Learning the Knowledge: Part Eight, Receiving the Coveted Green Badge

After being red-lined at the very last hurdle, I felt bewildered, and remained so for many days.
I was at a loss, and had no idea where to turn. 
All sorts of paranoid thoughts swam through my mind. Why had I been barred from passing? Were there too many cab drivers already out there? Had there been a mix up due to the PCO’s change of location? Had they mistaken me for a troublemaker? Of course, there was an even worse reason- that I simply wasn’t good enough. I prayed that the latter wasn’t the true reason.
I spent the next few weeks in a haze; the days consisting of stale revision which I had no drive for, the nights concentrating on drinking far more than I should, before passing out and dreaming of what it would be like to a London Cabbie, earning a living for myself.
*
The next appearance date seemed to take an age to arrive. 
Once again, I arose early and made the torturous journey towards the Palestra. I still felt beaten; the energy sapped from me, my eyelids heavy, my shoulders sagged.
After hours of feeling queasy, my morning of wait finally came to an end.
Mr Lordan, please.
I was called in by one of the friendlier examiners (albeit with a reputation for asking tough points).  As I followed him along the still fresh and new-smelling carpet towards the office, the examiner leafed through the brown, cardboard folder containing my file. I’d never seen an examiner study a file so closely, and it seemed apparent that he’d noticed something amiss.
Hmm” he mused as we paced the new walk of fear, “I wonder if you can pass the stage in one go?
Upon hearing this, my spirits soared. 
I suddenly had divine visions of being asked ultra-simple questions; perhaps “Trafalgar Square to Whitehall”, “Waterloo Bridge to Waterloo Station” and good old “Manor House to Gibson Square.” Such teasers would enable me answer pitch-perfect, thus providing the examiner with good enough excuse to award me the mystical ‘Double A’ mark; the only score that allows you to pass the stage in one go.
Sadly, my daydream was to be annihilated.
After sitting down, the examiner, kindly as always, told me to relax and not to rush or worry. He made no mention of my previous redline however, and proceeded to ask me a number of places in deepest South London.
With the usual, intense regime of revision and exploring, the points and routes I was asked that day would have been relatively obtainable. However, I’d been slack the past few weeks and my brain felt as if it had been squeezed like a spongy, executive stress ball.  I managed to name the addresses of quite a few points, but when it came to describing the routes in between, I was in disarray.
Needless to say; I received a ‘D’; no score.
I felt myself descending even lower.
As I sat there in the chair, I began to panic; another three D score like this, and I’d be pushed back a stage; I’d have to do the 28s all over again, and all that after being so close to the finishing line.
My head was lowered and I could feel my eyes itch and my face begin to prickle. Upon seeing my deteriorating state, the examiner seemed to take pity on me. Before sending me on my way, he provided me with a number of study tips, and told me that I would definitely make it as a cabbie.
Although I still felt beaten and drained, the examiner’s soothing words helped to spur me on. 
Shortly after the appearance, I threw myself back into the Knowledge, studying the map intensely and combing the now familiar streets for even more obscure points, ensuring that the road restrictions were burnt into my conscience as much as possible.
Late one night, during this period, I was driving along Bishopsgate, in the heart of the financial area. It was a Friday night, and the roads were inevitably swarming with swaggering drunks; many dressed in business suits as they unwound from a stressful week in the fiscal game.
Not far from Liverpool Street Station, I stopped at a red light. Whilst waiting, I glanced around, making a note of the shops and office blocks in the vicinity. Contemplating a large office block to my right, I noticed a fracas. 
A deeply inebriated fellow was urinating against a broad, glass wall which formed part of the office block’s lobby area. His discharge was trickling down the glass, creating a sort of urinary waterfall. At the same time, the drunk wasn’t bothering to support himself, and was shaking both fists triumphantly in the air, whilst his uneasy body swayed back and forth.
Worse still, on the opposite side of the glass, an exasperated security guard was banging on the transparent wall, waving his hands in a doomed attempt to stop the rogue. I dread to think how the guard’s view appeared.
As the light flicked from amber to green, I drove off, thinking to myself that when (if I ever did) pass the Knowledge, I would be picking up such people; having to deal with them in close proximity.
However, I didn’t allow this unglamorous thought to deter me. Once on the final stages of the Knowledge, you’ve simply gone too far to give up! 
Knowledge students are driven by a fierce dedication; determined to see it through and achieve the ultimate ambition of being one’s own boss, to carry out their role in the seat of an iconic vehicle:
The London Black Taxi.
*
My next three appearances were something of a blur, each one providing me with more confidence as it passed. Somehow, I managed to score three ‘C’ marks in a row; 9 points.
And before I knew it, I was once again up for my ‘Req’….
*
As before, I went through the same routine. Arising on a dark, early morning, ensuring my suit was up to standard and journeying into London by train like a sardine packed in a tin; the sweat from fellow commuters providing the brine. 
Naturally, this was all accompanied by the usual feelings of dread and nausea.
After again enduring the torturous waiting regime at the Palestra Building, I found myself back inside an examiner’s office.
The examiner was a very forbidding fellow. As we sat down, he said nothing, instead choosing to scribble down a number of notes in my file which, by now, had become rather shabby.
The examiner put his pen down and peered up at me.
Good Morning, Mr Lordan,” he announced.
Good Morning, Sir.
The examiner stared at me for a few seconds.
I’m Mr —–
He announced his name, but I already knew who he was. It was the very same examiner who’d thrown a book across the room and told me that I was no good, so many appearances before.
Yes, Sir” I replied.
There were no more formalities; it was straight into the points and runs. I cannot remember what they were now; I was in too much of a stupor. However, I do recall the very last run:
Farringdon Station?
Cowcross Street, Sir.
The examiner scribbled a note.
“To… East Finchley Station?
High Road, East Finchley, Sir.
Yes. Off you go then.
Thank you, Sir.
And so I described the route. 
However, a combination of fear and exhaustion meant that the run was a bit of a mess; I was all over the place, and used lots of back streets and dubious cut-throughs. Finally, I managed to utter the concluding words;
Set down East Finchley Station on the left….
The examiner peered at me again and leant back; his chair creaking.
Hmm… now, if I were a city banker paying good money, you wouldn’t take me that way would you?
No, Sir.
So, why did you do it?
I… I don’t know Sir. I do apologize; my mind’s not with it at the moment.
How would you do it then?
I thought about it for a moment, thankful for the time to analyse my bodged route.
I’d stick to main roads, Sir. I’d use Archway Road…
Ok then,” replied the examiner. “Run it backwards.
And so I did; East Finchley Station to Farringdon Station.
Once completed, the examiner said nothing for a few moments. More notes were jotted and I sat with my head spinning.
I prayed that I’d done enough but, somehow I didn’t think I had.
The examiner finished writing and his pen clicked shut.
Ok, Mr Lordan, I’m going to pass you today.
And that was it. I’d completed the Knowledge of London.
I stuttered something, and I’m not ashamed to admit that my eyes became damp. Soon, I felt cool, salty water streaming down my glowing cheeks. Four and a half years of torment were at an end.
I’d qualified as a London Cabbie.
I apologised for my embarrassing state.
It’s ok,” replied the examiner in a fatherly way, his severe demeanour now gone. “Take your time; it’s always an emotional moment.
He then said,
I think you’ll make an excellent cab driver.
And that made me well up some more.
As I wiped my eyes with a smart jacket cuff, the examiner spoke to be in a more informal manner, telling me all about what was to happen next.
The clip below, again taken from Jack Rosenthal’s wonderful play, is quite special to me as it re-creates the feeling of passing the Knowledge most accurately:
*
Once you’ve received your Req, that’s still not quite the end of things. You then have to spend six weeks or so on the ‘Suburban Runs’; a crash course at the end of which there is yet another test!
The Suburbs are relatively straightforward, taking you out to places such as Romford, Plumstead, Harrow and Palmers Green. 
Their study is very basic, and requires nowhere near as much detail as the six mile radius around Charing Cross; you simply have to learn the main routes in and out. 
Having said that, there are still around 100 of the blighters to learn, and those weeks you spend on it are still rather pretty intensive. However, the pressure is nowhere near as great; you have passed the Main Knowledge of London and the final finishing post is just about within site.
In my experience, the toughest part of the suburbs was learning the area around Heathrow Airport. 
A plane rank at Heathrow! (Photo: The Guardian)
Naturally, it is vital that London’s Cabbies have a firm grasp of London’s major airport and, when on the Suburban runs, you spend a lot of time there; learning the ins and outs of all five terminals in considerable depth.
Heathrow Airport is the size of a small town, and it is a vicious, complicated place to get a grasp upon! 
I spent a great many nights there, cursing to myself as I took wrong turns and ended up on mile-long roads with nowhere to turn around, the smell of aviation fuel in my nostrils as Jumbo Jets soared overhead, taillights blinking, engines rumbling as the mighty aircraft headed towards places I dreamed to of visiting once I’d started to earn a living for myself.
*
I’ve previously neglected to mention that, towards the end of the Knowledge process, you also have to undertake a driving test behind the wheel of a cab. 
I took my test whilst on the first attempt of 21 days….and, despite having being a qualified driver for over 10 years, I failed first time! Naturally that led to more frustration and hair ripping! (Thankfully I passed on the second go, although taking the test twice proved rather costly).
As Christmas approached, I once again returned to the Palestra. 
I was asked around five Suburban runs and, much to my relief, I passed. I was then told to return the following day, for my passing out ceremony and badge presentation.
*
Inevitably, when the next day arrived, it didn’t feel real.
Arriving at the Palestra, yet again I and about 15 other graduates had to go through the waiting process.
This time though, it didn’t matter. Elation replaced the feelings of sickness.
I, and I imagine a number of other candidates there that afternoon too, also underwent a moment of reflection; thinking back to the first time we sat at Manor House Station, contemplating Gibson Square, our various appearances and the emotions and turmoil experienced, the ups and downs of the ferocious Knowledge.
We were allowed guests for our presentation; my parents, without whose support I would never have passed the Knowledge, accompanied me. However, for the first part of the presentation, only the graduate cabbies were allowed.
During the first part of our talk, we were congratulated and given general advice on things such as cab etiquette amongst other drivers, ‘the abstract of law’ (i.e. rules governing how we conduct our trade) and the suggested amount of cash to carry in your float.
Our guests- mainly family members- where then allowed to enter the conference room.
They were congratulated on their patience and understanding whilst dealing with us (now ex) Knowledge Boys and Girls through our apprenticeships.
And then the badge presentation came.
One by one, our names were called and, as we made our way to the front, there was a gentle ripple of applause.
When my turn came, I stood up automatically; it felt like being called for an appearance in the dreaded waiting room all over again. 
I arose and, on shaky legs, walked towards the examiner, who shook my hand and handed me a certificate, a paper license and a little plastic bag which was around three inches long, two inches tall. 
My parents snapped my photograph, and I returned to my seat, clutching the precious items which I’d just been handed.
Back in the chair- and not forgetting to clap the remaining candidates- I peered down at the paraphanallia I’d just received- in particular, the small plastic envelope.
The transparent packet contained an oval shaped, metal badge; green in colour with a thin, gold trim, and a thicker gold stripe running across the middle. Arched over and below the curve of the badge were the words:
London Cab Driver.
And, through the gold bar in the middle, my unique number was imprinted in black numbering. 
My pride swelled. I couldn’t comprehend that I was finally clutching the elusive prize; a small, green, metal badge.
In order to obtain it, I’d exhausted myself mentally and physically. I’d been through fear, frustration, humiliation and despair. 
I’d put my family through hell. 
I’d immersed myself in maps and notes by day, whilst trawling London’s roads by night; seeing the city at its best and worst.
I’d spent countless thousands of pounds on my training.
It had been a gruelling process.
However, The Knowledge of London really is a superb training programme for potential cabbies.
The vigorous study; getting to know London inside out, street by street, learning every building, being immersed in London’s staggering history and, of course, the eccentric, petryfying appearance examinations, all really do prepare you for the job.
I am proud to have completed The Knowledge of London, and I wouldn’t change the experience for anything.
Every now and then, especially when held at lights on Trafalgar Square, I sometimes glance down at the wee, metallic, green badge hanging around my neck. 
And I still find it difficult to believe….
I am a qualified, London Cabbie.

Final Part- Memories From My First Day as a London Cabbie

33 responses

  1. A very interesting read, i going to start myself on the long road that is “The Knowledge”.

    I have enjoyed reading into your journey and I can’t wait to get started.

    1. Cheers, Pete. Best of luck with your journey… stick at it and you will get there.

  2. I’ve really enjoyed reading your blog. I’m a London Bus driver, and I started the knowledge over 5 years ago, did the first run and thought, this isn’t for me. Now I’m seriously considering to restart.

    1. Thanks, Kas; good to hear someone who also makes their living from London’s chaotic roads :-) Best of luck with restarting the Knowledge- don’t hesitate to contact me if you need any guidance with the process.

  3. Well written piece. I am just about to start my green badge suburb runs, probably sounds stupid but can I stop calling my points, runs & cross routes now?
    Will they ask me anything from central london out to the suburb destinations or do they only ask the suburb routes as written in suburb runs book?
    Cheers
    Matt

    1. Hi Matt,

      Thanks for the comment. I’d just concentrate on the suburbs now if I were you; there’s quite a few to remember! As far as I’m aware, it’s extremely rare for anything in central London to be asked and, if it is, it’ll be a big point anyway.

      Best of luck.

  4. Thanks for an interesting and enjoyable read, i felt every emotion from your words. I too have just applied for the application pack to start, and am looking in to using one of the schools to help.
    If you hold any get together’s i would be interested as i have no knowledge of this apart from your read.
    Again thanks for taking the time to write such a detailed experience.

    1. Hi Lee, many thanks for your kind words. Best of luck with your journey ahead. Just remember, it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Frustrations and setbacks are all part of the process- don’t let them get to you. Stick at it and you will get there before long.

      Above all, stay safe out there :-)

  5. It’s been great following your blog…and very informative. Thanks.
    I’m doing my “burbs” right now and am up on the 13th of May. Still nervous about it though and have been finding it not as easy as I expected…especially Heathrow…as you mentioned yourself. How many Q’s will I be asked? Thanks again and be lucky.

    1. Hi Dean, thanks for the kind comments.

      From what I understand, the number of suburban runs you’re asked can vary greatly. I had about five or six if I remember correctly. Don’t worry; you’ll be fine :-)

      Best of luck

      1. Thanks. Been out since 7 this morning over Northwood and Heathrow areas…..It’s slowly falling into place.
        I can see myself getting to Trafalgar Sq from here in Eltham before putting the light on for the first time, as you did…:) Nice.
        I see you’ve done the Cabguide Course. I’m very interesred in doing that too. I looked at the Blue Badge Tour Guide but that’s too much for me. The WCHCD livery company website doesn’t give too much info on the course but once I get my green badge I’ll be contacting them about it. How did you find the course…and have you benefited from it financially? I have a keen interest in London’s history, arts, literature, etc so would mainly be doing it for my own education, but I’m sure some of the tourists would appreciate the cabbie’s knowledge.
        Thanks again.

  6. Just finished reading your journey of the knowledge, thanks it has really inspired me,
    My father in law and brother in law are both cabbies and I have just got my paperwork through
    Nervous already but here goes, thanks again your inspiring, cheers Jonathan.

    1. Thanks for the kind words, Jonathan. You’ll be fine… it may sound daft, but try and enjoy the Knowledge if you can. London is an amazing place and it can be great fun getting out there and exploring it inside out.

      Stay safe and the best of luck.

  7. Wow, a passing out ceremony. As I read on I realised you really meant it. You could invite guests! “Wasn’t like that in my day, lad”, as the expression goes. I got my badge in 1977 and drove full time for 17 years before moving on. Still have my badge, but it’s not my full time job these days. I still value it and what it stands for – tradition and professionalism for sure, but more like freezing cold days on a moped behind a bus trying to keep warm from its engine. Still, I had the summer of 76 and the best sun tan I ever had. Getting back to that passing out ceremony – mine was go out to the counter, pay your 15p (yep, 15 pence) and wait for someone behind the counter to call you over and unceremoniously hand the badge and your “bill” over. Great to read your more up to date experiences. Good luck for the future.

    1. Thanks for that, Jim some great memories there. I’ve heard they may be stopping the inviting of guests to the ceremony now, really hope this isn’t so.

  8. First of all great read. Just a quick few questions.

    I work full time as do most other people who probaly learn the knowledge.

    Do you really need to attend the driving schools?
    Do they only run in the day time or are they open in evening do you know?
    How many hours a week would you say you need minium to drive the routes?

    1. Hello Adam,

      Thanks for the kind words.

      You don’t have to attend a driving school, although I did during my early days and it really set me on the right course. When I attended school, it was during the evening; they all operate different hours.

      When I drove the routes, I aimed for three to four runs a week, spending approximately two to three hours on each one. However, there are many variables; some runs require less time, others a lot more… you just have to give it a go and see what suits and fits you.

      Best of luck.

  9. Great read. I’m starting the Knowledge this winter and I am looking forward to it and dreading it at the same time. It was a very well written piece and I am sure it will help me when I face the dreaded ‘appearance’s’.

    1. Hi Mikey,

      Thanks very much for your kind words. Best of luck with the Knowledge… don’t let anything put you off. Just stick at it, enjoy London and you will get there…

  10. Hi Mikey

    I have just started the Knowledge and read your blog from start to finish. A very well written piece if I may say so ….you totally captured my emotions. I was gutted for you when you were red lined on your req appearance and when you finally got it I was genuinely delighted for you. It does make me think how on earth I’m going to remember everything though!. Thanks again for the informative read.

    Cheers

    Jim

    1. Thanks for the kind comments, Jim.

  11. Thanks for taking the time to make this blog, brilliantly written, i had a lump in my throat when you finally passed your req!

    I’ve been considering the knowledge and reading about it for a few years, the constant fear of failure holding me back. im going to an open evening at one of the schools this week, hopefuly i might finally get the guts to give it a shot.

    Thanks again and massive congratulations for getting through it.

    1. Hi Paul, thank you so much for your kind words. Best of luck with your first steps on the Knowledge… all you have to remember is that if you stick at it, you will get there :-) If you have any questions about the process, please don’t hesitate to ask.

      Thanks again.

  12. Hi, i just booked my CBT, ready to get my bike and start the quest! I found your site and found it a great read and an inspiration! Thanks!

    1. You’re very welcome, Mike thanks for the kind comments. Best of luck and stick with it, you will get there!

  13. Yellow badge Mike | Reply

    Superb read and congratulations on getting the Green. I’ve started and stopped three times due to family commitments etc.. Am determined to give it another go and pass it. Money in the suburbs is terrible.
    Could you tell me if you done it KP or Wizzan way. And what you would advise?

    1. Many thanks, Mike. Best of luck with your Knowledge, you’ve already won half the battle if you’ve got a yellow badge. Stay safe out there and thanks again.

    2. Sorry, Mike meant to answer your question. I used KP but both are good. I simply based my choice upon which was easiest for me to get to. You have to learn the streets no matter what; all reach the same point. I found wizzan’s point and map books very good too.

  14. Many Thanks for your accurate description of the challenges faced to become a Cabbie. You have truly helped me prepared mentally at-least to expect what I have to prepare for. Great achievement by yourself sticking at it despite numbers close failures – Simply Inspirational. I also wanted to ask as I am trying for to acquire knowledge for Green Badge is it Better to go to Knowledge Point School or Wizann? You advice is greatly appreciated.

  15. Great blog, do you mind me asking what your overall scorecard read?

    1. Thanks, Nick! I can’t remember what my overall card read but it was all Cs and Ds.

  16. Very well written, what a journey…

    1. Thanks, Peter really appreciate your kind comment.

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