The stereotypical Black Cab driver in London has a certain profile.
When tourists come to London, they love to catch our Hackney Cabs.
The bulbous, black vehicles are as iconic as the Red Telephone Box, it only follows that a ride in one should be part of the London experience.
Of course, like so many dreams harboured by tourists, the real-life incarnation of their coveted idea may well lack the glamour that they had previously imagined. England is a country that receives millions of international tourists every year (31.5 million eager visitors flocked the city in 2015, a number that shows a sharp increase on previous years, almost 20% if numbers are to believed) and with each of these comes the inevitable taxi cab ride.
When a tourist sets foot in their first black cab they are usually forced to comment on a couple of things.
Out of breath, perhaps a little damp from a light drizzle that has been falling for the last hours or so, they breathlessly bundle into the back of the cab and are shocked by how clean it is. When visiting our capital city for the first time, most tourists are forced to overcome the amount of rubbish and graffiti that litters the streets in a daily basis. Its not something that is shown in Love Actually and the grubby state of decay, that is on general display across the city, is surprisingly not explored in any of the advertising brochures.
After a couple of days, tourists have usually got used to the general mess that lines the streets.
So when they step inside a cab, especially one like mine, they are usually surprised at how clean it is.
I began my cab driving career in the height of Summer last year, whilst London was receiving it’s biggest influx of tourists since records began.
I’d spent the last 10 years as a coach driver; although London had always been my hometown, I’d not had the chance to spend too much time there recently. It had been a decade since I’d walked the damp, drizzly streets of London – in the meantime I’d been cruising the dry, sandy roads of Spain. Driving tourists around the hills and towns of Catalonia, I’d gained good experience in driving but I was growing tired of the expats living out there. Thanks to a removal company, I was able to chuck it all in, when I hit 60 and return to the East End. Although I missed the Spanish sun almost immediately, London has always been waiting for me as my hometown.
Last year, the popular taxi app, ‘Uber’, was just beginning to make it’s presence known in the industry.
I knew that I could easily find a car and work for them, but something didn’t sit right with me doing this.
The cabbies of my youth were grizzled, weighty men with pot bellies and Cockney accents. Their ‘Knowledge’, a combination of locally sourced information and a written test, put them head and shoulders above any outsider and a swift, yet eventful journey was always guaranteed. When it came time for me to sit behind the wheel of a cab, it had to be a Hackney Cab and I needed to have the Knowledge. After spending a few afternoons down my local, getting tips from the retired and semi-retired cabbies there, I was ready for the test and all set for my first fare.