Tag Archives: London taxi drivers

On Our Marks

30 Jun

In years gone by I have to admit to underestimating and being caught out by the enormity of a global event such as Live Aid in 1985, the Mandela Concert also at Wembley in 1988, or Tony Two Dinners turning up at the Chelsea Kitchen on a Friday night.

For five years now, the Olympics 2012 has been on the back burner of life aside from the usual gainsayers predicting doom, gloom and gridlock. We in London have been busy with the Queen’s Jubilee celebrations and then what we in the cab trade call The Season. It starts with the Chelsea Flower Show, then it’s Epsom, Ascot and now we’ve Wimbledon. The carriage trade are in town and we’re busy on the streets. It’s one month away and there’s an expectancy in the air, you can just feel it. Most of the venues completed ahead of schedule, the whole project completed within the revised budget and Boris The Posh Chap may even have a new badly fitting suit.

Like Spring but not our economy, each day’s little green shoot reveals signs of what’s just over the horizon. Street signs are appearing with getahead2012.com on a bright pink background, major streets are closing until September and Horace Jones’s Tower Bridge built in 1894 just got fabulous Olympic rings beneath its gantry.

Thus, the Games just around the final bend, I myself grasped the enormous reality of it all at a training day for dedicated drivers run by LOCOG on Wednesday in their impressive education centre in Hoxton, not a wedge haircut or Banksy in sight, just a roomful of chauffeurs on dressdown Tuesday.

Seen most of them before over the years at airports and outside A-list restaurants. Not the run of mill drivers who stand around in arrivals lounges with rendezvous boards and earpieces worthy of Dan Dare in The Eagle comic. These are the tasty geezers found in not so obvious spots because their charges know where they always are, seen it, done it, got the ex-military taught giveaway very shiny toecaps and suntan.

Our host Sarah glided us through the PowerPoint show, fielded nearly every educated question and we all dispersed with our information packs, I think all impressed at the planning that’s gone in over the years.

Right here, right now, we’re going to nail this baby. We don’t need the Stalinist planning of Beijing, this city and our police always do it right, as this year has already shown. After all, this is the country that once ran a quarter of the Earth’s surface, even owned India through civil servants, a few princes and a genuflection of quislings.

This games need not attempt to out-stage Beijing, the very backdrop of our great skylines and the venues outside of the Olympic park will give it an intimacy and sense of history unparalleled before in my opinion.

In terms of tourism, the legacy of these games will stretch out for years to come. Many worldwide will view the games at home and decide to visit London themselves. Certainly, by the time the marathon has passed our historic backdrops at just the right pace for visual absorption, Sleazyjet et al will be in meltdown, so book your weekend in Jibrovia now!

Memo to the gainsayers: stop dissing our city and get hip. Londoners are very creative when it comes to moving around. We’ve got around Hammersmith Bridge closing more than once, Hammersmith Flyover closed briefly just recently and a deserted Battersea Bridge pushed us all over Albert Bridge too. Sure, there’ll be days with problems on our roads, but if you’ve an event ticket you get free public travel.

The high-speed dart train will whisk you from St Pancras to Stratford in six minutes and forty-five seconds, less time than the album version of The Doors’ Light My Fire. Who in their right mind would go to Stratford by taxi? Let’s all chill and get behind it. Like Jim Morrison would have. Cue Riders On The Storm

Our Meters Are Ticking

3 Jun

I had a text from my fellow London taxi driver friend Carlos the other night. We’d all been expecting it but, nevertheless, it chilled me. Another driver, Big Del had finally passed to the other side after a brave two-year fight against cancer. When I say brave, that’s an understatement. I’ll be honest, I’d only known him for eight years and we certainly didn’t see eye to eye over anything in life apart from those values that the majority subscribes to, but in Voltaire fashion, I’d have defended to the death his right to differ from me.

Born in Southwark right behind London Bridge station with all the consequences that upbringing places upon proper Londoners, Bid Del fell into one of the traditional London trades still spared of the tyranny of modernisation and compromise, the London taxi driver. Common to most of us still, he was a character, an auteur who used the freedom of our job to pursue interests reserved for the few. Some of us are boring sub-aqua divers, DJs and even commercial pilots when spare time permits. Big Del was a Hell’s Angel. Oh yeah, and born of Afro-Caribbean parents. It’s not difficult to spot the contradictions and hurdles he must have cleared to pursue his goals. Especially having also been in the Parachute Regiment and served in Ireland during the war over there.

Being as tall as me and twice as muscular with a large earing and goatee beard, his entrance into the restaurant on a sporadic Friday evening never lacked drama, impact or expectation. Down he’d sit, declining the offer of a lemon tea being put on anybody else’s bill, and we’d await his cut on the world, never short on opinion or the possibility to be challenged.

Yet nobody rose to the challenge, I think because there was a universal recognition that we were in the presence of a character, that increasingly rare variety of our species in a modern world hell-bent on homogenisation and flattening out of the human spirit.

Contrary to the wrongly perceived stereotype of the London taxi driver as a hang ’em, flog ’em, road-owning cannon fodder reactionary, we are as diverse as the human race itself. But looking out of the television screen that is my windscreen at the outside world in general and the taxi trade in particular, I fear that the character’s minute hand  is up at five to midnight on the Doomsday clock.

There aren’t enough gigs of memory in the net and on our Pads and smart phones to record the characters that the London taxi trade, let alone London itself, has been braced with. In thirty-seven years in this game, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Harry The Red, Immaculate Stan, Aggressive Tony, Thin Arms, Thick Arms, Paul The Poof, The Gargoyle, The Haddock, all candidates for inclusion if Damon Runyan had ever relocated to this fabulous town.

There was a time when one stopped at traffic lights, looked across to the neighbouring taxi and be greeted by White Gloves who’d always throw you a sweet through your window, listen to the geezer with the ginger beard who practised on his clarinet or be updated on the forward  march of the proletariat by Cuban Tony in his taxi liveried to advertise that lonely island in a sea of, well, the dollar-dominated archipelago that is the Caribbean from which Big Del’s family migrated.

I look out at other drivers at the lights these days, and my friendly nod is met with an indifferant look usually reserved for mad people. I fear our diversity is being beaten out on the anvil of globalisation, it’s all about making money, paying off the cab and having enough readies for the weekly family outing to Asda in our Eurocar and back in time for Britain’s Still Got No Talent Thanks To Midgets Who Own the Media. Try saying that with a mouthful of reward cards.

And so I give thanks that Big Del sat next to me at the table, challenged my every belief, brightened my week and left memories long after we recall his beautiful frame withered by the poison that is cancer. It’s up to us others who occasionally mutter under our breaths je refuse to stand up out of Del’s shadow and strike out against the suffocation smothering us all in the name of globalisation, social networks and mid-Atlantic culture. Memo to Mamon: you’ll never beat the true Londoner.

Sleep well, Big Del.