Friday, December 29, 2006

Happy New Year

Are you all ready for the next round of celebrations? Not me. I’m not a great lover of Christmas and even less for New Years celebrations. It’s an annual annoyance I have to put up with as I have others to consider. Were I a lonely old man (it’s looking extremely likely that I’ll end up that way) I would give it all a miss and head off somewhere to escape it all. Bah Humbug!!

Continuing on a downer, I frequently read the Wikipedia page on recent deaths. I may not look for a while, say a month or two then I’m checking every other day. Sometimes I’ll check and think “Fuck me, he’s died or she’s died” and if the reason for death is mentioned I’ll follow the link and spend quite a long time learning of the various ways that someone can die. All very morbid I know but it just goes to show that no-ones immortal. The three that stood out for me this month were Mike Dickin, a DJ that I’ve been listening to for as long as I can remember, Charlie Drake, an English comedian I grew up watching on TV, and lastly James Brown who I’m sure the whole world knew. When your time’s up there’s nothing you can do about it so it’s probably best to live each day like it’s your last. But therein lies another problem. To do that you need money and in this age of stress and debt and “not enough hours in the day” it’s not possible. What’s the answer? I’ve no idea. Try putting a few extra quid on the lottery.

I’m still getting requests to reveal my face completely. Why the hell would some people want to know what I look like? To those of you who have, during the course of your blogs, revealed your faces: do you get recognized? Do you like being recognized? Do you sometimes wish you hadn’t revealed your faces? I know I couldn’t stand the extra scrutiny and all the questions that would probably go with it. I suppose you’re either introvert, like me, or extrovert. Luckily living in a big city is a help. There are lots of London cabbies that look just like me and often people get in and ask if they’ve already been in my cab that day. Well sorry to disappoint but I’d rather stay faceless for a while longer.

In spite of being a humbug the 25th and the 26th were good days. Christmas Day was spent at home with the kids and their grandparents on their mother’s side (my ex-in-laws, who I get on great with). The 26th or Boxing Day was spent at my parents house in Harrow, North London with my brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews brothers-in-law and sister-in-law and a few family friends. The total attendance at my parents’ modestly sized terraced house was 29 and a good day was had by all.

I was back at work the following day, the 27th. The sales start immediately after Christmas and you wonder where all the extra money comes from as the main shopping areas become swamped with bargain hunters. I was kept busy for ten hours solid and took plenty of money. The only sour note in the whole day was when I picked up a couple of dodgy looking blokes who were obviously on a drug run. I hate these jobs and if I get the opportunity to drive off after they’ve gone in to get the stuff I do. These two led me in to the Brunel Estate in Westbourne Park. One of them asked me to break a fifty to which I gave my rehearsed answer as it’s happened before. “Sorry mate I’ve just come out and I’ve only got a fiver”. Who starts work at 11pm? They were probably trying to launder a fake £50. It happened to me about 12 years ago and I changed it for them. I knew it was fake but didn’t want the confrontation but vowed never to do it again. I actually used the fake fifty in a post office to buy my road tax and got away with it so I never lost out. Who needs the hassle? Anyway, they both got out to go get the stuff and off I went nearly cracking my rear axle on the speed bumps on the way out.

Today’s shift was a little slower but I still managed to make the money I needed. I nearly lost my rag at a Polish bird who took me to Victoria Coach Station from Victoria Station (a few hundred yards!). I’d waited longer than usual on the rank and was already agitated as the beggar had caught me by surprise and tapped on my window, startling me. You’d think he would know me by now or maybe he never recognized the TXI. All the same he got told to “Fuck Off!!” and guess what he said to me? “Happy New Year brother!” I never felt bad as I’ve learned to isolate my emotions when it comes to beggars. Charity begins at home and I need all the charity I can get at the moment. So straight after that happened the Polish one gets in and says she’s in a hurry and she knows its only a short trip blah blah and I’m boiling up inside but decided to exercise a bit of restraint. By the way I couldn’t be 100% sure if she’s Polish but that’s what she sounded like.

The last job of the night took me out to White City so it was handy for my way home.
This cab has a radio/cassette and I’ve been playing a lot of my old tapes. I came across a Neil Young compilation I’d done a few years ago. I noticed I’d written “tape fucked” on the label but decided to put it in all the same. For about 15 minutes I heard all the classics such as Harvest Moon, Down By The River, Cinnamon Girl and Heart of Gold. It was while Southern Man was playing that it became evident why I had written that label as the tape warbled and whined and finally cut off. I must do a fresh tape for tomorrow.

That’s all for now folks. Have a Happy New Year.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Seasons Greetings

We're almost at the end of another year. It's a time to share with friends and family. To watch the kids faces as they open their presents and to reflect on the past 12 months. As I look back over this last year I can be content with many things. After the terrible year my Dad had in 2005 he has gone from strength to strength and is doing fantastically well, more than we could ever have hoped for. My mother in law, a fantastic lady, beat cancer and is also enjoying her life to the fullest. My kids are all strong and healthy and I'm proud of each and every one of them. All my brothers and sisters are doing well in their chosen fields and their kids are doing fine also. I am doing OK. Like I said in previous posts I'll never be a millionaire but I'm content to get by as I do. I'll have to try harder to look after myself health-wise but it's a constant battle. I'd like to thank all the people who contributed comments to my blog and to those that read it but don't feel like commenting, which in turn keeps me interested in writing it. I will endeavour to post often and hopefully I will have more interesting tales to tell you as and when they occur.

All that remains is for me to wish everybody a very Merry Christmas and a prosperous and Happy New Year 2007.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Not A Lot Of People Know This

Break out the Champagne! One of my sons has a job. My eldest has started work today as a meter reader and after a few days of training and being given a bag full of equipment he has just left to meet up with a guy who will show him the ropes over the next few days.

A cabbie mate of mine, who is currently out of commission due to an op on his upper leg, and I have a friendly rivalry when it comes to who’s picked up someone famous. At some point after setting down that famous person we will text eachother with a message along the lines of “Just had so and so in my cab. Where does he come on the scale?” The answer is nearly always jokingly “he’s a c***” but deep down there’s always an element of envy if the person is an A lister. I sent him one of these texts last night after I was flagged down by the doorman of the famous Scotts restaurant in Mayfair, I never saw who got in but as we headed for Chelsea Harbour the voice became unmistakable. I listened to their conversation which was about London restaurants. 99% certain of who I was carrying I deduced that the lady accompanying him was his wife Shakira. I’m of course talking about the one and only Sir Michael Caine. As he was in company I decided I wouldn’t attempt to talk to him. I tried to talk to David Gilmour once but he’d obviously been having a bad day and wasn’t in a talking mood. Anyhow, it was a 15 minute trip and he tipped extremely well and all that was left was to send that text. I never got a reply until this morning and it was the reply I expected. My mate once picked up Roger Moore and has it in his head that no one can top that. “007, nuff said” is how he settles the argument.

Michael Caine and Shakira

The rest of the night went extremely well. Earlier in the week I thought that it was all over as the work seemed to dry up but it has picked up again nicely as I put the finishing touches to my Christmas preparations.

I picked a drunk guy up in Kings Road and he asked for Beaufort House which is a newish trendy bar on the same road. When he got in he sat on the edge of the seat leaning forward playing with his phone. Inevitably, I had to whack the brakes on as someone pulled out across me and the guy in the back shot forward, cracked his head on the partition and ended up a crumpled mess on the floor. When I looked round he wasn’t moving so I quickly pulled over and jumped out to see if he was alright. He was slowly coming to and was rubbing his forehead. All the newer cabs have a sign up saying that the law requires passengers to wear seatbelts but fewer than 30% ever bother and it’s not up to me to tell them. He was OK and we arrived seconds later at his destination. I waived the £3.60 fare as a sort of apology.

I have to go over to my cab garage this morning to part with the first payment of £200 for the weekly rent. When they fixed the glass on Monday they must have left the speaker wire off as I’m only getting sound from one speaker so they’ll have to sort that out as well as the hydraulic fluid problem I’m having. It’s taking 5 minutes for the cab to shift to second gear when starting first thing in the morning. I know this happens to a lot of cabs but it can be quite annoying when there’s a line of traffic behind you and you’re putt-putting along at 10mph.

I should squeeze one more post in before Christmas Day so I’ll leave the greetings until then.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

A hell of a day.

I finally got a TXI on Friday. As I said before it was the one I drove for two years before I bought my own cab. Since I gave it back in 2003 there has been a double team working it day and night and it feels that way too. I’m sure the gearbox is on its way out. I’m getting a very peculiar smell every time I pull off, I’m sure it’s the gearbox fluid leaking onto the exhaust pipe. Apart from a few signs of age it’s still a more comfortable cab to drive and has a decent sound system, aircon, electric windows all round and is in better condition. Having said all that, I had a bit of grief with it today whilst I went for a coffee and a slice of cake at one of my hangouts in Baker Street. These cabs are fitted with an immobilizer and in a few areas of London the remote thingy just will not work (I found this out later). So I’m sitting in the cab having my refreshments. I put the key in the ignition, press the immobilizer which should then prepare the cab for starting. Nothing. I try again, and again, and again. Nothing. I take the key out. Lock and unlock the doors with the central locking button to try and free up the immobilizer. Nothing. I get out and lock the doors with the key. I try and unlock the door, guess what? It won’t unlock. I’m standing in Baker Street with an icy wind whipping down the street, locked out of my cab and my steaming cup of Bene Bene coffee is on the dash staring at me. Now where did I put the other key that was given to me? Oh there it is sitting by the gear lever! Bollocks!!
The key in my possession was the ignition key and by chance it also locks all cabs as do most Ford keys. But one thing they don’t do is unlock all cabs, for that you need the correct key which was sitting inside my nice warm cab whilst I stood outside scratching my head and debating what to do next. I rang the garage and the owner picked up the phone. I explained what had happened and it was decided that I would have to somehow get into the cab and punch a code into a keypad that was concealed behind my visor. I had the owners’ permission to smash a window, start the cab and then drive over to the garage where someone would fit a new window. D’you think I could find something to smash the window? I couldn’t get the wheel brace out of the boot as I had the wrong key. Last resort…..ring supermechanic. He was empty in Knightsbridge and was with me in 10 minutes. After a quick evaluation of the situation he said there was nothing he could do mechanically so out came his tyre iron and after five wallops the window finally smashed. People stopped, stared and walked on with a “what the hell is going on” look on their faces. There was shattered glass every where. All over the driver’s seat, all over my stuff in the luggage well, everywhere. My coffee was intact albeit luke warm but seeing as I was frozen stiff I guzzled it down in one gulp. I retrieved the key that had caused the whole problem and got my handbrush from the boot. I swept out as much glass as I could onto Baker Street, sat in my seat and rang my garage for instructions on how to enter the code into the keypad. After two attempts the cab started. I thanked Supermechanic for his help and let him get back to work. I drove over to my garage with the wind howling through the broken window. I had the heater on full blast so it wasn’t too bad. Once at the garage two mechanics got straight to work on it. One of them vacuumed the glass out of all the nooks and crannies while the other one started dismantling the door panel to get to the window mechanism. The owner was milling about and looked like he had the hump. Maybe he thought it was my fault, which it most certainly wasn’t. How was I to know that there were two keys to do the job normally done by one? I thought the other was the spare. And how the hell would I know that in certain parts of town the immobilizer cacks out? Apparently Greater London House in Hampstead Road and Holborn are two other areas where I'll have problems. Has anyone else ever experienced similar problems with their cars? Anyhow, it only took them 30 minutes to get it all fitted and working and I bunged them a fiver each to keep them sweet. I’d left home at 3pm and it was now fast approaching 6 and I hadn’t earned a bean yet. I drove home first to sort out my daughter's dinner. The other two had eaten in a cafĂ© earlier. I finally got out at 7pm and started setting up all my bits and pieces in the cab. I turned on my satnav. Nothing. What now? Somehow the battery had drained from my ipaq wiping the internal memory clean of all my data. (Ipaq owners can confirm this happens when a battery goes completely flat) All my data had vanished but luckily I had it all backed up on my PC. Back indoors I went, put the older more reliable battery onto the ipaq and transferred all my data, maps and satnav back on. After the day I’d had so far I was in no mood to go to work but with Christmas just days away off I went for the third time.

Nothing really spectacular happened. I picked up a few drunks. I got stuck in a mega traffic jam whilst en route to Brentford as there were road works just after the Hogarth roundabout and basically in six hours I made some decent money. Now I’m off to bed as I have to be up in four hours to drop my daughter to school. Night Night.

Friday, December 15, 2006

A decent 5 hours

The photo of a disguised me in the last post was taken a couple of weeks ago at my parents house where we all gathered to celebrate my sister’s birthday. The mask belongs to my nephew and as some of you have gathered, it is a replica of the one worn by Rey Misterio, the WWE wrestler. That’s about as much of my face as I’m willing to reveal so you’ll have to use your imagination for the rest of me.

I stayed in to watch the Spurs match with my son so I never started work until 10pm.
London is absolutely heaving with work at the moment and it was “one in one out” everywhere.

3 incidents of note happened tonight. The first was when a couple got in at Knightsbridge and asked for Barons Keep in West Kensington. No sooner had I pulled off when the lady decided she needed to puke. She pulled down the window and stuck her head out and I could see it all spraying from her mouth through the door mirror. Having just had a pleasant few weeks working days with not as much as a bad word to say about anyone I instantly got annoyed and vented my anger on these two people. I probably over reacted considering that the puke was outside instead of in but I reduced the woman to tears and the man must have been a pussy because he never said a word to me. When we arrived at their destination he gave me a fiver on top of the fare and they both hurried away from me as quick as they could.

The second incident happened in South Kensington. A passenger needed to stop to get some cash and while he was at the ATM a scruffy loser type came over to the cab. I thought he was going to ask me for money and I was getting ready to tell him to go fuck himself. He asked me where the nearest hospital was and I started directing him. The passenger came back from the ATM and decided to pay me and walk the rest of the way. The loser type was still standing by the cab and was having trouble understanding my directions. I noticed that he was holding his right arm and had a pained look on his face. I asked why he needed a hospital and he said he’d fallen and he thought his arm was broken. Time for me to do a good deed. I told him to get in and I drove him the mile to the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital on the Fulham Road free of charge. He never thanked me or said a word to me but I’ll just put it down to him being in too much pain.

Incident 3 could happen 10 times a day but what struck me was how, when I cut up a lady driver in an Audi TT, she honked the horn and kept it going until she could get around me. We ended up side by side in the traffic of Brompton Road and I was in a relaxed mood with the music playing and my window shut. She had her window down and was screaming obscenities at me, none of which I could hear. All I could see was her mouth opening and shutting which made me laugh. It’s an occupational hazard to be cut up in London so I don’t know why she was getting so aereated. In the end I gave her the finger and she started honking the horn again totally frustrated as I pulled ahead of her and finally turned away from her into Beauchamp Place.

For the sake of this blog I should probably stay on nights as far more stuff happens.

The last job of the night turned out to be a good earner. A bunch of people on the wrong side of Edgware Road. One of them came over and said they needed to go to East London. The other lot were taking their time getting across and the lady who’d crossed started screaming at them to hurry up. A few minutes later two more of the group ambled over the road and said that they’d be taking my cab and that “Gary” wanted her back across the road. “Oh for God’s sake” she said storming off. My two asked how much it would be to Hatch End and Hertford. I badly needed this ride so I had to be careful I didn’t scare them off. One of them said “it shouldn’t go more than eighty quid should it?” You better believe it will I thought to my self. Saying that it would go “slightly more than that” the one who’d asked said “OK go for it” Off I went without a clue as to how to get to Hertford from Hatch End in North West London. The Hatch End part of the journey came to £45 so Hertford was seriously going to dent the remaining passenger’s wallet. I asked for her postcode so as to enter it in to the satnav in case she went to sleep. I set off from Hatch end after agreeing with her that I would need the M25 and the A1(M). I was also really low on diesel but knew I would just about make it as the satnav was telling me I had 26 miles to go. She never went to sleep but sat rigid all the way looking at the meter and making me feel uncomfortable. She finally piped up as we were going through Hertford town centre. “We’ll have to make a detour via a cash point as you insist on charging these ridiculous prices” Me? It’s not my fault she lives where she lives and that they decided to go to Hatch End first. We arrived at her house and the meter read £144.80. She handed over £150 and asked for a receipt. Not knowing if I was getting a tip (I wouldn’t expect one in this case) I started getting her change ready. “You might as well keep that as you’ve had all my other money” she said. I felt like I should say something but thought to my self “she’ll be gone in a few seconds, don’t say anything” I gave her the receipt and she said “good night” in a frosty voice. Was I bothered? Nah.

I was told by my garage last week that I would be getting a TXI this week. The same one I had for two years before I bought my own cab. It’s due up the PCO today for it’s annual overhaul so I’ll be getting a passed and plated cab with everything in perfect working order, I hope.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Bloody Cyclists

As is probably happening the world over, the Christmas/office party season is upon us. Just when I seemed to settle for working days I find myself staying out longer to cover the night work. These last few weeks have seen me putting in some 12 to 14 hour shifts hence the lack of posts. I have literally been getting in and dropping straight in to bed, falling asleep in about 5 minutes and waking up in what seems like a few minutes without even having had a dream, that can’t be healthy but the bills have to be paid somehow.

As I think I’ve mentioned before, working during the day finds me sitting on ranks that I’d never use at night. A few favorites are the rank at the London Eye on the South Bank which has provided me with a steady supply of work whenever I’m in that area.

The London Eye

Another favourite is the Waitrose rank in Marylebone High Street. This particular area has many well known people living nearby and BBC London radio is also just a few seconds away from the rank so one can see a constant passing of well known faces walking past and even taking cabs from the rank. I spotted Ally McCoist, ex-footballer for Glasgow Rangers and team captain on the BBC’s A Question of Sport walk past me the other day closely followed by Andy Townsend, another ex-footballer and soccer pundit. He asked me for directions to Marylebone Station and when I told him it was a “slap from here” he decided to jump in and be driven there. We were there in minutes so there wasn’t any time to strike up a conversation, not that I would have instigated a chat with a celebrity as I get quite squeamish at the thought of it.

The downside of days is the traffic. Yesterday the Victoria area was in total gridlock and I had various passengers get in whilst I was stuck in traffic only to get out a few minutes later when they realized they weren’t going anywhere. After about the fourth set of passengers had gotten out I decided that drastic action was needed in respect of my positioning. I turned off Victoria Street and went down the side of Westminster Cathedral only to get caught in a fresh gridlock in Francis Street. A man asked me to take him to Paddington and I made sure I primed him up by telling him it was going to be a heavy journey. He said that “it beats walking” and would leave it up to me to make the right choices. I duly obliged by taking a seriously longer route which avoided the troubled areas and added three or four pounds to the fare. He was pleased, I got more money and everyone was happy.

Depending on where you are in the world you may or may not have heard of the tornado that cut it’s way through the Kensal Rise area of London yesterday (Thursday). About a hundred homes were affected mainly with roofs being ripped off but some were seriously damaged with walls collapsing exposing rooms to the elements. Apparently we have 40 to 50 tornadoes a year in the UK but the only time you sit up and take notice is when one passes through your neighborhood. I drive my daughter to school through the affected streets every morning so I count my self as lucky not to have been caught up in it just an hour or two earlier. The streets in that area are still closed off as we speak as engineers assess the building for safety. Some will have to be pulled down altogether. Many families are sheltering in the British Legion hall a few hundred yards from where I live and will probably be homeless for Christmas. I wonder if their home insurance covered Acts of God?

I nearly flattened a woman cyclist yesterday. I was in Knightsbridge heading towards The Old Bailey with two lawyer types onboard. As I pulled away from the lights on to Hyde Park Corner she came out of the park and cut across me. I swerved out of the way almost colliding with another cab on my right and managed to pull away. The next lights were on red so I stopped and contemplated the near-miss, mentally storing it in the appropriate section of my brain with all of the others I’ve had in my 24 yeas as a driver. Bang bang bang on my window. It’s the lady cyclist, and she’s not a happy bunny. I partially lower my electric window. “Didn’t you see me, you almost killed me” she started screaming at me. “You’re dangerous” she continued, and then turned to my two bewildered passengers and repeated “he’s dangerous, I’d be careful or even take another cab” My turn. “I’ll tell you what I saw shall I? I saw a stupid bitch come flying out of the park, cut across me without as much as a signal. It’s a wonder you’re still alive. Have you got a death wish or something?” She couldn’t answer that, the lights changed and off I went catching a glimpse of her in the door mirror giving me a hand signal. When are cyclists going to realize that most motorists don’t care for their antics and that they can get seriously hurt or worse if they don’t have their wits about them? They should ban all cyclists from the roads in my opinion as they never abide by the rules; well 99% of them don’t anyway.