Saturday, January 27, 2007

Look In The Mirror

I got an excited call from one of my cabby mates earlier declaring that we were famous. Apparently the Daily Mirror had included an excerpt from the post I did recently when I picked up Michael Caine. I found the article online too so here’s the link for all it’s worth. Some of the other bloggers mentioned are worth a look as they have quite interesting blogs so give them a “butcher’s” if you have a moment.

A few posts ago I described driving away from a fare after being taken onto the Brunel Estate in Westbourne park because I had a feeling that it was a wrongun. I was promptly accused of allsorts by a few (or was it just 1?) commenters. In this weeks Taxi newspaper there is an article describing how a cabby, who lives on the estate, was attacked and robbed of all his money and possessions on the said estate. The article ends with a warning to all cab drivers to be on their guard. I rest my case.

I finally squared the cab rent with my garage and it’s a great feeling to not owe any money (to them anyway). I’ve been meaning to give the cab a good wash for a while now but so many garages have closed in the last few years that it’s hard to find one with a carwash that won’t rip the “For Hire” light off the roof. I know I could wash it myself on my drive but it’s too flipping cold to do that at the moment. I also need a front tyre as it’s going bald but I have to go to a particular place which my garage has an account with and it’s so out of the way that by the time I start work most afternoons or evenings it’s just too late.

In complete contrast, the diesel pumps at the Royal Oak Taxi Centre in Paddington are now open again. They were closed down last year by the authorities after being caught selling illegal red diesel. I used to use “The Oak” every now and then before they closed but I was sold a bad batch of diesel when I had my TXII and had to have the fuel filter replaced. I never went back and probably never will as the place still looks dodgy.

On the work front it’s all back to normal. The evening and night work has returned to normal levels and a six to eight hour shift can yield a decent night’s takings.

I was ranked at the Park Lane Hilton one day this week when I was called over by the doorman. A lady got in and her partner/husband came round to speak to me through the window. I only had the window a quarter down and as he was only little he must have been on tiptoes trying to speak to me. He had his two hands on the window and his nose was hooked over the top of the glass which reminded me of that cartoon everyone used to draw all over their school books with “Chad can see ya” written underneath. (Ignore the writing, this is the only picture I could find). Anyway, seeing that he was struggling I lowered the window and his hands and head came down also. He was whispering something to me which I couldn’t hear so I made him repeat it. Eventually I got that he wanted me to take them to The Phantom Of The Opera but not to say anything as it was a surprise for his lady. He also said they were pushed for time and that if I got them there quick I’d get double. I had serious doubts as to whether I could get them there in the few minutes we had before the performance started but fate was smiling on him and me as miraculously there was no traffic to speak of. I flew up Piccadilly, cut through Duke Street and St James’s Square did the cut through from Regent Street to Haymarket and arrived at Her Majesty’s Theatre in about five minutes flat. As we pulled up at the theatre I heard her scream with what I could only assume was delight and she started calling him a liar and punching him in the arm. The meter said £5.80 and he peeled off two tenners from a wad of notes and handed them to me thanking me and giving me a playful punch in the arm. It’s nice when your endeavours are rewarded as more often than not people promise a good tip and conveniently forget all about it after you’ve committed all sorts of traffic violations to get them where they want to be on time.

We had a little burst of snow here a few days ago and transport services were thrown in to chaos as per usual. The Evening Standard banners read “An inch of snow stops London” or words to that effect and travelers were left stranded as cabs couldn’t cope with the demand. I chose to have that day off so missed out on a bumper payday.

Here’s hoping for more snow.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Killer Storms

It’s been quite an eventful week all things considered. My eldest has decided he hates meter reading. I think a lot has to do with the fact that it’s been cold and windy recently. He’s also disillusioned by the way he gets treated by some people when he knocks on their doors to gain access to the buildings. He’s decided he wants to do “The Knowledge” to be a cabbie, a two to three year vocation these days. I’ll keep you posted on his progress.

Yesterday, Thursday, was very stormy and several people were killed going about their business. I myself narrowly missed being struck by a flying roof tile as I drove down Fleet Street around lunchtime. The offending tile landed just feet in front of me. After breakfasting with my mate we were making our way back to our cabs when a gust of wind blew a large piece of metal dangerously close to the edge of a building and just hung there threatening to fall and injure or even kill some innocent passerby. My mate decided to take matters in to his own hands and, after alerting a nearby police car of the problem, decided to warn anyone who got too close of the danger. The Fire Brigade eventually turned up and removed the offending object. (See pic below)

Many parts of London were plunged into chaos as fallen trees blocked roads. Trains services were also severely disrupted and if there was one day when you could make some serious money it was this day from around 5pm onwards. So as fate would have it I was unable to “make hay” as I had to rush home to get cleaned up before attending my niece’s 21st birthday celebrations. My final drop was at Waterloo Station and I was surrounded by people wanting my cab to various lucrative destinations. None of them were to take me homewards so I had to drive away empty. The journey home was an absolute nightmare. As I crossed Westminster Bridge I could see that Parliament Square was solid with traffic. What I couldn’t see was that the exit I needed was shut so as I fought my way round to the Great George Street exit I ended up gridlocked. After about twenty minutes I found myself level with the black gates of Downing Street. Twenty minutes to go just a few hundred yards. At that point sirens could be heard in the distance getting louder by the second. Two motorcycle cops wove their way through the traffic and managed to get a pathway open so that a convoy containing our beloved Prime Minister could glide effortlessly through the gates into Downing Street. The gates closed behind them and the pathway disappeared leaving us all to our own devices. I decided that if I was to get home and make the celebration on time I would have to take drastic measures. I managed to fight my way over to the outside lane of Whitehall and turn into Horse Guards Avenue and then make my way home via the Embankment, Farringdon Road, Kings Cross and Marylebone Road. I made it with minutes to spare.

I had two confrontations this week. One with a passenger and one with another cabby. I picked up a couple from the Copthorne Tara rank and they asked me for Knightsbridge. I took them via Marloes Road and Cromwell Road. As I approached the Knightsbridge area I asked where they wanted and the woman proceeded to lay into me because, in her opinion I’d taken them the long way round. I should have gone via Kensington High Street according to her. “But I still would have had to cut through to get you here” I said to her. Her partner was deciding whether to get involved but I was in full flow and would have torn him apart (verbally) and I think he could see that so he opted out. She was making a fool of herself and eventually realized she was so handed over the £6.40 and walked off.

The row with the cabby happened as we were waiting to turn right from Davies Street into Oxford Street. He had waited for two light changes without moving as the box junction was blocked. The trouble was that if he continued to wait for a gap we’d have been there all day so I decided to go round him. He took exception to this and pulled up alongside me and started to slag me off. I had a punter in the back and so did he but I think we both used every word in the profanity dictionary until a break in the traffic allowed us all to get on with the journey. I apologized to the lady passenger about my language but she was in full agreement that the other guy was a complete and utter arsehole and she’d have done the same in my place.

There is a chain of snack bars favored by cabbies called “The Piccolo”. I know of three but I think there’s more than that. I generally use the one in Mayfair or the one in Gresham Street in The City. The third one is in Queen Victoria Street (pictured). I asked for meat pasta with a chicken escalope and was met with a horrified gaze as if I’d asked for a bag of heroin or something. I always get escalope with pasta or spaghetti in the other two and have never had any problems. What got me was that in the refrigerated display cabinet the escalope was right next to the pasta as if they were meant to go together yet the guy was like “What? You can’t have escalope with pasta, it’s just not done” Everyone standing around waiting to be served then started looking at me as if I was an alien but I stood my ground and eventually got what I’ve had many times before and will have many times in the future.

Piccolo, Queen Victoria Street

A bone of contention in the cab game is when you’ve done time on a rank then get a very short ride. Then the passenger adds insult to injury by getting out before arriving at the destination and hands over a twenty for a £3 fare taking all your change and then asks for a receipt whilst you’re holding the traffic up behind you. Whilst I was on the Euston rank today (a first in many many months for me) an old boy comes up to me and says “sorry mate but I’ve gotta tell someone”. He’d waited the best part of half an hour when this lady gets in and asks for Warren Street, a few hundred yards from the station. As he’s negotiating the traffic from Grafton Way into Tottenham Court Road she decides she wants to get out in the middle of the road, hands over the ubiquitous twenty and asks for the receipt. The traffic by this time has moved on and he’s left holding up everything behind him, horns blaring, the lot. He gives her the receipt and she proceeds to tell him that he’s the rudest cab driver she’s ever encountered. “ I wouldn't mind mate but I hadn’t even opened my mouth through all of this ” he said to me. I could only sympathize with him having had similar occurrences happen to me over the years. I pulled forward to pick up my fares who went to Kentish Town and I saw him telling the story to another cab driver. A problem aired…and all that.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

A Hug From Mum

Enough already. Lets get another post on here and see if you can't all lighten up a wee bit.

Just a few lines about home life for all family readers. My eldest son’s meter reading job is going quite well although doing it in a big city can be quite hard work especially at the moment that the weather is very stormy. He has a PDA on which he is sent the details of where he’s working each day and also uses it to enter the readings, send in his expenses and to communicate with his boss. He has to complete 300 readings a week to earn more than his basic salary but that total is almost impossible to achieve as for one reason or another he can’t gain access to 60% of the addresses. Sometimes the people are in but won’t open the door. Others open the door but refuse him access which he has to report in case some sort of fraud is occurring. But all in all he’s enjoying the work and the fact that he has a bit of money in his pocket.

Son number two is still struggling to find work. He had an interview today for a trainee mechanics job with a coach company but apparently the company wants someone fresh from school aged 16 so they can pay them less money. I’ve got a feeling he’s missed the boat as far as apprenticeships go but we’ll persevere until all avenues are exhausted.

In the last post I mentioned owing my garage £600. I was going to leave it until Tuesday or Wednesday next week to pay them the £800 that it would, by then, amount to but my hand was forced. My electric window decided it wasn’t going to go up anymore thus leaving me exposed to a fierce gale on the Wednesday just gone so I had to slink in to the garage and hope none of the head honcho’s were about. They were both there in the office as I approached the garage and started rubbing their hands together in anticipation of receiving my overdue cab rent. I parked inside the garage and told one of the mechanics about the window and he got to work straight away. As I entered the office I announced that I only had half of their money and that they’d have to wait until next Wednesday for the rest. Their response? “No problem”. What an anti-climax. There was me getting into a right old lather about what might happen and they’re both as cool as cucumbers. Apparently they very rarely receive all the rent owed to them during the first few weeks after Christmas so me owing so much was nothing new. And further more one of the weeks I owed was only at half-rate so I only need to scrape together £300 by Wednesday and everything will be Hunky Dory. I mentioned that I was still having problems with my immobilizer and they rang an auto electrician and made an appointment for me to go and have the thing disabled once and for all, which I will do at some point next week.

Work is gradually getting back to some sort of normality but it’s far from pre-Christmas normal. Having said that, I’m still getting some juicy jobs. I’m still ranking at the two regular spots, Paddington and Victoria Stations and also any other ranks that are available.

I picked up a four-hander from the Raft (Gatwick Express side of Victoria) earlier after having waited for almost half an hour. Initially they only wanted Eaton Square, a stones throw away, but they instructed me to wait whilst two of them took their luggage inside. After waiting ten minutes they came back out and asked to go along the Fulham Road via the Tesco so that they could buy some milk for a cup of tea. One of them got out leaving the other three in the cab. At this point I was approached by an Oriental guy (Is that racist? STOP!!) selling pirate DVD’s. I stopped buying these a long time ago because the quality was crap. My punters lapped them up and bought at least half a dozen from the guy and spent the remainder of the journey arguing about which one they were going to watch first. I hope the quality has improved since I last bought one otherwise they’re going to be really disappointed.

An hour before calling it a night I nipped in to Paddington Station for a look-see and found no cabs and one passenger waiting. He had a London Underground map in his hand and was pointing to the last station on the Victoria Line (Northern End) which was Walthamstow, a £35 ride. He looked a bit rough so I asked him for forty pounds upfront which he handed over no problem. The ride was uneventful and the fare came to £36 so I gave him the change and bade him goodnight. I turned my light off and headed for the A406 North Circular Road not expecting to do another job.

As I turned off the 406 into Temple Fortune there was a young lady standing there with her arm out and a mobile phone stuck to her ear and she looked like she’d been crying. Ever the Sir Galahad I asked her what was the matter and she said that an unlicensed taxi had tried to get her to get in to his car saying that he’d do her a special price to wherever she wanted to go. She’d refused him but he was quite insistent and even aggressive which had frightened her and made her run away from him. She then asked me how much it would be to Kilburn to which I replied between £10 and £15. She was relaying this information to her concerned Mum who was on the other end of the line. She told her Mum that she only had £10 on her and that her Mum would have to come and meet her at the point where the meter reached £10. Had I not been on my way home I still would have taken her for the tenner, I’d even have taken her home for nothing as I’m a sucker for a damsel in distress. I told her that ten would be fine and she almost had an orgasm (probably the wrong word but define uncontrollable body spasms together with indistinguishable sounds?) Her Mum asked to speak to me and when I took the phone from the girl her mother couldn’t thank me enough and said she’d be waiting outside the house to thank me in person (and maybe give me the rest of the money?). The upshot of it all was I got a hug and a “thank you for getting my daughter home safe” from her nice looking Mum and just the agreed £10. The meter was saying £14. I drove home shaking my head in despair but also with a feeling of worth, for a change.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Lost In Cambridge

I could quote a Clint Eastwood line from “Heartbreak Ridge” here but I’m not going to so if any of you are conversant with that fantastic film you’ll know what I mean, and why I won’t say it. (Highway says it to Profile when Major Powers has him running in circles)

Well, the Kipper Season is well and truly here. I’ve posted it before but for any newbies the Kipper Season refers to back in the day when cabbies wives would have to feed their family kippers because there was no money for luxury foods due to the quiet period following Christmas. It’s not quite that bad these days but not far off.

I’ve been at it all week and the work has at times been thin on the ground. Everyone has been telling me that people have taken an extra week off and I can quite believe it.

I’ve been trying to scrape three weeks cab rent together and am half way there. I now owe my garage £600 which is payable today Monday but I won’t have it all realistically until Thursday . How have I managed to get a few weeks in arrears I hear you all asking? Because I’m one of the “give him an inch he’ll take a mile” brigade. My garage can be too lenient for their own good and many drivers take the piss. I don’t consider myself one of them but I’ve had to take advantage of it because Christmas has ruined me. I plan to ring the garage later today to let them know I haven’t left town with their cab.

A couple of nights ago , I think it was Thursday or Friday, I had done about 8 hours work and was on the princely sum of £88 and about to call it a night when I decided to try Victoria one last time. The time was 1.30am and I am normally at home by 2am. I was at the head of the rank when a lady approached me and asked for a price to Cambridge, of University fame. To quote the old guy who hanged himself in “Shawshank Redemption” I dam near soiled myself. (Don’t know why I’m quoting films all of a sudden but it’s all good fun). Anyway, from my depressed, slouched position in the cab I sat bolt upright and thought of ways not to scare her off. I knew the price for Cambridge a few years ago would have been £140 to £150 so now it would probably be nearer to £180 or much more. Two things to consider here were the fact that she was a student and also that she was Australian. (Is that being racist?) In my mind I was telling myself “she ain’t gonna have it” and decided to quote her £150 after saying it would normally be the best part of £200. (Is that being greedy?) She started umming and arring. She asked if she would be able to get a bus to which I told her it was too late. She asked if she’d be able to get a cheap hotel for about £30 to £40 to which I said yes if she wanted to spend the night in a flea-pit. What about a better hotel? £100 to £150 per night says me. “Oh fuck it then you might as well take me” she finally decided much to my delight. I made sure she had enough money on her and off we went for the sixty mile jouney. I had a touch over a half a tank of diesel so I knew I’d get her there OK but would have to find a garage for the journey back. She spent the entire journey messing about with various electronic gadgets and made several phonecalls. We got to the Cambridge outer limits in about 40 minutes and she told me we’d have to stop at a cash point. I inwardly winced to my self as I’d asked her before we left London if she had enough money. A lot of these provincial towns only have a few cashpoints and more often than not are out of money in the small hours of the morning but I never said anything and hoped it would be OK. It was OK but now we were driving in a pedestrianised area of Cambridge, she only knew the cycle routes which is what we were on and my satnav was having kittens because it didn’t understand where the fuck we were. She kept recognizing ways that she’d been through on her bike and kept telling me to turn here or there where it was obvious motor vehicles were not allowed. We were going round in circles and she eventually gave up. We were lost in Cambridge. It was about 2.30am and there were still a few people strolling around and I was getting some very funny looks from them. I decided to ask someone how to get out of the pedestrian area and back onto the regular roads. After asking a few people I managed to find my way back to the road and the satnav readjusted to her road. Basically the whole centre is a no-go for motor vehicles and you have to use a ring road. If you use the clockface analogy I was at three o’clock and she lived at seven o’clock. The satnav took us anti clockwise so it was a bit longer (it’s not being greedy though as I’d already agreed on a price) and we finally arrived at her house. Now to find a garage. I was now on a quarter tank. The last time I’d used the POI (points of interest) on the satnav to find an open garage in the wee small hours I’d almost run out of juice as they were all closed. I decided to head back to the M11 motorway and find the next available services which turned out to be the ones at Birchanger Green near Stanstead Airport. I’d never let the fuel gauge get so low so it was lucky the cab never conked out in the middle of nowhere. I put £20 diesel in and also bought myself a meat and potato pasty and a pork pie plus a few sweets that I shouldn’t be eating. There was no microwave in the place so I drove out of there eating a cold pasty. After two bites I chucked it onto the M11 and opened the pork pie. After two bites of that it followed the pasty onto the M11 and I was left with peanut M&M’s and and a bag of revels to keep me company for the drive home.

I had another puker yesterday (Sunday). It shows you how desperate I was for work when I stopped for this guy who could barely stand he was so drunk. Luckily it was only a short journey from High Holborn to the Holiday Inn Bloomsbury. As we waited at the lights in Tavistock Place he opened the door and jumped out then turned and faced the open door and proceeded to vomit in the triangle of space between himself the door and the cab. He only got a few splashed on the door frame as the rest was all over his shoes and the pavement.

Another incident occurred yesterday as I picked up three Canadian ladies (is that racist?)going to the Central Park Hotel in Bayswater. As I turned into Earnshaw Street by Centrepoint the road was blocked by about 8 guys knocking seven shades of shit out of eachother. I couldn’t get past so I waited and watched as they went at it. We’re talking full blown punches to the face, stamping and kicking. One guy was being dragged away by another and his trousers ended up round his ankles revealing his crown jewels to all and sundry. One of my passengers shouted to me “quick dial 911” and I said “what for? By the time they get here it’ll all be over” and as I reversed and drove away I turned to my passengers and said “Welcome to London”.

I had another “touch” tonight as things were looking gloomy. I was next in line at Victoria when a lady walked up to me. I’d already done about twenty minutes “bird” on there so anything just to get me away from there would have done me. “I don’t know if you want to do this but I need to go to the Holiday Inn in Carburton Street where I’d like you to wait for me while I drop a suit off for my husband who’s in court tomorrow, have a wee (take a piss) and then we’re going back to Kew Station. Do you mind?” Did I mind? I could have kissed her. She was a talker so as we commenced the journey she started telling me how her husband was a doctor and was in court the next day as a character witness for a friend. They lived in Bournemouth on the south coast and he’d forgotten his suit and she’d had to get up halfway through her favourite TV program to drive to London in her Beamer at speeds of up to 115mph to bring it to him but she didn’t know her way round central London so had left her car at Kew Station and taken the train to Victoria blah blah blah. I must have said the right things when a response was required as she thanked me profusely and gave me £50 for a £43 meter.
Daughter is back at school in about 2 hours so I’m gonna grab a bit of kip. Catch you all later.