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.


Brian said...

Oi, i will have you know i am the bowling champion of my house. However, i am still getting knocked out by a 6 and a 4 year old on the boxing.

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