Tag Archives: London

Hero Worship

15 Sep

I picked up a family in my taxi the other day whose young child had a physical disability, namely, severely restricted use of his malformed arms and my immediate reaction was not that of usual and correct compassion but rather I pondered on what sporting event would he be most capable of? I happily realised in shock that the Paralympic Games had altered my perception of those with disabilities, hopefully for ever.

Channel Four Television, Horseferry Rd SW!. As ever, current and topical with their use of location and their 4 superstructure.

If the preceding Games were not enough, these Paralympic Games have gone one step further in terms of success and public outreach. Record crowds and television audiences have witnessed astounding courage and examples to us all that the human spirit is never short of surprises in what it can overcome. We arrived at our destination and I waited patiently for the young boy to control his involuntary muscle spasms in order to pass the money through the ludicrously small aperture in the partition glass in order to pay me. Whoever you are, I thank you for reminding me how lucky I am to be able-bodied and to take all tasks for granted, maybe I’ll see you in twelve years’ time on a rostrum somewhere in the world.

In the week following when the sporting press debate if an overpaid footballer will shake hands with that of another and flags are burned in London, when the first football club’s crest will be punched by a goal scorer, let’s remember who the real heroes of this summer have been.

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Midnight Blue

18 Aug

Since the Millenium around 2001, the River Thames has acquired a plethora of blue lights along its waterfronts north and south. It doesn’t seem to have been an orchestrated exercise, which makes its growth even more interesting.

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I popped down to the Southbank around 0200 the other evening and caught these babies. Peace.

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County Hall, once the home of London democracy, now boasting galleries, hotels and an aquarium.

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The Shell Centre, a prime example of the Modernist architecture that sprang up along here at the same time as the Royal Festival Hall in the early 1950s.

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The Afterglow

17 Aug

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So, shortly after the Stadium’s central fat flames die out, having charmed 23.5 million UK viewers and around 750 million viewers abroad, it’s a wrap. The Games are finished and are globally held as the best ever, London breathes a sigh of relief, possibly like when the all-clear used to sound during The Blitz in 1940. This city has delivered, the doubters silenced and we warm down until the Paralympics.

We’ve witnessed the repossession of the Union Jack, not the jingoistic one of the Sink The Belgrano 198os but a new inclusive symbol. This repossession has been reflected by some of our Gold Medallists like Mo Farah who came here as a Somali refugee and, like all arrivals, got claimed as a Londoner in the end. This is as momentous as the French World Cup winning team of 1998, where those champions reflected their own society’s make-up. nobody dared as in 2007 to divide us and gain propaganda for their twisted, hateful beliefs.

War-time air raid shelter and now gateway to the best show on earth. not much is more iconic than the London Underground

So, closing night at our sponsors’ headquarters, our passengers are all safely back and, an hour later, our boss declares our own wrap. I emerge into a warm Mediterranean kind of evening and walk through Holborn as euphoric as on New Year’s Eve, the relatively empty streets seem so clean, car tyres on the road surface sound different, my senses have been heightened from the magic of the moment. I begin to drive home but want to stay in this moment but delay going home to an empty house by dropping down to Waterloo Bridge to afford myself the best view in London and to reflect on what has just concluded.

I park up on Waterloo Bridge itself, My taxi is the only parked vehicle on the bridge and I alight. Leaning on the railings and looking downstream, the bridge’s every bypasser gives me a happy and friendly smile and I decide I’m in no rush to end this moment. The famous buildings, still lit up, shine out with pride as if to utter “back to business” for a short while before The Paralympics a fortnight later. I name check all my favourite buildings as I pan 360 degrees and just live in that personal moment.

Remaining negativity which had lingered now flows out below my feet eventually to the North Sea and London is cleansed of those who would dare question this city’s ability to do things right. After al the drum beats, wailing guitars and rousing choruses, the only sound I get is the lapping of the Thames against the walls of the Embankment. Beyond the wall stands an empty and open Temple Underground station. The staff look proud to have done their job against mad predictions of gridlock and train queues and are ready to close at 0300.

This is a privileged moment, I have this skyline almost to myself. In five hours’ time, this bridge will be packed with traffic and pedestrians and I pity them not knowing what I’m experiencing. But slowly, I come down a little and sensibility takes over, a few snaps from either side of the bridge and it’s time to head south not to sleep but to flick through a recorded closing ceremony on TV. I’m shall pour out a nice cold glass of wine and wait for sunrise to announce the official end to a night, a fortnight and a global love affair which should be sanctified at the altar of human unity. Reality can wait just a little longer.

But reality will come, I and my taxi driver comrades who chauffeured the best Games ever, will melt back into the London mix, woe betide the first one to give us stick, seeing us as just taxi drivers. We will be entitled to deal with our complainants with added authority. We know what we did. As for me, I shall seek my living as a chauffeur again. For all I know, the slowest driver in the world may again drive the fastest man in the world. I’m the one on the right. Peace.

Not often that I’m speechless, but this guy had the charisma to do that.

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.

It Was 45 Years Ago Today

2 Jun

Or was it 20? Oh no, that’s when Sergant Pepper told the band to play. There are certain albums released through time that change the whole scene. Miles Davis’s Kind Of Blue, Carole King’s Tapestry, The Stone Roses’ eponymous first album all come to mind. But slam dunking in the middle of that triumvirate has to be The Beatles’ Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, released June 1st, 1967. I’d only been buying mostly Mod, black American music and ska till then and so Sergant’s purchase was a departure and I don’t think anybody saw me coming out of the shop with it in any case. I needn’t have worried about such reputations, as I was instantly grabbed by its mix of realism and surrealism, ground breaking production techniques and certain there was little of note to possibly precede it.

I’m no music journo, so I won’t eulogise in that style, all I remember is its impact on a working-class kid in Pimlico, London, a paid-up Mod rather than a hippy or dandy, the kind of which we only saw either down the nearby King’s Road, Chelsea or in San Francisco via TV. This was the Summer of Love, agreed, but there were two kinds of Sixties going on at the same time. It’s said that this famous decade in London was about a handful of people–the boys, Jagger, Marianne Faithful etc, that if you remember the 60s, you weren’t there, the inference being you were off your head on the gear. I only ever took one solitary but mind-bending pill and yet six pints of draught Double Diamond in The Locarno, Streatham had no less effect on my sense of what was happening all around than had herbal substances and psychedelic images projected on to blank walls at Chelsea parties we used to bunk in to on Saturday nights. Bands like The Smallfaces were our standard bearers, of the working class and living around the corner from us in Pimlico in post-war Regency shabbiness as shown below.

Free Love? Maybe in the grand Georgian houses or bedsits of surrounding areas, but in our estates the stigma of having to get married if pregnant with your girl/boyfriend was the greatest contraceptive going. In any case, you didn’t buy condoms in barbers because you’d be too embarrassed to ask for them. Certain surgical shops advertised them in their windows alongside trusses and other physique-defying garments, but you needed a nylon mack to go into them.

In Space terms, we were only up to Apollo 3, two years away from Apollo 11 landing on the moon in a sitting room near you or even a bar in Manhattan where all crime briefly stopped. Yet later that year, I was briefly and naively convinced that humankind had reached its limits when the world was joined together as 400 million people watched the BBC’s One World broadcast of The Beatles’ live recording All You Need Is Love in the Abbey Road studios, carpeted by a worshipful of Who’s Who of the In Crowd. My sister and her husband had come to our flat from their nearby bedsit (Old Man Steptoe was their neighbour) to sit on our floor hippy-style to watch this epic-making broadcast.

And forty-five years on, there is little evidence of the world changing for us then, other than perhaps the ever-renewing graffitied devotions to the boys on the white walls outside the Abbey Road studios and columns of tourists walking across the famous zebra crossing.” Oy mate, you’re supposed to take your shoes off”, I heard a taxi driver shout to one of them once. Carnaby Street is no more than a theme park, only us of a certain age remember where the great shops and the dodgy clubs were. But who cares anyway? Perhaps I’ll start carrying the Sgt Pepper album under my arm again.

Peace.