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Tag Archives: the Knowledge

My First Book- ‘The Knowledge: Train Your Brain Like a Cabbie’

I’m very proud to announce that my first book; ‘The Knowledge: Train Your Brain Like a Cabbie’ is now available both in shops and online. 

Holding a copy of my book in Foyle’s, Charing Cross Road!

The book takes readers inside the secretive world of ‘The Knowledge’; the incredibly tough training process which prospective cabbies must undergo before they are licensed to drive a London taxi. 

To see a preview please click below: 

The book’s introduction details the evolution of The Knowledge; how it began and what it’s subsequently morphed into, as well as an account of my own experience of the process- including the terrifying verbal exams (of which I personally had to sit 27!)

Knowledge examiners at the Public Carriage Office, Islington- as featured on the BBC’s 1996 documentary, ‘Streetwise’.

This is followed by 50 routes (‘runs’ as cabbies call them) which are taken from The Blue Book; the official guide which provides the basis for studying The Knowledge of London.

The runs feature an array of London history and trivia and are divided into groups of 10 which come under 5 chapters, each of which showcases a particular brain training technique. These are: 

1) Acronyms and mnemonics.

2) Short stories in which the names of streets and roads are transformed into characters and events with surreal results

3) Common historical threads – such as the run Parliament Street to Golden Lane which traces the flow of the Thames and the river’s key role in helping the city grow.

4) ‘Memory Champion’ techniques- specifically the ‘Method of Loci’ (the use of which can be traced back to the days of Ancient Greece) and the ‘Memory Palace’ which is also many centuries old but has been made famous in recent years thanks to the BBC’s modern adaptation, ‘Sherlock’.

5) The final 10 runs are ones with which I feel a personal connection – for example, Golborne Road to Pennine Drive which involves roads closely connected with my own family history. In other words, as well as the common shared Knowledge of London’s roads and places of interest, these runs demonstrate how each cabbie also harbours their own personal map of the capital.

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The book is beautifully illustrated by artist and cartographer, Jamie Whyte who, amongst many other projects, also created the maps for ‘Young Winstone’; a memoir by legendary Londoner and actor, Ray Winstone. 

An example of Jamie’s work from ‘The Knowledge; Train Your Brain Like a Cabbie’

Readers will also find a glossary of cabbie’s slang terms.

The Knowledge: Train Your Brain like a cabbie is available at a number of online retailers including Waterstones and Amazon.

Thanks for reading!

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Sherbert Dab: An Oral History of the London Taxi

In autumn 2017 I was honoured to participate in a project named ‘Sherbert Dab: An Oral History of the London Taxi’ (Sherbet Dab being Cockney rhyming slang for cab).

Organised by the educational charity, Digital Works in conjunction with Unite and the London Transport Museum, this ambitious venture introduced 26 London cabbies to pupils from St George the Martyr school, Holborn and Westminster Cathedral school, Pimlico.

The children conducted in-depth interviews with each of the London taxi drivers, covering topics such as family backgrounds, what it was like to study The Knowledge in their particular era, interesting stories which have occurred whilst driving a cab and much, much more.

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All of these interviews- which together consist of many hours worth of material- can now be listened to online and are a real treasure trove.

Many of those interviewed are true veterans of the industry: Stanley Roth for example, who started driving in 1957 is believed to be the longest serving cabbie working in London today, whilst 84 year old Trinidadian, Vasco Figueria was one of the earliest West Indian drivers to qualify when he passed The Knowledge in the early 1960s.

To listen to these interviews, please click here.

Each interview was also recorded on film and the pupils have edited this extensive footage into a wonderful, highly professional 54 minute film which is insightful, moving, funny and a real testament to the skill of these incredible youngsters.

The film, which premiered on the 12th January 2018 at the London Transport Museum’s Cubic Theatre, can be viewed in full here.

All of the Sherbet Dab interviews will be going into the archives of both the TUC and the London Transport Museum.

Enjoy!

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‘The Knowledge’ at Charing Cross Theatre

On the 27th of December 1979, Thames Television screened ‘The Knowledge’, a comedy drama detailing the ups and downs of a group of students studying The Knowledge of London; the intense training process which must be undertaken in order to become a London taxi driver.

knowledge-title-card

The play was written by the late Jack Rosenthal who interviewed many cabbies for his research. At the time- as indeed now- insights into what The Knowledge involved are extremely rare, so the film was something of a revelation.

Jack Rosenthal

Jack Rosenthal (image: Wikipedia)

The play’s most memorable character was Mr Burgess, a sadistic examiner played by Nigel Hawthorne.

Hawthorne 1

Burgess was based on a real examiner- Mr Findlay, a formidable Scotsman who would emphasise his accent when testing students as a means of intimidating and bamboozling them.

Hawthorne 2

The play, which was nominated for a BAFTA in 1980 and appeared in the BFI’s top 100 television plays in 2000, has now been revived for the stage and will be running at the Charing Cross Theatre from tonight- the 4th September 2017- until the 11th November.

It is directed by Maureen Lipman who was married to Jack Rosenthal and appeared in the original television production.

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To find out more and to book tickets, please click here.

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