There is a wonderful scene in Jack Rosenthal’s film “The Knowledge” where a hapless candidate striving to become a London cabbie, is being quizzed by the examiner (Nigel Hawthorne at his inimitable best.)
The examiner, known to the would-be cabbies as The Vampire, is doing his level best to put the Hapless One off his stride by walking about with Vick sticks protruding from both nostrils.
The point being that, as a London cabbie, you have to be able to deal with anything and everything that the great visitor – and resident - public of London may throw at you. In addition, that is, to learning
320 routes, 25,000 streets and 20,000 landmarks or places of interest within a six mile radius of Charing Cross station. You are probably wondering why I know so much about the subject.This is not only because The Knowledge is one of my favourite films.
It just so happens that one of my Sons-in-Law, husband of the Middle of the Darling Daughters, is a fully-fledged cabbie with a Green Badge and a shiny black cab to prove it. I still remember the days when he was cramming for his latest “appearance”
(or test) when he would call upon any family member who looked remotely interested in testing him on route after route. His best accomplice was his newborn baby son (known to you all as Young Faris, the fearless blogger) who would drop off to sleep in
no time at all when his Dad started droning on about taking left turns or complying with roundabouts (how can you comply with a roundabout, I ask you? What would happen if you didn’t comply? How would the roundabout hold you to account?)
When our very own London Cabbie passed his final appearance and took possession of the coveted Green Badge, you could have been forgiven for thinking that he would, like
Aladdin of the Magic Lamp, live Happily Ever After. But, dear Readers, all is not well in the Land of the London Cabbie. A firm called Uber has established a stronghold on the capital which is threatening to strangle the life out of our famous back cabs.
Uber is an American firm which deploys vast numbers of Mercedes cars in our capital city and manages to flout rules governing taxi meters by use of smart phone technology. In other countries this has led to litigation, demonstrations and in some cases –
like Brussells – an outright ban but for some reason Boris the Blonde Bombshell seems to be turning a blind eye to what is happening in London. In vain do the cabbies protest that no Uber driver will possess the in-depth knowledge of London to transport
their passengers to their destination as quickly and directly – and as safely - as possible. In vain do they point to the cabbies’ legendary ability to find the quickest route amid the congestion and chaos of our city streets. Next week,
apparently, they are staging a protest in a bid to put their points across. Possibly they will all push Vick sticks up their noses. Or possibly not.
I know I,
for one, would much rather hail a black cab in London and know that the driver has been vetted, examined and tested by a Vampire within an inch of his life – than trust my precious self (well, my family thinks I am precious anyway) to an unlicensed car
and driver with absolutely no credentials at all. But, let’s say that you are one of those who likes the whole smartphone approach adopted by Uber. The question still remains: what would London be without its iconic black cabs? They are not just
a form of transport, they are part of our tourism “offer”. People all over the world know about them and see them as an integral part of the London street scene. Can we afford to see their existence threatened by an American upstart?
Our black cabs are as much part of London as our red double deckers, as the stone lions guarding Trafalgar Square, as Changing the Guard at Buckingham Palace (Christopher Robin went there with Alice, don’t
you know? They probably travelled there by black cab.)
There’s a lot of history surrounding the black cabs too. Did you know that a meal, in Black
Cab Lingo, is a Churchill – because Our Winnie granted cabbies the right to refuse a fare if they were eating?
Black cabs are, indeed, among our National
Treasures and we must use them or lose them. All hail the London cabbies!