Today, the 9th March 2017, a new book focusing on London goes on sale- ‘For the Love of London‘, compiled by Conrad Gamble.
The book features many contributors including Stephen Fry, Dom Joly and the late Dame Zaha Hadid, all saying what makes this wonderful city great for them. I’m also very pleased to say that I make an appearance!
(Please note; although I have used stars to block them out, this post contains some offensive words)
As I often say, the vast majority of people I meet in my cab are polite, friendly and pose no hassle whatsoever.
However, every now and then, you will encounter the sort of job which made you wish you’d driven on by.
January is always quiet in the taxi trade; so much so that, in London Taxi driver slang, it is known as the ‘Kipper Season.’
The origins of this phrase are uncertain, but the two main theories are that it either refers to the amount of work being ‘flat’ (i.e. like a kipper), or that kippers, being a relatively cheap food, is all a cabbie can afford to feed himself with during the slow months.
Anyway, the kipper season is a pretty desperate time (made even worse at the moment of course due to the current, dire economic climate which is having a negative impact on many), and passengers are very difficult to come by.
During the slow season, it is not uncommon to drive around for well over an hour or two; cab empty and hair being torn out as you strive to locate a fare; your precious reserve of diesel being roasted in the process.
A way of conserving diesel of course is to find a taxi rank, but these are always chock-full. A few days ago, I saw the rank at Waterloo stretching right around the station; approximately ¼ of a mile.
Bearing this in mind, when you see a hand go out during the Kipper season, you don’t hesitate to snap the job up with little rational thought.
Such a job happened last Friday evening.
I was driving along Old Street and, although a piercing headache was throbbing away over my right temple, I was happy that I had at least covered my costs for the week, so was no longer working at a loss.
Suddenly, on the other side of the road, a hand went up, accompanied by a whistle. The hailer was a short, young man, smartly dressed. He twirled his hand around in the air; a signal often made when people require you to spin the cab around and head in the other direction.
Quickly checking my mirrors and blind spot, I put the wheel lock on and spun around accordingly. The young fellow came to the window and appeared polite enough.
“Cheers for that, mate.”
“No problem. Where do you want to go?”
His polite nature vanished suddenly as he ignored the question and watched his four mates jog over. Apparently, they’d been a few yards away, trying to hail a cab to no avail. In they piled; their laughter and rowdiness making the intercom strain, whistle and rattle.
The door slammed and they chatted and laughed amongst themselves. The taxi was pulled over, hazard lights blinking, but still in the way of traffic.
“Where are we going?” I ask again.
They continue to jostle each other.
“Lads, I need a destination” I say a little more sharply.
“Oh… hang on…”
“Ha ha! Where…where are we going?” slurs one of the group.
Out comes the I-phone, his thumb scrolling the portable internet. A blended stench of beer fumes, tobacco breath and an array of various aftershaves wafts through the Perspex divide, the combination of which does my headache no favours.
“Erm… do you know Browns, mate?”
“Yep, no problem.”
The drunkest member pipes up again.
“That’s it! Yeah! Browns!” he slurs, “Browns– the strip joint! We wanna’ go and see the slags dancing! Those f****** slags, ha ha!”
The young gentleman was indeed right as to the nature of the club- Browns is one of London’s seedier entertainments; a famous and long-established lap-dancing club, spilling garish pink and blue neon flashes across the junction of Hackney Road and Shoreditch High Street.
Four of the passengers appear to be relatively sober and chat boisterously amongst themselves with good humour.
It is the scrawny, heavily inebriated young fellow sitting directly behind me who is the real pain in the proverbial.
I hear the various switches, located on the passenger door, being clicked and snapped as he strives to wind the window down.
“What is this?” he slurs… “Why can’t you get a proper f****** vehicle?!”
He then drunkenly turns towards his chuckling mates and makes further, charming comments about the women who dance in Browns and their various assets.
Now that the window is finally down, he starts to shout abuse at the public.
“Bus w******!” he laughs, actively encouraged by his pals.
“Bus w******!” he shouts again, passing a line of people waiting in the cold at a bus stop.
“Ha ha! You know that dontcha’?” he manages to ask the others, “that scene in the Inbetweeners!”
(For those unaware, The Inbetweeners is a popular Channel 4 comedy, about a group of teenage misfits at sixth-form college.
In one episode, they drive to London, seeking nightlife and excitement. Boastful that they have the privilege of a car, one of the group decides to shout out the insulting phrase, “bus w******” at a group of innocent bystanders waiting by a bus stop.
The joke backfires when their car is abruptly made to stop at a set of red-lights- and two, burly looking men from the bus-stop walk over to teach the group a lesson. It is funny of course, because it is fiction, and the joke is on the boys themselves; their pathetic immaturity and the consequences which follow.
Sadly, in this real-life re-enactment, no such humour is generated, although the drunk’s mates seem to find it funny and laugh uproariously).
Bringing his head back in from the open window, the little troublemaker surveys the road ahead.
“Where is this bloke going? For f**** sake? We want Browns.”
I’m not sure exactly what route he wants, but Old Street to Browns lap-dancing establishment is the simplest route I’ve had all week; straight all the way. In Knowledge speak it would be described thus: ‘forward Old Street, comply Old Street roundabout, leave by Old Street continued, forward Hackney Road… set down Browns on left.’ Simple!
I can only imagine that the drunk’s head is spinning, a symptom which has lead him to believe he is been driven around all over the place. Quite how someone can be so intoxicated at 8.15pm in the evening I do not know.
The drunk then brushes the seat on which he’s sitting and mutters loudly to himself… “it’s clean… clean in here… ha ha! Bet this ****’s never had anyone drunk in here before.”
Of course I’ve conveyed drunks before, but this is the first time I’ve ever had anyone complain about my cab being clean.
In cases such as this, many cabbies would feel obliged to pull over and politely ask the rowdy bunch to vacate the vehicle. However, we are very close to our destination and to ask such a thing would certainly create confrontation and a ‘scene’; things I don’t need with my already aching head. Best to just get them there and have done with it.
As we approach, I hear further banter; a line both clichéd and tiresome which is commonly employed by those out on the binge:
“You know we haven’t got any money, dontcha, cabbie?! Ha ha! Don’t expect us to be paying ya!”
Even as I pull up outside the club, the drunkest of the group is barking at me, “No! It’s on HACKNEY ROAD… Hackney Road…. We want Hackney Road!”
One of his friends tells him that we are in fact here, and to shut up. The drunk waves off his scolder and fumbles for his wallet. The digital meter, with its little, glowing red numbers, states that the total fare is £5.40.
“It’s ok, I’ve got this…”
His mates pile out, leaving the heavily drunk fellow alone in the back.
As he tries to stand, he tumbles around, rather like a toddler in a playpen. Gripping a yellow handle by the door, he steadies himself and stuffs a £20 onto the pay-tray. A little way up the kerb, a young street-sweeper has paused to watch the spectacle, smiling and shaking his head in disbelief.
“There you go, mate,” he burps.
I hand him back a £10 note and start to count out the remaining change- but he staggers off after his pals, arms held aloft like a gibbon, before I have time to hand it over. I’ll assume that’s a tip then!
Driving off, I feel immense pity for the lap-dancing girls who have to put up with such characters in even closer quarters… then again, I’m certain the club’s bouncers, decked out in their long, black Crombie coats and smart-bow ties, will have plenty to get their teeth into later on…