Movin’ on up

27 July, 2012 at 1:50 pm | Posted in Slug, snail, puppydog tail | 2 Comments

Test card

After four years in our home we’re moving to a brand new site hosted on this side of the Atlantic, and we didn’t need Pickfords to do the heavy lifting, even though it has been hard at times.

The sparkling new site has as its theme London Live – appropriate for a blog about our capital – which a look that I hope gives more of an impression from the inside my cab.

http://www.cabbieblog.com/ has more animation; and provides easily accessible content; videos and your gratefully received comments have greater visibility.

The new site has allowed me to play with a new ‘boys’ toy’ these last few weeks, even though it has been a steep learning curve developing the site. That is the reason some recent posts have been more truncated.

At the time of writing I haven’t been able to migrate your RSS notifications, and so if we are still to keep in touch (if only to exchange Christmas cards) click on this link to update your RSS feed. Or if you prefer email notifications sign up at the new site.

Thank you all for your support, comments (supportive or not), bookmarks, tweets, Facebook and all the other social media thingies.

It has been my pleasure to share with you my London and a truly humbling journey I’ve travelled with over a third of a million hits.

Thank you and Be Lucky.

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A Marathon read

24 July, 2012 at 1:50 pm | Posted in Driven mad in London | 2 Comments
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Black and white cab

Just how do they do it? I mean when an actor is given a major part to play, just how so they remember their lines. I only ask because last weekend a mighty 76 page tome thudded on to my doormat. Years in the planning and in less than six days I have to commit it to memory.

The publication goes under the catchy title ‘The taxi and private hire information handbook’ and was compiled by the Olympic Delivery Authority.

[C]omprising 23 maps, a dozen graphs and scattered liberally with gobbledegook straight from a script of Twenty Twelve: ‘No taxis or PHVs will be permitted to pass through a VSA without the correct VAPP’. It makes for an interesting read.

Like an inexperienced actor learning his lines in Hamlet we have to make sense of this impenetrable jargon.

SatNavs will be obsolete as so many roads are either closed or had their direction changed. It is going to be hard for us but for private hire with their reliance on technology it will be impossible.

The maps make for interesting reading. Should a spectator require a cab from the Olympic Stadium they will have to walk 1,400 metres (or nearly a mile in old money). Cross a 6-lane dual carriageway, walk under a flyover to find the rank located, if memory serves, behind a caravan park.

According to the comprehensive map only two small ranks service all the major hotels in Park Lane, but that is probably because every 5-star hotel in London is fully booked with the Olympic Family.

Sorry I’d better get back to memorising all this I only have three days to learn my lines.

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Life imitating art – a cabbie’s diary

20 July, 2012 at 1:50 pm | Posted in Driven mad in London | 4 Comments
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Games Lanes

With the first Olympian week drawing to a close, with the predictability of a shortage of cabs on a wet Friday night, we have had a bumper week of motoring stories.

In a scenario straight from the script of BBC’s TwentyTwelve, on Monday two buses containing United States and Australian officials were lost for up to four hours as they made their way from Heathrow to the Olympic Park.

That was followed by confusion on the M4 as to who could (and should) use the Olympic Lanes. The ban of all vehicles except black cabs and Olympic vehicles will, apparently be ‘monitored’ by the police but in the main the authorities will rely on the goodwill of motorists to stay out of the prohibited sections – Just tell that to John Griffin at Addison Lee.

In central London in many cases the lanes, with the confusing signage, have been empty all week for fear that a £130 fine will be dropping through one’s letterbox. Again in a rare display of magnanimity an unnamed source was quoted as saying: “If we get to the end of the Games without issuing a single ticket then that will be judged a 100 per cent success, and there was me thinking the fines would fill the gap in the Games overspend.

Tuesday found black cabbies wasting their time protesting at their exclusion from the Olympic Lanes. By circling around Trafalgar Square they hoped to draw the public’s attention to their plight, the square might commemorate a battle victory, but I fear that this is one war that has been lost.

Apparently cycles have also been banned, but who will stop the rickshaws? The sight of a top of the range BMW with a member of the Olympic Family on board, queuing up behind a ropey rickshaw being peddled slowly by a foreign student should make for an interesting interlude while sitting in gridlock.

Speaking of which Tuesday evening gave TfL their finest hour, or to be precise two hours, as Madonna finished her concert in Hyde Park. She had stood on stage brandishing a gun, the precise weapon of choice many motorists must have wished they possessed as Park Lane was closed, along with West Carriage Drive and The Mall. The fare from Paddington to Chelsea Bridge which should have taken a little over 15 minutes took 1 ½ hours and had over £50 on the meter.

Passing on to Wednesday I noticed that in Russell Square one set of markings gives motorists the choice of either driving in a bus lane or an Olympic Lane – the choice of fine is up to you. An interesting diversion that night was accomplished after the Strand and Waterloo Bridge was closed, and why has the Aldwych underpass been changed from northbound to southbound?

Thursday saw the recreation of medieval London Bridge traffic chaos as Waterloo Bridge was closed southbound and Tower Bridge had been raised, it might have taken two hours to transverse old London Bridge but it was still taking half-an-hour, this could be an idea for Danny Boyle for the opening ceremony – art imitating life.

Soon I should have the answer for these conundrums and others for we have been told that the Olympic handbook detailing everything we need about the Olympics was posted on 9th July to all licensed London taxi drivers and private hire operators. But most documents have been in the post for 11 days, we can only hope that the Royal Mail vans have not been held up in traffic.

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A Nation of shopkeepers

17 July, 2012 at 1:50 pm | Posted in Thinking allowed | Leave a comment
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Fast food

My daughter came home the other day enraged, her favourite Indian restaurant in our high street had closed.

It was being replaced; she informed me, with a note of incredulity in her voice with yet another fast food outlet.

The offending newcomer this time was one selling pizzas with a name sounding like an Italian version of a game played with black tablets with white spots.

Just how many fast food outlets does one small suburb need?

Well the answer somewhat surprised as I spent 15 minutes making a survey of our high street.

Once the street provided all the usual outlets for sustenance and comfort: butcher, baker, greengrocer, fishmonger and my hardware haven.

Our local authority in an attempt to give us a balanced retail experience has given us: 13 fast food outlets; 7 hairdressers; 4 nail bars/sun tanning studios; 3 charity shops and 3 estate agents.

Napoleon Bonaparte once famously described the English as ‘A Nation of shopkeepers’, this at a time when the rich would eat at home the food prepared by their staff. While the poor, because they had no choice would eat at the local pie shop.

Danny Boyle’s plans for the opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympics are said to be reflecting the customs and values that made Britain. Well this should include having unique local shops each with their own identity where your daily needs may be purchased.

Within a few years not only will every high street peddle the same products, only those retailing fast eating or your coiffeur will be available.

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Facts of life

13 July, 2012 at 12:50 pm | Posted in Thinking allowed | Leave a comment

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I’m not looking forward to the day I have to have a man-to-man, you see I will have to explain a few things to my grandson.

At six weeks old he is already looking at me with questioning eyes.

In a few years I’m going to have to explain why grandad cannot spend much on treats because the insurance company where he saved for his pension was operating a scheme promising inflated returns to new investors and using this new money to pay existing members when they retired.

When the Government’s promised compensation for the maladministration that the Financial Services Authority had overlooked his grandad received little over £1,000 for the loss of much of his savings.

And when his grandad went to buy an annuity with what remained of his savings quantitative easing had decimated the rates by 50 per cent.

At that young age all this will probably go over his head, but later, when he wants to go to university somehow I will have to try to explain how my generation only had to pay for their beer money throughout their education while he will have to borrow well over a year’s salary just to finance his education.

But the hardest thing to explain away is why when grandad was young Britain was the 2nd largest economic powerhouse in the world and by the time he hopes to get a job we will be languishing near the bottom ten.

He will be right to question why we allowed the banks to lend money to prospective homeowners whose salaries didn’t match the loan which in turn inflated the price of property to the extent that his generation will be lucky to afford a roof over their heads, except if they rent from private landlords as all community housing has been sold off.

And my generation had put in power politicians who just looked the other way as bankers in pursuit of bonuses loaned money to people who couldn’t afford it to buy things they didn’t need.

This on our watch was so endemic that these loans rose to such a level they potentially could have brought down our biggest banks.

He no doubt will have an incredulious look when I try to explain that all those worthless investments have been taken off the banks’ books in the form of quantitative easing to stop the banks folding and that he will have to explain to his grandchildren why they are still having to pay back trillions of pounds for these useless debts.

All this is going to be very embarassing for an old man speaking to a younger generation. His father has the easy part, he has just to explain about sex.

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Wimbledon’s water well

10 July, 2012 at 12:50 pm | Posted in The Urban Landscape | 2 Comments
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I doubt if many spectators at last week’s All England final realised they were sitting on land once owned by the predecessors of the late Diana, Princess of Wales.

The first Earl Spencer who had inherited Wimbledon Park would like to spend the summer in SW19. But to live there the Lord of the Manor of Wimbledon as befitted his status needed a reliable source of fresh water.

When the well was first dug in 1763 it was only about 30 feet deep. An appliance powered by a horse walking around the ground floor of the building lifted the water to a storage tank under the dome.

In 1798, needing to improve the supply of water, Earl Spencer ordered the well to be deepened.

After 15 months of excavation, and at a depth of 563 feet, the workmen struck water. The water shot up over 100 feet, nearly drowning the workmen in the process, but even with its new depth, the well soon silted up.

This the original water tower was converted into a dwelling in 1975 after remaining derelict for many years. Of all the buildings constructed by the Spencers in Wimbledon, this is the only one to survive to the present day.

A plaque on the side of the property reads:
‘Built to provide water for Earl Spencer’s house, nearby in 1763. In 1798 the well was increased in depth to over 500ft, but it soon silted up. The building was converted to a private house in 1976.’

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Hungry and homeless

6 July, 2012 at 1:50 pm | Posted in Thinking allowed | 3 Comments
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hanover-square-voucher

When I did The Knowledge some years ago much of the time learning was spent on my bike in the evening.

It wasn’t long before I realised that there were hundreds of homeless people sleeping rough in London.

At night all over London there are dozens of charities providing at least one got meal to those unfortunate enough to not have a roof over their heads. In fact in Lincoln’s Inn Fields I have seen the queue for hot meals multiply by 10 times over the last 15 years.

So it is always reassuring to discover any new benefactors for our homeless.

But the Rector of a church in Mayfair has come up with an innovative solution which also benefits the cab trade.

St. George’s Church in Hanover Square has for many years given out small amounts of money to the homeless who sleep under the church’s portico at night.

As in many parts of London the numbers of rough sleepers and other disadvantaged people has been increasing, and often this money is spent on alcohol or drugs, rather than on food and drink.

The green Cabman’s shelter close by has had difficulties of late obscured as it is by the hoarding for ongoing construction work for Crossrail.

The solution has been that the Vestry has now started to issue “refreshment coupons” valued at £2 each, (facsimile above), which may be exchanged for food and drink at the shelter.

The proprietor’s of the shelter is given funds in advance, and she accepts the coupons in lieu of payment for the excellent value meals she sells.

Anyone who wishes to purchase refreshment coupons to give out themselves to local homeless and disadvantaged people on the street, (rather than giving out money directly) may do so by contacting St. George’s Church.

I, for one, think this an excellent initiative by the church and if anyone is passing this beautiful Georgian church they should take a look round.

Voucher reproduced by kind permission of the Rector of St. George’s Church, Hanover Square.

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Old cabs never die . . .

3 July, 2012 at 1:50 pm | Posted in Slug, snail, puppydog tail | Leave a comment
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Stans taxi

A few days ago I was contacted by a retired London cabbie to tell me to his obvious delight that his 54-year-old cab he had bought new was still alive and kicking.

The vehicle had somehow found its way across the Atlantic to a car dealer in Cape Cod rejoicing in the name ‘The Cape Crusader’ who had recently had the cab shipped half way round the world to his customer in Australia. Old cabs never die; they just turn off their meters.

Then at the weekend one of London’s first cabs was auctioned for a staggering £22,000. The vehicle which featured last week on the Radio Taxis website was a 1910 Panhard Levassor, one of only 674 cabs sent to England from France to become the nucleus for London’s early motorised taxi service, which slowly replaced the horse drawn Hansom carriage.

Old cab in barn

The vehicle was believed to have worked as a London cab until 1921 when it was used for commercial transport, resurfacing again appearing in the 1955 movie ‘The Man who loved Redheads’ staring Moira Shearer.

It was later bought by a founding member of Historic Commercial Vehicle Club who among its members included Lord Montague of Beauleu.

The vehicle had been left in a barn for 15 years before the current owners contacted Wotton Auction Rooms in Gloucester at which time regular contributor to the BBC Antiques Roadshow Philip Taubenheim became involved.

The winning bidder intends to restore this very rare example of an early cab which still has its meter and many original features to its former glory.

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Barmy bridges – 3

29 June, 2012 at 1:50 pm | Posted in The Urban Landscape | Leave a comment
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Green bridge

This week saw the opening of a new river crossing, the London Emirates Air Line Cable Car, with its 34 cabins which soon no doubt will be renamed ‘Boris Buoys’ in keeping with London’s tradition of giving new transport a Boris prefix:

‘Boris Bikes’, ‘Boris Bus’ and had Boris got his way a few years ago a ‘Boris Bridge’.

It would have been the first time London had a bridge with residential and commercial properties since 1832 when the medieval London Bridge was pulled down. That famous bridge completed in 1209 in the reign of King John, contained dozens of packed-in houses and shops which as the bridge became further developed congestion meant crossings could take more than an hour.

The ‘Living Bridge’ was first mooted in 2009. The £80 million crossing was to have been constructed between Waterloo and Blackfriars. Based on designs by the French architect Antoine Grumbach shown at the Royal Academy’s fine exhibition of Living Bridges 16 years previously.

They envisioned a bridge suspended from twin 35-storey towers on the north side of the river, containing flats with views over the city with a residential tower at one end, and shops cafes and bars along the middle, with a greenhouse at the far end.

Called the Living Bridge, it also included proposals for hedge, trees and greenhouses, alongside spaces for live concerts and a ‘topiary café’.

Not so much the elegance of Florence’s Ponte Vecchio with its shops more an upmarket garden centre.

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Bee-ing aware

26 June, 2012 at 12:32 pm | Posted in A window on My World | 3 Comments
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Bee suit

You know the amazing thing about London is that any hobby that takes your fancy can be found if you dig deep enough, somewhere in the Capital there will be an enthusiastic group of like minded individuals.

Now take apiarists (bee keepers to you and me), you would have thought they would be pretty thin on the ground in London, not so as I found out last weekend. You see I’ve been interested in bees since I were a lad and apart from extolling a bee’s beneficial work pollinating over 70 per cent of our crops, I’ve been droning on to my children about the bees decline (over 16 per cent last year) and the calamitous harvests coming our way if this trend isn’t stemmed.

Well in an attempt to shut me up once and for all my family sent me off on a bee aware experience.

There I discovered that amazingly there are over 1,500 registered hives in London, Fortnum and Mason even have a webcam of the hives on their roof.

The Lancaster Hotel has over half a million bees on its roof and last year hosted the first London Honey Show and was named by the AA Eco Hotel of the Year.

For me my bee day started with the obligatory talk about the benefit of our little friends followed by having to construct a hive super. These are the vertical trays where the bee constructs its honeycomb, then a discussion on the correct apparel to wear. They will even make to measure your protective outfit.

Bee dinnerOur bee themed lunch was followed by a walk around the West Lodge Park Hotel arboretum. This was followed by the highlight of the day. Dressed as if we were off to Chernobyl two hives were opened. There were thousands of bees flying around us. We even managed to see the queen taking a break from laying the hundreds of eggs she lays every day. You know the strange thing was that under the supervision of our tutors having thousands of bees flying around your head, when dress correctly, it’s rather therapeutic.

Will get my own hive, Err No. Lots of commitment and experience are needed before I fly at that hobby.

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