Thursday, August 28, 2008

Get Well Soon Ed

Hello everyone and apologies for the slow down in posting but as I said in the last one I’ve been otherwise engaged. Talking of which I recently spent a few days out of town visiting aforementioned person and enjoying the delights of the east coastal towns of Lowestoft and Great Yarmouth. Being an ex-seafaring person I took the opportunity to do a bit of boat-spotting and visiting in the ports of Felixtowe and Lowestoft and all those happy memories from my days gone by came flooding back. I think you have to have done it to appreciate it. I also bought a souvenir boat to go with my ever-growing collection in my maritime themed bedroom. We also visited the model village in Yarmouth and I was overheard saying that it was similar to the one in Beaconsfield to which the village person said “yes but this one’s better than Beaconsfield”. I’m not sure about that but will have to check it out again some day.

So as my annual trip to Spain approaches I have to say I don’t really fancy it this year. I could think of a few better things to do instead of sweltering in 90-degree heat for a week with my mother but as it’s an annual commitment then I’ll just have to grin and bear it.

While I’m on the subject of family may I just mention my cousin Ed who is recovering in hospital in Northallerton after a serious operation. Me and all my family wish him a speedy recovery after a very serious scare and our thoughts are with him, his mum and dad and his brother and sister at this time.

I’ve had some really nice jobs since I last posted.
Saturday the 2nd of August saw me sitting third on the South Kensington rank when a lady weighed down with shopping bags approached the front cab with a piece of paper. He shook his head and she approached the next one. He also shook his head and finally arrived at my window. The piece of paper was illegible but rather than refuse her I asked where she was going. In a heavily Russian-accented voice she asked for what sounded like the Pilsbury International Terminal. “Never heard of it” thought I, but never one to give up – in my thirst for knowledge- I took another look at the paper and noticed it was a map and ringed on it was an area east of London, not east London but east of London so putting two and two together I said “do you mean Tilbury??” “Da Tilbury” she exclaimed. I’d done a trip to a passenger ship here many years ago so I knew exactly where she wanted. Funnily enough on that occasion it was also Russian. I told her the fare would be in the region of £100 and she tried to haggle me down to £80 but I said no and off we went. The journey was uneventful but very pleasant and more maritime memories came flooding back as I approached Tilbury docks, as this was where I went on a ships visit as a student of the sea school in Gravesend in December 1978. (For any merchant sailors out there the visit was to the OCL container ship MV Discovery Bay. ) As I arrived at her ship the meter read £98.80 so not a bad estimate and she handed me £95 in notes and started fumbling about for the rest so I told her to forget it. As I was preparing to leave a couple emerged from the vicinity of the ship and asked if I was for hire. Now I’m not supposed to pick fares up outside the Met but as they only wanted to go locally I agreed to take them and I dropped them at the Park Inn at Thurrock and then made my way back to London.

The following night I was having a coffee with Chris at Marylebone Station and after we finished he went towards Paddington and I drove onto the station rank at Marylebone. A guy came out and asked if I also did trips out of town, “yes I do, where would you like to go?” I answered, barely able to contain my excitement. “High Wycombe” I got straight on the phone to Chris to gloat about a job which could have been his had he gone on to the rank ahead of me and he was well gutted.

I’m calling on all cabbies to help me out with something here. There’s a cut through from High Holborn via the archway to the Renaissance hotel, which ends up in Lincolns Inn Fields. Chris told me about it the other night and I had to go and see for myself. From what I can see it can be done both ways and is not illegal (as far as I can tell). Can any of you confirm this? I would imagine it’s used all day long when the traffic’s bad but there’s not much call for it at night. It’s a bit like the one at Lower Robert Street onto Savoy street, now there really is a “blinding little cut through” as my knowledge mate Noel used to say.

I recently had some trouble with my iPod and wasn’t able to connect to iTunes. I tried everything such as connecting to other computers and even went to the Apple store in Regent Street but the queue was too long. I eventually found an alternative program on the net called Annapod and bought it online and it now works fine and I can edit and add tracks to my heart content. Chris came round to add some songs to his iPod and when I hooked it up and tried to do a few transfers his whole iPod got wiped, all 2 and a bit thousand songs gone. He was quite philosophical about it, the old chris would have gone mental. He went off to work and I attempted to recover all the lost songs, which I eventually found in an Annapod folder so if any of you have the same problem connecting to iTunes I suggest this program, it’s only about fifteen quid.

I was visiting my girlfriend at her place of work in the St Johns Wood area when we decided we’d like fish and chips for lunch. I had parked the cab up in a side street and didn’t want to lose the space so decided to hail a cab in Finchley road. As a silver TX2 stopped for me I asked him if he minded taking me to the Seashell in Lisson Grove waiting and bringing me back and also did he mind the smell of fish and chips in his cab. I think he was going to refuse me but thought that it would probably be a nice job money-wise and agreed. I never told him I was a cabbie and he started giving me all the cabbie spiel to secure a better tip at journeys end. I just smiled to myself and humoured him. When we arrived at the Seashell I asked him if he fancied a portion of chips but he declined. They never had any rock salmon ready so I had to have cod, which is my least favourite fish. I made my way back to the cab, which had turned round to face the way we had come for the return journey. Back at my destination the fare ended up at £12 and I gave him £15 and I wished him luck for the rest of his shift. The cod wasn’t too bad but give me rock every time.

So for the next 13 days I have to graft hard to get everything ready for my week away. I paid my cab yesterday. For the last 6 weeks I have paid on time and have found it so stress free as opposed to those weeks when I have to find the best part of a grand. The genial Irishman has left the garage due to ill health and there is now a very efficient girl in the office called Nicola. I just had a new set of ads stuck to the side of the cab yesterday, which is already turning heads. I also asked the owner to consider me for the next TX2 that becomes available as I plan to make regular trips to Suffolk to see my gf who lives there. The new Mercedes Taxi is now out on our streets but I have yet to see one. I’ll be monitoring the feedback over the next few months and may even decide to get one of them. Watch this space.

The New Mercedes London Taxi

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Theres nothin like a muffin

Hello again to everyone. That was a long three days!!!!!

I said I wouldn't mention it but I will but won't name any names. I've been in a new relationship over the last few months and all my available time has been taken up with seeing this fantastic lady. She doesn't want to be mentioned on here so I won't say too much only that the last few months have been fantastic and I hope there are many more months and years ahead for us. That's all your getting from me on that subject.

My kids are all doing well in their various stages of life. My eldest son is still working for a top diamond company in the west end and has been moved from the IT department to the engraving section.

My second son, Michael, has been going to college over the last 9 months and has been studying building (plastering, brick laying. Carpentry etc). He has now landed a well paying semi-skilled labouring job and is really enjoying having money in his pocket. He's still playing darts and is thinking of stepping up to a higher level.

My daughter, katie, has just flown to San Diego to spend six weeks with her mother. Her grandparents have also gone for the second year in succession. When she returns she has a place in college to study photography.

I have been doing what I do best. Cab driving. I work pretty much the same hours every night and take pretty much the same money.

I recently had to swap my cab for another while it went up for it's six monthly inspection. When I got it back they had fitted a new steering wheel (no idea why) a new fuel cap (no idea why) new tyres all the way round and I think they've messed with the fuel mixture as it seems to run smoother. One thing they haven't touched, and for the life of me I don't know how they can get away with it, is the suspension. The non-existent one I'm always complaining about. To back up my complaint, the second passenger I picked up after getting the cab back said to me "Is your suspension knackered?" I started telling him my concerns and he concurred. He said he could feel every bump and seam in the road. All the other passengers I pick up are probably being polite by not saying anything about it but I would rather they did as I would end up finally leaving that garage for another. Chris is always saying that I must be a mug (but his word always starts with a C) for putting up with it but that's what I do, I take it and take it until I finally blow and do something about it. My annual trip to Spain is coming up on the 10th of September and I may use that as the excuse I need to finally move on by not returning to collect the cab on my return.

I’ve still been stopping with Chris for a meal or coffee break most days. We have three or four places where we’ll stop on any given night. Starbucks in Piccadilly is a regular as they have plenty of parking spaces outside and a fantastic selection of cakes and sandwiches to chose from. We’re pretty partial to the lemon and orange muffins but my favourite is still Rocky Road although lately I have found it way too sweet. One day last week I bought the coffees (Large lattes) and as I handed one to Chris as he sat in his cab he promptly dropped it on the floor, the lid popped off and all the contents spilled onto his carpet. He wasn’t best pleased.

As you all know I like to rank up on many of the railway stations to get my fares. The day before yesterday I was waiting on Kings Cross when an Arabic man came up to the window and asked for the Churchill Hotel in Portman Square. He proceeded to put a large case in the cab and got into the cab to push it further in. The door closed behind him without him touching it so I assumed he was done and drove away. He called out “Hey, what about my wife?” and when I looked back towards the rank a lady in all the Muslim gear was standing there with another case and frantically waving at me. Luckily the other cab behind me hadn’t pulled forward so I was able to reverse back about 10 yards and pick her up apologising profusely as she got in.

The rest of that shift went as planned and I reached my target at around 2.30, the last job ending up in Surrey Quays in South East London. I had my light on all the way back in to town but there wasn’t a soul about. The only bit of excitement was being caught as Tower Bridge was raised to allow a passenger liner that had been tied up next to HMS Belfast to leave the Pool of London on it’s onward journey. As it takes about 15 minutes to raise and lower it I stood outside the cab and watched the massive ship as it passed and all the passengers who weren’t sleeping decided to watch the departure from the decks and they waived at anyone who bothered to waive at them. Once it was on the east side the bridge was lowered and we all got back into our cars and cabs to continue on our way. I wondered where the ship was off to and envied those people on it.

Whilst on the London Bridge rank last week a pair of Catholic nuns were to be my fare. They asked to be taken to a convent near Jamaica Road which I had never heard of. As I left the station the left turn into St Thomas’s Street was closed off causing me to take an extended detour adding a good four or five pounds to the ride. Chris was on the phone to me at the time and slagged me off for “tucking them poor old nuns up”. When I arrived at the convent I knocked five pounds off the fare thus avoiding any further slagging and negative karma that may have been on its way to me.

I picked up an extremely drunk guy in Camden Town and he asked for Hendon. He told me he wanted Park Road so as I arrived I had to wake him as he had flaked out. As normally happens to waking drunks he didn’t have a clue where he was and started directing me all over the place. We finally arrived at his house after already having driven past it and he started looking for his money. At this point the meter was on £24. He had no money so we had to leave his house and find a cash point. Get to the cash point and he can’t find his wallet. Meter on £30. Back to his house to wake his unco-operative and pissed off brother. Meter on £37. Back to the cash point with his brothers card and the pin number won’t work. Meter on £44. Back to his house where he keeps me waiting like a lemon outside. I get out of my cab and bang on the door at 4am. He comes out apologetically with another card. I ask if there’s any point to all this and he says the card will definitely work this time. Back to the cash point. Meter on £53. No joy. I call him back over and tell him that he’s wasting my time and it’s costing him a fortune. I take him back home and get him to ring my phone so that I have his number and that I’ll come back when he’s sober and actually has my money which by now had reached £60. I drive away empty handed but go back the next morning after first confirming with him by phone that he had my money. This is the sort of crap that goes on during the night shift, who needs it?

Thursday 24th of July and I drop off an American guy in Golborne Road, Portobello and pull off heading for home. A young girl about 24ish frantically flags me down and asks for the notorious Wessex Estate about a mile away. She starts whispering into her phone (head turned towards the intercom which was on) “yeah, I’m on my way round, have you got it?” A drug run, I haven’t done one of these for ages. It’s normally blokes, which I end up leaving where they get out but as we arrived at the Ledbury Road side of the estate she handed me a twenty and said “don’t drive off I’ll be back in a minute”. I saw her enter one of the blocks and even saw the transaction take place with the hooded drug dealer. She was back in a few seconds and instructed me to return to where we had just come from. She spoke into her phone again telling the person on the other end that she’d “got it”. At that particular moment I felt a bit like Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver and thought how crappy the job could be at times. She’d given me a twenty to stop me from driving off (I know of some who would’ve) and asked for it back handing me a ten in it’s place which by chance was exactly the total on the meter. That was enough for me and I switched the light off and went home.

So the days are different but the stories are the same. Who’d be a London Cabby?

Check back soon for more exciting accounts of life behind the wheel of a London taxi.