the two, that The Jam was probably well up there. He then explained that he had been a mod when he was younger so I mentioned "The Purple Hearts". He then said that he'd been at a gig at the Electric Ballroom, and before he could finished I butted in with "... supported by Dexy's Midnight Runners and The VIPs, and it all kicked off on the tube afterwards between the mods and skinheads who had been at a gig at The Mean Machine".

Of the millions of people in London, and the 25000 or so cabbies, two people from a gig audience of 200 or so meet in a cab in Richmond. Now I don't know if any of you are statisticians out there but the odds must be fairly high that two of those people at that gig would ever meet again anywhere other than at a mod rally.

We finished the journey with lots of memories of gigs and bands (The Chords, Secret Affair, The Lambrettas) from back in those days. A nice tip and a handshake at the end of it and I was back off into town. That was after having broomed a fare to Putney Heath from Clapham Junction.

As I dropped my two friendly mods another guy staggered his way towards the cab, pint glass in hand. Before the door was shut he had fallen into the back slurring "Putney Heef" at me.

"Not in your state, and definitely not with a pint glass full of beer we're not." I was quite willing to sit outside the station until he got out, but the British Transport Police car behind decided to try out his blues and twos. Exactly why he had followed me into the station forecourt only to move straight out again, only police intelligence could tell, but it meant I had to pull off the forecourt so that he could get past before switching off the lights and siren.

I then pulled over in the car park and had to explain again to my hopeful drunkard that I wasn't taking him any further. "Really?" "Yep, really. Sorry, out you get." Surprisingly he did as asked and went back to the station finishing his pint as he went, no arguments.

Only had one other set of drunks in the car on Saturday. After dropping five "Hoo-Rays" in Dean Street, three other lads climbed in and wanted to go to Waterloo. All friendly enough, but I could tell they'd had a few and from their discussions they were planning on a few more. I dropped them at The Steps by Waterloo Station and two of them climbed out and walked straight into a nearby bar. The third was still in my cab... fast asleep. I woke him with a quick "OI!" with which he woke up and stepped out of the cab straight towards the bar. Another "OI!" made him turn around to see what he'd done. I reminded him that cab fares needed to be paid with which he reached into his pocket and pull out a screwed up fiver and a handful of change. It was close enough so I let him go to chance his luck with the doormen at the bar.

The rain certainly helped on Saturday with me sometimes wondering if a revolving door would have been better on the cab. One out, One in all night from the time the rain started at 4 until I decided to switch off the light and head for home at midnight.

One interesting fare was a short haul from Sloane Street to Scotts Restaurant W1. Got chatting with the passenger about a report she had just finished writing about the state of the Nation's health and how so much money is wasted by the "sicknote" culture. She did mention that she would be doing a couple of TV interviews about the report, and true to form, there she was on GMTV this morning. Jst shows the variety of passenger you get. From a complete drunk to Dame Carol Black. A Dame, nontheless, in my cab. Glad I didn't know, I'd have been bowing and scraping and calling her your holiness or something daft. Anyway, a lovely lady and I hope she managed to get the rest she was looking for after spending so long on the report.

Didn't bother with working Sunday. All of the road closures thanks to the St Patrick's Day Parade and the Sport Relief Mile would have just made any route across town absolute hell. Add to that the potential for a cab full of drunks all claiming Irish heritage because their grandmother once had a pint of Guinness while listening to a Daniel O'Donnel CD. No offence meant. If you're Irish, then fine, celebrate away. If you're not, then by all means go out, have a good skinful and a party, but please don't say you had to have a drink because it was Saint Patrick's Day. Just say it was a good excuse for a beer. As if an excuse is needed.

As for the athletes, I'm sorry but you'd just embarrass me. I know people like to keep fit and all the money raised will go to worthy causes, but I'm not the most athletic of people. Some people run marathons... I get out of breath running a bath!

All in all, a succesful Friday and Saturday in the cab. Rent paid, fuel tank full and ready for another week of deciding whether or not to go in and do any work during the short days, or just wait until the long weekend and provide a service for the travelling public.

Some real world jobs for the Knowledge Boys and Girls

Old Broad Street to LoungeLover - NO BISHOPSGATE
Victoria Station to Dolphin Square
Selfridges Cab Rank to Harrods

Monday, 10 March 2008

Frustration - I wear it like a suit

Actually i don't, but it's the title of one of my hundreds of 7" singles that I've been digitising over the past few weeks.

These short days are killing me. The traffic into town is a nightmare and I've usually done around 30 miles before I get my first job of the day. After that it's not too bad, but I always find myself watching the clock to make sure I'm not back too late to pick up my daughter from school. What I really need are some longer days out there to get into some sort of routine. Either that or I need to talk my wife into getting home from work before 9 o'clock each night so I can do some rate 2 and 3 work before the dawn arrives.

I only worked a couple of days last week,, having Friday off so that I could prepare for my final gig with Headlong. When I say "prepare", I mean, laze around the house all day doing nothing. Operation Stack was well in place on the M20 so the drive down to Ashford was a nightmare with thousands of lorries parked up along the way and all cars being diverted along the A20. managed to get there in time though, unlike my mate Simon who struggled to get to the gig before 1130 thanks to the traffic. Thanks for turning up though.

As expected, the night turned into a Nigel Tufnell-esque battle of whose-amp-can-go-the-highest-before-the-air-is-filled-with-electric-soup. No big finale for me, just a "see you later lads" at the end of the night. I'm sure I'll meet up with them some time soon, but I really don't need the headaches.

And a headache I had all through the following day. Having a job booked back to Medway after the boxing at the O2 Dome, I shifted my day's work so that I could be at Greenwich at 3.30 in the morning. i had a slow start to the day with a couple of jobs off the rank at the O2, one to The Valley with a guy who was hoping to get a ticket for a Premiership game ("You're 8 months too late, fella") and another just a quick trip through the tunnel to the Ibis Excel hotel. From there it was up to Stratford Station - there are going to need to be some major improvements to this area before 2012.

After sitting on the rank for about 10 minutes with nothing moving I decided to head into town, with the headache's pounding sounding like an out of salts Cozy Powell. Another depressing journey with no jobs until I got all the way to Charing Cross Station. After that I ran a few little jobs around the West End until I could take no more of the headache. I headed for the Astral Cafe by the Iron Lung, got myself a bottle of water and packet of paracetamol. A quick drive into Vincent Square where I parked up, and with the radio on low, fell asleep. 40 minutes or so later Russell Brand was rambling his way through his radio show, and I was feeling much better thinking that I'll be able to make it through the night to my booking at The Dome.

A couple of jobs later finds me having to think my way through the suburb runs that were learned at the end of The Knowledge. Two brothers wanting to go from Trafalgar Studios in Whitehall to Surbiton. I'm thinking "Kings Road, Putney Bridge, onto the A3 and away". As I head toward Trafalgar Square, one of the brothers says "It's the other way mate. Get across the river and follow the A3."

Fair enough, you're the boss. So off we go along two sides of a bloody great big rectangle instead of taking the diagonal, but they know what it's going to cost and they're going the route they want. As we're heading up the West Hill stretch of the A3 they ask to divert to Kingston so that they can get some beers. I figure they're after an off-license until I get directed into a cul-de-sac. I'm now starting to wonder which one of them I should grab when they bail and try to do a runner, or should I just stay in the cab and put it down to experience and keep my face and taking bag intact. We pull up outside a house and thankfully only one of them gets out, goes into the house and comes out with eight cans of Guinness. "Surbiton please". The only thing, these two brothers were interested in was raiding their mum's fridge. Imagine the scene in the morning. "We've been broken into but they've only taken the beer". "Bloody Students".

Off to Surbiton, I drop them off and keep the £1.20 change from the five crisp tenners handed through the partition. OK, it's a fair way back into town but the A3's fairly good at that time of night.

A few more short jobs around the West End since the rain's starting to come down, and a job from Horseferry Road to Edgware Road for a Canadian who couldn't believe that on a cab journey like that we get to drive past landmarks like Buckingham Palace.

Then at just before 1am, I get a text from the friend-of-a-friend who is at the boxing. "Sry m8, bked hotel. dont need ya". Even my limited knowledge of text-speak tells me I've lost my £75 job that would take me home. So it's time to change the rules; anyone I don't know pays me up front for the booking, especially when I'm doing them a favour by staying out til those sort of hours.

Shortly after I pick up in Berkeley Square, a job to Southfields. Completely the wrong direction for me, but i take the job anyway, especially since it's a female out on her own who needs to get home at nearly two in the morning. Had a great chat all the way down there but by the time I'd dropped her off the paracetamol was wearing off. I was tempted to head back into town to see if I could get another job heading East, but the law of sod being what it is I would have probably ended up in Cricklewood.

Having done a good day's work and with cash to pay the cab-rent for the following week, I head for home via the 24 hour 'roach coach on Clapham Common and snarl at all the mini-cabs heading towards Medway down the A2, every single one of them with a job that I could have had.

Thursday, 6 March 2008

With another short week for me I was hoping to get out on Saturday to do a longer day shift before having to get back for a night out (I was driving, of course), and then of course being at home for Mothers' Day on Sunday meant that I had to try to squeeze in as much work as I could before then.

Having an extra day in a leap year did mean that we self employed people will of course earn 1/365th (or is it 1/366th) more money than we normally would. No cries of "Give us an extra day's holiday from us lot, oh no! Why is it that this year seems to be the first time we've suddenly heard cries of this. Perhaps the leap day hasn't fallen on a Friday for a long time. Or perhaps we've all just turned into an "in-it-for-what-we-can-get" society.

Similarly cries from parents whose children don't get their first choice schools. One headmaster complained that he had actually experienced disappointed parents turning up with lawyers to complain about the fact that their little 11 year is going to have to go to a school just round the corner and that they won't be able to drive their 4x4 to the better school 3 miles away.

Sorry, turning even more into one of the grumpy old men off the telly.

Had a couple of good days towards the end of last week. Friday saw me have my first bilker. Not too much to worry about though. I was on the rank at the London Eye ("If you think the wheel's big, you should see the size of the hamster") when the linkman from the Marriott asked if I could take one of his guests to Earls Court. No problem, basic stuff, so we pull up outside the hotel and the linkman pops into reception to find the waiting passenger. Within a minute he pops out again asking me if I'd seen the passenger who had disappeared, but his luggage hadn't. Nope, but i'll wait. No sign of the passenger after a few minutes so I've got £5.40 on the clock, no job and I've lost my place on the rank.

Luckily another passenger came out of the hotel wanting to go to Paddington, which enabled me to meet up with Blue Lion at the Paddington Knowledge School to help him celebrate getting his badge. Well done mate, glad you're enjoying the job. It did mean I had to lose the £5 waiting time so the linkman owes me a decent job in the future. Rochester at about midnight would be nice.

Another interesting job was from Waterloo to the Home Office. Chatting to the passenger about the Congestion Charge zone led to some interesting information. The number of cars in town has actually decreased, as TfL's figures have shown. What they don't show is how much the amount of capacity for cars has decreased due to the increase of the number and operation times of bus lanes. So, there are (say) 10% fewer cars but (say) 15% less space for them to use, hence the appearance that things are actually worse. Who was it said about "Lies, damned lies and statistics".

The amount of time spent in traffic jams this week led me to operating only out of the O2 Dome today, running all local jobs. Even that resulted in me giving up after a couple of people wanted to go into Greenwich. A set of temporary traffic lights at Park Row and the closure of Greenwich High Road from the One Way system to Royal Hill caused complete chaos all around SE10. Congratulations to whoever was responsible for planning this particular beauty.

I probably won't work tomorrow if the traffic so far this week has been anything to go by. Spent most of the time in a jam caused by any one of many sets of roadworks. i've got a gig tomorrow night, all the way down in Ashford and it's looking increasingly like it will be my last one with Headlong. We played at O'Neil's in blackheath last Sunday, and as usual, volume levels went up and up until they became unbearable, despite there being a noise limiter in the pub. By the end of the night i'd had enough and by Monday morning I'd told the guitarist and keyboard player that this Friday would be my last gig with them. It would be nice to do one last local bash so that a few people might come along, but if the support is anything like we've had over the past 5 years it'll just turn out to be another noisy gig.

So time to call it a day and move on. I wouldn't want to give up the music altogether but too many pubs are paying too little. Their custom is down, live music is giving way to karaoke and disco and people will spend more time buying cheaper booze and drinking it at home where they can have a smoke without having to go and stand in the garden. Watch this space for any news of other "projects" as they happen.

While on music, sad news in the week as Canadian guitarist Jeff Healey lost his battle against cancer. You might know him from the Roadhouse film with Patrick Swayze. If you don't know who he is, check out the video below from YouTube.

Look forward to seeing some of you out there on Saturday when I'll try to earn some money to cover the rent for this week. That'll teach me not to work during the week.

Real world job for the Knowledge Boys and Girls

Junction of Lexham Gardens and Cromwell Road to Portland Hospital
(you gotta love Mr T for his lines)